While the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has not yet released a final list of submissions for their Foreign Language Film category (they are expected to do so in the coming days), at this point already submissions from fifty-five different countries, including essentially all of the more eagerly anticipated ones (last year's winner Argentina being an exception, though it is expected to announce tomorrow) have been made public. So it seems safe to start the annual game of judging the foreign language contenders.
It's pretty much an assured equation, year after year: Oscars + Foreign Language Film Category = Outrage. Sometimes, the fault lies with Academy voters (as it did with countless examples like "Departures" winning 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 and their various methods of choosing films are at fault.
Last year, some of the examples of controversy came from the initial submissions from individual countries. China eliminated Lu Chuan's Toronto Film Festival critical darling "City of Life of Death" in favor of Chen Kaige's "Forever Enthralled"; Sweden opted against allowing "Let the Right One In" to be considered because the Swedish Film Institute doesn't allow a film to be considered twice; Chile chose "Dawson Island, 10" over Sebastián Silva's Sundance winner "The Maid"; Spain didn't even put Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces" on their three-film short list (which wasn't the first time... back in 2002 the country didn't submit "Talk To Her" in perhaps the grandest example of a submitting committee faux-pas), instead going with Fernando Trueba’s “The Dancer and the Thief”; And most puzzling off all, Italy opted for Giuseppe Tornatore's "Baaria" over Marco Bellocchio's "Vincere," the country's most exported film of the year and one which has been winning raves on the festival circuit since its debut in Cannes.
The one snub that will probably irk the most people is once again care of the Italians. The country that holds the record for the most wins in this category (though they've managed only one nomination in the past decade) had a shortlist of ten to choose from, including Luca Guadagnino’s “I Am Love," the Tilda Swinton starrer that found massive critical and financial success Stateside this summer. Instead, they went with Paolo Virzi’s "The First Beautiful Thing," which few have heard of outside of Italy, and those that have have not been impressed. Unfortunately, "Love"'s snub was not entirely unexpected, considering the Italians' recent selection history. Though one wonders if the country would have had a better shot a nod with Guadagnino’s film.
But beyond Italy, things actually seemed to be much less controversial and much more expected than the average year. the majority of the high-profile selection committees offer few omissions that should bring much complaint. France went with Xavier Beauvois' acclaimed Cannes favorite "Of Gods and Men" over Mathieu Amalric's "Tournee," among others; Canada went with Denis Villeneuve's "Incendies" over Xavier Dolan's "Les Amours Imaginaires"; Greece submitted the acclaimed "Dogtooth," directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, after apparently changing their rules and no longer automatically selecting the winner at the Thessaloniki Film Festival; Mexico expectedly submitted Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu's "Biutiful" (a Mexico-Spain co-production), over a shortlist that included many other worthy titles including "Abel," "Northless," and "Daniel Y Ana"; Portugal went with João Pedro Rodrigues's "To Die Like A Man" over Manoel de Oliveira's "The Strange Case of Angelica," which may displease some de Oliviera fans but "Man" was quite acclaimed in its own right; annually snubbed Romania tried again with Florin Serban's well-received "If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle" over two similarly well-received titles in "Aurora" and "Tuesday After Christmas"; Spain went with Icíar Bollaín's "Even The Rain" - which arranged a special early screening to qualify - over Daniel Monzón's "Celda 211," a prison drama that won big at the Goya Awards; Sweden submitted Andreas Ohman's "Simple Simon," which is not a snub of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," as that film was released in last year's eligibility period; and Thailand thankfully went with Apichatpong Weerathesakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," despite generally submitting more mainstream efforts.
There's still a few countries left to submit, but so far it seems like one of the most agreeable batches of country submissions in sometime. But according to past trends, it's unlikely that the Academy's selection from these submissions will offer the same. A shortlist of nine semi-finalists in this category is expected to be announced on January 20, 2011. The final list of nominees will be announced on January 25, 2011 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles. Until then, check out this updated list of country submissions, and check back with indieWIRE for the official list in the coming days.
Get the latest on this year's award season at indieWIRE's awards page.