A crime drama set against Belgium's beef industry, a father-and-and-son story and two films that delve into history are among the nine films that have been shortlisted for an Academy Award in the foreign language film category.
The debut director among the group is Michael Roskam, who describes his film, Bullhead, as “a grotesque tragedy about fate and how our lives are sometimes determined by events over which we have no control”. It is loosely based on the 1995 assassination of a veterinary inspector and kicks off with a young cattle farmer being approached by an unscrupulous vet.
Israeli film Footnote (pictured) takes the intense rivalry between a father and son, both eccentric professors in the Hebrew University who, in their own way, yearn for recognition, and gives it a twist. The film won best screenplay at Cannes.
The seriousness of the films in this category of the Oscars is often commented upon but Footnote has comic overtones. So too do two other films in the running: Superclásico and Monsieur Lazhar.
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale and In Darkness, the only one of the nine films directed by a woman, are both dramas that explore history.
Seediq Bale was inspired by what happened during the Wushe Uprising in which the indigenous Seediq people of Taiwan rose up against Japanese occupiers in the 1930s.
In Darkness is about a sewer worker and petty thief who form an unlikely alliance with a group of Jewish refugees trying to escape the Nazi-occupied Polish city of Lvov in the 1940s. Veteran director Agnieszka Holland, who made Europa, Europa, has said that while some may think that the Holocaust has been fully explored in books and films, in her opinion the key question hasn't yet been resolved: how was this crime possible?
The best known worldwide of the directors with a film still in the running is Wim Wenders, whose tribute to choreographer Pina Bausch is the only documentary in the list. The best-known film is probably A Separation, which has won an avalanche of awards worldwide including the Sydney Film Prize.
The nine shortlisted films are:
Bullhead (Belgium), Michael R Roskam
Monsieur Lazhar (Canada), Philippe Falardeau
Superclásico (Denmark), Ole Christian Madsen
Pina (Germany), Wim Wenders
A Separation (Iran), Asghar Farhadi
Footnote (Israel), Joseph Cedar
Omar Killed Me (Morocco), Roschdy Zem
In Darkness (Poland), Agnieszka Holland
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (Taiwan), Wei Te-sheng
Since the awards were established in 1956, countries outside the US have submitted one film each which has been shown in cinemas in the 12 months leading up to the annual October deadline and is primarily in a non-English dialogue. This year there were 63 entries.
In categories won by individuals the nominations are decided by their peers: actors choose the acting nominees, editors the editors and so on. In the foreign language category this year, a committee of several hundred of the 5,783 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose six of the nine films above and the remainder were selected by a committee.
Between now and the announcement of all Academy Award nominees on January 24, US time, a small group of people in New York and another in Los Angeles will watch all nine films and determine their five best. All members who have declared that they have seen the five nominees can vote. The ceremony, again hosted by Billy Crystal, will be held on February 26.