From 83 films to 9, the Oscar shortlist for the Best Foreign Language Film category has been solidified. The next process will see five of these films becoming nominees for the Academy Awards category. Expect “Ida”, “Leviathan”, and “Force Majeure” to make the final cut, as they have all been touted over since their releases. “Ida” and “Force Majeure” in particular have both been extensively recognized by the film critics awards this season.

Some notables missing are Belgium’s “Two Days, One Night” which has had huge support from the film critics in Marion Cotillard’s performance. This could give a sense that perhaps Marion will not get the nomination that some might have started to expect. But read into it what you will. Turkey’s “Winter Sleep” and Canada’s “Mommy” had both been buzzed about and even shocked a few by not making the final cut. Lastly, a film I had looked forward to seeing through the Oscar Challenge was Hungary’s “White God,” an amazing film that parallels a young girl’s journey to reclaim her “unfit” dog while it becomes the leader of an uprising of “unfit” dogs.

Here’s the complete shortlist of the Best Foreign Language films:

  • Argentina, “Wild Tales,” Damián Szifrón
  • Estonia, “Tangerines,” Zaza Urushadze
  • Georgia, “Corn Island,” George Ovashvili
  • Mauritania, “Timbuktu,” Abderrahmane Sissako
  • Netherlands, “Accused,” Paula van der Oest
  • Poland, “Ida,” Paweł Pawlikowski
  • Russia, “Leviathan,” Andrey Zvyagintsev
  • Sweden, “Force Majeure,” Ruben Östlund
  • Venezuela, “The Liberator,” Alberto Arvelo did a wonderful write up on each film:

“Wild Tales”
Director: Damian Szifron
A sensation at Cannes, Szifron’s spirited black comedy consists of six different stories linked only by violence, revenge and a very twisted sense of humor. The film is uneven, with some of its stories working far better than others, but it builds to the kind of uproarious climax that makes it a real crowd-pleaser – in Cannes, in Argentinian theaters where it was a big hit, and quite possibly at Academy screenings as well (though it may be a bit too gleefully tasteless for more timid voters).

Director: Zaza Urushadze
A co-production with Georgia, this lyrical film deals with two elderly men — one of them builds crates, the other picks and fills the crates with tangerines — who are all that remain when everyone else in their village has fled to Estonia to escape the 1992 Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. When a battle on one man’s front porch leaves them to care for two wounded soldiers, one from each side, the men are sucked into a war both would prefer to ignore. Though it’s a strongly anti-war film, “Tangerines” is also a lyrical character study that makes its points quietly — a graceful and affecting human story all the more potent for its understatement, and a potential sleeper in the race.

“Corn Island”
Director: Giorgi Ovashvili
A Georgian, German, French, Hungarian and Kazakhstani co-production, “Corn Island” won the top prize at this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival for its depiction of a remote region of Georgia where an elderly farmer and his granddaughter fight the elements and the aftereffects of a 20-year-old civil war.

Director: Abderrahmane Sissako
The first-ever entry from Mauritania is a quiet, restrained and in the end devastating indictment of religion run amuck in a small African village under the control of Islamic militants. Director Sissako, whose film debuted in the main competition at Cannes this year, has a knack for composing images as striking as they are deeply unsettling. An upcoming U.S. release from Cohen Media Group, the film is timely, disturbing and most likely a real contender for the shortlist.

Director: Paula van der Oest
“Accused” is known in its home country as “Lucia de B.” — a name derived from Lucia de Berk, a real-life nurse who was unjustly sentenced to life in prison for multiple murders. Director van der Oest was also responsible for “Zus & Zo,” which was nominated in the foreign-language category in 2002.

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
“Ida” has probably been more widely seen in the United States than any other contender so far this year, with a lengthy and successful arthouse run that grossed $3.6 million. Gorgeously composed and shot in stunning black-and-white, the film quietly and slowly sketches the story of  a novitiate nun who attempts to uncover details about her parents’ deaths in World War II, only to uncover facts that cause her to question her own identity. Stark, spare, subtle and spiritual, the film is a successor to the work of the French master Robert Bresson; the spell it casts may be too minimalist for some, but its almost universally positive reviews, its strong festival and boxoffice showings and its singular beauty easily make it one of the year’s strongest contenders.

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Breaking Russia’s recent streak of submitting brawny period pieces with little or no chance of being nominated, Zvyagintsev’s slow, majestic and searing drama is one of the race’s strongest contenders. Adapting the Book of Job to paint a compelling and damning portrait of modern Russia, the film focuses on a man who must fight the corrupt local government that wants to steal his land. While it didn’t win the Palme d’Or that many Cannes-goers thought it deserved, it did take that festival’s award for best screenplay.

“Force Majeure”
Director: Ruben Ostlund
Ostlund’s film, which won the Un Certain Regard jury prize at Cannes this year, is set in a remote ski resort, where a family has gone on vacation. When a controlled avalanche seems to be on the verge of wiping out the restaurant where the family is dining, the father’s impulsive reaction creates rifts that widen over the course of the next few days. The film is a subtle character study that leavens serious examinations of human behavior with humor.

“The Liberator”
Director: Alberto Arvelo
This big-budget historical drama had a U.S. release from Cohen Media Group, a cast that includes “Carlos” star Edgar Ramirez as South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar and a local connection: L.A. Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel composed his first film score for the movie. It is a broad, sweeping historical epic that covers Bolivar’s campaigns for independence in South America, shot partly on that continent and partly in Spain.


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