Foreign-language Oscar race often unpredictable

Sun Jan 10, 2010 10:31pm EST
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By Scott Roxborough

BERLIN (Hollywood Reporter) - Who will win this year's foreign-language Oscar race?

That's almost impossible to answer.

The Academy's voting procedure (where voters have to agree to see a quota of entries if they wish to select the nominees) means that a relatively older group chooses the candidates, voting on a pool that is limited to one film per country.

The Academy has tried to offset this group's preference for the mainstream by charging a blue-ribbon committee to choose up to three additional films. From the shortlist of nine, five nominees will be selected. But that still leaves a process considerably at odds with the major festivals and critics' groups.

Nowhere was this clearer than last year, when Japanese entry "Departures," largely ignored by critics and the festival circuit, beat critical favorites from France ("The Class") and Israel ("Waltz With Bashir").

"Everyone was surprised by the Japanese film winning," says Claudia Landsberger, managing director of Dutch promotion body Holland Film. "It maybe shows that things are shifting, making it even harder to predict."

This year, the race is complicated by the fact that several front-runners were eliminated when they were not selected by the countries where they were made.

Sebastian Silva's domestic servant drama "The Maid," for example, a Sundance winner and Golden Globes nominee, is nowhere to be found on the list of 65 eligible pictures. Instead, Chile has gone with Miguel Littin's "Dawson Isla 10," a political period piece set in the aftermath of the 1973 coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power.   Continued...

<p>Israeli director Ari Folman of "Waltz with Bashir" poses during the 81st Academy Awards Foreign Language Film Directors photo opportunity in Hollywood, February 20, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed</p>