You could argue that every year is a banner year for international cinema, but few would deny that 2006 has more than its fair share of crowd-pleasing non-English language movies.

And the foreign-language Oscar category is, after all, more focused on films that play with audiences than films that please critics, which is why recent winners have included Tsotsi (2005) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).

This year, Pedro Almodovar has delivered one of his most pleasurable films to date in Volver, Guillermo del Toro has made an enchanting fantasy in Pan's Labyrinth, Paul Verhoeven has returned to Holland with his triumphant Black Book, Canada's Deepa Mehta concludes her Elements trilogy with the haunting Water and Rachid Bouchareb made Days Of Glory, a war epic about Algerian soldiers which is on a par with Saving Private Ryan.

This embarrassment of riches comes in a year when the Academy has revamped the category after years of controversy.

For starters a Canadian film shot in Hindi like Water is now eligible as the Canadian entry. Now any language is acceptable as a national entry, so long as the dominant language is not English.

Second, the category now allows New York-based Academy members to participate in selecting the nominations. Instead of an LA-based voting committee deciding on the final five on the shortlist, the 2006 nominations will be arrived at in two phases overseen by two distinct screening committees.

The Phase I committee will be the same LA group of 700 or so members that has viewed the roughly 60 annual submissions in the past. However, instead of deciding on the final five, this committee will come up with a shortlist of nine.

The Phase II committee, made up of 10 randomly-selected members of the original committee, 10 LA-based members not on the original committee and ten New York-area members, will view the shortlist over three days and select the nominees from that field.

The change is designed to enable busy working members of the Academy to participate in the selection without them having to commit to 'several months' worth of screenings.' That should mean hipper, younger Academy members can respond to more cutting-edge films.

The previous system which required members to volunteer to see the foreign-language films was considered a magnet for older members with no full-time jobs, who often opted for conservative choices unrepresentative of the best international films on offer.