Foreign Language Oscar Preview: Shortlist To Be Unveiled Friday

The field of contenders for a slot on the Foreign Language Oscar shortlist is rich this year, filled with films hailing from confirmed directors and the work of names less familiar Stateside. There are a record 71 qualifiers in total. The Academy will announce its shortlist of 9 on Friday before whittling that down to 5 come nomination day January 10. Below (in alphabetical order by title) are profiles of 15 films that have made some of the biggest waves this year.

Amour (Austria)
U.S. distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Michael Haneke’s tale of an aging couple facing the end of life is a love story that has touched countless viewers, critics and awards bodies since it debuted in Cannes, winning the director his second Palme d’Or after 2009’s The White Ribbon. Amour was recently voted best picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association with star Emmanuelle Riva tying for best actress. Her partner in the film, Jean-Louis Trintignant, had renounced film acting 16 years ago, but Haneke’s longtime producer Margaret Menegoz tells me, “After Jean-Louis saw (Haneke’s) Caché, he told me if a director like someone who did that film ever asked him to take on a movie role, he would return.” And so he did. Haneke first spoke to Menegoz about the project years ago, “But we also had White Ribbon in mind which was planned as a TV miniseries. I really wanted to do a shorter version for the cinema… and I found it was better to do that first because it took a lot of physical stamina. Amour was a small film where all the actors would be in the same room, so I said, ‘Even when we’re 100 we can still do it’.” After White Ribbon, Haneke started and stopped on Amour, says Menegoz, before shooting in February and March of 2011. This year, Sony Pictures Classics acquired it ahead of its Cannes debut. Although it’s been suggested to her that Amour is the film to beat in the foreign race, Menegoz says, “We were almost certain for White Ribbon. You never know.”

Related: OSCARS: Handicapping The Screenwriters

Barbara (Germany)
U.S. distributor: Adopt Films

Barbara won Christian Petzold the directing Silver Bear in Berlin this year. Producer Florian Koerner von Gustorf began working with the director in 1993 when he produced Petzold’s graduate film and laughs, “We started on small budgets that became bigger.” Barbara is set in 1980 East Berlin and stars Nina Hoss as a doctor banished to a small country hospital far from freedom in the west. “Christian wanted to show East Germany 10 years before the wall came down, but this is more of a love story than a political story… What he’s figured out as a director is it’s good to tell a different story than the one people focus on.” After its Berlin bow, Barbara won the top prize at the German Film Awards. It opens in the U.S. on December 21 via Adopt Films whose Jeff Lipsky tells me, “I always had an obsessive determination to open a movie on December 21 because in L.A. or N.Y., when Christmas or New Year’s land on a Tuesday, you’re dealing with two consecutive 5-day moviegoing periods and you have the potential for box office gold. Once we saw all four films (we acquired in Berlin) we felt strongly that the most obvious audience-friendly movie was Barbara.” Koerner von Gurstoff says, “I’m curious how this all will end. It would be so cool just to be nominated and give an incredible push to Christian’s career, but of course everyone who is nominated wants to win, so why should I think different?” (more…)

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