We continue our exploration of Asian films that earned the Oscar spotlight
23. THE WEDDING BANQUET [Dir. Ang Lee]
THE WEDDING BANQUET introduced American audiences to Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee. A year after the release of his debut, PUSHING HANDS, Lee garnered the Academy’s attention the story of a gay man (Winston Chao) who gets married for a green card. BANQUET became a box-office sleeper hit. As far as the Oscars are concerned, Ang Lee was just getting started.
24. THE SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA [Dir. Tran Anh Hung]
Tran Anh Hung’s directorial debut, the stylistically sensuous tale of a woman’s journey from childhood to adulthood as a servant. Tran would go on to direct sporadically over the next two decades, but his first film made Asian film history as the first Vietnamese production to earn a Best Foreign Film nod.
25. EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN [Dir. Ang Lee]
Ang Lee became the first Taiwanese filmmaker nominated for two Best Foreign Film Oscars with this tale of the trials and tribulations for a master chef and his three adult daughters. Rounding out his “Father Knows Best” trilogy, EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN continued to put Taiwanese cinema, and Lee, on the international map in a major way.
26. A CHEF IN LOVE [Dir. Nana Dzhordzhadze]
Chronicling an opera singer’s culinary odyssey, with a backdrop of Georgia’s governmental upheaval at the dawn of the 1900s, A CHEF IN LOVE mixed politics and pastries to the tune of a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination.
27. CHILDREN OF HEAVEN [Dir. Majid Majidi]
Driven by the work of hugely acclaimed auteurs like Abbas Kiarostami (CLOSE-UP), Jafar Panahi (THE WHITE BALLOON), and Mohsen Makhmalbaf (A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE), Iranian cinema experienced a golden age of sorts in the 1990s. Come 1998, CHILDREN OF HEAVEN earned the country its first Best Foreign Language Film nomination in the hallowed decade. The tale of Ali and Zahra, two children in search of an elusive pair of shoes, lost to Roberto Benigni’s Holocaust film LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL.
The tale of rural life in the Himalayan mountains, HIMALAYA earned Nepal its first Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nod.
*29. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON [Dir. Ang Lee]*
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON set the cinema world on fire in 2000. A martial arts film jolting an ages-old genre (it was based on a novel from the 1930s) with a modern, kinetic style, the action-packed CROUCHING TIGER made over $200 million at the worldwide box office. Director Ang Lee briskly built a prominent reputation across the globe throughout the ’90s with his “Father Knows Best” Trilogy (see nos. 23 and 25), and made the transition to American cinema with 1997’s THE ICE STORM. However, CROUCHING TIGER, starring marquee talents Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, and soon-to-be-huge Zhang Ziyi, took his career to another level.
CROUCHING TIGER’s resounding success both at home and abroad helped pave the way for such martial arts films as HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, while garnering a Best Picture nod from the Academy, uber-rare for a foreign-language picture. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON lost that race to another genre throwback, the Russell Crowe/Ridley Scott flick GLADIATOR. However, it handily took home Taiwan’s first ever Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
30. LAGAAN [Dir. Ashutosh Gowariker]
With a massive cast, an epic pre-production and a runtime over four-and-a-half hours, LAGAAN was born to be big. A group of villagers come together against the British Empire’s oppressive tax regulations by setting up a competitive cricket team. Anchored by Bhuvan, played by Indian superstar Aamir Khan, the team pulls together to battle a British group – win, and taxes are lifted. LAGAAN followed in the footsteps of humanist works MOTHER INDIA and SALAAM BOMBAY, garnering India its third Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination.
31. HERO [Dir. Zhang Yimou]
Perhaps China’s premiere international auteur of the ’90s, Zhang Yimou returned to Oscar ballots in 2002 with his third Best Foreign Film nomination. HERO followed in CROUCHING TIGER’s wuxia footsteps, starring superstar Jet Li as a nameless swordsman hacking up assassins left and right circa 227 BC. Like the Ang Lee-directed film from two years prior, HERO was an international hit, pulling in over $170 million at the worldwide box office.
32. THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI [Dir. Yoji Yamada]
Japan reeled in its first Best Foreign Language Film nomination in years with THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI, a film looking back at a 19th-century swordsman. Genre veteran Hiroyuki Sanada (SHOGUN’S SAMURAI, SHOGUN’S NINJA, LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI) stars as the elderly Iguchi who, struck by his wife’s untimely passing, finds himself forced to fight against financial ruin by doing some dangerous business. A poignant turn from director Yoji Yamada, best known for his TORA-SAN comedy series, SAMURAI won a host of awards in Asia, as well as widespread international acclaim.
33. PARADISE NOW [Dir. Hany Abu-Assad]
In the midst of a post-9/11 era fraught with the threat of international terrorism, 2005’s PARADISE NOW is a provocative inquiry into the lives of two Palestinian men on the verge of executing an Israel terrorist attack. PARAIDSE follows Said and Khaled, two friends struggling with the choice of whether to detonate bombs in a Tel Aviv suicide attack.
34. WATER [Dir. Deepa Mehta]
WATER, a Canadian production featuring a largely Indian cast and crew, and spoken in Hindi, concluded director Deepa Mehta’s Elements Trilogy. The film chronicles the lives of Indian widows, including young child Chuyla, intellectual Shakuntala, and Kalyani. Following the hardships faced after their husbands’ deaths, EARTH takes a hard look at a society, and a time, when patriarchy came above all else, from the perspective of a female filmmaker. Winning numerous awards from Bangkok to Vancouver, EARTH earned Metra’s first Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination.
35. BEAUFORT [Dir. Joseph Cedar]
BEAUFORT explores the events surrounding the 2000 IDF Withdrawal, as Israeli armed forces left behind occupation of South Lebanon. Highly praised by critics, BEAUFORT earned director Cedar a Silver Bear trophy at the uber-prestige Berlin International Film Festival.
36. MONGOL [Dir. Sergei Bodrov]
It’s no secret that biopics have held sway with the Academy for decades. MONGOL, a.k.a. “Genghis Khan: The Early Years,” was no exception to the rule. Tadanobu Asano (ZAITOCHI, CAFE LUMIERE) stars as the Mongolian emperor, with Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov directing. The film earned Kazakhstan its first Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nod, where it was defeated by Austrian production THE COUNTERFEITERS.
37. WALTZ WITH BASHIR [Dir. Ari Folman]
Ari Folman’s 2008 film uses an animated aesthetic to depict director Ari Folman’s 1982 Lebanon War recollections. BASHIR follows the director’s complex journey into the past, as he struggles to recall the horrific events of war he encountered as an IDF soldier. BASHIR, the first animated movie nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category, was met with both international acclaim (earning a spot on numerous end of year top tens, from such writers as J. Hoberman, Scott Foundas, and Lisa Schwarzbaum); as well as backlash: the film remains banned in Lebanon.
*38. DEPARTURES [Dir. Yōjirō Takita]*
Chronicling the lives of Daigo Kobayashi and his fellow workers at a Japanese mortuary, the small-scale DEPARTURES didn’t necessarily appear to be a commercially oriented film. However, the pathos-fueled tale, a decade in the making, became a sensation in Japan and beyond. DEPARTURES earned manga adaptations, stage adaptations, and novelizations, igniting a cultural interest in burial methods. After over six decades, Japan, a country with one of the richest of all filmmaking histories, earned its first Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
39. AJAMI [Dir. Yaron Shani and Scandar Copti]
In the vein of such dramas as AMORES PERROS, MAGNOLIA, and SHORT CUTS, AJAMI chronicles the seemingly disparate lives of various citizens in Jaffa, Israel, who are brought together by various circumstances, culminating in violence.
40. FOOTNOTE [Dir. Joseph Cedar]
Director Joseph Cedar made his Oscar return with FOOTNOTE. Shifting his camera from the IDF Withdrawal to the Hebrew University of Jersualem, Cedar’s film stars Shlomo Bar Aba as Eliezer Shkolnik, a Jerusalem Talmud scholar, alongside son Uriel, at the university. Recognition-hungry father and big-man-on-campus son are at odds, fostering a rivalry over academic spotlight coming to blows following a major awards mishap.
*41. A SEPARATION [Dir. Asghar Farhadi]*
A SEPARATION is an unflinching look at Iranian society through the lens of a conflict between an estranged couple, their lower-class aide, and the 11 year-old daughter caught in the middle. Featuring incredible performances by Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi as the central couple, whose animosity builds following an ambiguous, potentially criminal act involving aide Razieh, SEPARATION earned a rare 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, speaking to its acclaim from all corners – it earned first overall on end of year lists by both living legend Roger Ebert and notorious contrarian Mike D’Angelo.
Asghar Farhadi’s pointed character study, both politically charged and astute in its humane observations, recalled the work of Kiarostami, Farhadi, and Makhmalbaf before him. When Oscar season came, even in the frequently head-scratching Foreign Language Film category, there was little doubt. Furthermore, it was the rare foreign film to crack the Best Original Screenplay category.
42. OMAR [Dir. Hany Abu-Assad]
Hany Abu-Assad, director of 2006’s PARADISE NOW, returned to the Oscar ring in 2013 with OMAR. The film chronicles a young couple, Omar and Nadia, separated by the West Bank barrier. Tensions between Omar’s Palestinian friends and Israeli guards come to a fever pitch, leading to an act of violence that changes the lives of the banker and his high school girlfriend irrevocably.
43. THE MISSING PICTURE [Dir. Rithy Panh]
One of the most acclaimed films of 2014, THE MISSING PICTURE depicts the horrific Cambodian reign of Pol Pot using a blend of traditional footage and clay. PICTURE was praised for its daring formal strategy, adapted by a director, Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh, who saw the brutal toll of the Khmer Rouge regime firsthand, to give an unconventional, intimately painful look at genocide.
44. THEEB [Dir. Naji Abu Nowar]
On Sunday night, THEEB will compete a the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. The film takes place in 1916, following the story of the titular boy. A young drifter, Theeb is forced to fend for his life in the Arabian desert, facing cold-blooded death and danger. Eventually, he’s forced to enter an uneasy alliance with a murderer.
Check out part one HERE.
The Asian Crush Oscars series concludes this Friday (2/26) with a spotlight on Asian film figures nominated for Academy Awards throughout Oscar history.