Oscars 2013: Richard Corliss’ Picks – Best Foreign-Language Film

TIME critic Richard Corliss reveals his pick for Best Foreign-Language Film. Share your pick!

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Nominees

Amour, directed by Michael Haneke, Austria
Kon-Tiki, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, Norway
No, Pablo Larrain, Chile
A Royal Affair, Nikolai Arcel, Denmark
War Witch, Kim Nguyen, Canada

Zut alors, you may wonder: Why is Amour — a film in the French language, set in a Paris apartment and starring French actors — representing Austria? Because the Munich-born Haneke grew up, works and lives in Austria, the country that routinely submits his severe films for Academy consideration. Also because the French solons who choose the official nominee thought that The Intouchables, the buddy comedy that was a worldwide hit, was a sure shot for a Foreign-Language nomination. They were wrong.

Haneke’s The White Ribbon, like Amour a Cannes Palme d’Or winner, was thought to be the front-runner for this Oscar in 2010 (the film was also nominated for Christian Berger’s black-and-white cinematography), but lost to the more palatable Argentine political thriller The Secret in Their Eyes. You can never tell about this category, with its odd eligibility requirements for Academy members and its often quirky choices.

Three films have little more chance than The Intouchables of winning. The Danish A Royal Affair is a long, starchy bio-pic of political and monarchical intrigue, intermittently buoyed by the charm of its leads, Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen. Kon-Tiki vividly reconstructs Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 raft sail across the Pacific, from Peru to Polynesia; the Academy will say thanks, but we already have Life of Pi. The Canadian War Witch packs complex emotion into its harrowing story of a Sub-Saharan girl kidnapped by a rebel Army; it’s an African Beasts of the Southern Wild, but with homicidal soldiers instead of magical aurochs. Fine movie; not an Oscar recipient.

(Read: Oscars 2013: Great Performances)

In another year, the voters might say yes to No, the fact-based story of the 1988 effort to oust Augusto Pinochet from his perch as Chile’s dictator. By shooting in low-def video, Larrain seamlessly interweaves his own scenes with documentary footage from the period. Because it’s told from the viewpoint of the advertising executive (Mexican star Gael García Bernal) who runs the TV campaign, No has an insider angle that the Academy loves; it’s almost a Santiago Argo.

For all the surprises and unreliability of the Foreign-Language award, the voters sometimes bow to the inevitable and give their award to the best candidate, as they did last year with the Iranian film A Separation. That good sense should certainly apply here. The Haneke has too much stature, gravitas and, in a fierce and unusual way, heart to lose. The Academy will say oui to Amour.

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