When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the Oscar nominees this morning, films like Talk to Her and Y Tu Mamá También didn't make the list of finalists for the best foreign-language Oscar, even though both were nominated for best original screenplay and Pedro Almodóvar is one of the best director finalists. Why not?
Because they weren't submitted for nomination. Each country can only enter one film into the best foreign-language film competition, and this year the Spanish nominating committee gave the nod to Mondays in the Sun, a gritty drama about unemployment. Y Tu Mamá También is ineligible because its June 2001 Mexican premiere was too early to qualify for this year's foreign-language Oscar competition, but its U.S. release date of March 2002 makes it eligible for consideration in all other categories.
Other films ran afoul of different academy bylaws. The producer of Palestine's Divine Intervention claims he was told by a representative of the academy that his movie didn't qualify for consideration because Palestine is not recognized as a country by the United Nations. (Never mind the academy's frequent exceptions for films from other "non-countries" like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Puerto Rico.) The academy points out that Divine Intervention was never officially submitted but that it may have failed other eligibility tests—for example, there's no official Palestinian committee to select a nominee.
Academy rules also state that nominated movies "must be predominantly in a language of the country of origin." Britain's first submission for this year's award—The Warrior, set in India—was disqualified because the academy declared that Hindi is not "indigenous" to Britain. The Brits' eventual nomination was the Welsh-language film Eldra. (There are 500,000 Welsh-speakers in Britain while 1.5 million speak Hindi.) But Sweden's nomination, Lilja 4-ever, was accepted for consideration even though Russian is the predominant language of the film.
Between Dec. 4, 2002, and Feb. 6, 2003, the 54 movies accepted for consideration for this year's award were screened for the 700 members of the academy's foreign-language film award committee, which is responsible for whittling the list down to the five nominees that were announced this morning. (The committee is self-selected—the academy sends letters to all members asking if they'd like to serve. This year's volunteers were required to see and rate a minimum of 14 films for their votes to count.) After the finalists are announced, only academy members who have seen all five on the big screen are permitted to vote in the category. Representatives of PricewaterhouseCoopers keep a tally of members who attend academy-sponsored screenings, and those who have seen the movies in theaters elsewhere have to sign an affidavit stating when and where they saw them.
Bonus Explainer: Afghanistan's first-ever Oscar submission, FireDancer, didn't make the cut this morning, but if it had, Explainer wonders who would have showed up at the Kodak Theatre on awards night. Jawed Wassel, the film's writer/director, was allegedly murdered by the movie's producer, Nathan Powell, in 2001.