‘Roma’ Enters Oscar Foreign-Language Race, Becomes the Instant Favorite

Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white memory piece is Mexico’s official submission in the category, where it will go up against a field that also includes new work from past winners Laszlo Nemes and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

roma alfonso cuaron

The Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film now has a clear frontrunner, because Mexico has submitted Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” in the category.

Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and one of the most acclaimed films of the fall festival circuit, “Roma” is a beautiful black-and-white film based on moments from Cuaron’s childhood, growing up in a suburb of Mexico City. The Netflix release is also a strong Best Picture contender, the only one of the 40-plus foreign-language entries to be in the running for both awards.

At this point, for it not to land a foreign-language nomination would be astonishing, though Netflix failed to make the cut last year in the category even though it had by far the highest-profile submission, Angelina Jolie’s “First They Killed My Father.”

And even if the film is nominated, Cuaron shouldn’t get too complacent. The last time Mexico had the frontrunner in the category was 2007, when Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” was the odds-on favorite but lost to the German entry, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s “The Lives of Others.”

Von Donnersmarck is in the race again this year with “Never Look Away,” and he’s not the only director who is returning after a previous win: Hungarian filmmaker Laszlo Nemes is back with “Sunset,” a period drama from the director whose first film, “Son of Saul,” won the Oscar for Hungary in 2018.

Other films that have been submitted to the Oscar foreign race in September include South Korea’s “Burning,” a drama from director Lee Chang-dong which was the most favorably reviewed film in Cannes this year; the Austrian documentary “The Waldheim Waltz,” which examines the Nazi affiliations of former Austrian president and United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim; Cambodia’s “Graves Without a Name” from director Rithy Panh, whose “The Missing Picture” was nominated in the category in 2014; Israel’s “The Cakemaker,” which became that country’s official entry by winning the Ophir Award; Brazil’s “The Great Mystical Circus,” a decades-spanning fantasia that screened at the Cannes Film Festival; Egypt’s “Yomeddine,” another Cannes entry, which tells the story of a young boy raised in a leper colony; and Russia’s “Sobibor,” a war drama starring Christopher Lambert.

Spain chose the comedy “Champions” from a three-film shortlist that also included “Everybody Knows,” a drama starring Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz from director Asghar Farhadi, who has twice won the foreign-language Oscar for Iran.

Approved organizations or committees from each country must submit their film to the Academy by Oct. 1. Volunteers from all branches of the Academy will then view all the qualifying films and vote for their favorites, with the top six choices moving to a shortlist along with three additional choices made by the Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee. Phase 2 committees will then determine the five nominees.

Last year, a record 92 countries submitted films to the Oscars.

Recently, longtime Oscar foreign-language chair Mark Johnson, one of the architects of the current process, opted not to return to the position he had held for 17 of the last 18 years. Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann are the new co-chairs.

TheWrap has compiled a full list of the films that have entered the race to date, with links to trailers when available. The list is available here and will be regularly updated.