From a sweeping slate of submissions with roots in over 80 countries, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Foreign-Language Executive Committee has pared down to nine entries. The official lineup of the final five nominees will be named on January 14, but even in this semifinal round, as it were, there are plenty of surprise omissions.

The Assassin, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s ravishing wuxia epic that won big at Cannes back in May, was noticeably absent from the shortlist. The Taiwanese film’s painterly combination of gorgeous natural vistas and elegantly graceful motion has wowed critics and made converts out of arthouse audiences, but apparently the voting body was not similarly moved. Also a no-show: Roy Andersson’s blackly comic Swedish masterpiece of existential despair A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. It was pretty off-beat to begin with, not necessarily the sort of thing that plays with Oscar voters, and neither of the two preceding installments of his so-called “Living Trilogy” received nominations either, so perhaps it’s not that much of a surprise. Other hopefuls left out in the cold include Miguel Gomes’ sprawling fantastical epic Arabian Nights, Icelandic drama Rams, and Austria’s instant cult favorite horror show Goodnight Mommy.

But plenty of the films with reason to celebrate (for now, at least) are still eminently worthy of their designation. The clear frontrunner remains Hungary’s pitiless Holocaust drama Son of Saul, which has been building even more traction lately as it has trotted out to cinemas in major cities. The film’s innovative cinematographic strategies — namely, keeping our haggard protagonist played by Géza Röhrig in close-up through almost the entirety of the film, allowing tragedy to play out in the periphery — and rookie filmmaker Laszlo Nemes’ self-assured direction have marked this as one to watch. For a potential spoiler, look to Mustang, a tone-perfect elegy to girlhood gone sour imported from France (in the Turkish language, however). The film, about five sisters suffocating under the oppressive yoke of Turkish societal norms, has resonated with audiences by virtue of its proto-feminist themes and strong performances from the young actresses. It could give Saul a run for its Reichsmarks, if any. Read on for the full list of entries on the shortlist:

The Brand New Testament, Belgium
Embrace of the Serpent, Colombia
A War, Denmark
The Fencer, Finland
Mustang, France
Labyrinth of Lies, Germany
Theeb, Jordan
Son of Saul, Hungary
Viva, Ireland