LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - No matter which movie wins the Oscar for best foreign language film on Sunday, critics and fans may remember this year for work that was snubbed or disqualified by Academy Award voters.
The film industry has expanded rapidly around the world in recent years and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences's foreign film honor has grown increasingly important as a platform where filmmakers can launch careers.
But this year, several acclaimed films in world cinema failed to earn nominations, causing some critics to cry foul.
The most conspicuous absence is Romanian abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" which Scott Foundas, film editor for the LA Weekly newspaper, called "the foreign film of the year by unanimous acclaim." It won top honors at the Cannes film festival in May and numerous critics awards.
"It taints the whole race so that no matter who wins, people will always wonder 'What if "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" or "Persepolis" or other noteworthy omissions had been in the race?"' Foundas said.
Like "4 Months," France's coming-of-age tale "Persepolis" didn't even make the short-list of contenders from the record 63 submissions around the world. It was, however, nominated for best animated picture.
Perhaps the most controversial absence involved the disqualification of Israel's "The Band's Visit" because more than 50 percent of the dialogue between an Egyptian band and Israeli villagers is in English, albeit mostly broken English.
The five films that did earn nominations were "The Counterfeiters" from Austria, Israel's "Beaufort," Russia's "12," Poland's "Katyn" and Kazakhstan's "Mongol."
"There is a consensus that this is an embarrassing selection and it exposed the category as by far the most problematic one the Academy has," said Robert Koehler, a film critic for show business newspaper Variety.
All week long, the nominated directors -- in town before Sunday's ceremony -- have fielded uncomfortable questions about how their movies stack up to those snubbed and they point out that most have been successful in their countries with themes that resonate within their societies.
"Beaufort" looks at the last soldiers retreating in 2001 from a famous fort in Lebanon captured by Israel in 1982 and the futility of their mission. Filming wrapped weeks before the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war erupted.
"It becomes clear (conflict) is cyclical, not really in our past," said Israeli director Joseph Cedar.
Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov, whose 1994 picture "Burnt by the Sun" won the best foreign film Oscar, used Sidney Lumet's classic court drama "12 Angry Men" as the starting point for "12." Critics say the remake of the Hollywood classic puts it in good standing for the Oscar.
"The Counterfeiters" also has a fair chance to win with themes that have fared well in Academy Award history: World War Two and the Holocaust.
"Katyn" is a grim tale of 15,000 Poles massacred by Soviet secret police in 1940, and its story was intensely personal for Polish director Andrzej Wajda -- an honorary Oscar winner -- because his father was among the executed.
In "Mongol," Kazakhstan's first Oscar nomination, Russian director Sergei Bodrov chronicles the early life and love of the warrior Genghis Kahn on the Mongolian steppe.
"I know it's a well-done movie," Bodrov said.
Additional reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Mohammad Zargham