With the 83rd annual Academy Awards ceremony just a few days away, it is a prime time to look back on the fascinating history that Italian films share with the coveted golden boy himself – Oscar.
Italy has garnered 27 Academy Award nominations and 13 wins for Best Foreign Language Film, more than any other country. I hate to admit it, but France is right on Italy’s tail 12 wins. Italy has received a total of 27 Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Language Film. This award is given annually to a feature-length motion picture produced outside the U.S. that contains primarily non-English dialogue by United States Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929. Prior to 1956, the Academy presented Honorary Awards to the top foreign language films. During this time, 3 Italian films received Honorary Awards. It wasn’t until 1956 when the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film was first handed out. La Strada, Federico Fellini’s neorealist drama, was the first film to win this special award.
Italian directors have found great success with their films with the Academy. Federico Fellini and Vittorio de Sica won multiple Academy Awards for their film. Federico received more Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film than any other director in the history of the Academy.I recommend adding his 4 winning films to your Netflix queue: La Strada, 8 1/2, Nights of Cabiria, and Amarcord. De Sica gives Fellini a run for his money. He received two Academy Awards for Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (featuring the spectacular Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni) and the Garden of the Finzi-Continis, as well as two Honorary Awards prior to the establishment of the formal award for Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thief.
The last Italian film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film was Life is Beautiful. This was a major blockbuster (in the world of foreign language films) and catapulted the manic Roberto Benigni to international stardom. For those of you who have not seen it, I strongly recommend that you do. It is a moving film. Even if think you do not like foreign films or you can’t stand to read subtitles, do yourself a favor and just watch it. You will get a lot out of the movie even if you don’t read the subtitles carefully. In 1998, Life is Beautiful not only won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, it won for Best Original Dramatic Score (the music is really quite beautiful, a friend of mine used it during her wedding ceremony) and Roberto Benigni took home the statuette for Best Actor. He became the first male performer in a non-English-speaking role to win for Best Actor. (Check out his exuberant acceptance that goes down as one of the most memorable in Oscar history.) The film is primarily set and filmed in Arezzo. This spectacular Tuscan town is just a quick bus or train ride to Arezzo from Florence. Select Study Abroad students can reach this fantastic city easily and visit sites from some of the movie’s most memorable scenes.
Here is some more Italian-themed Oscar trivia to impress your friends with this Sunday…Only 8 foreign films have ever been nominated for Best Picture; 2 of them were Italian (Il Postino and Life is Beautiful).
The only “partly” foreign language films to win the Academy Award for Best Picture are The Godfather Part II (English/Sicilian, 1974), The Last Emperor (English/Mandarin, 1987) and Slumdog Millionaire (English/Hindi, 2008).
The Godfather trilogy (arguably an American/Italian hybrid) was the first trilogy in which all 3 films were nominated for Best Picture. The Godfather and the Godfather Part II won.
Italy does not have a film nominated this year, but here is a list of not-to-miss Italian winners from the past:
1956 – La Strada
1957 – Nights of Cabiria (Le notte di Cabiria)
1963 – 8 1/2
1964 – Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Ieri, oggi, domani)
1970 – Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto)
1971 – The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini)
1974 – Amacord
1989 – Cinema Paradiso
1991 – Mediterraneo
1998 – Life is Beautiful (La vita é bella)
1947 – Shoeshine (Sciuscià)
1949 – Bicycle Thief (Ladri di biciclette)
1950 – The Walls of Malapaga (Le mura di Malapaga)