Can ‘Parasite’ Do What These Movies Couldn’t?

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(The New York Times)

“Parasite,” the scathing comedy-thriller from Bong Joon Ho, has steadily been making history.
Last year, it became the first South Korean movie to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Last month, it was nominated for six Oscars, including best picture, best international feature (formerly known as best foreign-language film) and best director, all three of which were firsts for South Korean cinema. Then “Parasite” became the first foreign-language film to take home the top Screen Actors Guild Award, for best cast in a motion picture.
The movie, about a poor family scheming its way into working for a wealthy family, has grossed more than $160 million worldwide, and talks about a limited series adaptation for HBO are already underway.
But will it become the first foreign-language film to win the Oscar for best picture?
Awards-season experts say it has a good chance, but among other factors, it will have to overcome academy history. Only 10 other foreign-language films have been nominated for its top prize. Despite rave reviews and box office successes, none of them could break the English language barrier. Here’s a look at those 10.

FRANCE: ‘Grand Illusion’
Nominated in 1938, this French World War I drama from Jean Renoir was the first foreign-language film to land a best-picture nod. It centers on two French officers captured by a German pilot and held in a prisoner-of-war camp.
Critics consider “Grand Illusion” one of the greatest movies ever made. Franklin D. Roosevelt argued that “all the democracies in the world must see this film,” while Orson Welles once said: “If I had only one film in the world to save, it would be ‘Grand Illusion.’ ”
The academy would have chosen otherwise. The movie lost to Frank Capra’s romantic comedy “You Can’t Take It With You.”

ALGERIA: ‘Z’
This political thriller by Greek-French director Costa-Gavras is the first of only six films to be nominated for both best picture and best foreign-language film.
“Z” draws from a true story and follows an investigator looking into the murder of a left-wing politician in Greece. It was released in several European countries in 1969 – the year it was nominated – but was banned under the ruling military junta in Greece and would not screen there until after the junta fell in 1974.
It received five Oscar nominations and went on to win two: For editing and foreign-language film. In the best picture category, “Z” lost to “Midnight Cowboy,” John Schlesinger’s X-rated drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight.

SWEDEN: ‘The Emigrants’
This sprawling epic by director Jan Troell follows a poor Swedish family on an arduous journey to Minnesota in the 19th century. The film led to a sequel, “The New Land,” starring the same cast. A short-lived series on ABC followed.
“The Emigrants” was nominated for best foreign-language film in 1972. Because of different categories’ eligibility rules, it received four more nominations in 1973: For best picture, director, actress and adapted screenplay.
It left both ceremonies empty-handed, losing to a very different immigrant story in the best picture category, “The Godfather”.

‘Cries and Whispers’
Eminent director Ingmar Bergman directed this period drama set around the turn of the century about three sisters who reunite in 19th-century Sweden as one of them is dying of cancer.
The movie is said to be Bergman’s most striking work in color. “All of my films can be thought of in terms of black and white,” he once said, “except ‘Cries and Whispers.’”
It was nominated for five Oscars in 1973, including best director. But it just took home one, for best cinematography. The award for best picture went to George Roy Hill’s caper, “The Sting,” which scooped up seven Oscars in total.

ITALY: ‘Il Postino’
Carried by the quiet yet touching performances of its two stars, Massimo Troisi and Philippe Noiret, this Italian dramedy chronicles the unlikely friendship between a mailman and his only client, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
This was Troisi’s last performance. He had put off heart surgery to work on the film and died of a heart attack the day after principal photography was completed.
The movie received five Oscar nominations in 1995 and walked away with one, for Luis Bacalov’s score. “Braveheart” was deemed best picture.

‘Life Is Beautiful’
Italian actor Roberto Benigni directed and starred in this tragicomedy, about an Italian Jew who is interned in a Nazi concentration camp but who convinces his son that the horrors around them are all part of a silly game.
The movie is now one of the highest-grossing non-English language films in American box office history. It was nominated for seven Oscars in 1998, including best director and best screenplay. It won three: For best actor, original score and foreign-language film.
Romantic comedy “Shakespeare in Love” won best picture.

TAIWAN: ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’
Ang Lee’s martial arts epic, about two lovers on the hunt for a stolen sword in 19th-century China, brought in more than $128 million at the domestic box office when it opened 20 years ago. The film featured dizzying choreography by Yuen Woo-ping of “The Matrix” and music by Yo-Yo Ma.
In 2000, “Crouching Tiger” became the first foreign-language film to land 10 Oscar nominations. Lee lost in the best-director category, but his picture won four awards: For cinematography, score, set direction and foreign-language film.
The best picture Oscar went to another historical epic, “Gladiator.”

UNITED STATES: ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’
This war drama from Clint Eastwood reimagined the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of Japanese soldiers. Primarily in Japanese, the film was a companion piece to Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers,” which looked at the battle through the eyes of the Americans.
Several critics said “Letters from Iwo Jima” was the best movie of the year. It won a Golden Globe for best foreign-language film and, in 2006, was nominated for four Oscars, including best director and original screenplay. It took home one, for sound editing.
Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” won best picture.

AUSTRIA: ‘Amour’
In this tragic French-language drama from Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, the quiet life of a retired couple in Paris is turned upside down after the wife suffers a stroke.
“Amour” won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and New York Times critic A.O. Scott named it the best movie of 2012. It received five Oscar nods, among them best directing and original screenplay. But it walked away with only one award, for best foreign-language film.
“Argo,” the historical thriller starring and directed by Ben Affleck, was named best picture.

MEXICO: ‘Roma’
Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white portrait of life in 1970s Mexico City made waves last year.
It became the second foreign-language film with 10 Oscar nominations after “Crouching Tiger” – among the nods were best actress and original screenplay – and the movie gave Netflix its first best-picture nomination.
It ultimately won three groundbreaking Oscars: “Roma” gave Mexico its first win in the foreign-language film category; Cuarón was the first person to win both best cinematography and directing for the same film; and he was the first to win best director for a movie that wasn’t in English.
Yet when it came to best picture, “Roma” lost to “Green Book,” Peter Farrelly’s polarizing segregation-era tale.