More pics get Globes' best shot

Foreign-language U.S. films eligible for top honors in '09

Responding to industry pressure and the film business' increasing internationalism, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is changing its rules to allow foreign-language U.S. productions into the Golden Globes' two best picture categories.

The rules won't take effect until next year, meaning that as many as three awards contenders this year — Miramax's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," Paramount Vantage's "The Kite Runner" and Focus Features' "Lust, Caution" — won't be eligible for best picture and instead will go into the foreign-language category.

But as of the 2009 Globes, movies for which the "country of origin is the U.S." will qualify for best picture drama and best picture comedy or musical even if the majority of a film's dialogue isn't in English. Those films won't, in turn, be eligible for foreign-language film.

Previously, best picture nominees were required to be "English language exclusively."

HFPA president Jorge Camara said there will be no hard-and-fast criteria for what constitutes country of origin. The eligibility committee will use several factors — including the national origins of the talent and the financiers — to determine whether a film qualifies as American or foreign, Camara said.

The rules won't parallel the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' requirement that among the producers, director and actors, two out of the three must be foreign for a foreign-language film to qualify for the foreign race. "We didn't want to go to that specific a formula," Camara said. "It might tie your hands, like it has with the Academy on a few occasions."

The move is a significant step for the HFPA, which has long maintained an English-only policy for best picture nominees as a way of generating more glitz in its banner categories.

But after several instances of mainstream U.S. movies being relegated to the foreign category — including last year's Oscar best picture nominee "Letters From Iwo Jima" and Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" — the HFPA decided to re-evaluate. The move was made more because it tilted the playing field for the foreign race than because it excluded studio films from best picture, execs said.

"Last year, we had two foreign-language movies directed by major American directors that were competing with smaller-budget films from overseas, and it seemed the competition was unfair," Camara said. "More and more, it's difficult to really find out what is a foreign film."

Still, the rule change could open up a Pandora's box for movies whose directors, producers and locations cross boundaries. "Lust, Caution," for instance, was shot abroad and partly produced by foreign entities but was financed and distributed by U.S. companies with a mixed cast and crew.

The Oscars, of course, have long allowed any movie in its best picture category regardless of language or country. The change also will make the Golden Globes more like the Oscars in another respect because it will whittle down the potential nominees for foreign language. Unlike the Academy Awards, the Globes will continue to allow multiple submissions from the same country.
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