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COLOGNE, Germany – Academy voters showed they have much love for Michael Haneke‘s harrowing, touching Amour – nominating the French-language drama in five categories, including best director and best actress for Emmanuelle Riva.
Haneke has also managed the rarest of Oscar doubles, scoring nominations both in the Best Foreign Language category and for Best Picture. It puts Amour in an elite club. Only three films have managed the best film/best foreign language double in the same year before: Costa Gravas’ Z in 1969, Ang Lee‘s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000 and Life is Beautiful from Roberto Benigni in 1998. All three ended up winning the best foreign language honor.
If history is any guide, Amour would seem to have a lock on the foreign language Oscar, but remains a dark horse for the best picture main event. No film not in a foreign language has ever won the Oscar’s top prize. (Last year’s Best Picture winner, The Artist, was a French production with Gallic stars, but featured just a single line of dialog – in English).
The same goes for best director. While many foreign-born helmers have earned the directors Oscar statuette –Michel Hazanavicicus, Milos Forman, Ang Lee and Roman Polanski among them – if Haneke wins, he would become the first to take home the trophy for a non-English film.
When it comes to the best picture category, only a handful of foreign films have even been in the running. While the Academy occasionally rewards outstanding performances in a foreign language – see Marion Cotillard‘s best actress win for La Vie en Rose (2007), Sophie Loren‘s 1961 win in the same category for Two Women and Benigni’s getting the best actor nod with Life is Beautiful (1998) – best picture is an almost exclusively English-language club.
Depending on what you call a foreign language film, there have been only seven previous best picture nominees: Clint Eastwood‘s Letters from Iwo Jima (Japanese); Life is Beautiful and Michael Radford‘s Il Postino (both Italian), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Chinese); Swedish films The Emigrants (1972) from Jan Troell and Ingmar Bergman‘s Cries and Whispers (1973) and, way back in 1938, Jean Renoir‘s La Grande Illusion, the first non-English language film to ever receive a Best Picture nomination. Sticklers might also include in that list Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s Babel, which is a mash-up of language, featuring dialog in Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic as well as English, or Quentin Tarantino‘s Inglourious Basterds due to the film’s extensive dialog in German and French.
Troell’s The Emigrants, which received four nominations in 1972, including for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and a Best Actress nom for star Liv Ullmann – actually did pick up a Best Foreign Language nomination as well, but it received that nomination in 1972. The year Cries and Whispers got its Best Picture nom, it was Troell’s The New Land which picked up the nomination in the foreign language category. Renoir’s La Grande Illusion was nominated before the introduction of the foreign language film category.
The five Oscar nominations for Amour aren’t quite an Oscar record for a foreign language film – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon scooped six nominations, Babel took a record seven – but whatever the outcome on Feb. 24, Michael Haneke has secured his place in the Oscar pantheon.