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Foreign-Language Oscar Race: The Five Films That Were Snubbed

In a Better World
Per Arnesen/Sony Pictures Classics/Everett Collection

THR's Oscar Brain Trust reports three foreign films you can count on for noms, and scratches its head over five snubs you thought were shoo-ins.

The consensus is: There are three top contenders among the nine shortlisted films, which a 20-person L.A. panel and a 10-person New York panel will winnow down to five after watching all of them this weekend. Only my experts offer two different lists of three. On everyone's list: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Julia Roberts-endorsed Telluride and Toronto hit Biutiful (Mexico) and Susanne Bier's In a Better World (Denmark), which nobody thought could beat Biutiful at the Globes, but it did.

This was partly because Sony Pictures Classics kept its profile lowish until Bier screens the film at Sundance while serving on the World Jury alongside Bong Joon-Ho. This week's special Sundance issue of The Hollywood Reporter notes that Park City's population grows from about 7,300 to 190,000 during the fest. If Bier is indeed among the final foreign Oscar five announced Jan. 25, about 190,000 people will publicize this fact.

Another reason Bier's frontrunner status was unexpected: She's a woman. As Sophia Savage reports, Luca Guadagnino, director of the Tilda Swinton arthouse hit I Am Love, was on an American Cinematheque panel last week with Bier, and he described the directors' community as a "brotherhood." Bier retorted, "What about women?"

But as a female Academy member warns, the actors branch is the biggest, and Bardem's titanic performance will get its attention.

Anyway, the third surefire foreign Oscar nominee is either Denis Villeneuve's Incedies (Canada) or Oliver Schmitz's Life, Above All (South Africa). Spain's Tambien la Lluvia (Even the Rain) has a shot, maybe ("A bit of a mess, but thought-provoking"). My spies, including an Academy member, say forget about Yorgos Lanthimos' grueling, critic-beloved Greek Dogtooth, almost certainly put in by the secret executive panel of smart experts whose job it is to avoid letting the old-skewing Academy foreign voters make Oscar look dumb by ignoring tough masterpieces like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Also, kiss Tetsuya Nakashima's perhaps exec-panel pick Confessions (Japan) goodbye, and Andreas Ohman's Simple Simon (Sweden), say my spies.

There were lots of top snubs, but here are five:

France: Of Gods and Men, Xavier Beauvois's fact-based drama about Islamic terrorists invading a French monastery in Algeria, won the National Board of Review award, a Spirit Award nom and my award for Most Profoundly Moving Soundtrack Use of 'Swan Lake' at Telluride (despite all props to Black Swan), yet didn't win. Maybe it was too meditative. Pundit Guy Lodge correctly predicted it would lose, being "too staid and remote for the general voters and not adventurous enough for the executive committee."

Thailand: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's haunting Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives won at Cannes but lost at Oscars. Could it be because the Cannes jury head was Tim Burton, also snubbed by Oscar? Who knows.

Germany: Feo Aldag's absorbing, well-acted drama of a Turkish honor-killing victim, When We Leave, won prizes from Tribeca to Berlin, and played well at Telluride. Perhaps it was too straightforward -- you know you're not in for a Hollywood ending.

Italy: First, I Am Love lost the Italian Oscar submission to La Prima Cosa Bella, because, one spy says, "They thought Tilda's Italian accent was bad." It was supposed to be bad, she's playing a Russian immigrant! Several sources say La Prima Cosa Bella played well -- "People said they loved it!" -- but it simply didn't get enough high scores. "A lot of the selections are dark," explains one source, "and when you see them back to back, and then you see something lighter and more linear, you have a tendency to be grateful." At the moment. But later, when you cast your vote, you realize it was just a palate cleanser compared to the meatier nine shortlist films. Or, as Peter Sellers explained to his children when he planned to leave them for Sophia Loren (who actually had no interest in him whatsoever), "It's not that I don't love you. I just love Sophia Loren more."

Finland: There are more eminent snub victims (Turkey, Peru, Czechoslovakia, and the "Spielbergesque" Feng Xiaogang's Aftershock from China, say my spies), but I choose Joonas Berghall's Steam of Life because I know its premise to be true: Finnish guys, "God's frozen people," only open up emotionally in the sauna. "Why do I want to see a bunch of guys with their schlongs out?" complained one voter. As a part-Finn (I'm not saying which part), I'm offended.

Most of my brain trusters think the foreign Oscars have cleaned up their act and this is a respectable list. I just wish they'd be transparent and say which were picked by the executive experts (whose names would be nice to know too). Secrecy is their right, but it wouldn't hurt anybody to at least offer the exec-picked pictures list.

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