There's almost always some controversy around the Best Foreign category at the Oscars. This or that film doesn't make it in because of some minutae of the rules, and critics (and sometimes, directors and producers) howl in protest. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the category this year, though, it was a bit different. The loudest howls of protest were not over the films excluded for various obscure rules, but over the exclusion of Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu's Cannes winner, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (aka, "that Romanian abortion film." )

The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips wrote on his Talking Pictures blog recently (originally posted February 5, and rerun today) about the film's exclusion. Phillips writes that the film was third on his own Top Ten list for the year, saying, "It is a rare film indeed that shows you so much in the way of dire circumstances, yet does not exploit or cheapen the human factor." Phillips talked to Mungiu about the film for this post, and the director has some rather astute things to say about some specific decisions he made with regard to the filmmaking.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
was not on my own Top Ten list this year, and I've had numerous heated arguments friendly discussions with my colleague James Rocchi, who loved the film, about why I didn't personally care for it. One the one hand, I was not among those of my colleagues at Telluride who left a screening there puzzling over why this particular film had won at Cannes; on the other, I just didn't personally care for the film, much as I recognized the absolute artistry of its filmmaking. Mostly, I just really loathed the protagonist of the film. She was so weak, whiny and annoying, she made so many bad decisions and expected others to clean up after her, and I just found it hard to suspend my disbelief that her friend (or anyone else for that matter) would go to such extreme lengths to help her procure a late abortion.

Nonetheless, my personal annoyance with the main character aside, it really is quite a brilliant piece of filmmaking, and I was shocked that it didn't end up on the list of Oscar nominees. If you look at the five films that the great minds at the Academy decided deserved to be among the nominees this year -- Beaufort, The Counterfeiters, Mongol, Katyn, and 12 -- it's just shocking that 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days was excluded. Almost without exception, the critics and film journalists I know were dismayed that the film didn't make the cut.

This is not to say that the five films on the list aren't good -- of them, I've only seen The Counterfeiters -- and I see quite a lot of foreign films each year -- but that doesn't mean the others aren't perfectly good films. The other nominees sound like decent enough films, but the omission of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days sticks out like a sore thumb. The film won at Cannes, it was on countless critics' top ten lists, raved about far and wide, and a lot of my colleagues were convinced even at Telluride that it was a lock for Best Foreign. For it not to even receive a nomination was just bizarre.

I suppose you can argue that the subject matter was just too heavy for the Oscar blue-hairs; abortion doesn't seem to go over too well with them -- Lake of Fire, the really excellent abortion doc, also failed to make the final cut in its category. But of all the foreign films on the circuit this year, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days was by far the most talked about, the most buzzed about, the one most people expected to win. Without it in the running, this category just feels largely irrelevant this year.