Oscar submission deadline for foreign-language films is today
The Academy Awards may be five months off, but the race for best foreign language film is well under way. Monday marked the deadline for countries to submit a film to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for consideration for the February 2012 Oscars.
So far, more than 40 films have been entered, and more were expected to squeak in at the last minute in a contest that is already generating some controversies.
The foreign-language category is often rife with disputes, both at the country level (as various pictures compete for the one slot), and after the selections are submitted to the academy. Last year, for instance, there was an uproar in Italy after it put forth “The First Beautiful Thing” as its submission over the better known “I Am Love,” starring Tilda Swinton. In 2008, there was a flap when the Academy committee that whittles down the selections to a short list avoided controversial, well-regarded films like Romania’s “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 Days” and France’s “Persepolis.”
Though the 20-member executive committee will not start reviewing the submissions until later this week, several scuffles have already broken out.
Russia submitted “Burnt by the Sun 2: Citadel,” a big-budget spectacle that was both a critical and commercial misfire in the country. The head of Russia's selection committee, filmmaker Vladimir Menshov, didn’t agree with his committee’s choice and has urged “Burnt” filmmaker Nikita Mikalhkov to pull out of the competition in favor of other better-regarded features. But the Oct. 1 deadline for such a move passed without any apparent concession from Mikalhkov.
Albania must be hoping that its choice will fare better than Marston’s “Maria Full of Grace,” which Colombia submitted as its foreign language choice in 2004. "Maria" was deemed ineligible on the basis that there was not sufficient Colombian creative input.
Like Albania, China is betting on some help from experienced Hollywood hands. The country has submitted “The Flowers of War,” starring Christian Bale, as its official choice. The film, from "Hero" director Zhang Yimou, has dialogue in both English and Mandarin, though the linguistic balance should still allow the film to qualify as foreign language. With a budget of $100 million, it could garner Oscar attention by its mere scale. Yet it still lacks a U.S. distributor.
Italy is again going with the unconventional choice, surprising many with the selection of Emanuele Crialese’s “Terraferma,” a drama centered on a tightknit Sicilian family struggling to deal with a group of illegal immigrants from Africa who appear in their community. The country chose the film, which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, over the Cannes entry “Habemus Papam,” the better-known choice that has already secured U.S. distribution via IFC.
Spain eschewed Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In,” starring Antonio Banderas, in favor of “Black Bread” by Austi Villaronga. “Black Bread," a ghost story set in Spain's post-Civil War years that has been compared to Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," won nine Goyas, the Spanish equivalent of Oscars, this year in categories including best picture and best director.
The movie with the most early attention, however, is Iran’s “A Separation.” Set to be released in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics at the end of the year, "A Separation" is the contemporary tale of an Iranian couple whose marriage falls apart when the wife wants to flee the country and the husband refuses to do so. The film has earned rave reviews since it debuted at the Telluride Film Festival, with some critics deeming it a “masterpiece.”
The academy intends to announce the eligible films next week after it sifts through all the submissions. Once eligibility has been determined, a three-month screening process will begin. The executive committee eventually will cull the candidates to a short list of nine films, and from that list a final five nominees will be chosen. Stay tuned.
-- Nicole Sperling and Emily Rome
Photo: Joshua Marston at the Toronto premiere of "The Forgiveness of Blood," which has been submitted by Albania for Academy Award consideration. Marston co-wrote the script with Albanian screenwriter Andamion Murataj. Credit: Aaron Harris / Getty Images