With only a week away from announcing the Oscar nominations, and with no apparent need to do so, the Academy has pared down its list of eligible foreign-language films from 61 to nine. This is the first time the Academy has shortlisted the category, but the decision to do so falls in line with a number of other changes pertaining to the category.

Those changes, which I told you about last summer, are a good thing for at least two of the nine films. Water and Black Book each would have been disqualified in previous years, but now their language issues are in full compliance with the rules. Of course, had they not made the cut, there might have been some happier countries in Asia or Australia, the two continents not represented (Antarctica may get some love from Happy Feet's animation nomination). It is too bad that Japan couldn't claim Golden Globe winner Letters From Iwo Jima and also too bad for Oz that Ten Canoes wasn't chosen. Between now and Monday, a 30-member committee, split evenly among voters in L.A., N.Y. and, umm, L.A. (I know, it doesn't look right), must eliminate four unfortunate films (the pain of knowing it was so close!) and give the world the five titles that will represent world cinema for 2006. Who wants to wager that the four you've never heard of will be the ones to disappear? Who hopes that if Black Book somehow wins that Verhoeven rubs Showgirls in our faces?

The nominees are: Water (Canada), directed by Deepa Mehta; Black Book(The Netherlands), directed by Paul Verhoeven; Pan's Labyrinth(Mexico), directed by Guillermo del Toro; Volver(Spain), directed by Pedro Almodóvar; The Lives of Others(Germany), directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck; Days of Glory (Algeria), directed by Rachid Bouchareb; Vitus(Switzerland), directed by Fredi M. Murer; After the Wedding (Denmark), directed by Susanne Bier; and Avenue Montaigne (France), directed by Danièle Thompson.

Sad that Aki Kaurismäki is once again absent? Mad that Apocalypto couldn't compete? Glad that the nominees will definitely be better than last year's five? Yeah, me too.

More on the foreign-language Oscar noms:

Few Surprises With First Round of Foreign Oscar Submissions

Foreign Films Want to Cross Borders ... at Oscar Time

Sweden, Denmark and Norway Announce Oscar Entries

Volver is Spain's Oscar Submission

How The Lives of Others Came to Be

Sony Classics Gets Verhoeven's Nazi Camp

El Nuevo Remolque Asombrar Para El Labertino del Fauno!!

Palm Springs Film Fest Pushes Foreign Films