Oscars 2024: Discover This Year’s Incredible Best International Feature Nominees, And Where You Can Watch Them

Perfect Days

Kôji Yakusho, 68, plays Hirayama, a cleaner of public toilets in Tokyo who takes palpable joy in simply living his life in 'Perfect Days,' which is up for an Oscar in the Best International Feature category. Photo: Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Here’s a bold but demonstrable statement about this year’s Academy Awards: the five films competing for Best International Feature comprise some of the most exciting, innovative, and entertaining entries on the ballot, Hollywood blockbusters notwithstanding. 

What’s more, the general enthusiasm greeting these festival-fêted five suggest a perceptible shift in the mainstream gaze towards films made outside the U.S. That can arguably be traced back to Roberto Benigni’s wildly successful Life Is Beautiful from 1997 – which nabbed three Oscars including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor for Benigni, the first time a male non-English performance won the honour – and peaking with 2019’s Parasite. 

The black comedy scored South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho the Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature and Best Picture Oscars – the first non-English-language film so celebrated. It was also a bankable smash with audiences worldwide. 

That sweeping success might be repeated this year with The Zone of Interest, 58-year-old British director Jonathan Glazer’s eerily brilliant German-language Holocaust movie, which is also up for Best Picture, Best International Feature, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay as well as Best Sound. 

Zone of Interest
Zone of Interest follows a Nazi officer, Rudolf Höss, and his family as they go about their daily lives in the shadow of Auschwitz. Photo: Courtesy Elevation Pictures


Sure, fantastic films have emerged from all corners of the globe since cinema began, with many awarded Oscars. But their pop culture emergence and success has been more recent and due, at least in part, to both their availability to wider audiences on streaming series as well as overall fatigue with so-called “cinematic universes” (looking at you, Marvel).  

This year’s crop of international Oscar nominees underscores just how satisfying it can be to look further afield from Hollywood fare. All are dazzling, clearly aimed at discerning audiences, and available in first-run theatres and/or via video on demand or streaming platforms just ahead of the Academy Awards. Plus, each arrives with an incredible back story. 


Perfect Days

Perfect Days, directed by German cinematic legend Win Wenders, 78, is about an older workaday man – beautifully conjured by Japanese star Koji Yakusho, 68 – who takes palpable joy in simply living his life, indulging his nostalgia by listening to retro music on cassette tapes in his car as he travels to and from his job as a janitor. 

The film came about coincidentally in 2022 when Wenders was invited to Tokyo to document its Tokyo Toilet art project, which had commissioned several high-profile architects and designers to create 17 disarmingly lovely public toilets in various locations in the Shibuya district. (Wenders fell in love with the city shooting a documentary about the fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto there in 1989).

As Wenders explained to The Guardian, the “beauty and calmness of these amazing little places” ignited his imagination, so he set out to make a fictional feature with the toilets, and their caretaker, as his focus. The resulting film, despite its scant plot, is an exultant celebration of aging with grace while appreciating the moment. 

How to watch: Perfect Days is available to rent and purchase as of Mar. 5 at Apple Store/iTunes, Amazon Prime Video Store, Google Play/YouTube Movies, Cineplex Store, Bell on Demand, Rogers on Demand, Shaw on Demand, Telus on Demand, and SaskTel on Demand.


Society of the Snow

Society of the Snow, 48-year-old Spanish director J. A. Bayona’s survival thriller, is based on a true-life story Zoomer readers will doubtless recall from the headlines. It depicts the 1972 tragedy that saw a plane carrying a Uruguayan rugby team crash in a remote, snow-covered area of the Andes (the same horrific event depicted in the 1993 film Alive) . Of the 45 passengers on board, just 16 ultimately survived the initial crash and its aftermath – including resorting to cannibalism while awaiting rescue in the unsparing cold. 

Anyone who saw Bayona’s 2012 drama The Impossible, based on María Belón’s exquisitely sad memoir of experiencing the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami with her family, knows the director has a knack for locating the human emotion beneath large-scale, cinematic disasters. 

How to watch: Society of the Snow is streaming now on Netflix.


The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest, which has already been widely acclaimed, most recently by the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) – where it scored Outstanding British Film of the Year and Best Film Not in the English Language – is extraordinary by any metric. 

The drama follows a Nazi officer, Rudolf Höss, and his family as they go about their daily lives in the shadow of Auschwitz. The Hoss’ owe their social status and comfortable existence to the war yet are seemingly, maybe necessarily, ambivalent to its horror. 

Glazer’s film, loosely based on a 2014 Martin Amis novel of the same name, doesn’t enter the death camp. But in the Hoss garden and its environs, ambient noises speak of the unspeakable. Indeed, sound plays as big a role in the film as Sandra Hüller, who co-stars as the Nazi’s wife Hedwig. 

That a genuinely novel story about the Holocaust could be mined in the wake of monumental epics like Schindler’s List and Sophie’s Choice – and even the before-mentioned, somewhat divisive Life Is Beautiful, to name just three – is astonishing. Yet the evil the film depicts, in both its banality and its innovation, is beyond chilling. 

How to watch: The Zone of Interest is available to buy digitally now and is available to rent starting Mar. 12 on Apple Store/iTunes, Amazon Prime Video Store, Google Play/YouTube Movies, Cineplex Store, Bell on Demand, Rogers on Demand, Shaw on Demand, Telus on Demand and SaskTel on Demand.


Io Capitano

Unlike Zone of Interest, 55-year-old Italian director Matteo Garrone’s white-knuckle Io Capitano takes viewers very much inside the ugly and treacherous global migrant trade. The drama – shot over three months in Senegal, Italy, and Morocco with a cast of non-professional actors – follows a pair of teenage Senegalese cousins as they attempt to get from Dakar to Europe in search of a better life.

Along the way, they encounter ruthless traffickers who extort and torture them. Viewers, meanwhile, will find themselves asking how far they would go to escape poverty amid the film’s surrealist touches and mesmeric Senegalese incidental music. 

How to watch: Though not yet available for rent or streaming, Io Capitano is playing in select theatres across Canada, including Toronto’s TIFF Lightbox and the International Village, Vancouver.


The Teacher’s Lounge

Last but absolutely not least is The Teacher’s Lounge, the incredibly accomplished feature debut of German-born writer-director İlker Çatak. His experience as the child of Turkish immigrants almost certainly influenced his remarkable film, which variously touches on issues of racism and classism, here wrapped around a very relatable story about just how easily the status quo can be upended. 

When a young and popular teacher becomes embroiled in a theft case plaguing the school where she works, she sets off a chain reaction that pits students, faculty, and parents against each other in surprising and unsettling ways. A decisive critical triumph, The Teacher’s Lounge will stick with you for days. 

How to watch: Look for it Mar. 5 on premium VOD including Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Bell, and Vubiquity.