Organizers for the Academy Awards shortlisted on Friday nine movies, including Palestinian, Danish and Hong Kong entries, for the best foreign language prize, but left out Pakistan’s first entry in five decades and Saudi Arabia’s first-ever candidate.
Zinda Bhaag was Pakistan’s first Oscar entry in more than 50 years. It is a comedy-thriller about three young men trying to escape the drudgery of their everyday lives through unconventional means. Directed by Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, the movie had faced controversy over its nomination by the Pakistani Academy Selection Committee, with critics claiming it had been nominated before it had the required commercial run. There were also concerns that the involvement of non-Pakistanis—Bollywood star Naseeruddin Shah and Meenu Gaur—meant the movie wasn’t really Pakistani.
Iranian entry The Past—by director Asghar Farhadi, who won the best foreign film Oscar in 2012 for A Separation—was also not on Friday’s list, despite forecasts that it would be among the leading nominees.
The films were whittled down from a long list of 76 movies announced in October by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organizes Hollywood’s biggest annual awards fest. They will be reduced to five nominees next month, before nods in all Oscar categories are announced on Jan. 16. The 86th Academy Awards will be held on March 2.
The nine shortlisted foreign language films are:
Belgium: The Broken Circle Breakdown, directed by Felix van Groeningen.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, directed by Danis Tanovic.
Cambodia: The Missing Picture, directed by Rithy Panh.
Denmark: The Hunt, directed by Thomas Vinterberg.
Germany: Two Lives, directed by Georg Maas.
Hong Kong: The Grandmaster, directed by Wong Kar-wai.
Hungary: The Notebook, directed by Janos Szasz.
Italy: The Great Beauty, directed by Paolo Sorrentino.
Palestine: Omar, directed by Hany Abu-Assad.
Industry journal Variety said the most surprising snubs were for Chilean Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria, Poland’s Walesa: Man of Hope by Andrzej Wajda, as well as the Iranian and Saudi entries.
The Saudi long-list candidate, Wadjda by Haifaa al-Mansour, is an avowedly feminist movie about a young girl’s quest to own a bicycle in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom where women are deprived of many rights, among them driving. Directed by Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker and shot entirely in the Gulf state, the film won best Arabic feature award at the Dubai Film Festival last year and picked up an award at Cannes in March.
Other high-profile titles not on the shortlist include Chinese director Feng Xiaogang’s Back to 1942, Winter of Discontent, by Egypt’s Ibrahim El Batout and Israel’s Bethlehem by director Yuval Adler, Variety said.
The Cannes Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color from France did not make the list, because its release date did not meet Oscar nomination criteria, but it could still feature in other categories, including for best picture and actress, the industry journal noted.
When the Academy unveiled the 76 eligible films in October, foreign-language committee chairman Mark Johnson told Variety: “We take great pride in being flexible; we want to include movies, not reject them. But if they’re ineligible, they’re ineligible.”