Before we get into a few controversies from this year's growing list (though admittedly there's less than usual so far), there's quite a few positive things to note as well. Some really exceptional, challenging work is in contention that collectively represents an impressive year in world cinema. Michael Haneke's "Amour" (Austria), Cate Shortland's "Lore" (Australia), Pablo Larrain's "No" (Chile), Christian Petzold's "Barbara" (Germany), Nikolaj Arcel's "A Royal Affair" (Denmark), Ursala Meier's "Sister" (Switzerland), Rama Burshtein's "Fill The Void" (Israel) and Cristian Mungiu's "Beyond The Hills" (Romania) have all been submitted so far.
Whether or not any of these end up making it on the Academy's short list is a whole other story (though if "Amour" doesn't, it would be a legendary snub), especially considering quite a few of them are not exactly mainstream. But, hey, if "Dogtooth" could make it two years back, anything's possible.
The list so far is also notable in the impressive amount of female-helmed films. Two years after a woman won the award (Susanne Bier's "In a Better World"), aforementioned examples from Israel, Australia and Switzerland join the likes of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Aida Begić's "Children of Sarajevo"), Japan (Yong-hi Yang's "Our Homeland"), Palestinian Territories (Annemarie Jacir's "When I Saw You"), and Slovakia (Iveta Grofova's "Made in Ash"). That's seven films so far. Not exactly a fair ratio, but sadly progressive when it comes to women working behind the camera (though notably not included among these is Susanne Bier herself, whose "Love Is All You Need" was snubbed by Denmark in favor of "A Royal Affair" -- though most critics would probably agree with that decision).
Meanwhile, the most prominent controversy so far involves a country that will not compete at all.
Following its groundbreaking win last year (the first for a Middle Eastern counrty), Iran's government-controlled cinema agency has called for a boycott of the Oscars just a day after the country's official selection committee had selected "A Cube of Sugar" by Reza Mirkarimi as the official Iranian submission. The boycott came to the extremely controversial "Innocence of Muslims" video on Youtube, which originated in America and has resulted in multiple demonstrations and outbreaks of violence across the world. which has prompted multiple demonstrations and outbreaks of violence across the globe in the past month.
Much less extreme examples of controversy on behalf of selection committees include France's submission of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's box office powerhouse "The Intouchables" over the Jacques Audiard's much more critically acclaimed "Rust and Bone." Many groaned at the decision, though it's easy to see France's reasoning. "Rust & Bone" is a challenging film about a killer whale trainer (Marion Cotillard, who could still very well get a best actress nomination) who suffers a horrible accident. On the other hand, the light, feel-good "Intouchables" -- about a friendship between a wealthy quadriplegic, and the young and poor man hired as his live-in caregiver -- is right up the Academy's alley and is probably one of the category's frontrunners. It also has the backing of Harvey Weinstein, who France clearly owes a debt to after last year's Oscarian domination of "The Artist."
We'll have to wait until January to see if France's plan works out. The 85th Academy Award nominations will be announced January 10, 2013.
Check out Indiewire's latest chart of Oscar predictions here, including a quick take on the foreign language race.