Ranking the European 2024 Oscar contenders

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Which European films were nominated for the Oscars this year? Which ones should you watch? And where? All is answered…

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The Oscar nominations were announced this week, and while it went largely as expected, with Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer leading the way and positioning itself as the clear frontrunner for March’s ceremony, there were some surprises along the way.

There are the much-debated Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie snubs for Barbie (as well as America Ferrera’s insane Best Supporting Actress nod); not as much love for Past Lives as we would have hoped for; not much love for May December; the fact that Menus-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros failed to get nominated for Best Documentary; and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is now an Oscar nominated film (for Best Original Score) despite being comfortably the series’ worst instalment. 

But disappointments are inevitable when it comes to nominations, and bellyaching too hard tends to distract from the accomplishments of those who did make the cut.

So, focusing on the positives – and because we’re pretty convinced you’ve all seen Oppenheimer by this point, a film whose double-digit nominations imply an incredibly predictable Oscar season – we’re doing something a bit different for Film of the Week this week.

We’ve rounded up all the of European films that have been nominated, and ranked the talented bunch, so you can catch-up on (or anticipate in some cases) some of the best films representing the continent States side. We’ve even added where you can watch the nine European films vying for an Oscar this year. You’re welcome.

The countdown to the top European film nominated this year begins with… 

9) Io Capitano

Country: Italy

Nominated for: Best International Feature.

What’s it about? Two Senegalese teenagers, Seydou and Moussa, leave their hometown Dakar to reach Italy and escape poverty. They transit through Mali, Niger and Libya, and (without spoiling anything) end up meeting a fixer, who organizes the crossings in the Mediterranean Sea. They don’t have enough money for the trip, so Seydou (Seydou Sarr) is faced with an ultimatum: despite his lack of nautical experience, he’ll have to take up the captain’s mantle and steer a boat carrying 250 people across the Mediterranean.

What’s so good about it? Matteo Garrone’s Io Capitano puts a face on the migrant crisis in his drama inspired by real-life events. It takes inspiration from the Odyssey and is a look at a descent into Hades, one which mirrors the plight of so many who take the perilous journey to Europe, dreaming of creating a better life for themselves. Like Poland’s superior Green Border, which like Io Capitano also premiered in Venice, it’s a very timely film that packs an emotional punch by keeping its focus on the central protagonists. Seydou Sarr is particularly good, and won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Talent in Venice. It also adds a fable like quality to this tragedy that never shies away from embracing certain fantasy elements that elevate it over many immigration narratives we’ve seen over the years. However, faced with such strong competition this year, Io Capitano doesn’t feel like it has the chops to win Best International Feature. Still, a recommended watch.

Where can I watch it? The movie was released in Italy last September and has had a European theatrical rollout in November. Io Capitano releases on US screens on 23 February, and on UK screens in March.

8) La sociedad de la nieve (Society of the Snow)

Country: Spain

Nominated for: Best International Feature; Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

What’s it about? Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 flies from Uruguay to Chile and crashes in the Andes, leaving the young rugby team on board to go to extreme measures as they try to survive the freezing conditions.

What’s so good about it? Juan Antonio Bayona’s fifth feature film recreates the real-life tragedy of the 1972 rugby team’s flight that crashed in the Andes and the extreme decisions passengers took in order to stay alive in one of the most hostile and inaccessible environments. You may have already seen this story before in other films – Frank Marshall’s 1993 film Alive! springs to mind – but this masterfully shot and gripping effort shows how survival films and Bayona are a perfect pairing, following his 2012 film The Impossible. Crucially, the visually impressive elements never overtake the complex human story at the film’s core, and you’re left with a terrific thriller that honours real-life tragedy and manages to wow in terms of spectacle. No small feat. The fact that it’s this good and this low in our ranking should tell you something about how damn good the European showing is at the Oscars this year.

Where can I watch it? You can stream it now on Netflix. And if you have the opportunity to catch it on the big screen, don’t hesitate.

7) Das Lehrerzimmer (The Teacher’s Lounge)

Country: Germany

Nominated for: Best International Feature.

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What’s it about? Carla Nowak (Leonie Benesch) is a dedicated, idealistic young teacher in her first job at a German middle school. Her relaxed rapport with her seventh-grade students is put to the test when a series of thefts occur at the school, and a staff investigation leads to accusations and mistrust among parents, colleagues, and students. Caught in the middle of these complex dynamics, Carla tries to mediate. However, the harder she swims, the faster she sinks…

What’s so good about it? It’s rare that school-based dramas manage to be so tense and riveting. Ilker Çatak’s The Teacher’s Lounge plays out like the anti-Dead Poets Society, and ratchets up the thrills by delving into corrupt systems and the abuse of power. Featuring an outstanding performance by Leonie Benesch, this film is made all the more arresting because of the tight framing and aspect ratio, which reflect the suffocating environment Carla finds herself in. Add a sharp script that dares to embrace moral ambiguity, and you’ve got a suspenseful social parable that you won’t forget in a hurry.

Where can I watch it? It was released in German kinos last year, and after a solid run in festivals last year, it will hit most European cinemas in February and March.

6) 20 Days in Mariupol

Country: Ukraine

Nominated for: Best Documentary Feature.

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What’s it about? An Associated Press team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol struggle to continue their work documenting the Russian invasion. As the only international reporters who remain in the city, they capture what later become defining images of the war. The film documents the twenty days Mstyslav Chernov spent with his colleagues.

What’s so good about it? After nearly a decade covering international conflicts for AP, 20 Days in Mariupol is Chernov’s first feature film. It’s a vivid, harrowing and vital account of civilians caught in the siege, as well as a window into what it’s like to report from a conflict zone. The film has been met with critical acclaim and an audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a riveting but bleak watch that gives a fuller understanding of the stakes of the war in Ukraine.

Where can I watch it? Digital purchase or rental.

5) Anatomie d’une chute (Anatomy of a Fall)

Country: France

Nominated for: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress; Best Original Screenplay; Best Editing.

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What’s it about? A woman is accused of murdering her husband, after he is found dead in the snow outside their house. The only other person nearby when he fell to his death was her visually impaired son.

What’s so good about it? Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winner has been on something of a winning streak over the awards season. The Alpine whodunnit / courtroom drama has resonated with critics and audiences alike, and its five Oscar nominations make it one of Europe’s greatest success stories for global awards recognition this year. Anatomy of a Fall works as a thought-provoking drama with proper emotional depth, and there’s no denying that it is a sizeable leap forward for Triet. Of note are the impactful, perfectly written argument scenes and Sandra Hüller’s outstanding performance. Also, the way the film deals with knotty parenthood, the burdens of responsibility in relationships, and what an “ideal victim” looks like is impressive. However, as popular as it has been, there is the sense that the rave reviews may have been a tad overzealous. The overhyped film does falter in its more conventional third act trappings, and does miss the top of our ranking.

Read our full review.

Where can I watch it? It was released in cinemas in early November. You can rent or buy on demand via Apple TV, Google Play, Neon, Amazon Prime Video. Take your pick.

4) Les Filles d’Olfa (Four Daughters)

Country: France – Germany – Tunisia – Saudi Arabia

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Nominated for: Best Documentary Feature.

What’s it about?Four Daughters deals with the disappearance and radicalization of two Tunisian girls, Rahma and Ghofrane, through both dramatic re-enactments and interviews with the real-life subjects. We meet their mother Olfa and two younger sisters Tayssir and Eya, all of which were left grief-stricken by the eldest sisters’ decision to leave Tunisia to join ISIS in Libya. The two radicalized girls were “devoured by the wolf”, and we learn of the girls’ upbringing through their fascinating and contradictory matriarchal figure, as well as through the filmmaker’s decision to invite professional actresses into the family’s life.

What’s so good about it?Kaouther Ben Hania ’s stirring and formally daring docu-fiction hybrid is an incredibly powerful story of knotty maternal love and religious fundamentalism. Refusing to deal with absolutes and clichéd representations, Ben Hania allows for layered portrayals of generational clashes and transference of trauma, as well as the reality that love and resentment can intertwine in family environments. Beyond this emotional setting, Four Daughters tells the wider story of Tunisia, how the 2011 Revolution has affected countless lives, and how the weight of entrenched patriarchal structures remains designed to perpetuate the societal oppression of women. It’s by utilizing a hybridized approach through a decidedly Brechtian lens that Ben Hania provides less an exorcism of the past but an opportunity to embrace a necessary exhumation of pain. Often unexpectedly playful, this is a film that achieves a level of empowerment without forsaking a sense of guarded optimism. If there’s any justice, it’ll take home the Best Documentary Oscar.

Read our full review.

Where can I watch it? It’s been out in cinemas and you can stream it on Prime Video, buy it on various platforms including Google Play, or buy the DVD from Kino Lorber.

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3) Robot Dreams

Country: Spain – France

Nominated for: Best Animated Feature.

What’s it about? DOG is a lonely pooch who lives in Manhattan, and he’s tired of being alone. One day he decides to build himself a robot companion. Their friendship blossoms, until they become inseparable, to the rhythm of 80’s NYC. One summer night, ROBOT runs out of power, and DOG is forced to abandon his friend at the beach, as he can’t carry him home. DOG decides to come back the next day with the necessary equipment to repair him. However, beach season has ended, and the beach reopens in a year’s time.

What’s so good about it? Adapted from Sara Varon’s 2007 graphic novel of the same name, Spanish director of Blancanieves Pablo Berger pivots to animation with a dialogue-free tale of friendship that is profoundly soulful. It’s a deceptively simple tale that doesn’t portray artificial intelligence as the enemy but rather a life force, echoing films such as Robot and Frank or, further back, The Iron Giant. The way the movie shows how both characters live and cope without their inseparable buddy makes Robot Dreams a delightful, whimsical, and at times heartbreaking triumph that will make your heart expand with every frame. It has already won Best Animated Feature at Toronto, Annecy and the European Film Awards, and with any luck, it will take home an Oscar in March. Annoyingly, it’ll probably be beaten to the Golden Baldie by either The Boy and the Heron or Spider-Man: Across The Universe. Still, fingers crossed.

Where can I watch it? It was released in France and Spain in December, and will gradually trickle out in European cinemas in February and March. Don’t miss out.

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2) Poor Things

Country: Ireland – UK – US

Nominated for: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actor; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Makeup and Hairstyling; Best Original Score; Best Cinematography; Best Editing; Best Costume Design; Best Production Design.

What’s it about? A medical student becomes an assistant to an eccentric and grotesquely scarred surgeon, who reveals that this ward Bella died by suicide after leaping off a bridge. He has resurrected her, and she begins to crave autonomy… She achieves this by running off with a rakish solicitor, and what starts as an erotic escapade – routinely punctuated by some sessions of “furious jumping” – sees Bella grow progressively aware of the injustices and politics of the world, as well as what society expects of womanhood. But considering that agency (sexual or otherwise) is threatening to the gatekeeping patriarchy, the hedonistic adventure “full of sugar and violence” for some soon morphs into a “diabolical fuckfest of a puzzle” for others…

What’s so good about it? After The Favourite, leading Greek Weird Wave exponent Yorgos Lanthimos reteamed with screenwriter Tony McNamara and Emma Stone to adapt Alasdair Gray’s 1992 cult novel… Their combined efforts make Poor Things a fully rounded masterpiece, one which won the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival, and which stands to nab several Oscars, including Best Actress for Stone. Lanthimos’ delirious satire operates at a crossroads where Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” coexists with Luis Buñuel, Georges Franju (Eyes Without A Face), “Pygmalion” and a few noticeable callbacks to “Alice in Wonderland”. He uses the language of Gothic conventions to talk about the role of men and women in society, as well as address the question: Can people be improved? From the inventive set design, the brilliant dialogue, its weighty themes and a cast firing on all cylinders, Poor Things is a raunchy, stylish, layered and, above all, hysterically funny steampunk fantasia. In other words: a diabolical fuckfest you don’t want to miss. While Barbie seems to have fallen out of favour somewhat, after many predicted it would be a two-way race between Oppenheimer and Greta Gerwig’s billion-dollar sensation, Poor Things came in second with the most nomination (11 to Oppenheimer ’s 13). With any luck, it will leave March’s ceremony with a fair few trophies under its arm.

Read our full review.

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Where can I watch it? In cinemas. Get thee to the talkies!

1) The Zone of Interest

Country: UK

Nominated for: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best International Feature; Best Sound.

What’s it about? An Auschwitz commander and his wife build an enjoyable family life, dismissing the horrors taking place in the concentration camp across their garden wall.

What’s so good about it? It may not have won this year’s Palme d’Or, but British director Jonathan Glazer’s first film in 10 years after 2013’s Under The Skin is one of the most vital films you’re likely to watch this year. It is not the first film to tackle the subject of the Holocaust and the Final Solution, but few have achieved what Glazer has with The Zone of Interest. By loosely adapting Martin Amis’ book of the same name, he embraces what Hannah Arendt referred to as the “banality of evil” and brings it to the screen by exploring the troublingly identifiable humanity behind the lives of those who perpetrate the most unspeakable of crimes. Glazer doesn’t depict the death camp’s atrocities directly; he chooses to set the horrors on the edges to better mirror a family’s detachment and choice of complicity as they set up their home next to Auschwitz’s walls. Formally, the film is an incredible achievement, breaking conventional expectations when it comes to similar premises. Thematically, it’s heavy with reflection on disassociation and brimming with contemporary resonances. As a cinemagoing experience, it is a profoundly unsettling and audacious film will leave you rattled. Of its five Academy Award nominations, there is a chance that it might go home empty-handed. It would be a real shame, as The Zone of Interest deserves so much more. Its best chance at an Oscar is Best International Feature, but if it were up to us, we’d give it all five of its categories.

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Read our full review.

Where can I watch it? In cinemas – already out in several European territories, and landing in most theatres in February.

The 96th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday 10 March at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Stay tuned to Euronews Culture for more on this year’s Oscars.

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