March 28, 2023

By Diana Cheng
AAP Film & Arts Writer

Four features with an Asian or Asian American connection made it to the spotlight for a chance to win the coveted golden statuette in the coming Academy Awards. Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” from Lebanon and Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” are nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Chinese-American filmmaker/mountaineer Jimmy Chin and wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s “Free Solo” and Bing Liu’s “Minding the Gap” are Best Documentary Feature nominees. 

The 91st Academy Awards nominations were announced on Tuesday morning, Jan. 22, 2019. Kumail Nanjiani joked about the early hour with co-announcer Tracee Ellis Ross (Golden Globe winner 2017, “Black-ish”), live streaming at 5:30 a.m. (PT). This is Ross’s first time getting up so early for the Oscar occasion and the second time for Nanjiani, his first being last year when he watched the announcement of his own nomination for Best Original Screenplay for “The Big Sick”, in bed.

This is the first Oscar nomination for all these directors, albeit most of them are no strangers in the awards circuit. Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” is the Palme d’Or winner in 2018 Cannes Film Festival while Labaki’s “Capernaum” won several awards there as well among other accolades. Chin and Vasarhelyi’s “Free Solo” has already garnered the Critics Choice Documentary Awards and won the People’s Choice Documentary at TIFF in 2018. The novice among these is young filmmaker Bing Liu. His skateboard documentary “Minding the Gap” won the 2018 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Filmmaking. 

Kore-eda’s Oscar recognition is long due. The Japanese director’s previous works have long been admired in many parts of the world, his subject focusing on the family and its relationships. He first appeared at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001 with a nomination for “Distance”, and since then, had been back several more times with “Nobody Knows” (2004), “Our Little Sister” (2015), and “After the Storm” (2016). His first Palme d’Or win was for “Like Father, Like Son” (2013). 

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters”

Labaki’s “Capernaum” is a realistic narrative of 12 year-old Syrian refugee Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) on the streets of Beirut, a poignant depiction that points to a very different premise, as Zain in the film brings his parents to court for giving birth to him. A thought-provoking feature. 

Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi are Asian American filmmakers who have captured death defying climbs to some of the world’s most challenging mountains. Their previous film “Meru” (2015) is a documentary that follows Chin and his team on two attempts to Meru Peak in the Garhwal Himalayas, India. The breathtaking and moving feature won a few awards including one at Sundance 2015, but did not garner more recognition as it deserved. This time, with the equally stunning “Free Solo” about Alex Honnold’s death-defying climb up the vertical wall of El Capitan with no ropes or safety gears has finally given Chin and Vasarhelyi the chance to reach a filmmaking summit of their own. 

Liu’s “Minding the Gap” is a personal journey of his life in the close-knit skateboard community while he was growing up in Rockford, Illinois. The documentary is a realistic, vérité-styled capture of not only the skateboarding camaraderie but a sharing of the abusive childhood and difficult father-son relationships these young people have experienced. Liu shares the nomination with producer Diane Moy Quon.

The 91st Academy Awards will be held on Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., and for the first time in 30 years, without a host. 

For a full list of Oscars 2019 nominees, click here

To read Diana Cheng’s reviews on the above nominated features, click on the links:



“Free Solo”


Contact Diana Cheng at [email protected] or visit her blog Ripple Effects at or on Twitter @Arti_Ripples

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