Language Love – Around the World in Oscars Gold

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By Matthew Sawczyn

This month, the Academy Awards marked a moment in history for Hollywood and cinema: for the first time in its ninety-two year history, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded its coveted “Best Picture” award to an entirely non-English language film, Korean writer-director Bong Joon-ho’s tragicomedy Parasite.

In honor of Parasite, here are five other non-English Academy Award nominees and winners worth a watch:

1. Ran

(乱, translation “chaos” or “turmoil”, Japanese, 1985)

In all fairness, this spot could go to many of legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s works. Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo were all recognized by the Academy for their tremendous achievements, and are widely recognized as some of the greatest movies ever made. And yet it is Ran, Kurosawa’s masterpiece and one of his final films, which stands as perhaps his most rich, his most profound; plumbing the depths of human emotion, and questioning man’s place in the world. Based on William Shakespeare’s King Lear, this grand tale centers on a ruthless warlord in the final years of his life, who after banishing his only loving son, sees his declining kingdom snatched away from him by his other two treacherous sons and their spouses, a betrayal that ultimately leads to all out war. 

Academy Awards:
Best Production Design – Nominated
Best Cinematography – Nominated
Best Costume Design – Won

Where to Stream:
Rent on YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, etc.

2. City of God

(“Cidade de Deus”, Portuguese, 2003)

Frenetic, exciting, engrossing, and downright powerful – this coming of age epic about growing up in the Brazilian slums and Rio streets pulsates with energy and life. This raw, frenzied look at life in the favelas is as hard hitting now as ever; themes of troubled youth, crushing poverty, and the plague of drugs and violence fill this urban adventure, and leave the viewer with plenty to chew on. Commonly listed among the best films ever, City of God more than warrants a viewing.

Academy Awards:
Best Director – Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay – Nominated
Best Cinematography – Nominated
Best Film Editing – Nominated

Where to Stream:
Included with Netflix

3. Roma

(Spanish, 2018)

This dramatic, semi autobiographical slice-of-life film by Alfonso Cuarón, is the most recent on my list, and perhaps the most familiar to modern audiences. Immense in vision but intimate in its telling, Roma’s narrative revolves around the very ordinary daily life of housekeeper Cleo Gutiérrez, as she lives in and works for an affluent household in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. A love letter to simple labor and daily life, Cuarón demonstrates the dignity and worth of each and every person, emphasizing that even the humblest of vocations has value. A window into another culture and a reflection on love of neighbor, Roma will resonate with viewers with its deeply personal story. 

Academy Awards:
Best Picture – Nominated
Best Director – Won
Best Actress – Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Nominated
Best Original Screenplay – Nominated
Best International Feature Film – Won
Best Cinematography – Won
Best Production Design – Nominated
Best Sound Editing – Nominated
Best Sound Mixing – Nominated

Where to Stream:
Included with Netflix

4. Life Is Beautiful

(“La vita è bella”, Italian, 1997)

Half romance, half war saga, this Italian World War II drama spends its first half on the beautiful love story of Guido (Roberto Benigni) and Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), and its second half on the far heavier plot. Charming, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, Life is Beautiful shows us heroes who defy the darkness around them. Despite their horrific circumstances, they hold to the joy of the life they have been given, even in the most evil of places, til good at last triumphs. 

Academy Awards:
Best Picture – Nominated
Best International Feature Film – Won
Best Director – Nominated
Best Actor – Won
Best Original Screenplay – Nominated
Best Original Score – Won
Best Editing – Nominated

Where to Stream:
Rent on YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, etc.

5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

(“卧虎藏龙”, Chinese, 2000)

The most nominated non-English film at the time (a feat later shared with
Roma), Ang Lee’s wuxia fable takes us on a sweeping, bittersweet journey, into bamboo forests and over misty mountains. The depth of performances, especially those by Hong Kong stars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, is stunning. Boasting some of the greatest fight sequences in all cinema, in support of a gorgeous story, this martial arts masterpiece transcends a single genre, and achieves all-time cinema greatness.

Academy Awards:
Best Picture – Nominated
Best International Feature Film – Won
Best Director – Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay – Nominated
Best Cinematography – Won
Best Original Score – Won
Best Production Design – Won
Best Editing – Nominated
Best Original Song – Nominated
Best Costume Design – Nominated

Where to Stream:
Included with Netflix


That’s my list! Of course, such a small sample barely touches the surface of the vast horizon of international media becoming more and more available each day. I hope you enjoy these films, and keep exploring new goldmines of cinema!


About the Author

Matthew Sawczyn is a screenwriter in Los Angeles, and an alumnus of JPCatholic (MBA in Film Producing – Class of 2017). He loves hiking, HBO, and cuddly cats.

For more articles by Matthew, click here

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