Oscars: Weighing the Odds in the International Feature and Documentary Categories

10:30 AM 1/9/2021

by Scott Feinberg

The competition is intense and Academy voters will be bleary-eyed as they stream the contenders vying for spots on the respective shortlists, to be announced Feb. 9.

Funny Boy
Courtesy of Array

'Funny Boy'



  • International Feature

    The Father

    While this Bulgarian submission from filmmakers Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov stands at 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it probably will not be helped by sharing a title with one of this year's top-contending English-language films, which stars Anthony Hopkins.


    Ana Rocha De Sousa's film was Portugal's original Oscar submission, but only 10 of its 77 minutes were in a language other than English, so it was rejected. Portugal was, however, allowed to submit a replacement title, and Pedro Costa's Vitalina Varela is now being evaluated for eligibility.

    This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection; You Will Die at 20; Wiren 

    Despite the pandemic, more than 90 countries have entered films in this year’s international feature race, as the former foreign language film category is now known. The three films above hail from countries that have never previously been represented in the Oscar fray. From the continent of Africa, Lesotho submitted Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, which follows a widow planning her own funeral, while Sudan fielded Amjad Abu Alala’s feature debut, You Will Die at 20, about a young man whose early death has been foretold by a village holy man. (The latter film won the Luigi De Laurentiis Award for best debut film at the Venice Film Festival.) Additionally, the South American country of Suriname put forward Ivan Tai-Apin’s Wiren, the story of a deaf boy fighting against discrimination. Meanwhile, Bhutan entered a film for the first time in 21 years: Pawo Choyning Dorji’s Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, which centers on a young singer who dreams of moving to Australia.

    Funny Boy

    Canada tried to get the latest film from Deepa Mehta — whose 2005 film Water was a Canadian submission and ultimately a nominee — into the race, even though it is mostly in English. But it was rejected, and another Canadian title, Jean-Philippe Duval's 14 Days, 12 Nights, has been submitted in its place.

  • Documentary International


    Gianfranco Rosi's study of people trying to rebuild their lives in the war-torn Middle East is one of several standout films contending in both doc and international film categories. On Dec. 26, it opened the Capri, Hollywood Film Festival, where it was feted as European movie of the year.

  • Documentary Feature

    City Hall

    The 45th film from 91-year-old doc legend Frederick Wiseman, a 4.5-hour study of Boston city government that both chief film critics of The New York Times ranked as the No. 2 film of 2020, made its TV debut Dec. 22 on PBS. Wiseman has never received an Oscar nom, but did receive an honorary Oscar in 2017.

    All In: The Fight for Democracy

    Amazon's doc about voter suppression efforts, unveiled before the presidential election, feels as urgent as ever: Principal talking head/producer Stacey Abrams (above) helped to swing Georgia for Joe Biden and is at the center of her state's two senatorial runoffs.

    76 Days

    Several 2020 docs deal with COVID-19 — Alex Gibney's Totally Under Control and Adam Benzine's The Curve among them — but this one, from Sheila Nevins' MTV Documentary Films, has received the most attention: Gotham and Cinema Eye Honors noms and spots on the IDA and DOC NYC shortlists.

    The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

    This well-reviewed portrait of the brothers Gibb, directed by producer Frank Marshall, was a Telluride Film Festival pick and debuted in December on HBO after a controversial decision by the cabler to mount a campaign for the Emmys rather than the Oscars. 

    Kiss the Ground

    This film about the global "regenerative agriculture" movement — one of more than two dozen docs being promoted to Oscar voters on the Academy's streaming service for both picture and doc feature noms — counts Gisele Bündchen and Julian Lennon as executive producers and is now streaming on Netflix.

    This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.