Oscars: Italy Nominates 'The Great Beauty' for Foreign Language Category

UPDATED: The seventh feature from Neapolitan director Paolo Sorrentino explores the decay of Rome.

ROME – Paolo Sorrentino’s Cannes Palme d’Or-nominated drama La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty) was named Wednesday as Italy’s official candidate for the foreign language Oscar race.

The film, which explores Rome’s decay through the eyes of an aging writer played by acclaimed Italian actor Toni Servillo (a veteran of five Sorrentino films), is one of the most decorated films in Italy so far this year: It took home five awards from Italy’s Nastri d’Argento (Silver Ribbon) honors and the best cinematography prize at the Globi d’Oro, Italy’s Golden Globes.

The Hollywood Reporter critic Deborah Young praised the film, calling it “an amusing update on Italian society at the end of a cycle” that recalled the “magical atmosphere” of Federico Fellini’s Roma and La Dolce Vita.

The 43-year-old Sorrentino has emerged as one of Italy’s most respected directors over the past dozen years, with five of his seven feature films screening in competition in Cannes (two of them won the Cannes jury prize). He also has personally won four David di Donatello honors and four Nastri d’Argento prizes. But this is the first time one of his films has been selected as Italy’s official Oscar candidate.

La grande bellezza was selected by a special committee under the auspices of audiovisual association ANICA over six other candidates including Miel, the feature film directorial debut from actress Valeria Golino that won the jury prize in the Cannes Un Certain Regard section, and Razzabastarda, from actor-director Alessandro Gassman, who hails from one of Italy’s best-known acting families.                         

Other candidates were the unheralded thriller Midway tra la vita e la morte (Midway Between Life and Death) from John Real, Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia’s romantic crime drama Salvo; Viaggio sola, a drama from Maria Sole Tognazzi; and Roberto Ando’s political drama Viva la liberta. All the candidate films were released in Italy after Oct. 1, 2012.

With 13 winning films, Italy has won more foreign language Oscars than any other country, and it trails behind only France with 27 nominations for the prize. But Italy has not won the award since Roberto Benigni’s La vita e’ bella (Life Is Beautiful) won 15 years ago, and the country’s most recent nomination was in 2005 with La bestia nel cuore (Don’t Tell), directed by Cristina Comencini.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will select five films from among dozens of international nominees and other films – including Italy's – on Jan. 16, and the winner will be announced at the Academy Awards ceremony on March 2.

Twitter: @EricJLyman