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Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film--The Favorites

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For those who are interested in one of the more intriguing Academy Awards categories, Best Foreign Language Film, this year the Academy will use a new dual-committee nominating procedure. The first committee will be the usual Los Angeles-based group, made up of several hundred members, that has traditionally determined the five nominees. Divided into four groups, the members watch and grade the films in their group, although they are allowed to view and grade the other films as well. This year, the nine films with the highest average scores will be put on a shortlist. These nine films will be viewed by a second panel made up of ten randomly selected members from the original committee, ten L.A.-based members not in the original group and ten N.Y.-based members. This panel of thirty will choose the five nominees that will be voted on by the 6,000 members of the Academy.

In a few days, the members of the foreign language committee will begin viewing the 60 entries in the category. I have not yet seen a single one of the films. Even so, it is possible to distinguish the pre-screening favorites. Here are the nine favorites to make the first cut. I will include the other 51 films in a separate post.

Most Likely to Proceed
CHINA Curse of the Golden Flower
The latest from Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers, Hero, etc.). Shown for one week in Beijing in order to qualify. Reportedly a spectacular-looking historical epic that cost $45 million to produce.

GERMANY The Lives of Others
In 1984, an East German spy takes a liking to the victims of his surveillance. Major critical success in Germany.

ITALY The Golden Door
Winner of six awards at the Venice Film Festival. A Sicilian peasant insists that his family emigrate to America. Along with an out-of-place Englishwoman, they travel steerage to Ellis Island.

NETHERLANDS Black Book
Paul Verhoeven returns to his Dutch roots after more than 20 years in Hollywood (RoboCop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers). A beautiful Jewish singer tries to escape Nazi-occupied Netherlands in 1944, but the rest of her family is killed when their plan is betrayed. She joins the resistance, becomes a spy, and falls in love with a Gestapo officer. Sex, violence and double crosses.

SPAIN Volver
A Pedro Almodóvar film without a transsexual, starring Penelope Cruz, much-praised, as a cleaning woman in a family of women, including her mother's ghost.

Close Contenders
CANADA Water
Taking advantage of the new rule allowing films not in the native language of the submitting country, this one is in Hindi. It tells the tale of widows in 1938 India who are not allowed to remarry. The director had to film in Sri Lanka because of threats to her life.

EGYPT The Yacoubian Building
Based on a controversial novel that was a bestseller in the Arab world. Sprawling, multi-character cross-section of modern Egyptian society that includes police torture, gay rape and Islamic extremism.

FRANCE Orchestra Seats
Bittersweet mainstream comedy about a waitress whose life intersects with the worlds of art, theater and classical music.

INDIA Rang de Basanti ("Paint it Yellow")
Huge box office and critical hit about a young British woman who travels to India to make a film, based on her grandfather's diaries, about a forgotten revolutionary hanged by the British in 1931. She finds that modern Indian college students have lost touch with the ideals that drove their forebears.