It is often stated that foreign films are, in a sense, not taken seriously at the Academy Awards. When a foreign film is nominated for best picture, one can’t help but assume it will not win. Although many of the critics among us will argue that Hollywood is constantly going downhill and that the best film productions are coming from overseas, this is not expressed by the Academy Awards. To date, only eight foreign films have been nominated for best picture. Unfortunately, the popularity of most foreign language films is confined to the art house and those who consider themselves to be “unconventional” in their film tastes.
In this article, the term “foreign” shall refer to films in languages other than English as over the years films from other English speaking countries (such as England) are, arguably, of equal stature to American productions. I shall, of course, refer to films that have won awards other than the award for Best Foreign Film.
Jean Renoir’s film, Grand Illusion (La Grande Illusion) was the first foreign language film to be nominated for best picture. In 1937, at the 11th Academy awards Renoir’s World War One film earned this honour losing the award to Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take it With You. The most recent foreign film to be nominated for best picture was Letters from Iwo Jima in 2006. No foreign film has won best picture since the Academy Awards began,
Surprisingly, the nomination of the French Grand Illusion did not start a trend in relation to the inclusion of foreign films amongst those nominated for best picture. It was not until 2000, 62 years later at the 73rd Academy Awards that Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tiger was nominated for best Picture. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the most successful foreign language film at the Oscars in history. It was nominated for 10 academy awards and won 4 awards; Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematograpy, Best Music (Original Score) and Best Art Direction. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of the few foreign language films to be popular in both the art house and amongst mainstream audiences. It is the highest grossing foreign language film to date.
In 1961 at the 31st Academy Awards, the Italian feature Two Women (La ciociara) became the first foreign film to be nominated, and win an acting award at the Academy Awards. Sophia Loren became the first person to win the Best Actress award for a role that was not in English. The following year, another Italian film Divorce, Italian Style (Divorzio all’italiana) was the first foreign film to feature a performance nominated for the Best Actor award. However, it was not until 1998 that Roberto Benigni won this award for his performance in the Italian film, Life is Beautiful (La Vita Bella).
The award for Best Animated Feature is a relatively new award. In the second year of this awards’ existence; the 75th Academy Awards, the awards went to Hayao Miyazaki for the anime film, Spirited away making it the firs anime film to ever win an academy award.