If there is such a thing as a safe bet when dealing with an institution as illogical and suggestible as the Oscars, it's that a foreign language film that fails to stay in it's ‘Foreign Language Film' ghetto and spreads its tentacles out into the categories usually reserved for American and British achievements is pretty much guaranteed to win in the reserved category. Of course, it's possible that voters will decide that Roma doesn't need their vote in this category since it's up for best picture anyway, but it's not very likely. The fact that it's up for both is the best piece of evidence to suggest it might not win the best picture because the same logic might work in reverse. Notice I haven't actually mentioned its quality in making the prediction, I don't know who that reflects on worse, the film, the Academy or myself for descending to their level and admitting that quality is irrelevant where awards are concerned, if it weren't Roma wouldn't be up for either prize. Roma was just a self-indulgent, irrelevant piece of nothing that came, looked pretty, was boring, reminded me how much better The Heiresses was and then left, and somehow became everybody’s favourite movie of the year in the process.
The only film with odds on pulling an upset is Cold War, which if I'm honestly interested me just as little, it's your standard arthouse romance; he's a bore and she's a flake and they're both utterly toxic whether they're together or apart. For a story apparently based on its director Pawel Pawlowski's own parents it certainly lacks any sense of personality or personal investment. Like Roma, its biggest concern was looking pretty in black and white, which in their defence both movies did and at least Cold War knew 88 minutes was long enough to achieve that.
I cannot speak for Capernaum or Never Look Away since they have yet to run in the UK, and it’s hard to make presumptions about them based off of their pedigree; Capernaum director Nadine Labaki hasn’t caught my attention before and Never Look Away’s Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck won before for The Lives of Others and then followed it up with the disastrous Johnny Depp vehicle The Tourist, so his movies can go either way. With its focus on the conflict in Syria, Capernaum looks like the kind of earnest work that often fills out this category and it’s nice to see a female director turn up somewhere, but the lack of buzz about the film doesn’t inspire much hype for its release.
So really, that leaves us with only one convincing nominee, Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Shoplifters. Not that it’s his best film, it isn’t, Still Walking, After the Storm and Like Father Like Son all eclipse it, hell, it wasn’t even his best movie released last year! His lightly mystical legal drama The Third Murder struck me as far more memorable. But Kore-Eda is nonetheless an exquisite filmmaker and even his most minor work contains moments of such tenderness and poignancy they deserve more recognition than half the nominees in any Hollywood awards show. Shoplifters finds him in his most comfortable milieu of the family drama, examining the same queries of what constitutes a family and what right society has to impose a line on that question as Like Father Like Son, and it’s a joy to see his regular collaborator Lily Franky take centre stage for once as the Fagin to a Dickensian band of petty criminal outcasts. So, in the absence of films like The Heiresses, Burning, Mirai, The Guilty, The Wild Pear Tree, Dogman or Everybody Knows from the ballot paper, I can console myself for a while with the possibility that Shoplifters might triumph. But I know I’m dreaming really.