Shocker: ‘Leviathan’ will represent Russia in the foreign film Oscar race

I think few who were paying attention to this year's foreign Oscar race expected Russia to choose “Leviathan” to represent the country. The film is essentially the Book of Job told against the backdrop of corrupt Russian politics, a movie director Andrey Zvyagintsev has even said he probably couldn't even get funded through the Russian Ministry of Culture today as he did two years ago. That's how much things have shifted as of late. And yet, today the selection was made. “Leviathan” will represent Russia in the race.

The choice comes on the heels of filmmaker Andrey Konchalovsky removing his Venice award winner “The Postman's White Nights” from the conversation, dismissing the Oscars and stating that he wanted nothing to do with Hollywood. That may have forced the committee's hand (though there was still a possibility something like blockbuster “Viy” would get the call).

Russia's pick, long with other submissions throughout the week – from the likes of Spain, Italy, the Philippines and more – have brought the field past 60 entrants with Wednesday's deadline looming. Last year's record-setting number was 76. It doesn't look like that ceiling will be cracked though who knows what activity will be seen at the beginning of the week.

“Leviathan” won the screenplay prize at the Cannes Film Festival. As the final in-competition title to screen, it was heavily buzzed for the Palme d'Or award. The jury went instead for Nuri Bilge Ceylan's “Winter Sleep,” which will represent Turkey in this year's Oscar race. Zvyagintsev's film should be considered formidable, as its classic storytelling strokes and strong performances tell a compelling dramatic fable throughout.

And with a Dec. 31 domestic release date, the film is eligible in other categories, too. Sony Classics won't have to push that issue too hard now that the film is actually in the foreign race (unlike, say, 2002, when Spain's failure to submit Pedro Almodóvar's “Talk to Her” stirred a rally cry that ended with a Best Director nomination and a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the film). Still, it's another interesting player in the distributor's stable this year that will have its fans in the Academy. They've managed peripheral nods for films like “A Separation” and “Amour” in recent years, after all.

We'll circle back on the foreign film race later in the week when the official list of submissions is released.