From its first edition in 1929, the Academy Awards have represented the most prestigious ceremony in cinema. With a grand total of 3.140 Oscar statuettes awarded in all aspects of motion picture production, Italy’s 60 wins may not seem like many. But the country tops the list in the International Movie category, with 14 statuettes in that field alone (compared to 9 for France and 4 to Spain). And only the UK and USA have won more Oscars overall.
On April 25 we’ll enjoy the 93rd edition of the Oscar ceremony. And, in preparation for Sunday night, we’re taking a whistle-stop tour through the Italian history of the Oscars — from Italy’s first post-war win to 2021. But will an Italian win this time round?
The Oscars’ best foreign film: De Sica, Fellini, and Feltri
The history of Italian successes started after the Second World War, with the movie Shoeshine (Sciuscià, 1948). On that occasion, Vittorio de Sica’s talent in describing human emotions with simplicity conquered the audience with ease. His neorealist style unfolds around two shoeshine boys who get into trouble after trying to buy a horse. This work of art won its Oscar in the category that would later become the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Further accomplishments didn’t take long to arrive. In 1950, De Sica’s genius struck again with The Bicycle Thief winning his second Oscar award. This time it was an honorary award, for the Best Foreign Language movie — and the film remains recognized as one of the most influential films ever.
Seven years later, Federico Fellini made his appearance at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre to receive his first Academy Award. His creation La Strada triumphed, surpassing the other nominated films from Japan, Germany, France and Denmark. The Oscar-winning film almost resembled a road movie with a cast of nomad performers, and it marked the entrance of Fellini into the global hall of fame of cinema producers.
In the following years, the clout of the Italian movie business grew ever stronger. De Sica and Fellini’s movies progressively accumulated Oscar statuettes at a rate that outpaced foreign competitors. Fellini won his second award with Le Notti di Cabiria in 1958 and scored a third success with 8 ½ in 1964. Then it was De Sica’s turn again with Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1965), starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni as main characters.
Then, in 1971, a third name arrived on the scene: Elio Feltri, with his work of art, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. While he broke the dominance of the big two, the short parenthesis didn’t last long. Two further Oscar ceremonies in the 1970s returned statuettes to De Sica’s Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini in 1972 and Fellini’s Amarcord in 1975.
From the 1990s to the present
After these achievements, we had to wait another 15 years to welcome a statuette to Italy. It was Giuseppe Tornatore’s Nuovo Cinema Paradiso in 1990 that managed to enchant the audience at the Academy, with a bittersweet fairy tale involving two friends Alfredo and Totò. Then, two years later, it was the turn of Gabriele Salvatores and his masterpiece Mediterraneo (1992).
Finally, a decisive moment for Italian cinema at the Oscars was represented by the 71st edition of the awards in 1999. On this occasion Roberto Benigni’s movie La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful) broke all the records. Not only did it receive an Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film, but also for Best Music and to Benigni for Best Actor, the first time that a non-English role won the award.
From that success on, Italy had to wait until 2014 to see another Italian movie winning the prestigious Oscar. The director Paolo Sorrentino triumphed with La Grande Bellezza, depicting the contrast between sacred and profane, silence and chaos, and the protagonist, Jep Gambardella’s, love for the eternal city.
Other Italian Academy Award winners
Yet, the full haul of Italian successes is not limited to Foreign Film category. In 1962, for example, Sophia Loren surpassed her competitors to win Best Actress for her role in La Ciociara by Vittorio De Sica. The same year, the black and white movie La Dolce Vita by Fellini won the award for Best Costume.
Then, during the 35th Academy night, the hosts awarded Ennio de Concini, Alfredo Giannetti and Pietro Germi the award for Best Screenplay for the movie Divorce Italian Style. And in 1969, Franco Zeffirelli’s technical talent was repaid, receiving two Oscars for his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
Italian movie history is made again in 1988 with Bernardo Bertolucci. The great successes of The Last Emperor assumed the form of 9 statuettes, for Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Best Directing, Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Picture, Sound and Screenplay. And, in 2018, the most recent Oscar received by Italy was for the best adapted screenplay of Call Me By Your Name by James Ivory. However, the filmmaker Luca Guadagnino is accredited in the Italian version of the movie.
Italians at the 2021 Oscars
The 2021 edition of the Oscar ceremony will be unique. The pandemic, new sets and a limited audience are all planned for the night of the stars. But, in this edition, Italian nominees are Pinocchio by Matteo Garrone, in the Costume and the Makeup categories, and Laura Pausini’s song Io Sì in La Vita Davanti a Sè, a movie by Edoardo Ponti.
Celebrities like Brad Pitt, Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon, Renée Zellweger, Joaquin Phoenix, Harrison Ford and Laura Dern will be among the official hosts of the ceremony. Even with some major adjustment, this edition of the Oscars will turn the attention of the entertainment community. This time, we might not see fevered celebrations and group selfies. However, glimpses behind the scenes and glamorous virtual experiences won’t be missing.
Just remember to do one thing: keep your fingers crossed for the Italian talents. They deserve it.
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