Oscars' Foreign-Language Film Cheat Sheet: A Country-by-Country Guide
ESTONIA: Letters to Angel
Director: Sulev Keedus
After being declared MIA in the Afghan war, a Soviet army deserter returns home to Estonia for his father's funeral and to try to reconcile with his estranged daughter.
FINLAND: Le Havre
Director: Aki Kaurismaki
Another skewed fairy tale from Kaurismaki, who maintains the sardonic humor and touching humanity of his earlier work. In addition to four European Film Awards noms, including best film, Le Havre has won awards at Cannes, Munich and Chicago. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening; Cannes Film Festival winner)
FRANCE: Declaration of War
Director: Valerie Donzelli
A largely autobiographical story of two young, hip parents whose lives are torn apart when doctors tell them their baby has a potentially fatal brain tumor. Declaration discards the politics and social commentary of French entries in previous years for a small-scale look at a family's struggles. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)
Director: Otar Iosseliani
A lighthearted look at an artist's struggle in communist Georgia. The plot -- a director whose work is banned at home emigrates to Paris -- runs parallel to director Iosseliani's, but the tone throughout is charming and wry with fun poked equally at Soviet society and the French film industry.
Director: Wim Wenders
Pina is close to a sure thing for a documentary nom but might be a long shot in the foreign-language film category. Along with being a technical marvel, Wenders' 3D tribute to the late, great dance choreographer Pina Bausch packs an emotional punch. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)
Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Another offbeat and idiosyncratic entry from Greece, directed by the producer of 2011 nominee Dogtooth. Taking her cue, and deliberately misspelled title, from famed nature documentarian David Attenborough, Tsangari examines the male and female species in a manner that is half Discovery Channel, half Godard. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)
HONG KONG: A Simple Life
Director: Ann Hui
A dramatic change of pace for audiences used to the chop-socky of Hong Kong martial-arts actioners. The story focuses on a faithful maid who has served the same family for 60 years. The film took home four awards in Venice, including best actress for lead Deannie Yip. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening; Venice Film Festival)
HUNGARY: The Turin Horse
Director: Bela Tarr
A slow but entrancing story of a father, daughter and the beaten-down nag of the film's title. This black-and-white, nearly plotless feature is the ultimate dark horse in the Oscar race. But as the last film from avant-garde master Tarr, it could have an outside chance. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening; Berlin Film Festival winner)
Director: Runar Runarsson
When Hannes' wife has a stroke, he decides to care for her himself, in the process drawing on long-buried reserves of emotion and tenderness. Runarsson's debut feature was awarded the Golden Puffin at the Reykjavik International Film Fest.
INDIA: Abu, Son of Adam
Director: Salim Ahamed
Ahamed's directorial debut about a struggling Southern Indian family has been celebrated in its home territory, winning four of India's National Film Awards, including best film. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)
INDONESIA: Under the Protection of Ka'Bah
Director: Hanny R. Saputra
This love story set in West Sumatra during the 1920s was criticized by local critics for straying to far from the novel by Indonesian novelist Hamka.
IRAN: A Separation
Director: Asghar Farhadi
A Separation is proof that even the harshest state censors can't stop a great filmmaker from telling a complex, politically powerful story. The clear front-runner in the foreign-language Oscar race, Separation cleaned up on the fest circuit and was named best foreign film by the National Board of Review. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening; Berlin Film Festival winner; Golden Globe nominee)
IRELAND: As If I Am Not There
Director: Juanita Wilson
Based on the book by Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulic, the film follows a young woman rounded up during the Balkan War and forced to "entertain" enemy soldiers.
Director: Joseph Cedar
Ceder delves deep into emotional and intellectual depths with his fourth feature, a tale of the academic rivalry between father and son, both scholars of the Talmud. Jewish audiences in particular might respond to this drama, though Cedar's style is deliberately mainstream, giving Footnote the potential for wider appeal. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening; Cannes Film Festival winner)
Director: Emanuele Crialese
An earnest look at illegal immigration from the director of Golden Door. A Sicilian fisherman runs into trouble with Italian authorities after he saves African refugees from drowning. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening; Venice Film Festival)
Director: Kaneto Shindo
The final feature from Shindo, Postcard is based on the 99-year-old director's experiences during World War II. It centers on a soldier entrusted to deliver a dead friend's answer to the postcard his wife sent him during the war. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)
KAZAKHSTAN: Return to the "A"
Director: Egor Konchalovsky
Konchalovsky's entry marks what might be the first-ever father and son race for a foreign-language Oscar. Konchalovsky's father, Nikita Makholkov (Burnt by the Sun 2: The Citadel), is Russia's hopeful this year. Meanwhile, Konchalovsky's Return represents Kazakhstan and is that country's first 3D film.
LEBANON: Where Do We Go Now?
Director: Nadine Labaki
This festival crowd-pleaser puts a comic spin on sectarian violence in a plot that has the women of a remote village conspiring to keep their husbands from waging religious war with one another. Where Do We Go Now? won the audience award at the San Sebastian and Toronto film festivals.
LITHUANIA: Back to Your Arms
Director: Kristijonas Vidziunas
An earnest period drama set in 1961 West Berlin and centered on a meeting between a Lithuanian father and his American daughter. THR said, "It won't reach far beyond the festival circuit, but it's a touching small film." (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)
MACEDONIA: Punk's Not Dead
Director: Vladimir Blazevski
The dark comedy about a punk band planning a reunion gig is Blazevski's first scripted feature in 18 years.
MEXICO: Miss Bala
Director: Gerardo Naranjo
An insider's view of Mexico's brutal drug wars, this action drama, co-produced by Fox International, is based on a real incident in which a local beauty pageant winner was caught with cartel members in 2008. (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)
MOROCCO: Omar Killed Me
Director: Roschdy Zem
Actor-turned-director Zem, the star of the Oscar-nominated Days of Glory, takes on the real-life case of a Moroccan immigrant to France accused of murder. Said THR, "A mesmerizing lead turn from Sami Bouajila, plus a still-newsworthy subject matter." (Palm Springs Film Festival screening)