I'm a little disappointed with this year's Best Foreign Film Oscar nominees, which usually fall into the 400 screen or less category, but I'm also a little excited. When the category was established back in the 1950s (it was an "honorary" award from 1947 to 1955), the statue very often went to great works of art by great filmmakers. Winners included Federico Fellini (La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, 8 1/2, Amarcord), Jacques Tati (Mon Oncle), Ingmar Bergman (The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, Fanny and Alexander), Vittorio De Sica (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow; The Garden of the Finzi-Continis), Jirí Menzel (Closely Watched Trains), Luis Buñuel (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie), François Truffaut (Day for Night) and Akira Kurosawa (Dersu Uzala) -- and that's not even taking into account all the great films that were nominated and lost.

Then, sometime in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Academy started picking other types of films, usually movies with a kind of social conscience rather than artistic excellence that were also lightweight and easy to understand. This resulted in forgettable winners like Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, The Official Story and Burnt by the Sun. The award has not gone to an honest-to-goodness masterpiece since Fanny and Alexander in 1983. The closest we've come was in 1999, with Pedro Almdovar's All About My Mother.

This year could break the long, dry spell.