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Oscar Foreign Language Shortlist Films All Open or Set for Release by Early 2013

Oscar Foreign Language Shortlist Films All Open or Set for Release by Early 2013

Something funny happened on the way to the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar shortlist. Unusually, all nine contenders announced Friday morning have either already been released in the US or will be during the first quarter of 2013.

Because of separate eligibility rules for this category — determined by their release dates in the country submitting a film rather than in the US, unlike all other awards — the nominees are often films virtually unknown to most American moviegoers, even those who follow foreign film. In some years — including 2008, 2009 and 2010 — the winner did not open theatrically until after the Oscar ceremony.

Although plans are in flux for at least two of the unreleased films on the list (“Kon-Tiki” and “The Deep”), and at least one other (“Beyond the Hills”) might move up its date before the awards, it is likely that at least three and possibly all five of the eventual nominees will open in theaters before awards night — at least in NY and LA. And the competition might be between two or more films already widely seen in major US cities (“Amour” and “Intouchables”), which in itself would be rare indeed.

Here are the nine films and their distribution history:

In release

“Amour” (Austria – 3 previous nominees, 1 win)

Distributor – Sony Pictures Classics

US release date – 12/19/12

Gross to date – $30,000 (only 2 days in 3 theaters)

Film festivals include – Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York

Metacritic score: 92

Awards include – Palme d’or/Cannes; Best Film, Actor, Actress, Director/European Film Awards; Best Film, Best Actress/Los Angeles Film Critics; Best Foreign Language Film/New York Film Critics, National Board of Review; Best Foreign Language Film (nominee) – Golden Globes, Broadcast Film Critics

Director Michael Haneke is the only one here to have been a previous nominee (“The White Ribbon”) and his film (actually French, but Academy rules allow it to be submitted from Austria because of his citizenship and local production financing) has easily been the most honored film of 2012 internationally as well as the top choice among foreign language films from US critics’ groups so far.

Just opened in NY/LA, Sony Pictures Classics will be expanding this to major cities in January (similar to their pattern for last year’s winning film “A Separation”). With hopes for additional nominations, including best actress, director and original screenplay, this could be the highest profile among the nominees in theaters during the voting if it becomes a nominee.

“A Royal Affair” (Denmark – 8 previous nominees, 3 wins)

Distributor – Magnolia

US release date – 11/9/2012

Gross to date – $559,000

Film festivals include – Berlin, Telluride, Toronto

Metacritic score: 73

Awards include – Best Actor, Screenplay/Berlin; Best Foreign Language Film (nominee), Golden Globes, Broadcast Critics

A widely anticipated release since its Berlin premiere, Nikolaj Arcel’s period romantic drama was an expected inclusion on the list. Opening in the face of fierce competition for the core older adult audience since its release last month, the historic bodice-ripper has opened already in most major cities (56 theaters last week). A nomination next month would likely reinvigorate the film, which so far hasn’t lived up to its expected potential, mainly because of the near-record number of significant films drawing from the same audience.

“Intouchables” (France – 40 previous nominees, 12 wins)

Distributor – Weinstein

US release date – 5/25/2012

Gross to date – $13,082,000

Film festivals include – San Sebastian, Tokyo

Metacritic score: 57

Awards include – Best Actor/Cesar Awards; Audience Award/European Film Awards; Best Foreign Language Film (nominee) Golden Globes, Broadcast Critics

The rare contender that has already been a major hit in the US as well as one that did so without film festival or strong critical backing. “Intouchables” has been a world-wide phenomenon, grossing a staggering $420 million so far, making it one of 2012’s biggest hits. It could easily be better known outside the US than any of the films that will be nominated for Best Picture or any of the acting categories – unprecendented for this category.

Despite a spring release date, this is still playing in theaters, and has not yet come out on DVD. A nomination would allow Weinstein to re-release the film and go even wider than they did on its initial release. It already has grossed nearly twice what last year’s winner (“A Separation”) did – which itself was an unusually good total for a winning film.

Although France with Italy has been the dominant country in this category historically, they have only won once in the last 34 years – a source of great frustration for an industry which provides more non-English language hits to US arthouses than any other country. Ironically, with Austria’s “Amour” being a strong contender, their biggest competition may be a film of theirs submitted by another country.

“Sister” (Switzerland – 5 previous nominees, 2 winners)

Distributor – Adopt

US release date – 10/5/12

Gross to date – not reported

Film festivals include – Berlin

Metacritic score: 81

Awards include – Special award/Berlin; Best International Film (nominee)/ Independent Spirit Awards

Though it received strong reviews for its NY/LA openings, Ursula Meier’s “Sister,” about two young siblings’ struggles while working at a ski resort, made little impact theatrically when released in October, and only played a small number of cities.

Adopt, a recently formed company with a high-quality acquisition slate so far (they also have “Barbara,” opening today and “Caesar Must Die,” the submissions from Germany and Italy respectively, neither of which made the short list), could use the boost of a nomination to get this film more attention.

Still to open

“War Witch” (Canada – 6 previous nominees, 1 winner)

Distributor – Tribeca

US release date – 3/1/2013

Film festivals include – Berlin, Tribeca, Toronto

Awards include – Best Actress/Berlin; Best Actress, Best Narrative Feature/Tribeca; Best International Film (nominee), Independent Spirit Awards

Shot in the Congo, though a Canadian production, this film is set in a similar setting as “Hotel Rwanda” (African civil war), in this case from the point of view of a 14 year old girl abducted and forced into military service, and then becoming pregnant. This is less well-known than some of the films on the list, with director Kim Nguyen a relative newcomer. But reported strong response from the Foreign Language Committee screening made this an early favorite to be included on the short list.

This is the first film from Tribeca – a distribution company connected with the Film Festival – to receive consideration in their brief existance. They will open immediately after the Oscars (March 1 in NY, March 8 in LA), so if it is a nominee, it will have limited exposure before then.

“No” (Chile – no previous nominees)

Distributor – Sony Pictures Classics

Film festivals include – Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York

Awards include – Best Film – Art Cinema Prize/Cannes (Directors’ Fortnight)

US release date – 2/15/2013

Chile has never had an Oscar nominee, but its resurgent film industry in recent years makes this short-list inclusion no surprise. Director Pablo Larrain has already received significant festival attention for other films. With Gael Garcia Bernal starring as the advertising director for a 1980s referendum on the future of dictator Augusto Pinochet, this has both strong dramatic value as well as political and media themes more universal than just the specific election.

Anticipating its real chances to be nominated, Sony Pictures Classics had already set this for a pre-awards opening in NY/LA. Irrespective of its inclusion, this will receive a significant wider release in later weeks.

“The Deep” (Iceland – 1 previous nominee)

Distributor – Focus World

Film festivals include – Toronto

Though having little international exposure than the rest of the shortlisted films, Iceland’s entry comes with some strong credentials. Director Baltasar Kormakur has built up a strong list of credits both at home and more recently in the US. He directed “Contraband” for Universal, as well as the upcoming “Two Guns” (again with Denzel Washington as well as Mark Wahlberg.)

“The Deep” is based on a true story of a fisherman who survived a seemingly impossible long time underwater, then endured lengthy medical testing that became almost as difficult an experience. More action oriented than most films in this category, it includes impressive special effects for a lower-budget film, as well as strong drama and acting.

Focus World is part of the Universal organization. Focus Features – the US distribution arm – is not the distributor, but Focus World is currently working on getting this released theatrically early in 2013, with a possible nomination making planning for this a viable plan.

“Kon-Tiki” (Norway – 4 previous nominees, 0 wins)

Distributor – Weinstein

US release date – Early 2013

Film festivals include – Toronto

Awards include – Best Foreign Language Film (nominee)/Golden Globes

The second Scandanavian film on the shortlist, this, like “The Deep,” has only been released so far in its native country, with over 900,000 admissions from a population of only 6 million. Co-produced by Oscar winning producer Jeremy Thomas (“The Last Emperor”), it is a dramatic remake of Thor Heyerdahl’s previous Oscar winning Best Documentary of the same name about a raft trip from South American to Tahiti.

Weinstein’s second film in the race doesn’t have an exact release date yet, but is planned for sometime early in the new year, with a possible position in the top 5 a likely factor in determining the timing.

“Beyond the Hills” (Romania – no previous nominees)

Distributor – IFC

US release date – 3/15/2013

Film festivals include – Cannes, Toronto, New York

Awards include – Best Actress, Best Screenplay/Cannes

Romania in recent years has been in the forefront of film festival and critical acclaim for a series of excellent, but often raw, films. It was the exclusion of “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” as a nominee four years ago that was thought have been a major factor in the Academy revising the selection process to the current form, with an executive committee adding three films to the six chosen by the larger membership viewers to be then presented to a group of 30 voters who make the final selection. “Beyond the Hills” was directed by Cristian Mungi, who also made “4 Months,” so he now has a chance to make the five nominees.

A lengthy story of two girls, both raised in the same orphanage, who meet again at a remote Orthodox monestary where one of them, now living in Germany, tries to rescue her friend, it seems to be the kind of tougher, less Oscar-friendly kind of acclaimed film that the Academy wants to encourage for inclusion for the final voting.

IFC has had this set for mid-March release, but indicated this morning an earlier opening might still be possible.

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