A Greek dystopia, a tale of Algeria's struggle for independence and a Danish study of friendship and fate are among five films competing for the Academy Award for best foreign language film.
The five nominees announced Tuesday are "Biutiful," by Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; "Dogtooth," by Greece's Yorgos Lanthimos; "Algeria's "Outside the Law," directed by Rachid Bouchareb; "Incendies," from Canada's Denis Villeneuve; and "In a Better World," by Denmark's Susanne Bier.
Described by some as a darker version of "The Truman Show," "Dogtooth" is set within a villa where a domineering father and his acquiescent wife raise three children in an artificial universe in which the outside world tales on sinister dimensions.
Actor Christos Stergioglou, who plays the father, said he was "in a state of shock" at the nomination.
He said the film "shows what stupidity can lead to — when you want to control everything, even under the pretext of love and protection."
"It is both a very serious and ridiculous subject."
The story of three Algerian brothers swept up in the North African country's fight for independence, "Outside the Law" has already sparked controversy in France, where some objected to its depiction of the brutal war that led to Algeria's independence in 1962.
A conservative French lawmaker called the film anti-French, and its Cannes Film Festival screening in May was held amid tight security. Bouchareb has said he was surprised by the strong reaction and insisted he did not make the film to divide.
"The film is not a battleground and was not made to trigger a standoff," Bouchareb, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, said at Cannes.
The highest-profile nominee, "Biutiful," stars Javier Bardem as a dying hustler in Barcelona trying to prepare for his final reckoning. Bardem has been nominated for a best actor Oscar for the film.
Danish director Bier is nominated for a second time for "In a Better World," the story of two families in gray, rural Denmark that become fatefully intertwined as their sons develop a risky friendship that develops into a dangerous alliance. Her 2006 movie "After the Wedding" also received a foreign language Oscar nomination.
The Quebecois film "Incendies" follows adult twins as they travel to the Middle East to uncover their mother's war-ravaged past and a brother they never knew they had.
The list omits some of the most heralded foreign language films of the year. Snubbed movies include Cannes Film Festival prize-winners "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," from Thailand, and France's "Of Gods and Men."