In 2006, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for the first time unveiled a shortlist of nine films for the foreign-language film category, a week before the nominations were announced. Some 61 films were submitted in October 2006, nine were shortlisted and the final five were announced on January 23. It was a sad day for the four films that made the shortlist but failed to reach the final five - namely Daniele Thompson's Avenue Montaigne (aka Orchestra Seats) from France, Paul Verhoeven's Black Book from the Netherlands, Fredi Murer's Vitus from Switzerland and Pedro Almodovar's Volver from Spain.
The Volver omission was perhaps the most surprising, bearing in mind its widespread critical acclaim. Almodovar might have become a victim of his own success. Many thought Volver was not as fresh or original as his Oscar-winners All About My Mother and Talk To Her. The fact it was still one of the best films of 2006 seems to have been beside the point.
The five films that received nominations are, nevertheless, a distinguished bunch in a powerful year for world cinema. And the true internationalism of cinema in 2006 is plain to see in the other categories. Not only is Babel - much of which is in Spanish and Japanese - a frontrunner for seven awards, but four-time nominee Letters From Iwo Jima is entirely in Japanese and could become the first best picture winner ever in a foreign language. Pan's Labyrinth has a further five nominations, and Penelope Cruz is the first ever Spanish actress to be nominated.
Three of the foreign-language nominees are cross-cultural. Water is a Canadian submission, yet it is entirely shot in India, in Hindi with a mainly Indian cast; Days Of Glory, the Algerian submission, is a French-backed and produced film, set mostly in France, and Pan's Labyrinth is the Mexican entry, but shot in Spain, about a chapter of Spanish history with Spanish actors.
Such is the nature of cinema these days that limiting foreign-language films to one category is becoming increasingly difficult.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS (GERMANY)
Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck's first feature has been heaped with accolades: from best film at the German Film Awards and European Film Awards to a Golden Globe nomination, a citation as best foreign-language film from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and an Oscar nomination. Not bad for a film that failed to score a slot at either Berlin or Cannes. It opened in Germany in March 2006 and has grossed more than $13m; its international premiere was at Locarno in August. After a limited awards-qualifying run in LA in December, it officially opens in the US through Sony Pictures Classics this month.
US release date: February 9, 2007.
Previous nominations, Germany: six, for The Nasty Girl (1990), Schtonk! (1992), Beyond Silence (1997), Nowhere In Africa (2002), Downfall (2004) and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005); prior to 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany received eight Oscar nominations for The Captain Of Kopenick (1956), The Devil Came At Night (1957), Arms And The Man (1958), The Bridge (1959), The Pedestrian (1973), The Glass Cell (1978), The Tin Drum (1979) and Angry Harvest (1985); the German Democratic Republic scored one nomination, for Jacob The Liar (1976).
Previous wins: two, for The Tin Drum (1979) and Nowhere In Africa (2002).
AFTER THE WEDDING (DENMARK)
Susanne Bier's previous film Brothers was snubbed as the 2004 Danish Oscar submission in favour of The Five Obstructions, so it is a sweet moment for Bier that After The Wedding receives an Oscar nomination. Handled in the US by IFC Films, it opened in Denmark in February 2006 but had its international premiere at Toronto in September. Bier is in post-production on DreamWorks SKG's Things We Lost In The Fire with Halle Berry.
US release date: March 30, 2007.
Previous nominations, Denmark: six, Qivitoq (1956), Paw (1959), Harry And The Butler (1961), Babette's Feast (1987), Pelle The Conquerer (1988) and Waltzing Regitze (1989).
Previous wins: two, for Babette's Feast (1987) and Pelle The Conquerer (1988).
PAN'S LABYRINTH (MEXICO)
Guillermo Del Toro's fantasy, set during the Spanish Civil War, had its world premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, but it failed to walk away with a prize. That has been remedied with an avalanche of success in the US including the best picture award from the National Society of Film Critics, a box office gross through Picturehouse of more than $16.2m at January 28 and six Oscar nominations. It opened in Mexico and Spain in October and has so far grossed in excess of $25m outside the US.
US release date: December 29, 2006.
Previous nominations, Mexico: six, for Macario (1960), The Important Man (1961), Tlayucan (1962), Letters From Marusia (1975), Amores Perros (2000) and The Crime Of Father Amaro (2002).
Previous wins: none.
Deepa Mehta breaks the stranglehold on Canadian Oscar nominations held by Denys Arcand with the third act in her Elements trilogy. A labour of love for Mehta in that the film was shut down when it first went into production in 2000, it finally saw the light of day as the opening night film of the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. Water grossed $3.3m on its spring US release through Fox Searchlight and is a symbol of pride for both Canada and India.
US release date: April 28, 2006.
Previous nominations, Canada: three, for The Decline Of The American Empire (1986), Jesus Of Montreal (1989) and The Barbarian Invasions (2003).
Previous wins: one, The Barbarian Invasions (2003).
DAYS OF GLORY (ALGERIA)
Rachid Bouchareb's moving portrait of Algerian soldiers fighting for France in the Second World War had its world premiere in competition at Cannes this year and it won the best actor prize, shared between the lead ensemble Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila and Bernard Blancan. The Weinstein Company and IFC Films jointly acquired domestic rights subsequent to Cannes and the film has played a host of festivals including Locarno, Telluride and Toronto. It opened in France in September and drew more than 3 million admissions.
US release date: December 6, 2006.
Previous nominations, Algeria: three, for Z (1969), Le Bal (1983) and Dust Of Life (1995).
Previous wins: one, for Z (1969).