The Academy Award of Merit, which is more commonly referred to as an Oscar, is an award that recognizes the greatness and achievement in the areas that revolve around movies and film-making. The first Academy Awards were held in the year 1929 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which was founded two years earlier to recognize excellence in all the areas that are related to the world of cinema.
Actor Jean Hersholt (1886-1956), who was the 11th President of the Academy from 1945-49, argued that an international award should be given out, as it would help bond American and foreign film community. It during his tenure in 1947 that foreign films received any kind of honor at the Academy Awards. Starting in 1947 until 1955 the Academy gave out an Honorary Award to the Best Foreign Language Film, but they had to be released in the United States to qualify. This award, however, was not guaranteed, since in 1954 it was not awarded. It was also not a competitive award as the Academy simply picked a winning film with no nominees. In 1956 the Best Foreign Language Film Awards as we know it today was created for non-English speaking films, regardless of if they released in America or not. The award is significant because the award is not presented to any specific person, as the winner of the award is considered to be the country that won it.
The country that won the first Best Foreign Language Film Award was Italy, who has also won the most Academy Awards (14) in this category. The first movie to win the Best Foreign Language Film Award was the movie 'La strada' directed by Federico Fellini (1920-93).
26 of the 69 Best Foreign Language Film Awards that has been given out over the years have been won by France (12) and Italy (14). They have also have had the most films nominated in this category, with France receiving 39 and Italy 31 nominations. Spain and Japan are the next two countries with 4 wins each.
Israel and Portugal have had bad luck with the award, with Israel having the most nominated films (10) that have never won the award and Portugal having submitted 30 films since the Best Foreign Language Film Award was given out, without being nominated even for a single time.
The Importance Of The Award
The award helps to bring the nominated films to the center stage of the biggest night in the movie industry and gives them the recognition of being Oscar winners, or Oscar nominated films. It also helps to bring foreign actors and directors with great talents to the limelight.
Some of the notable films that won the Best Foreign Language Film Awards have been 'Fanny and Alexander.' This film was awarded the Oscars in 1983 and was Sweden's third win in the category and also won the awards for best art direction, costume design, and cinematography. In 1998 the Italian film, 'Life is Beautiful,' won the award and also won the Oscar for the best dramatic score and Robert Benigni won the award for best actor in a leading role. In 2000, the Taiwanese film, 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' won the award, the first and only win for Taiwan. The movie also won for best art direction, cinematography, and best original score. It is also one of the most well-known foreign language films to win the award in North America. Another film, the 2006 Mexican movie 'Pan's Labyrinth,' was nominated for the award but did not win. It did, however, win for best art direction, cinematography, and makeup.
Since the films nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Award are first selected by the nomination board of the country to which they belong, several controversies have blown up now and again regarding the nomination procedures of these foreign language films.
Other controversies over the years come from the Academy's definition of a country. For example, in 2002 Palestine tried to submit the movie 'Divine Intervention' but it got denied since Palestine was not a country. This decision triggered protest since the Academy had accepted films in the past from other similar political entities. In 2005 the Academy reversed its decision by nominating the Palestinian-Arab movie 'Paradise Now' for the Best Foreign Language Film Award and then faced protest from pro-Israeli groups against this decision. Another controversy that features from time to time is that foreign filmmakers often criticize the Academy's rule of allowing only one film to be submitted for one country in the Foreign Language Category. Despite these controversies, the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film continue to draw much attention from across the world and both contesting film crew and their countrymen wait with bated breath to learn whether their country won this prestigious award or not.