Oscars organisers shortlisted nine movies including Palestinian, Danish and Hong Kong films on Friday for the best foreign language prize, offering surprises and some unexpected snubs.
Films left out included Saudi Arabia's first-ever candidate and Pakistan's first entry in five decades, while an Oscar-winning Iranian director also failed to make the cut.
Films by Belgian, Bosnian, Cambodian, German, Hungarian and Italian directors are on the shortlist, which did not include any women filmmakers.
The Hunt by Dane Thomas Vinterberg, The Grandmaster from Hong Kong's Wong Kar-wai and The Great Beauty by Italian Paolo Sorrentino could be among the frontrunners.
But Iranian entry The Past – by director Asghar Farhadi, who won the best foreign film Oscar in 2012 for A Separation – was not on Friday's list, despite forecasts that it would be among the leading nominees.
The films were whittled down from a long list of 76 movies announced in October by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organises Hollywood's biggest annual awards festival.
They will be reduced to five nominees next month, before nods in all Oscar categories are announced on January 16. The 86th Academy Awards will be held on March 2.
The nine shortlisted foreign language films are:
– The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium, director Felix van Groeningen.
– An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, Bosnia and Herzegovina, director Danis Tanovic.
– The Missing Picture, Cambodia, director Rithy Panh.
– The Hunt, Denmark, director Thomas Vinterberg.
– Two Lives, Germany, director Georg Maas.
– The Grandmaster, Hong Kong, director Wong Kar-wai.
– The Notebook, Hungary, director Janos Szasz.
– The Great Beauty, Italy, director Paolo Sorrentino.
– Omar, Palestine, director Hany Abu-Assad.
Industry journal Variety said the most surprising snubs were for Chilean Sebastian Lelio's Gloria, Poland's Walesa: Man of Hope by Andrzej Wajda, as well as the Iranian and Saudi entries.
The Saudi long-list candidate, Wadjda by Haifaa al-Mansour, is an avowedly feminist movie about a young girl's quest to own a bicycle in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom where women are deprived of many rights, among them driving.
Directed by Saudi Arabia's first female filmmaker and shot entirely in the Gulf state, the film won best Arabic feature award at the Dubai Film Festival last year and picked up an award at Cannes in March.
For Pakistan, Zinda Bhaag (Flee Alive) was the first Oscar entry in more than 50 years. It is a comedy-thriller about three young men trying to escape the drudgery of their everyday lives through unconventional means.
Other high-profile titles not on the shortlist include Chinese director Feng Xiaogang's Back to 1942, Winter of Discontent?, by Egypt's Ibrahim El Batout and Israel's Bethlehem by director Yuval Adler, Variety said.
The Cannes Palme d'Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color from France did not make the list, because its release date did not meet Oscar nomination criteria, but it could still feature in other categories, including for best picture and actress, the industry journal noted.
The French film, an explicit tale of lesbian love, has been widely tipped for Hollywood awards-season gold. But to be eligible for the Oscars, foreign films must screen for at least a week between October 1 2012 and September 30 2013.
When the Academy unveiled the 76 eligible films in October, foreign-language committee chairperson Mark Johnson told Variety: "We take great pride in being flexible; we want to include movies, not reject them.
"But if they're ineligible, they're ineligible," he said. – AFP