The Best Foreign Language Film category can be one of the strangest parts of the Oscars, a list of films that may or may not have been released int he States vying against each other, with usually at least one critical favorite in there that gets beaten out by something heartwarming about children or the Holocaust. We won't find out what the final five nominees are until the whole list of nominations is announced January 25, but today the Foreign Language Film committee announced their nine finalists, hailing from countries as varied as Algeria and Denmark, and just two of them having seen a release in the United States so far.

Here's the full list:

Algeria, “Hors la Loi” (“Outside the Law”), Rachid Bouchareb, director;
Canada, “Incendies,” Denis Villeneuve, director;
Denmark, “In a Better World,” Susanne Bier, director;
Greece, “Dogtooth,” Yorgos Lanthimos, director;
Japan, “Confessions,” Tetsuya Nakashima, director;
Mexico, “Biutiful,” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, director;
South Africa, “Life, above All,” Oliver Schmitz, director;
Spain, “Tambien la Lluvia” (“Even the Rain”), Iciar Bollain, director;
Sweden, “Simple Simon,” Andreas Ohman, director.

It's tempting to pick frontrunners based on star power-- Biutiful features Javier Bardem in a magnetic lead role-- precedent-- In A Better World won the Golden Globe-- or critical acclaim-- every critic I know is nuts for Dogtooth. But really this category is impossible to parse, and I'm not going to do any backbends trying to do so. We'll see the final list of nominees come January 25, and prepare for the inevitable critical backlash that same day.

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