Foreign fare eyes bigger picture

Expanded category could include o'seas titles

In its 52-year history, the foreign-lingo category has often been one of the Oscars’ most contentious, riddled with rule changes and mini-controversies. In 2005, for instance, French-language Austrian submission “Cache” was deemed ineligible because of its language-country discrepancy, causing a slight uproar among cine­astes and kudos pundits.

Solution: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences ruled a country no longer need share the same language as the film it submits, only key contributors.

While no changes have been implemented to the category this year, Oscar’s highest-profile facelift — the expansion to 10 best picture nominees — could trickle down to foreign-language pics, says Mark Johnson, AMPAS’ foreign-language committee topper.

Each country’s submission (there are 65 this year) may be eligible for consideration in other categories, including picture, if they meet all Acad rules and regulations. So far only eight foreign-language pics have ever been nominated for best picture (the most recent was “Letters From Iwo Jima” in 2006).

Johnson says he’s still hesitant to fully back the expansion but that it’s a step in the right direction. “I’m excited that it’s something new,” he says. “We change the rules in the foreign-language category all the time.”

In 2006, the branch implemented its two-tier voting system in an attempt to involve “younger Academy members,” who select the five noms out of a shortlist that was previously selected by general committee members. Johnson says the change was made to broaden the field — much like the pic category expansion.

He says a nod in the foreign-language category brings pride “to the national film industry. … It helps engender governmental support of the film arts. “

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