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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 March, 2003, 23:46 GMT
Confusion over Oscar's world view
City of God
City of God: Brazilian hit missed out on an Oscar nomination
In the run-up to the Oscars BBC News Online investigates why some big-name movies were left out of the race for the foreign film Oscar.

The nominees for the best non-English language film are supposed to reflect the best of the world's film-making, and many see it as one of the most unpredictable and exciting categories.

But the politics and decisions behind what gets nominated have meant that highly acclaimed movies like Brazil's City of God and Spain's Talk To Her have not even made it onto the shortlist this year.

The nomination process is "a real game of poker", according to Patrick Frater, international editor of industry magazine Screen International.

NOT NOMINATED FOR BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE OSCAR
Talk To Her (Spain)
City Of God (Brazil)
Y Tu Mama Tambien (Mexico)
Devdas (India)
The Warrior (UK)
Pinocchio (Italy)
8 Women (France)
"The whole process is always a little murky and mysterious. I'm not saying it's illicit and underhand, but it's always a difficult process to comprehend," he said.

One of this year's biggest controversies surrounded the original UK entry, Hindi-language The Warrior, which was rejected by the Academy.

The Academy ruled it ineligible because it did not recognise Hindi as a UK language - although it went on to win best British film at the recent Bafta Awards.

The film's producer, Bertrand Faivre, told BBC News Online that the Academy rejected it because the epic, shot in India, was not what they expected from an English film.

Director Pedro Almodovar (right) with Talk To Her actress Rosario Flores
Almodovar's Talk To Her was overlooked by the Spanish academy
"They just looked at it and said 'it doesn't look like an English movie the way we think an English movie should be', and that's it, I'm not sure they went beyond that," he said.

"When they were pushed by everyone, including very famous people who love this movie and wrote to the Oscars, they were forced to try and find different arguments."

Brazilian epic City of God, which earned rave reviews, was chosen as its country's entry - but it was a huge shock when it did not make the list of nominees.

"That film was widely hailed as a 'shoo-in' (definite winner) for the prize, or at least for a nomination. It was a very skilful piece of film-making," Mr Frater said.

Another notable absentee from the nominees was Talk To Her, directed by Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar, named best foreign film at Hollywood's Golden Globe Awards.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE OSCAR NOMINEES
The Crime of Father Amaro (Mexico)
Nowhere in Africa (Germany)
The Man Without a Past (Finland)
Zus & Zo (The Netherlands)
Hero (China)
But it was not even put forward by Spain after members of its film academy voted to enter gritty drama Mondays In The Sun instead - which did not get an Oscar nomination.

Mondays In The Sun swept Spain's Goya Awards and was a bigger hit at home, but the US Academy showed their affection for Almodovar by nominating him for best director and best screenplay instead.

Each country is allowed to enter just one film, and different methods are used to make the choice, Mr Frater said.

"Some of them are democratic, others are run by committees. Others pick what they think the American Academy's going to be most comfortable with," he said.

Another film nominated in the mainstream categories but not for foreign language film is steamy Mexican drama Y Tu Mama Tambien - but it was released at home too early to be eligible for the foreign Oscar.

Y Tu Mama Tambien
Mexican hit Y Tu Mama Tambien was ineligible for best foreign film
Instead, the Mexican foreign language entry is the controversial The Crime of Father Amaro, which smashed box office records at home because of its story about a priest who has a relationship with a teenage girl.

Films from 54 countries went forward to the US Academy members this year, and it is the only category for which voting academy members must have seen all the nominated films.

That leads to "incredible politics between the US distributors" who want to control who sees what, Mr Frater said.

"It's all a game of access and what you believe to be best for your film - whether it should be seen by as many people as possible or only those who are supporters."

Among the other high-profile films not to make the nominations list include Roberto Benigni's Italian smash Pinocchio and Bollywood record-breaker Devdas.

PAST FOREIGN LANGUAGE OSCAR WINNERS
2002 - No Man's Land (Bosnia)
2001 - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Taiwan)
2000 - All About My Mother (Spain)
1999 - Life Is Beautiful (Italy)
1998 - Character (Netherlands)

Divine Intervention, a Palestinian comedy about the absurdities of life under Israeli occupation, was submitted for consideration having won the international critics' prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

But the Academy rejected it saying the United Nations did not recognise Palestine as a country.

Critic Neil Smith said the nominated films reflected the "essential conservatism" of the academy.

"They chose less contentious pictures, and all the nominated pictures look great and have great scenery."

But the absence of big-name films did not mean the category was devalued, Mr Frater said.

Nominated films like The Man Without A Past and Nowhere In Africa may yet go on to become international hits - but may need an Oscar win and a US release to make it happen.



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