The Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars is notable for two things year in and year out. First, the winning film is usually one that most Americans have not seen (and will probably never see) for various reasons (including a lack of a US release). And two, the Academy almost always gets it wrong.

It’s true. The right foreign film has only won twice in the past decade (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, The Lives of Others in 2006). Sometimes the truly deserving films at least get nominated even if they don’t win the ultimate prize with a fine example being last year where three of the nominees were actually better than the eventual winner (Departures). But often the year’s most critically acclaimed and/or best foreign films are left off the nominee list all together. A partial list of films that failed to get nominated includes Gomorrah, 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days, City of God, Volver

Which brings us to the recently announced short list of nominees for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film.

  • Argentina, “El Secreto de Sus Ojos,” Juan Jose Campanella
  • Australia, “Samson & Delilah,” Warwick Thornton
  • Bulgaria, “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner,” Stephan Komandarev
  • France, “Un Prophète,” Jacques Audiard
  • Germany, “The White Ribbon,” Michael Haneke
  • Israel, “Ajami,” Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani
  • Kazakhstan, “Kelin,” Ermek Tursunov
  • The Netherlands, “Winter in Wartime,” Martin Koolhoven
  • Peru, “The Milk of Sorrow,” Claudia Llosa

I watch a lot of movies, and many of them are of the foreign variety… but even I’ve only heard of five of these. And of those I’ve only seen two (A Prophet, The White Ribbon). If noise and critical acclaim are any indication then the race is really a tie between those two. Both films won big at Cannes last year, and Haneke’s film also took Best Foreign Film at this year’s Golden Globes. (FYI, A Prophet is the superior movie in every regard.) This list of nine will be whittled down further to the final five nominees and announced on February 2nd.

The nine films above were chosen from a larger list of 65 and not surprisingly there’s at least one glaring omission, and it happens to be one of the best foreign films I’ve seen this year. Mother, South Korea’s entry from director Bong-joon Ho, didn’t make the cut. That means that come Oscar time when The White Ribbon undeservedly walks away with the top prize we’ll know that once again… the Academy got it wrong.

Did your favorite foreign film of the year get nominated? And please don’t say The White Ribbon unless you’re prepared to back it up with reasons why you think it’s so damn good.

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