59 films vying for foreign-language Oscar

Sorry I’ve been slow in getting to this — the deadline for foreign-language Oscar submissions was two days ago, though stray films often sneak in a little late, so perhaps it’s worth waiting a bit. Still, it looks like our list of entries is complete — and at 59 films, it’s down considerably from the last couple of years, when as many as 67 titles were put forward for consideration.

Of the 10 or so films entered since my last update in this category, one stands comfortably ahead of the rest in terms of its profile. Turkey surprised no one by submitting the latest acclaimed film from their most internationally celebrated auteur: Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” which shared the Grand Prix with the Dardennes’ “The Kid With a Bike” at Cannes back in May.

It’s the third time a Ceylan film has gone before the Academy. The first, 2002’s “Distant,” made no headway, but his last film, “Three Monkeys,” cracked the nine-film pre-nomination shortlist in 2008. If he’s to go one better and land Turkey its first ever nod in the category, I suspect he’ll be counting on the grace of the Academy’s executive committee: remarkable and critically beloved though it is, this dense, languid 160-minute procedural drama isn’t the definition of a crowd-pleaser. Still, I think it’s exactly the kind of challenging, significant auteur statement the committee was designed to save, so don’t be surprised if it crops up in the January shortlist.

I’m certainly looking forward to a second encounter with Ceylan’s film at the London Film Festival. My first, at a late-night screening in the final days of the Cannes Film Festival, was a rewarding one, though my brain was too mashed to take in some of the narrative’s finer points; as a result, my principal memories are of the film’s exquisite widescreen lensing.

Of the remaining straggler submissions, one of the most intriguing is Argentinian gaucho western “Aballay,” the Variety review of which name-checks Sam Peckinpah and Walter Hill. Also of interest is that New Zealand has submitted a film for the first time: “The Orator,” about a dwarf called upon to defend his village from more powerful adversaries, is billed as the first wholly Samoan feature.

The race also welcomes its second animated feature in Singapore’s “Tatsumi”: Eric Khoo’s documentary portrait of the titular manga artist played to warm notices in Un Certain Regard at Cannes this year. Also, while France’s obviously ineligible “The Artist” makes waves in the bigger races, the foreign-language field has a sound-free contender of its own in the shape of Slovenia’s “Silent Sonata.” Finally, Croatian black comedy “72 Days,” Egypt’s “Lust” (one of only three African films in the hunt), Georgia’s “Chantrapas” and Macedonia’s “Punk’s Not Dead” round out the list.

I’ll get into more extensive analysis of the category once I’ve seen more of the films in play. In a curious coincidence, however, it currently seems as if the two buzziest films in the running are Middle Eastern: Iran’s “A Separation” has perhaps the most critical and festival momentum behind it, while Lebanon’s “Where Do We Go Now?” leapt onto the radar after emerging as the shock Audience Award winner in Toronto.

Add Poland’s baity and highly respected Holocaust drama “In Darkness” to the list, and it looks like Sony Pictures Classics might once again rule the roost in this category, though not if Janus Films’s proven charmer “Le Havre” and Fox’s heat-packing “Miss Bala” have anything to say about it. The real guessing game, however, should be which highly-touted entry will be this year’s mandatory “surprise” omission from the shortlist.

With that, the full list of submissions:

Albania – “The Forgiveness of Blood”

Argentina – “Aballay”

Austria – “Breathing”

Belgium – “Bullhead”

Bosnia and Herzegovina – “Belvedere”

Brazil – “Elite Squad 2″

Bulgaria – “Tilt”

Canada – “Monsieur Lazhar”

Chile – “Violeta”

China – “The Flowers of War”

Colombia – “The Colors of the Mountain”

Croatia – “72 Days”

Cuba – “Habanastation”

Czech Republic – “Alois Nebel”

Denmark – “SuperClasico”

Egypt – “Lust”

Finland – “Le Havre”

France – “Declaration of War”

Georgia – “Chantrapas”

Germany – “Pina”

Greece – “Attenberg”

Hong Kong – “A Simple Life”

Hungary – “The Turin Horse”

Iceland – “Volcano”

India – “Adaminte Makan Abu”

Iran – “A Separation”

Ireland – “As If I Am Not There”

Israel – “Footnote”

Italy – “Terraferma”

Japan – “Postcard”

Lebanon – “Where Do We Go Now?”

Lithuania – “Back in Your Arms”

Macedonia – “Punk’s Not Dead”

Mexico – “Miss Bala”

Morocco – “Omar Killed Me”

Netherlands – “Sonny Boy”

New Zealand – “The Orator”

Norway – “Happy, Happy”

Peru – “October”

Philippines – “The Woman in the Septic Tank”

Poland – “In Darkness”

Portugal – “José and Pilar”

Romania – “Morgen”

Russia – “Burnt by the Sun 2: Citadel”

Serbia – “Montevideo, God Bless You!”

Singapore – “Tatsumi”

Slovakia – “Gypsy”

Slovenia – “Silent Sonata”

South Africa – “Beauty”

South Korea – “The Front Line”

Spain – “Black Bread”

Sweden – “Beyond”

Switzerland – “Summer Games”

Taiwan – “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale”

Thailand – “Kon Khon”

Turkey – “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”

Uruguay – “The Silent House”

Venezuela – “The Rumble of the Stones”

Vietnam – “Thang Long Aspiration”