Complete Academy Awards coverage
Selected from a pool of 49 eligible films submitted by representatives of their respective countries, this year's nominees for best foreign language film are "As It Is in Heaven" from Sweden, "The Chorus" from France, "Downfall" from Germany, "The Sea Inside" from Spain and "Yesterday" from South Africa.
The complicated screening and voting process to determine the nominations seemed especially fraught with drama this year, as a handful of high-profile films were deemed ineligible for nominations for a variety of reasons. As a result, "Maria Full of Grace," "The Motorcycle Diaries," "Bad Education," "A Very Long Engagement" and even "The Passion of the Christ" never had a chance. The academy specifies that only one foreign-language film may be submitted by the country from which the movie originates. (That ended the chances of "The Passion," for instance, as there is no country in which its Aramaic is the native language.)
Mark Johnson, head of the foreign language nominating committee, said it's always a challenge for foreign countries to choose only one entry and his own committee to further winnow the pool.
Allowing that "it's an imperfect system," he added, "It's an ongoing process. The academy and I have made it clear that we plan to do some major overhauling this coming year and so hopefully they'll be in place for next year's awards."
Alejandro Amenábar, director and co-writer of "The Sea Inside" (which also received one other nomination, for makeup) acknowledged the difficulties faced by a foreign language film looking to compete in the main Oscar categories, as well as the whittling process that requires academy members to watch scores of movies. For example, Spain was forced to choose between "The Sea Inside" and "Bad Education," a film directed by proven Oscar winner Pedro Almodóvar.
"I feel very proud that our film was selected," Amenábar said from Spain, "and that our film has been included by the American academy. That means the members of the academy here [who selected the film for nomination] weren't wrong."
Not everyone was waiting by the phone Tuesday morning.
"Downfall" director Oliver Hirschbiegel didn't know when nominations were being announced. So he was surprised to get off a plane in Hamburg to find 32 new messages.
Expressing gratitude that his film about Adolf Hitler's final days has gained recognition and acceptance in the face of some controversy, Hirschbiegel said he couldn't help but gush, "I already won. I'm nominated."
Foreign Film nominees
"As It Is In Heaven" (Sweden)
"The Chorus (Les Choristes)" (France)
"The Sea Inside" (Spain)
"Yesterday" (South Africa)