Cate Shortland's Lore (Australia)

Stateside awards for foreign language cinema are a sure bet for controversy. The complaints run the gamut from the politically tinged nature of the selection process to the Academy’s “one-country-one-film” rule and its myriad casualties (including many a film by beloved auteurs like Pedro Almodóvar) and the Golden Globes’ exclusion of foreign language films from both of its Best Picture categories. The opaque eligibility rules for this batch of movies can make the nomination process seem more than a little arbitrary. For some, it even begs the question of whether a separate category for foreign language films makes sense given the increasingly global availability of today’s releases.

But if there’s one thing that’s not controversial, it’s that each year a staggering number of films are released around the globe that deserve to be seen and recognized in the U.S. Although this year’s Oscar shortlist and Golden Globe nominations are heavy on European fare, the past 10 years have included winners from five continents and nominees in dozens of languages, many from countries with burgeoning film industries. The prestige that these awards and nominations afford undoubtedly helps films find audiences here and all over the world.

It is in the spirit of this sense of discovery that Film Society of Lincoln Center presents, for the first but hopefully not last time, a slate of Foreign Award Hopefuls that we consider must-watch and that you probably haven’t had the opportunity to take in yet. The four day series features eight films, and we’ve put together a little guide for you:

Director: Anurag Basu
Country: India
Screening: Sunday, January 6 at 2:00pm

This nearly wordless fable about the misadventures of a deaf-mute man (played by rising Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor) evokes Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Just today it bagged the maximum number of nominations (19) for Bollywood's prestigious Screen Awards. It has received particular acclaim for the cinematography of S. Ravi Varman, whose (literally) colorful touch is evident in the film's official trailer:

Caught in the Web
Director: Chen Kaige
Country: China
Screening: Sunday, January 6 at 7:00pm

The most recent film from veteran Chinese director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) marks a radical shift in focus from his usual historical epics to a modern day melodrama rife with corporate intrigue and commentary about the digital age. After seeing it at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, Dan Fainaru of Screen Daily raved: “A cinematic tour de force in every respect, Che Kaige’s complex, multi-layered story looks for a while like a satirical take on the misuse of new fancy gadgetry to deprive individuals of their last shred of privacy and ends on an introspective tone, suggesting there is no use blaming the gadgets, but the people behind them.”

Children of Sarajevo
Director: Aida Begić
Country: Bosnia-Herzegovina
Screening: Sunday, January 6 at 5:00pm

Bosnian director Aida Begić won the Grand Prix at Cannes' Critics Week in 2008 with her debut feature Snow. She returned to the festival four years later, this time taking home a Special Jury Distinction in the Un Certain Regard section for this naturalistic drama about two orphaned siblings navigating a modern Sarajevo still haunted by decades-old consequences of the Bosnian War.

Clandestine Childhood
Director: Benjamín Ávila
Country: Argentina
Screening: Friday, January 4 at 8:30pm

Benjamín Ávila's debut feature follows a 12-year-old boy and his family, part of an underground resistance movement that challenged the reigning Military Junta, as they return to Argentina in 1979 after years of exile. While the setting is highly political, the story of young Juan is deeply personal and full of warmth and humor. Clandestine Childhood scored big at the 2012 Argentinean Academy Awards, winning 11 of the 17 prizes for which it was nominated including Best Picture.

The Deep
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Country: Iceland
Screening: Saturday, January 5 at 6:30pm

Baltasar Kormákur is one of Iceland's consummate masters of contemporary filmmaking. His debut feature 101 Reykjavík took home prizes at Locarno, Toronto and the European Film Awards in 2000, and his work has gone on to win acclaim at festivals the world over. His latest, inspired by true events, traces the unlikely rise to hero status of a grizzled fisherman who finds himself the only survivor when the boat on which he works capsizes off the coast of Iceland. The Deep is one of nine films shortlisted for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Delay
Director: Rodrigo Plá
Country: Uruguay
Screening: Friday, January 4 at 6:30pm

From Uruguay comes a film by another director quickly making a name for himself as a major figure in world cinema, Rodrigo Plá. Plá's debut feature La zona gained attention and prizes at Venice in Toronto in 2007, and his latest collaboration with regular screenwriter Laura Santullo was recognized for its excellence by two juries at the most recent Berlinale. Though it focuses on one struggling family in Montevideo, The Delay conveys powerful and universal truths sure to be familiar to audiences regardless of their country of origin.

Director: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Country: Norway
Screening: Saturday, January 5 at 8:30pm

The story of Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl may not be well known stateside, but it's a doozy. In 1947, upon discovering evidence that suggested that the population of the Polynesian island of Fatu Huku may have arrived there from South America, Heyerdahl set off on what many believed to be a fool's quest: traversing the Pacific with a tiny crew on a hemp boat. Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg turn this bizarre tale into a spectacular epic sure to delight fans of, say, Life of PiKon-Tiki is nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and is one of nine films shortlisted for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Director: Cate Shortland
Country: Australia
Screening: Thursday, January 3 at 8:00pm

Cate Shortland's debut feature Somersault was a hit on the festival circuit back in 2004 and won a whopping 13 out of the 15 Australian Film Institute awards for which it was nominated. Her followup Lore has won prizes and acclaim at the Locarno, London and Hamptons film festivals and may prove just as successful in Oz's awards season, especially given the brilliant performance of newcomer Saskia Rosendahl. But why is it among the films considered for this year's Foreign Language prizes? Because the story takes place in post-WWII Germany, centering on a group of siblings left to fend for themselves when their Nazi parents are taken prisoner by Ally forces and the surprising relationship they forge with a young Jewish man who helps them on their 900-mile journey to Hamburg.

And the Winner Is… Foreign Award Hopefuls runs from January 3 – 6 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. See multiple films and save with our Two-Film Package!