This story first appeared in the Jan. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
A record 76 countries -- including first-timers such as Moldova and Saudi Arabia -- submitted features in the hope of scoring a best foreign-language film Oscar nomination. But the hopefuls now have been winnowed down to a shortlist of only nine features -- all of which will screen at the Palm Springs Film Festival -- from which five nominees will be chosen. There were some surprising omissions: Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose A Separation won the category two years ago, failed to make the cut with his latest film, The Past. The films moving forward are a largely downbeat group, zeroing in on human tragedies from Cambodian genocide to the death of a child.
The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium
Veerle Baetens picked up several best actress trophies (at Tribeca and the European Film Awards) for playing half of a couple whose daughter is dying of cancer in Felix Van Groeningen's Flemish tearjerker.
An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Danis Tanovic, whose 2001 No Man's Land earned a foreign-language Oscar, focuses on a working-class couple coping with a medical crisis they can't afford.
The Grandmaster, Hong Kong
In a change of pace, art house favorite Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love) ratchets up the action as he jumps into the world of martial arts to trace the career of Kung Fu master Ip Man, played by the director's frequent collaborator Tony Leung.
The Great Beauty, Italy
Named best film at the European Film Awards, director Paolo Sorrentino's feature tips its hat to Federico Fellini's classic La Dolce Vita as it follows an aging society journalist on his rounds through the excesses of the Eternal City.
The Hunt, Denmark
Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Hannibal Lecter in NBC's Hannibal, took the trophy as best actor at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Thomas Vinterberg's drama about a small-town kindergarten teacher who is unfairly accused of child molestation.
The Missing Picture, Cambodia
Rithy Panh's film -- the top prizewinner out of the Un Certain Regard sidebar at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival -- combines clay figures with archival footage as it recounts the atrocities committed by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge during the 1970s.
The Notebook, Hungary
Director Janos Szasz's adaptation of Agota Kristof 's French-language novel The Notebook, about twin 13-year-old boys sent to live with their cruel grandmother during World War II, copped two awards at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic.
Another Un Certain Regard prizewinner, Hany Abu Assad's film centers on a Palestinian man caught up in the violence surrounding him, who is imprisoned by the Israelis who demand he betray his friends.
Two Lives, Germany
Directed by Georg Maas, the film stars Liv Ullmann and Juliane Kohler as a Norwegian mother and daughter forced to confront crimes committed by German soldiers during World War II.