Pass the Remote: Oscars list for best international feature 

"The Zone of Interest," set in Rudolf Höss’ country house and focusing on the mundanity of evil, deserves to win the Oscar for best international feature film. (Courtesy A24)

Hollywood’s biggest night happens March 10 when the 96th Academy Awards show gets underway at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.  

To help you prepare for the star-powered event, this week we’ll check out the best international feature entries. This year, all five films deserve being in the category. Most are showing in Bay Area theaters, and one is streaming.

Here’s our take on each nominee, ranked from our No. 1 pick on down. 

Next week, we’ll look at the Oscar-nominated short documentaries category.  

  1. “The Zone of Interest”: The day-to-day life of commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel, in a chilling performance) who oversees the infamous concentration camp where over 1 million Jews were exterminated goes under the microscope in director Jonathan Glazer’s immersive experience. This film from the U.K. is unlike anything you have watched before. Glazer (“Under the Skin,” “Birth” and “Sexy Beast”) is a fearless filmmaker, and he is at his most bold here, inviting audiences to observe the comings and goings of Rudolf, his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and their six children. We watch the kids play with the teeth of Jews, bask in a sun-kissed field, and go about their comfortable lives, all in the long shadows of the monstrous killing machine next door to their estate. There are no explicit scenes of violent acts but make no mistake: Glazer has fashioned an auditory nightmare, as we hear on a loop the shouts, shrieks, clanks and gunshots from the killing house next door. “The Zone of Interest” is an uncompromising film that will be talked about for decades to come. (In select theaters) 
In “Perfect Days,” Koji Yakusho plays a toilet cleaner in Japan who finds joy and comfort in life’s simple pleasures. (Courtesy Neon)
  1. “Perfect Days”: Wim Wenders’ subtle achievement eavesdrops on the simple life of Hirayama, a toilet cleaner (Koji Yakusho) in Japan. It’s the antithesis of a “Fast & Furious” movie and we’re grateful for that. It asks audiences that have been overserved with flashy edits, shootouts, and nauseating displays of computer-generated imagery to surrender to the placid day-to-day life of a worker, to soak it all in and even learn something. Hirayama listens to his favorite music on cassette tapes, marvels at his surroundings in a park, and finds joy in bookstores. He even loves scrubbing toilets, taking pride in doing a job well done. Some might see it as a lonely life, but there’s a reason Hirayama has chosen a spartan yet fulfilling existence, separating himself from drama that lines his past. I caught Japan’s entry in October during the Mill Valley Film Festival and have not stopped thinking about it, cherishing it, and even adjusting my own life as a result. (In San Francisco at the AMC Kabuki this week and Roxie next week) 
Two hopeful Senegalese cousins trek through the desert on their way to Europe in “Io Capitano.” (Courtesy Cohen Media Group) Credit: GRETA DE LAZZARIS
  1. “Io Capitano” (“My Captain”): Life in Dakar seems too confining and small for Senegalese cousins, 16-year-old Seydou (Seydou Sarr, in one of 2023’s most underrated performances) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall), both of whom have big dreams about journeying to Europe and becoming well-known singers. Their relatives don’t know about their plans, or their secret stash of cash accumulated doing various jobs. But their dream turns into a nightmare during a hellish journey that takes them on a surreal trek through the desert and lands them in a Dantesque prison. Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone’s harrowing migrant tale does sound harsh, and at times it is, but Garrone’s use of magical realism and how he shows the loving bond between the cousins radiates with hope. Garrone cares about their plight as they confront impossible situations and do their best to overcome them. (Opens Friday in San Francisco at Landmark Opera Plaza) 
A theft in a school witnessed by a teacher (Leonie Benesch, left) leads to power struggle problems in “The Teachers’ Lounge.” (Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
  1. “The Teachers’ Lounge”: Principled new teacher Carla Nowak spots a theft going down and does something about it, an action that triggers an escalation of emotions and results in repercussions that consume educators, students and parents alike. İlker Çatak’s tightly wound thriller takes place in a school but puts up a mirror to society and politics, showing fault lines and communication breakdowns. As the teacher at the epicenter, Leonie Benesch makes us feel the desperation of being not only an outsider, but a pariah. The film is Germany’s handwringer of a selection. (At the Orinda Theater) 
“Society of the Snow” is a harrowing survival story about a 1972 plane crash in the Andes. (Courtesy Netflix)
  1. “Society of the Snow”: J.A. Bayona’s harrowing survival thriller recounts a well-known 1972 Uruguay plane crash in the Andes and the 72-day ordeal after that led to more deaths, starvation and cannibalism. The plane, filled with rugby players and their families and friends, was bound for Chile. Bayona’s film, based on journalist Pablo Vierci’s 2009 book, tempers the most sensational aspects, thankfully. That said, Spain’s entry is hard to watch, and that is as it should be, given the subject matter. Bayona and co-screenwriters make one wise decision after another, particularly regarding the passenger narrating the story, Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic). This character’s role defines the film, making it stronger and better. (On Netflix) 

Leave a Reply

The Exedra comments section is an essential part of the site. The goal of our comments policy is to help ensure it is a vibrant yet civil space. To participate, we ask that Exedra commenters please provide a first and last name. Please note that comments expressing congratulations or condolences may be published without full names. (View our full Comments Policy.)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *