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Oscar's international face

This year's nominees come from many different countries
/ Source: Reuters

Who the heck is Shohreh Aghdashloo? What about Djimon Hounsou and Fernando Mereilles? This coming Sunday, Oscar watchers just may find out.

When Oscar nominees were named in January, many film fans were surprised at so many actors, directors, writers and others from countries outside the United States who earned nominations for the U.S. film industry’s top awards.

But industry watchers said the nominations for Aghdashloo, Hounsou and the others points to the increasingly global scale of filmmaking, and they see the trend toward a more worldly face at the Oscars continuing into the foreseeable future.

“The Oscars always reflect what is going on in the film business as a whole, and the film business is getting more international,” said Timothy Gray, managing editor of show business newspaper Daily Variety.

Gray points out that even best movie front-runner “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which was distributed by Hollywood’s New Line Cinema, was made in New Zealand by Kiwis and financed by a variety of investors from around the globe.

As film crews and equipment have become more abundant and proficient in foreign countries, Hollywood has increasingly moved production overseas where costs are often lower.

The trend toward so-called runaway production, has caused a concern in Hollywood about lost jobs, and Oscar kingpin Harvey Weinstein even blamed a backlash against the trend for leading to few nominations for his Civil War movie, “Cold Mountain,” much of which was shot in Romania.

But the movement has also opened the door for foreign actors and exposed Hollywood to some of the best filmmaking talent from around the world.

Beyond the BritsBritish actors, of course, have always been a staple at the Oscars, and more recently Australians like Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe have done well, winning the awards that are handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Outside English-speaking countries, however, nominees had mostly been confined to the foreign language film categories, and that seems to be changing.

Last year, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar won the Oscar for best original screenplay award for Spanish-language “Talk to Her.” He competed against Mexico’s “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” written by Carlos and Alfonso Cuaron. Almodovar, too, was nominated for best director.

This year, Brazilian film “City of God,” about kids living in the slums of Rio de Janiero, earned four nominations — one for best director Fernando Merielles and the others for adapted screenplay, editing and cinematography.

“Looking at performances, those categories used to be filled with people that had been in Hollywood for a while,” said Robert Osborne, author of “75 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards.”

“That communal feel isn’t at the Oscars anymore,” he said.

Aghdashloo, 51, is well-known in her home country of Iran. She was nominated for best supporting actress for playing an Iranian exile in “House of Sand and Fog.”

Hounsou, 39, was born in West Africa and modeled in Europe before coming to Hollywood. He gained prominence in Steven Spielberg’s 1997 movie “Amistad,” about a slave revolt, and is nominated for playing an artist with AIDS in “In America.”

Japan’s Ken Watanabe received a supporting actor nomination in “The Last Samurai,” and New Zealand’s Keisha Castle-Hughes became the youngest best actress Oscar nominee ever at age 13, and she wasn’t even in “Lord of the Rings.” Castle-Hughes starred in last year’s hit independent film, “Whale Rider.”