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Italian Oscar appeal explored: Cinema Paradiso, Mediterraneo, Life Is Beautiful & The Great Beauty




  • “professional recognition in Hollywood is driven as much by embedded processes than individual skill.”
  • We may identify a new Italian winning pattern


Winning Against All Odds

Italian Oscar appeal explored: Cinema Paradiso, Mediterraneo, Life Is Beautiful

& The Great Beauty

Written by: Ashton Hampton, student at Richmond University in Florence


In speculation of the Academy Award process, this article will score the four most recent Italian movies to win Best Foreign Language Film in an attempt to identity a new, all Italian ‘Oscar appeal’.

Analysts have searched for recurring criteria in winning films and nominees since the first Academy Awards in 1929. One of them has gone so far as to create a mathematical algorithm to determine Oscar appeal. Using variables such as genre, human capital, and degree centrality, Gabriel Rossman claimed that “professional recognition in Hollywood is driven as much by embedded processes than individual skill.” Rossman and his partner, Oliver Schilke, compiled data on twenty-five years of nominees and winners. Using a model usually applied to the analysis of political lobbying – a system known as the ‘Tullock Lottery’ – they claimed that the odds of winning an Oscar are quantifiable, and therefore predictable, on the base of a ten-point checklist.

Point number one of this checklist is not to stray from genres of “drama, war, history, and biography” and “political intrigue, disabilities, war crimes, and show business.” Secondly, it is ideal to release films towards the end of the year, preferably around Christmas. Thirdly, it is helpful not to produce films in big studios. Other criteria are that R-rated films are more flexible, directors and actors with previous Oscar nominations have better chances to win as well as plot lines based on real stories, films glorifying the film industry, runtimes of at least two hours and main characters that are directors or actors. Let’s now explore how these ‘qualities’ are reflected in the Oscar-winning Italian movies of the last 30 years.


Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso won in 1990. The film is a drama, World War II is on the background (even though the story takes place immediately after the war, as the movie depicts the transition of cinema from a community-based institution, as it was in the 50’s, to its decline represented by the videotapes and the Dvds of the 80’s). Released on September 29, 1989, Cinema Paradiso portrays both a main character with a disability and topics relating to show business. It holds an R-rating, was not an independent production, lacks previously nominated actors or directors, is only partly based on a true story (being the biography of the director), exceeds two hours and the main character becomes a director. On the Oscar appeal scale Cinema Paradiso receives a 7/10.

Gabriele Salvatores’ Mediterraneo won in 1991. With substantially less Oscar appeal than Cinema Paradiso, Mediterraneo still attains a few checkpoints on the list. The film is a comedy in which again war and political intrigue, even though present, are not key elements. It has a clear historical timeline, was released on January 31, 1991, was not an independent production, is under two hours and fails to feature previously nominated actors or directors. It does not draw from a true story, glorify the film industry, or include a main character that is an actor or director; but it does have an R-rating. Mediterraneo scores a 2/10 on the scale of Oscar appeal.

Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful won three Oscars in 1998, but it scores surprisingly low on the Oscar appeal checklist. It is a drama that includes political intrigue and war crimes. The movie was released on December 20, 1997. It is neither independent nor R-rated and does not feature previously nominated actors or directors. It is not based on a true story, does not glorify the film industry, falls four minutes short of the two-hour minimum and does not depict a main character as either a director or actor. The film scores a 3/10 on Oscar appeal checklist.

The last film is Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, which won in 2013. The biggest appeal of the film is its cinematography. Sorrentino describes his movie as “a journey toward the beauty of life and also its opposite. One of the great opportunities the movie allows is to find beauty no matter what.” The Great Beauty is a drama too, depicting the post-WWII Roman society. It exceeds the R-rating and the minimum two-hour running time. It scores 3/10.

The conclusion deriving from our brief analysis is that the four recent Italian winners overall fail to match Rossman’s typology. Thus, we may identify a new Italian winning pattern in which the key element to score success is going against Rossman’s odds, particularly by producing a drama, whilst at the same time concluding with a hope that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is, and will continue to be, unbiased.




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