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Hollywood Contenders – Could “Son of Saul” be the biggest Oscar night lock?

Son of Saul
When it comes to the documentary and especially foreign film contenders for Oscar, it can be hard to, you know…actually find them. Usually, the frontrunner for a nomination and in turn a win tends to be what’s actually been seen and enjoyed by audiences in addition to critics. Well, opening this weekend in limited release is Son of Saul, the clear frontrunner at the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Feature. In fact, I might go so far as to say that it’s not only clearly the one to beat, but it’s one that almost assuredly won’t be beaten. There are very few locks right now, but this could be one of them.

For those unaware, the film is a Holocaust drama centered on Saul (Géza Röhrig), a prisoner in 1944 at the Auschwitz death camp. Saul is tasked with burning the bodies of his fellow detained citizens, doing it with a detached removal that suggests he’s simply waiting for death. He finds a reason to live in the body of a young boy that he’s determined to give a proper burial to. László Nemes directs and co-writes here with Clara Royer, while the cast, in addition to Röhrig, includes Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, and more. The cinematography is by Mátyás Erdély, who is the MVP here, along with Nemes.

When I wrote about Son of Saul for a previous piece on the Best Foreign Language Feature race, this is what I said…

“Easily the frontrunner here, probably ever since its debut earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival. The first film from László Nemes, it’s a Holocaust drama set inside the Auschwitz death camp, focused like a laser on the experience of one prisoner within the concentration camp. I’ve seen this one and can vouch for it being a brutal experience, made with impeccable skill and featuring a terrific lead performance from Géza Röhrig. It’s among the best directed films of 2015, so it seems like not just a surefire nominee, but a very likely winner as well.”

I stand by all that, and it seems like I’m far from the only one. If anything, my praise has been minor compared to most. Many have it as one of the very best films of 2015. I won’t go that far, but everything is shaping up for it to be all but unbeatable when it comes time for the Oscars.

Awards wise, there’s a chance that Son of Saul could do better than just a single citation if the remaining guilds really embrace it. Provided that happens, look for long shot but still worthwhile Oscar campaigns in Best Picture, Best Director (for Nemes), Best Actor (for Röhrig), Best Original Screenplay (for Nemes and Royer), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and of course, Best Foreign Language Feature. If we’re being realistic, it seems likely to just be Foreign Language Feature or bust, with a bust highly unlikely, but there’s a small chance that Picture or Cinematography could be in play as well. Keep it in mind when considering outside the box possibilities.

In the end, Son of Saul will have to become a crossover hit in order to really contend for Academy Award nominations outside of Best Foreign Language Feature, but even if that doesn’t happen, it has the advantage of being an almost unbeatable frontrunner. It’s hard to go wrong with a distinction like that, especially in December. Audiences this week can start determining if this has a wider potential, but I’m confident that Oscar voters will cite it in Foreign Language Feature. In fact, I’ll once again lay down the claim that it’s the most likely winner of any category this year. Sit tight, and we’ll see if I happen to be right about this one or not (though I feel pretty confident). Stay tuned folks…

Son of Saul opens in limited release this Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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