Spain picks Oscar shortlist

'Billiards,' 'Sunflowers,' 'Sangre' chosen

MADRID — Gracia Querejeta’s “Seven Billiards Tables,” Jose Luis Cuerda’s “The Blind Sunflowers” and Jose Luis Garci’s “Sangre de mayo” have made the Spanish Academy’s three-film shortlist for its foreign-language Oscar contender.

Spain’s candidate will be announced Sept. 26.

The face-off looks like an open race, though choral drama “Billards” may have an edge: Unlike the other two contenders, it’s already received appreciable fest kudos, with co-lead Blanca Portillo taking actress at 2007’s San Sebastian festival.

Pic also took actress (this time Maribel Verdu) and supporting actress (Amparo Baro) nods at January’s Spanish Academy Goyas.

Set a year after the Spanish Civil War, “Sunflowers,” the latest film from Cuerda (“El bosque animado,” “Butterfly Tongues”), also toplines an outstanding duo of thesps: Verdu and Javier Camara (“Talk to Her”).

Screenplay was co-written by Rafael Azcona, in one of his last gigs before his death in March.

Handled by Sogepaq, “Sunflowers” has run up a strong $3 million in Spain and had its international premiere in Toronto’s Contemporary World Cinema section.

Prolific helmer Jose Luis Garci’s vision of Madrid’s uprising before the French invasion on 1808, the reportedly near $20 million epic drama “Sangre,” is Garci’s most ambitious film project to date and one of Spain’s higher-budget pics of the year. Garci’s traditional broad base of support in the Academy and a foreign-language Oscar in his possession for 1983’s “Volver a empezar” should give some traction to “Sangre’s” candidature.