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Oscar Offers Surprises in Foreign-Language List of 9

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has unveiled its short list of foreign-language contenders: nine films that are semi-finalists to grab an Oscar nomination on Jan. 16.

As usual, there are surprises, and there will be howls of protest and head-scratching as some excellent films were absent from the list. But many of the included films  have been widely seen at festivals and/or screenings and admired.

The nine films are:

Belgium: “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” Felix van Groeningen, director

Bosnia and Herzegovina: “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker,” Danis Tanovic, director

Cambodia: “The Missing Picture,” Rithy Panh, director

Denmark: “The Hunt,” Thomas Vinterberg, director

Germany: “Two Lives,” Georg Maas, director

Hong Kong: “The Grandmaster,” Wong Kar-wai, director

Hungary: “The Notebook,” Janos Szasz, director

Italy: “The Great Beauty,” Paolo Sorrentino, director

Palestine: “Omar,” Hany Abu-Assad, director

The most surprising absentees from Friday’s announcement are Chile’s “Gloria” (Sebastián Lelio, director); Iran’s “The Past” (Asghar Farhadi, director); Poland’s “Walesa. Man of Hope” (Andrzej Wajda, director); and Saudi Arabia’s “Wadjda” (Haifaa Al Mansour, director).

“Blue is the Warmest Color” was not eligible in this category; it opened in France after the Academy’s cut-off date for foreign eligibility, and France instead submitted “Renoir,” directed by Gilles Bourdos, which failed to make the short list. However, since “Blue” has played commercially in the U.S. this year, it is eligible in other Oscar categories, including best picture, actress, screenplay, etc.

Other high-profile titles that were bypassed include China, “Back to 1942,” Feng Xiaogang, director; Egypt, “Winter of Discontent,” Ibrahim El Batout, director;   Israel, “Bethlehem,” Yuval Adler, director; Netherlands, “Borgman,” Alex van Warmerdam, director; and Russia, “Stalingrad,” Fedor Bondarchuk, director.

The nominations were made by the foreign-language committee, who screened the 76 films submitted. After nominations are announced, final voting will be determined by Academy voters at large, a dramatic change in rules that begins this year. The Academy will supply screeners of all five contenders to voters.

The Academy allows each country to select its own submission. The requirements say that a film must begin a one-week continuous engagement in its country of origin Oct. 1, 2012-Sept. 30, 2013. The language of the film must be predominantly non-English.

Five films will make the list of finalists when Oscar nominations are unveiled Jan. 16. Awards will be handed out March 2 in ceremonies at the Dolby Theatre.

Other rules are more fluid, including the level of artistic contributions from the country. In an era of joint ventures, few films have clear-cut geographic boundaries, but the principal contributors (writers, directors, producers) should be from the country.

When the 76 eligible films were unveiled in October, foreign-language committee chairman Mark Johnson told Variety, “We take great pride in being flexible; we want to include movies, not reject them. But if they’re ineligible, they’re ineligible.”

If a foreign-language film was distributed during the calendar year Stateside, it is also eligible in other Oscar categories, including best picture.

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