Ranking 1950s and 1960s Foreign Oscar Winners
The first decade and a half wasn’t the greatest when it comes to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Yes, some of the winners are pretty much deserved and quite good movies, but most are barely solid or even just okay. The sixties in particular feature movies that are famous, but frankly vastly overrated. So here is my ranking of all fourteen foreign Oscar winners from this period.
14. 8 1/2
I really dislike this film so it easily takes the last spot as the only film on this list that is plain bad. Fellini actually made some good movies in his career and one of his will appear much further down this list, but this one is certainly his most overrated. There is nothing to be had here whatsoever apart from total bore. The characters are awful, the plot it nonexistent and the movie is pretentious to the point of becoming annoying.
As for Z, it isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not a particularly good one either. I realize that its plot is important, but the film is made in such a frenetic, weirdly shot manner that it was frustrating to watch. It is another very boring movie that also did not age well whatsoever as it is very much a product of its time.
12. Mon Oncle
I guess Mon Oncle is visually interesting, but other than that, this is as slight as a 60s French movie can be. The plot is basically non-existent and the characters are bland and forgettable. The film is such obvious style over substance that I do not understand why it swept the critics like it did back in the day.
11. Closely Watched Trains
Another very overrated movie on this list, this famous Czech film is solid and well shot, but again very much a product of its time that didn’t age well whatsoever. And its Nazi subplot wasn’t necessary at all and it was just a move from the director to cash in on the popularity of WWII movies.
10. Through a Glass Darkly
Being the first of the two overrated Ingmar Bergman films on this list of winners, Through a Glass Darkly admirably deals with a very dark issue, but it is still too dreary, definitely too slow and dull and ultimately almost entirely forgettable as I cannot remember a lot of the scenes from this film even though I’ve seen it pretty recently.
9. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
This Italian anthology piece is wildly uneven. Of the three stories, only the third one is somewhat interesting and well told. The first one is forgettable and the second one is too short. It is well acted and shot, but the stories do not connect with each other in any meaningful manner so it is again the case of style over substance.
8. La Strada
La Strada is the first of two consecutive wins for Fellini during the first years of this category at the Oscars and it is the weaker of the two for sure. It is sensitive in tone and it has its moments, but is ultimately not as engaging or as emotional as it should have been and it should have been much better executed as a whole.
7. The Virgin Spring
The Virgin Spring is another Bergman feature that deals with an important issue and some scenes here are memorable and very well crafted, but for the most part, the movie isn’t engaging enough and certainly not memorable. It is well acted, but both in terms of plot and characters, it needed more work.
6. Sundays and Cybele
Sundays and Cybele actually does have a pretty decent script, some scenes are pretty striking and the cinematography in particular is very strong. But where it failed is in the relationship between its two main characters as it is quite odd and they are either dull or plain unlikable thus hurting this entire picture in the process.
5. A Man and a Woman
I guess I did overrate this movie a bit, but to me A Man and a Woman deserves this fifth place on the account of its beautiful, highly emotional ending alone. The film is so well made and it looks gorgeous, but yes, it is again style over substance and the various conversations between its two protagonists are never as interesting as they should have been to sell this film’s talkative approach.
4. War and Peace
It is a cliché to say up to this point but you see the pattern – this Russian classic relies too much on style and not nearly enough on the story itself. But it is worth a watch just for those highly professional and so well executed battle sequences and exquisite costumes. This big budgeted spectacle is too long and uneven, but visually arresting.
3. The Shop on Main Street
And now we get to the really good movies. This Slovak picture actually deserved its Oscar as it deals with its very familiar subject matter in a dramatic and powerful way. The performances are fantastic and the film’s third act is so strong and heartbreaking that it entirely compensates for the slower first half.
2. Black Orpheus
This late fifties film is truly a one of a kind experience. It starts off slow, but it then picks up with great scene after scene. It is such an original experiment of mixing modern with mythological and the result is more than stellar and satisfactory featuring a couple of brilliant, moving sequences and a great use of color.
1. Nights of Cabiria
And the number one goes to a movie from the director I usually dislike. But Fellini actually had a really good movie here and following Cabiria on her devastating journey was emotionally rewarding. The film is grounded in reality and very brutal in its tragic ending. It has a plethora of memorable characters, more than a couple of truly resonant scenes and very good performances. It is far from great, but surrounded by these very flawed movies, it easily takes the first spot.