‘Amour,’ ‘The Intouchables’ lead Oscars foreign-language shortlist

The nine semi-finalists for Best Foreign Language Film were announced on Friday. 

Leading the list is Austria’s submission “Amour.” The French-language from “White Ribbon” director Michael Haneke won the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Austria has one win out of four nominations. 

France, which won the last of its 12 awards in 1992 with “Indochine,” contends with “The Intouchables.” The film, which broke box office records worldwide, tells the story of the friendship between a poor man and a quadriplegic. France holds the record for most nominations (36). 

Three-time winner Denmark is looking for a 12th nomination with “A Royal Affair.”

Both Canada and Switzerland are in search of their eighth bids. Two-time winner Switzerland is represented by “Sister” while one-time champ Canada has “War Witch” in the running.  

Norway is counting on “Kon-Tiki” for its first win after five losses. 

And three countries are hoping for their first-ever nominations: Chile (“No“): Iceland (“The Deep); and Romania (“Beyond the Hills“). 

This shortlist was compiled in two stages. First, the several hundred members of the Foreign-Language committee attended official screenings over the past three months of the 71 entries and rated each on a scale from six to 10. (See this year’s submissions sorted alphabetically by country here and by track record of each country here.)

The six films with the highest scores made the cut. The Foreign-Language executive committee added three more films after meeting on Thursday. 

To winnow this shortlist down to five nominees, two sets of voters — 20 in Los Angeles and 10 in Gotham — will convene over the weekend of Jan. 4 to screen all nine films. 

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This often controversial category is often known for messy international politics caused in part by a selection process that limits each nation to one film apiece. Last year’s winner for  was “A Separation,” directed by Asghar Farhadi and representing Iran. 

In recent years, the category has produced a number of upset victories: in 2009, “The Secret in Their Eyes” (Argentina) over critical favorites “A Prophet” (France) and “The White Ribbon” (Germany); in 2008, “Departures” (Japan) over the acclaimed “The Class” (France) and “Waltz with Bashir” (Israel). And in 2006, despite earning an Original Screenplay nomination and winning three technical Oscars, “Pan’s Labyrinth” (Mexico) lost this race to “The Lives of Others” (Germany).

The Academy received widespread criticism for not even nominating Romania’s critically hailed 2007 submission, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” Its director, Cristian Mungiu, helmed this year’s semi-finalist “Beyond the Hills.”

The most awarded nation in this category is Italy with 13 wins. It was snubbed this year for the prison drama “Caesar Must Die.”

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