Last year, I offered up a preview of the 15 films that had the most buzz going into the unveiling of the Foreign Language Oscar shortlist. Somehow this year, with a record 76 entries (last year it was 71), I whittled down another 15 films that have a shot at the shortlist which is expected to be finalized later this week. This was not an easy task in one of the strongest fields for foreign film in recent years. While 2012′s eventual winner Amour seemed like a foregone conclusion, this year has any number of possible outcomes. Movies that started their careers in Berlin and Cannes are represented below, but so are others that didn’t make it to those high-profile events. I spoke with the directors of each film about their inspirations and expectations, and in some cases with the U.S. distributor about what gave them the confidence to acquire. Notably, Harvey Weinstein clarifies the controversy surrounding an edit of Wong Kar Wai’s Hong Kong entry The Grandmaster. There’s also a lot more here from folks like Paolo Sorrentino, Thomas Vinterberg and Sebastian Lelio, among many others. The rules for selecting the final winner have changed this year with the entire Academy voting body able to weigh in without proving they have seen the films in a movie theater. But the regs for establishing the shortlist remain the same: The Phase I committee determines six of the nine films on the shortlist. The other three titles will be determined by the select Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee. Those three extra titles might have international renown but been somehow overlooked by the larger committee (wink, wink City Of God, 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days and others). After that, an uber-committee of 30 higher profile members chooses the ultimate five nominees after viewing the finalists over the course of a long weekend. Below (in alphabetical order by title) are profiles of the 15 films that I believe have a shot at the first stage:
Foreign Language Oscar Preview: A Long List Of Strong Contenders For Such A Shortlist Of Possible Nominees
Gabrielle, the Louise Archambault-directed relationship drama that is Canada’s entry into this year’s Foreign Language Film Oscar race, will be released this winter by Entertainment One, which has acquired U.S. distribution rights. EOne is banking on strong past showings of Canadian films at the Oscars to help drive awareness: Gabrielle is the third film from Montréal-based production company micro_scope to be put up for Academy Award consideration following 2011′s Monsieur Lazhar and 2010′s Incendies — and both landed eventual nominations. (Last year’s Canadian entry, War Witch, produced by Item 7, was also a nominee.) Gabrielle is the story of a musically talented woman (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard) suffering from Williams syndrome. When she falls in love with a fellow choir member, she seeks valiantly to prove her independence. EOne Films International already has sold distribution rights to other key territories, and the film was released in France yesterday. The U.S. deal was negotiated for eOne International by EVP Charlotte Mickie and for eOne Films U.S. by VP Worldwide Acquisitions Sejin Croninger.
UPDATED 3:40 PM: Thailand has put up the psycho-thriller Countdown as its entry for the Foreign Language Oscar. Director Nattawut “Baz” Poonpiriya’s film revolves around three potheads who are tormented by a dealer (David Asavanond) in their New York apartment on New Year’s Eve.
PREVIOUSLY: Italy, Spain, Denmark and China are among the big territories yet to announce their submissions for the Foreign Language Oscar race as the October 1st deadline approaches. Canada, which has made a strong showing with the Academy in the past several years, chimed in today. The selection committee at Téléfilm Canada has chosen Louise Archambault’s Gabrielle to represent the country. Along with 2011′s Monsieur Lazhar and 2010′s Incendies, that scores a hat trick of films from Montréal-based production company micro_scope to have been annointed in the last four years. Both Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar and Prisoners‘ director Denis Villeneuve‘s Incendies went on to eventual nominations. (Last year’s Canadian entry, War Witch, produced by Item 7, was also a nominee.) Gabrielle is the story of a musically talented young woman suffering from Williams syndrome. When she falls in love with a fellow choir member, she seeks valiantly to prove her independence.