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Foreign Oscar Race Officially Kicks Off; Final Five Big Unknown

Foreign Oscar Race Officially Kicks Off; Final Five Big Unknown

And so the official list of foreign-language Oscar submissions is finally out, in what could have been one of the most contentious run-ups in years. Delayed by a few days because of the dust-up over “The Band’s Visit” and a review of “Lust, Caution” — as I had suggested last week in indieWIRE, it was dubiously Taiwanese — the record-breaking 63 entries is now firmed up and ready to unleash on weary (and often elderly) Oscar foreign-language voters with enough time on their hands to watch over 20 movies in the next few weeks. (The 63 films are divided into three groups.)

With those aforementioned heavy-hitters out of the race, this year’s final five should have a couple of surprises, perhaps more so than ever before. “Persepolis” (France) and “The Counterfeiters” (Austria) are shoo-ins, at this point, and both have the backing of Sony Classics. But I’m not so sure anymore about the remaining three spots. Picturehouse is gunning hard for “The Orphanage” (Spain) and “Mongol” (Kazahkstan), but the former is horror — and a lot straight up scarier than last year’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” — a genre which the Academy doesn’t have a strong record of supporting; and the latter, while beautifully photographed, fits squarely, and perhaps too awkwardly, between love story and battle epic that voters could get confused.

That leaves spots for Lebanese crowd-pleaser “Caramel,” that could come from behind as a Hollywood liberal’s favorite underdog, Iceland’s accessible psychological thriller “Jar City,” or stranger things have happened, a veritable bona fide foreign art movie that actually deserves a spot, such as Lee Chang Dong’s exquisite “Secret Sunshine” (South Korea) or Romania’s unrelenting Cannes winner “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.”

I have my doubts that first-time entry Azerbaijan (with Farid Gumbatov’s “Caucasia”) has a chance, but you got to give them credit for trying.

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