By Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 25, 2012 at 12:50PM
It's generally an assured equation: Oscars + Foreign Language Film Category = Outrage. Sometimes, the fault lies with Academy voters (as it did when "Departures" won the Oscar in 2008 over what most viewed as two greatly superior nominees - "Waltz With Bashir" and "The Class;" or when "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," "Persepolis" and "Volver" were all left off the ballot in 2007). And sometimes, the national submission committees are at fault (like in 2010 when Italy submitted "La Prima Cosa Bella" over "I Am Love").
Last year, there were quite a few controversies from both sides of the equation. Albania originally submitted "The Forgiveness of Blood," but it was rejected due to protest of Bujar Alimani, the director of another Albanian film, "Amnesty." He made the case that "Blood" shouldn't be eligible to represent Albania because its director, Joshua Marston, was American born and most key crew members were American. The Academy disqualified it and Albania instead submitted Alimani's film.
Then there was Puerto Rico, which tried to submit a film -- Sonia Fritz's "America" -- but was rejected because of a new rule that doesn't allow films from US territories to compete in the Foreign Language Film category. But Puerto Rico had been regularly -- and successfully -- submitting films since 1986, getting a nominaton in 1989 for Jacobo Morales's "Santiago, the Story of his New Life." The Puerto Rico Film Commission appealed to the Academy to change its mind, noting its previous Oscar nomination in the category as well as the presence of non-independent territories like Greenland, Hong Kong and Palestine, but AMPAS refused to change its tune.
Another questionable move came care of Russia, which chose Nikita Mikhalkov’s "Burnt By the Sun 2: Citadel," which is a sequel to a film that won this award back in 1995. However, unlike its predecessor, this film has not been well received. It currently holds a D+ average on Criticwire, one of the worst averages in the entire system. It also hasn't been embraced by the Russian public, having only managed to gross $2 million there despite a massive $45 million budget (its considered one of the biggest flops in the country's cinematic history).
While the Russian Oscar selection committee indeed voted for its submission, committee head Vladimir Menshov was adamantly against the decision, asking for reconsideration. One clear alternative suggestion was Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Elena," which was quite well-received in Cannes last year, but Russia didn't budge (and didn't receive a nomination).
In the end, the Academy managed a pretty respectable quintent of nominees based on what had qualified, including Joseph Cedar's "Footnote," Michaël R. Roskam's Belgian "Bullhead" and Asghar Farhadi's eventual winner "A Separation," which few would disagree was one of the more deserving winners in the category, well, ever. Though they did also overlook the acclaimed likes of Aki Kaurismaki's "Le Havre," Wim Wenders' "Pina," Valerie Donzelli's "Declaration of War" and Bela Tarr's "The Turin Horse," it was overall definitely one of the better years for the category.
While the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has not yet released a final list of thus year's submissions for their Foreign Language Film category (they are expected to do so in the next week or so), already submissions from 47 different countries have been made public; another 15-20 are still to come (63 ended up submitting last year).