Friday, August 15, 2014


Here are the likely submissions from Japan to Peru. I'll add Japan, Korea and Mexico later this month.
Incidentally, the race is in full swing! Hungary, Poland, Romania and Turkey have made their official selections ("White God", "Ida", "Japanese Dog" and "Winter Sleep" surprises there) and Germany and Israel have announced their shortlists.
2. JORDAN- "Theeb" Jordan has only sent a film once and that was the delightful “Captain Abu Raed”, the first Jordanian feature to be made in decades. Since then, film output has been steady (2 or 3 a year) but they’ve never sent in films even when they’ve been well-received this year. This has been an unusually lean year and (as of June) I don’t know that they have anything eligible. However, I do think that “Theeb”, a lush period drama currently in post-production, could potentially be released in time and become Jordan’s second submission. Set in 1916, it’s about a young Bedouin boy in Ottoman-era Arabia who secretly follows his brother on a dangerous journey to find a hidden well important for a cadre of Allied soldiers. If it gets a domestic release before September 30, it might be in.

3 KAZAKHSTAN- "Harmony Lessons" Kazakhstan is likely to send Berlinale 2013 Silver Bear winner “Harmony Lessons”. It finally opened in Kazakhstan in December 2013 after a very successful year screening around the world. The film, about a young boy being bullied by an older student, has been slightly controversial for its dark portrait of Kazakh society, but it certainly has the best reviews of any Kazakh film this year (and possibly, ever). They have four other contenders that have been entertaining the film festival circuit, namely (A)- “Adventure” (Karlovy Vary 2014), based on a Dostoevsky story about a man with a dull job who meets an exciting young woman,(B)- “Little Brothers” (Venice 2013), about a 9-year Kazakh boy from a dysfunctional family, which Variety recently called a kinder, gentler version of Harmony Lessons…It was the only Kazakh film in competition at their biggest domestic film festival, Eurasia Film Festival, (C)-“Nagima” (Busan 2013, Berlin 2014), about the lives of three women living on the fringes of society. It received a Gala Premiere at Busan. And (D)-“The Owners” (last-minute addition at Cannes Special Screenings 2014), about three orphans (age 25, 16 and 12) struggling against a corrupt justice and land distribution system. The prolific Yermek Tursunov, the last Kazakh to make it to the shortlist, has two new films this year, comedy “Kempyr” and drama “Kenzhe” which is in post-production. Independently produced family comedy “Kempyr”, about an elderly village couple who learn that there will be a new addition to the family, is a departure from his brooding artistic masterpieces. Director Tursunov said Kazakhs need more of a reason to laugh these days. He’ll return to form with “Kenzhe”, the third film in his dark trilogy (alongside “Kelin” and “Shal”). Unlikely: Busan premieres “The Book” and “Story of an Old Woman” (shot in one-take) haven’t got any buzz and the upcoming “Voice of the Steppes”, starring Gerard Depardieu has no release date. Festival films often take a very long time to come out domestically (like “Harmony Lessons”). I think "Lessons" will be selected anyway, but their biggest threats should be considered to be “Kenzhe” and “Little Brothers”, if released at home.

4. KENYA- "It's Us" Kenya submitted a movie two years ago and reportedly came close to the shortlist for the gritty “Nairobi Half Life” which sadly never got a US release (I saw it at a Smithsonian Museum screening in Washington, DC and it’s quite good). If they submit this year, I’m fairly certain it will be “It’s Us” (aka “Ni Sisi”). This Swahili-language film is easily the most critically acclaimed Kenyan film of the year, focusing on how a series of rumors and lies quickly destroys the fragile ethnic harmony of a small village. It’s a parable for the deadly events that occurred in 2008. The only handicap: Director Nick Reding is British, not Kenyan. Since he’s based in the country I don’t foresee a problem. 

5. KOREA- "Roaring Currents"???? Haven't done the research yet, but this patriotic war film certainly seems like the obvious contender.

6. KUWAIT- "Cut: Unforgettable" Kuwait was the first and only Gulf Arab country to enter the Oscar race until last year, when Saudi Arabia joined the competition. However, Kuwait hasn’t sent a film since 1978 (the longest absence of any country other than Cote d’Ivoire), even on the rare occasions when they have a good one to send (“Tora Bora”). This has been a relatively weak year for premiering new Arab films; the Cairo, Damascus and Doha Film Festivals were all canceled. I think only two Kuwaiti films are eligible- an amateurish thriller shot on video, and a childish comedy about Kuwaiti men seeking Ukrainian wives. What a choice! For the sake of completing this chart: horror film “Cut: Unforgettable Night”. 

7. KYRGYZSTAN- "Queen of the Mountains" Few countries have an easier decision this year than the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. First of all, “Queen of the Mountains” (aka “Kurmandjan Datka”) is said to be the biggest film in their national history. It’s an expensive national epic ($US 1.5 million, very high by local standards) about a woman who helped unite divided tribes into a cohesive nation. As such, it’s also a long-awaited patriotic affair that easily has the nationalist credentials to get the Kyrgyz to enter the race. Most importantly, it doesn’t have much competition! Kyrgyz cinema has been pretty quiet this year and the big winner at the National Film Awards (comedy “Salam, New York”) and Kyrgyzstan’s surprise nominee for Best Foreign Film at Russia’s Nika Awards (drama “Passion”) were released in last year’s eligibility period. Count on the “Queen”.
8. LATVIA- "Man in the Orange Jacket" Latvia is now the laggard of Baltic cinema (it was traditionally Lithuania, which now seems to be doing rather well). There were only two majority-Latvian productions released in 2013 (last year’s Oscar submission, plus a stoner comedy) and the films that are being released in 2014 are mostly co-productions in English. This year, Estonia and Lithuania jumped ship from "Baltic Films" joint three-nation membership in EFP, leaving Latvia with no seat at one of Europe’s key film networking fora. The Latvians could conceivably skip this year, though they’ll probably enter with creepy thriller “Man in the Orange Jacket”, a violent, bloody thriller about a man who’s just been fired terrorizing a wealthy couple.  Trailer looks really good. Runner-up: “Modris”, a drama about a young gambler and his mom, with quirky animated film for adults “Rocks in My Pockets” in third. Unlikely: docudrama “Escaping Riga” probably has too much English and geriatric army comedy “Then It’s Hi Hi Hee!” (about a group of pensioners who join the Latvian Army) will be too silly.

9. LEBANON- "Ghadi" Lebanon changed its mind at the last minute last year when their official pick “Ghadi” postponed its release date. That means “Ghadi”, an Amelie-type story about the influence an eccentric  little boy (an angel?) has on the lives of people in his community, should be considered the frontrunner. The other major contender is “Heritage”, a documentary by Philippe Aractingi (selected to represent Lebanon twice), a touching and emotionally resonant film about his family’s third evacuation from Lebanon due to various wars. Feel-good comedies “Bebe” and “Neswen” would be extremely unlikely.

10. LITHUANIA- "The Gambler" Lithuania has the least-developed film industry of the three Baltic republics, although they’ve been doing better in recent years. This year’s big box-office hit- “Redirected”- described as “The Hangover as directed by Guy Ritchie” is mostly in English so I think they’ll opt for “The Gambler”, which dominated the local film awards this year (the Silver Cranes) winning Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. It’s a thriller about a paramedic  forced into an illegal gambling game due to his debts. However, Lithuania’s Academy is a weird one and they have ignored “obvious choices” before. In fact, out of Lithuania’s six Oscar submissions, three have been documentary shorts, barely over the 40-minute AMPAS requirement. So, running neck and neck with “The Gambler” will be documentary “Cenotaph” by a previously submitted director. It’s a rather interesting story….about a man who tries to find the bodies of three soldiers secretly buried on his land by his father during WWII in order to give them a dignified burial.
11. LUXEMBOURG- "Heemwei" Luxembourg held its bi-annual Film Awards in March and the big winner was last year’s Oscar submission “Blind Spot”. Its main competition was “Heemwei” which will probably get to represent Luxembourg this year. “Heemwei”, mostly in Luxembourg’s local dialect, is about two Luxembourgian boys who desert the Nazi German army in 1944 France and try to return home to their occupied country. Made on a shoe-string budget, it tells a genuine Luxembourg story, which the country has favored doing since being disqualified for the multinational “Your Name is Justine” in 2006. Luxembourg’s two most famous directors also have contenders this year- Andy Bausch has “Fifties”, a documentary about Luxembourg in the post-war period, while Pol Cruchten has “Les brigands”, a French-language crime thriller with some famous names (Tcheky Karyo, Maximilian Schell), which has no release date. “Les Brigands” probably won't be released by September 30, so I’m predicting “Heemwei”.

12. MACEDONIA- "To The Hilt" Macedonia was the surprise absentee from last year’s race. Two films with fairly good reviews applied to represent the country but the Macedonian Association of Filmmakers said that neither film was “appropriate”. Oddly enough, one of those two films postponed their release date (“Balkan Is Not Dead”) so it is technically eligible again this year. If you include “Balkan”, I think five films are eligible this year. I’m pretty sure the nominee will be long-awaited costume drama-cum-western  “To the Hilt” set in 1907 in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. It failed to get a major festival slot as hoped but it's still the front-runner. In second place: “Lazarus”, about a pair of human traffickers facing a chilling moral dilemma. In third: family drama “Children of the Sun” has good buzz but the trailer looks dull…..Out of luck: “Honey Night” and the second go round for “Balkan Is Not Dead” (which I think looks pretty good!)

13. MALAYSIA- "Laga" If the world were fair, Malaysia would surely send “The Journey”, a critically-acclaimed film about a grandfather and his grandson. It was a critical and financial success, becoming the highest-grossing film in Malaysian history in February this year. Its main problem, however, is that it’s a Chinese-language film and due to the Malaysian government’s bias (racism?) towards Malay-language culture, I doubt the Malaysian Academy will submit it. It’s the story of a gruff Chinese-Malaysian father coerced into a road trip with his daughter’s British fiancé to hand-deliver a number of wedding invitations all around Malaysia. I think it’s more than 50% in Chinese and I would love for the Malaysians to prove me wrong and send it to Hollywood. I’m really looking forward to seeing it. Out of their Malay-language films, there isn’t much to choose from (They even seem to have forgotten to schedule their National Film Awards this year, which were last held in March 2013). Out of a slew of silly comedies and horror movies, I see only two real contenders, namely “Laga”, a warmly received drama about conflict and intrigue in a small village that specializes in cockfighting . and“Apokalips X”, a big-budget post-apocalyptic action film set in a school, which is said to have an exceptionally original style merged with a Japanese manga look. Their last Oscar submission was an action film set in a village so they seem to like these two themes. I choose “Laga”.


15. MOLDOVA- "The Unsaved" The former Soviet republic of Moldova entered the Oscar race for the first time last year (the 13th republic to do so, out of 15) with low-budget adoption drama “All God’s Children”. I predict this year they’ll be back with “The Unsaved”. Moldova shares a language with neighbouring Romania and their films appear to be eligible to enter Romania’s National Film Awards. “The Unsaved" is a Romanian (Moldovan?) New Wave arthouse piece about a disaffected young man trying to improve his lot in life. Unlike last year’s “Children”, the director is actually Moldovan and it’s one of the few Moldovan films ever to screen in a major festival (Karlovy Vary 2013).

16. MONGOLIA- "Remote Control" Mongolia's Oscar experience is limited to Byambasuren Davaa’s animal-based docudramas. They submitted her first two films (but not the third) for Best Foreign Film in 2003 and 2005 (reportedly coming close both times) and got a Best Documentary Oscar nomination for the first film "Story of the Weeping Camel". This year, “Remote Control” became the first Mongolian film in a decade to win a major international Film Festival award, winning one of the top prizes at Busan 2013. It’s the story of a young man from the countryside who seeks to influence the life of a beautiful, wealthy girl in Ulaanbaatar by controlling the television in her apartment by remote control. I saw the film in Busan and it’s a small, sweet movie (with a somewhat Iranian style) though it won’t make an impact in Hollywood. Other possibility: slick action movie “Trapped Abroad”, which was an enormous success at the box-office and which dominated the Mongolian Academy Awards this year ("Remote Control" wasn't eligible but not sure why).

17. MONTENEGRO- "The Kids From Marks and Engel Street" Montenegro, the smallest of ex-Yugoslavia’s republics, entered the Oscar race for the first time last year. They’ll probably enter again with “The Kids from Marks and Engel Street”, a long-awaited project set in the early 1990s when Yugoslavia was falling apart. Two young brothers are facing climactic moments in their lives- one is about to kill a man, while the other is going to lose his virginity. “Kids” features stars and musicians from all over the former Yugoslavia, but proudly claims to be a very Montenegrin story. It's a sure thing, and the only other contender is “Little Buddho”, about a Montenegrin teen who flees to Serbia to avoid a blood feud.

18. MOROCCO- "Adios Carmen" Morocco has been enjoying a film renaissance in recent years. Production has reached roughly 24 films a year and their films routinely win awards internationally, particularly in Arab-themed festivals. It also continues to be the filming venue of choice for international productions in the Arab World (alongside Jordan). They’re also the only African nation besides South Africa that can be reliably counted on every year to send a movie to the Oscars (5 of the past 6 years). This year, I was sure they would send “Fevers”, a drama about a rebellious teenager in Morocco who is forced to move to France to be with his absentee father when his mother is sent to jail. Director Hicham Ayouch is the brother of Nabyl Ayouch who has repped Morocco three times already. However despite festival play, it won’t be released in Moroccan cinemas until mid-October. It’s now a tight three-way race between “Adios Carmen” (Dubai), about a young boy from an abusive home who befriends a Spanish emigree in 1975, “Kanyamakan”, an exciting big-budget Hollywood-style action film about a bank robbery gone wrong, and “Sotto Voce”, a film about militants on the Morocco-Algerian border during Algeria’s civil war. “Sotto Voce” (Dubai) was the big winner at the Festival of Moroccan Film (winning three awards including Best Picture) when most Moroccan releases compete against each other, but I think its leftist, militant politics will keep it from being sent.  “Kanyamakan” boasts American-style entertainment, but it’s definitely a genre film and not an Oscar contender. A few other dark horses in a strong year:  “Aria Delma” (2nd Prize at Moroccan Film Festival) a Berber-language film about a man trying to emigrate to Europe on a sinking ship, “Sara”, a dramedy about a thief and the girl he has illegally adopted, and “They Are the Dogs”, a black comedy about a falsely accused political dissident released from prison after thirty years amidst the Arab Spring. Unlikely: the sexually explicit “Pillow Secrets”, the gay-themed “L’armée du Salut” and the American-helmed “Traitors” have got good reviews but will be too controversial. My Top Five: “Adios Carmen” reps Morocco with “Kanyamakan” and “Sara” runner-ups.
19. NEPAL- "Red Monsoon" Nepal rejoined the Oscar race last year for the first time since 2006 with lesbian drama “Soongava”. This French co-production was definitely more of an “international” arthouse effort rather than the Bollywood-style musicals that Nepali largely produces. That means the most likely pick for Nepal this year would be “Red Monsoon”, a non-musical film about the intersecting lives of a cast of characters in a modern-day Kathmandu slum. It played at Mumbai and has stood out as the strongest Nepali film of the year. Other possibilities: “Kabaddi”, a love triangle romance and probably the best-reviewed of Nepal’s commercial films, “Jhola”, about the ancient practice of bride burning (sati) or “Kollywood”, a film prepped for international release about the country’s local film industry.

20. NETHERLANDS- "Lucia de B." The Netherlands  is a former Oscar power, but although they continue to send good films ( “Borgman” was the best film on the list last year), the Dutch haven’t been nominated in over 10 years, in large part because they have a silly habit of sending children’s films half the time. I know the Dutch have a proud tradition of  making quality films for children, but they’re unlikely to score here (as the Nordics, also renowned in this genre, already know). I see two front-runners for the Netherlands- “Lucia de B.” (by Oscar nominee Paula van der Oest), a true-story legal thriller about a DA who helps convict a nurse for murder but who later sets out to prove her innocence, and “Secrets of War”, a family-friendly war film set in 1943, about Christian classmates who have to help a Jewish family escape during German occupation. Which to choose? “Lucia” has better reviews, but “Secrets” has exactly what the Dutch Academy likes (kids and WWII). I’m predicting “Lucia” but not confident. In third place is “Kenau”, a fairly big-budgeted warrior woman historical drama about war between the Dutch and the Spanish. Rounding out the Top Five: “Nude Area”, an inter-racial lesbian tale about a Dutch and Arab woman who begin a relationship in a female sauna; and female coming-of-age drama “Nena” (set to debut in September). Among the other films the Dutch might very well consider worthy: “The Dinner”, a dark conversational drama similar to Roman Polanski’s “Carnage”, “Farewell to the Moon”, a coming-of-age drama set in 1972, Rotterdam thriller “Helium” and “Land.”, about a Moroccan who falls for a Dutch tourist and seeks to travel to Europe to see her on a surfboard. As I mentioned earlier, the Dutch do have a (silly) habit of sending children’s films with no chance to advance, so that could mean they choose “Above Us All”, “Confetti Harvest” or “Finn”, but none of these really has the gravitas to be sent to Hollywood.  

21. NEW ZEALAND- "The Dead Lands" New Zealand has submitted twice with films in Pacific Island languages (Maori and Samoan). This year's candidate could be intriguing Maori-language action movie “The Dead Lands”. Set in the 16th century before the arrival of the British, it’s about a young man who survives the massacre of his tribe and sets out to seek avenge his comrades. It’s certain to be New Zealand’s next Foreign Oscar submission. "Dead Lands" has been selected for this year's Toronto Film Festival in September but won't premiere in Kiwi cinemas until October 30. They could do an Oscar qualifying run, but I think they'll wait until next year.

22. NICARAGUA released its first movie in over 20 years in 2010 courtesy of French filmmaker Florence Jaguey, who has lived in Nicaragua since the 1980s. The film was a huge domestic hit, and the film was promptly entered into innumerable Latin American film festivals as well as the Foreign Oscar contest. Jaguey’s second fiction feature, “The Broken Screen” (La pantalla desnuda) sounds even better than her first (and I quite liked the low-budget drama of “La Yuma”). It’s about a young man obsessed with his best friend, who uses a sex video to destroy his friend’s relationship with a beautiful local girl. “The Broken Screen” just finished filming this spring and is scheduled for release in November 2014, making it ineligible. The prolific Jaguey also has a mid-length documentary out this year called “Class Days” in which she follows a poor rural class of students for one year.

23. NIGERIA- "B for Boy" Nigeria frequently claims to make the largest number of movies in the world each year (that’s not really true….most of them are low-budget, straight-to-video productions, never to be shown in a cinema….I still consider the global winner to be India) but they’ve never sent a movie to the Oscars before now. However, they confirmed on May 1st, 2014 that they would be assembling a committee to enter the Oscars for the first time. As a multi-ethnic nation, Nigerians typically use English as a lingua franca so like Canada or Singapore, many of their films are not eligible. With the biggest contender mostly in English (“Half of a Yellow Sun”, starring Oscar winner Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, both British actors of Nigerian descent), I see two main contenders to represent Nigeria for the first time in Hollywood. The favorite is probably “October 1st”, an oft-delayed mystery by a prominent local director, set against the backdrop of a small town on the eve of Nigeria’s independence in 1960. The film will have the Academy getting out the stopwatch….The trailer is roughly half in English and half in the three major local languages of Nigeria (Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba). Delayed a year, the release is now scheduled (surprise, surprise) for October 1, 2014 meaning it would need a preview screening to qualify. Because of these two issues, I’m predicting dark horse “B for Boy”, in the Ibo language, gets the nod. It’s gotten very good reviews at home and in Africa (winning Best African Language Film at the AAFA Awards), and unlike most Nigerian fare, it has played at festivals abroad (London, Rotterdam). It’s the tragic story of a pregnant, upper-class woman under extreme pressure to give birth to a baby boy to carry on the family name.
24. NORWAY essentially has a two-way race between two titles from Berlin, namely drama-thriller “Blind” and violent black comedy “In Order of Disappearance”. All the buzz overseas is for “Disappearance” which competed in the Main Section of Berlin and stars Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard. Frequently compared (favorably) with “Fargo” and the Coen Brothers, "Disappearance" is about a father who goes on a killing rampage to avenge the murder of his son. “Blind” (which competed in Berlin Panorama as well as Sundance) is about a woman who has just gone blind, and who retreats to safety of her apartment where her fantasies take over. While “Disappearance” has better reviews overseas, it is “Blind” which dominated the Norwegian Amanda nominations (winners will be announced today August 16th), whereas “Disappearance” was mostly snubbed with just a single nod for Best Actor. In the end, I’m not sure the cerebral “Blind” or the violent “Disappearance” will do so well with Oscar, though I’m rooting for “Disappearance”. The Norwegians waver between choosing Hollywoodesque spectacles (“Kon-Tiki”, “Max Manus”) and snubbing them (“Pioneer”) and doing the same with arthouse (“I Am Yours” and “Angel” made it….”Oslo, August 31st” and “A Bothersome Man” did not). In 2010, the Norwegians had to postpone their announcement since they couldn’t come to a decision, and it will likely be very close again this year. In the end, I think it will be “Blind”. As a footnote, the Norwegians usually choose a three-film shortlist. The third film on the list will probably be 1960s coming-of-age drama “The Beatles” or immigrant tale “Letter to the King”. Out of the running: “1000 Times Good Night” (starring Juliette Binoche) and thriller “Sleepwalker” both have too much English.  

25. PAKISTAN returned to the Oscars last year after a record 50-year absence. Unfortunately, I heard from certain sources that this historical moment in Pakistani cinema was marred by the fact that they forgot to send a version with subtitles to Los Angeles.  In any case, the Pakistani selection committee (headed by Pakistan’s first Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy) elected a critical darling black comedy (“Zinda Bhaag”) over a nationalist historical drama (“Chambaili”) and two other films, in what appears to be a very fair decision. Instead of congratulating their rival, the team behind “Chambaili” and its backers in the press complained loudly that “Zinda Bhaag” violated the rules because it was selected before screening in cinemas (which many countries do, ) and because it was a majority-Indian-production (blatantly untrue, though one of the five lead actors was Indian and so was the co-director). Director Nawaz should be ashamed of himself for making these allegations without understanding AMPAS rules. Anyway, Pakistan has already confirmed they will be back this year. It’s a great opportunity to showcase Pakistani cinema. My prediction was originally dark horse “Hijrat”, a beautifully shot love story set on the Afghan-Pakistan border during the Afghan Civil War. My runner-ups were “Saya-e-Khudaya e Zuljalal”, a patriotic historical drama set in the 1960s (Pakistan ignored a similar nationalist epic last year, but this one looks better) and “Moor” another visually beautiful borderland drama, this time set in Baluchistan (might be politically sensitive) with a larger budget. Both were scheduled for August release. However, everything seems delayed, which has been a major problem in general for Pakistani films this year (See here for more on that story). Of those films which have actually been released, the most likely are smash hit action flick “Waar” (which looks much more professionally made that other hits like “The System” or “Operation 021”) and “Kaptaan”, a biopic of national sports hero Imran Khan. Or will they release one of their arthouse films before the deadline (“Daughter”, about a mother “kidnapping” her 10-year daughter to save her from a child marriage or "Price of Honour", about honour killings would be topical choices). Well, it all depends on who can get their film in cinemas in time. As of today, I'll guess the arthouse films all fall to be released but that "Saya-e-Khudaya e Zuljalal" makes the cutoff, followed by smash hit "Waar".

26. PALESTINE got their second nomination last year for exciting thriller “Omar”, cementing their status as one of only two Arab countries (along with Algeria) to be nominated (although Israel has also been nominated for a mostly Arabic-language film with an Arab co-director). Palestine used to produce barely one film a year, but they now have about ten films in pre-production, including two by two-time Oscar nominee Hany Abu-Assad (one as producer, one as director) and one by Annemarie Jacir (whose films were submitted twice and who I had the pleasure of chatting with last year at a screening in DC), which bodes well for Palestinian cinema. Only a few have been released so far this year. Of those that have, the front-runner is tragicomedy “Palestine Stereo”, about two brothers whose happy lives are destroyed when the Israeli army destroys the third floor of their apartment building to kill a terrorist….destroying their fifth floor apartment in the process, killing one man’s wife and rendering one of the brothers (a sound engineer) deaf. It was warmly received in Toronto 2013, slightly more than “Giraffada” (also at Toronto 2013), a comedy about a zookeeper and his kids who try to smuggle an Israeli giraffe to the Occupied Territories. Of those that haven’t been released, the most prominent choices are expensive Jesus Christ drama “The Savior” and drama “Eyes of a Thief”, about a man searching for his missing daughter after 10 years in an Israeli prison. Abu-Assad’s two projects “Lamya” and “The Flag” will probably face off next year. This year, I think this is a close battle between “Stereo” and the upcoming “Thief”. My prediction: assuming “Thief” gets a Ramallah premiere in time, female director Najwa Najjar will be the second woman to represent Palestine.
27. PERU  will probably send “The Gospel of the Flesh” (El evangelio de la carne), an Inarittu-style multi-strand drama of three men (an undercover cop, a bus driver and a football coach) searching for redemption and a better life.  It won Best Audience Award at the Lima Film Festival (the only Peruvian fiction feature to win anything).  It faces a strong challenge from “Trip to Timbuktu”, following a young middle class couple’s romance from childhood through the turbulent years of Shining Path terrorism in the 1990s. These two films are certainly the frontrunners. Dak horses include: “The Blue Hour”, a thriller based on a famous novel about a man investigating his late father’s past during the years of Peru’s military dictatorship;  “The Mute”, a black comedy by the Vega brothers (who represented Peru in 2011) about a hard-ass, conservative judge who is struck dumb by an assassin’s bullet; “Old Friends” (Viejos Amigos), a geriatric road movie about two friends who kidnap a third to go to a football game. Not eligible: “The Vanished Elephant”, a thriller by the director of the brilliant “Contracorriente”, sadly robbed of a nomination in 2010/2011. It’s scheduled to open two days after the deadline and Peru does not tend to do Oscar qualifying releases.  I predict “Gospel”, but Peru made a surprise choice last year (a horror-drama that flopped at the box office and got middling critical reviews), so who knows?


In addition to NIGERIA (see above) which has confirmed its participation, I believe we'll see two new debutantes this year. KOSOVO has already expressed an interest in participating and there's no doubt it will be anything other than "Three Windows and a Hanging" (Sarajevo), a story about rape victims forced to hide what happened to them due to the shame it brings upon their village. It's said to be the best film ever from the tiny nation's brief history. The question is whether AMPAS will accept them as a country. Without getting into politics, they are recognized by more countries than Taiwan and Palestine, including the USA and the European Film Promotion organization, so I hope they'll compete. We can also expect to see the first film ever from MALTA, namely "Simshar" a big-scale shipwreck drama based on a true story, and the first local film pushed for international distribution. Out of luck will be Abderrahmane Sissako's Mali-set drama "Timbuktu", a majority French production set in Mali and co-produced by MAURITANIA. The film doesn't seem to have screened anywhere in West Africa. Other possibilities: mystical Guarani/Spanish-language treasure hunt drama "Costa Dulce"(Rotterdam) from PARAGUAY and "Incompatibles" a romantic comedy and a genuine MONACO production from the principality of 30,000 people. Less likely: the first feature film from LESOTHO, "The Forgotten Kingdom", a US-South Africa co-production about a man who returns to his country after years working in Johannesburg. It got a "Best African Film" nomination at the African Academy Awards and finally premiered in Lesotho cinemas in April 2014, and student romantic drama from LAOS, "Spring in Return", which has repped the country at some ASEAN Film Festivals.

 NEXT: The final tranche of predictions from Philippines to Vietnam

Thursday, July 17, 2014

OSCAR SUBMISSION PREDICTIONS 2014-2015, C-I (Croatia to Italy)

Here is the second group of 27 countries.....Croatia thru Italy.

I've left off three of the biggest countries- France, India and Iran- off the list for now- but they'll be updated in August.
1. CROATIA- "The Bridge at the End of the World" Croatia has a few options this year, but I see the clear front-runner as “The Bridge at the End of the World”, a drama about the plight of Bosnian Croats living in Croatia as refugees. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian Croats and Croatian Serbs fled into each other’s republics, often squatting in each other’s towns and villages. With the return of the Croatian Serbs to their homes, the refugees are suddenly without a place to live. Croatia’s strongest films are typically those that deal with the war, and “Bridge” is one of the leading contenders at the Pula Film Festival. “Bridge” hasn’t premiered yet, so there’s still hope for “Number 55”, a war film about a 24-hour battle between a ragtag group of Croatian soldiers and the Serbian army in 1991, as well as “The Reaper” (directed by Zvonimir Juric, selected to rep Croatia in 2010), a “Rashomon”-type film about the life of a laborer convicted of rape many years before. Both films are also contenders at Pula. We should have a better idea of the Croatian nominee on July 26, when the awards from the National Awards are announced at Pula. These three films may not be released domestically in time to compete for Oscar, but awards at Pula will be an important precursor for those that do. Some might predict live-action family film “The Brave Adventures of a Little Shoemaker” (an animated version of this popular Croatian story was sent by Croatia in 1997) or hit comedy “Cowboys”, but I don’t think the Croatian Academy will select a film from these respective genres. Dark horse: I don’t think “These Are the Rules”, a drama about parents devastated by a street attack on their teenaged son, will be released in time, but I’d vault it to second place if it is. UPDATE: "Number 55"dominated Pula, so that may now be the real front-runner.
2. CUBA- "Behavior" (Conducta) Communist Cuba has mostly given up on the Oscars. Since 2008, they’ve only sent two films, neither of which was a particularly great Cuban film. It’s almost like they picked them at random. It's true that Cuban cinema has been going through hard times lately. The national film development organization, ICAIC, only funded a single film in 2014 (versus 12 in 2012 and 4 in 2013). Independent cinema is on the rise despite a number of difficulties operating in Cuba’s political environment, but it’s difficult to see the National Film Board submitting a film made outside the studio system. Fortunately for Cuba, this year’s sole studio film is supposed to be a pretty good one, namely “Behavior” (Conducta). It’s about an 11-year old from a dysfunctional single-parent home (alcoholic mom, neighborhood obsessed with dog fighting), and his relationship with a dedicated teacher at his school. The picture has gotten great reviews in Cuba and abroad and also done good business in Havana, with some calling it the best Cuban film since Oscar nominee “Strawberry and Chocolate”. It definitely shows an unsavory side of Cuban society, but there’s also some hope there….I’m not sure if the Cubans will send it or not, but it’s more or less their only serious option. "Meñique", a 3D animated film was a big hit, and independent films like gay prostitute drama “The Last Match” and village dramedy “Melaza” defied the odds and got domestic releases this year in Cuba, but I can’t see the Cuban Academy going in that direction.
3. CZECH REPUBLIC- "Hany" The Czech Republic hasn’t been a player in this category in years (last nomination was for “Zelary” more than ten years ago). As usual, the Czechs have a number of a strong candidates to represent the country, but with no front-runner. The Czech Academy likes quirky and original films, and they aren’t afraid to ignore an Oscary historical drama for an experimental or animated film. That said, they also have a penchant for rewarding established directors over newcomers. This year, I see the five main contenders (in alphabetical order) as: (1)- “Clownwise”, a Best Picture nominee at this year’s Golden Lions, about the lives of three clowns who reunite 30 years after breaking up during Communist times, (2)- “Delight”, another Golden Lion nominee and the Czech rep in the East-West competition at Karlovy Vary, a “modernist, minimalist” arthouse drama, (3)- “Fair Play”, a drama about a dedicated young female athlete pressured into illegal doping, and one of only two Czech films selected for the main competition at Karlovy Vary, (4)- “Hany” an independent drama shot in one-take, about a number of friends and strangers drinking on a night out, and (5)- “The Way Out” (Cannes 2014, ACID Independent Section), a film about a modernist Gypsy couple trying to overcome prejudice in modern-day Czech society. Two dark horses: chatty comedy “The Icing” is based on a popular play and directed by Oscar nominee Jan Hřebejk; historical docu-drama “Cyril and Methodius” looks absolutely gorgeous, but has no buzz. Unlikely but possible: action-comedy “All My Tomorrows” and action-drama “Lousy Bastards”. Not eligible? “In Silence” is about the plight of Jewish musicians during the Holocaust, but even though it premieres in Karlovy Vary, it has no release date and strains nationality requirements (a Czech director, but a Slovak-language film). I’m predicting a big upset for dark horse “Hany”, whose trailer looks absolutely brilliant, and which fits the “original” look the Czechs favor. In 2nd place: “Fair Play”, which is supposed to be very good, with “Clownwise” in third, “Delight” in 4th. “No Way Out” and “Delight” have been big on the festival circuit, but “Delight” is too arty and “No Way Out” not well-reviewed enough to compete.

4. DENMARK- "In Real Life" Denmark once again faces a tough decision just to decide its three-film shortlist, and its eventual choice will likely be a major Oscar contender. Last year, Denmark became the first country since 1980 (when France did it) to advance four years in a row (though in 1980, there were only 5 nominees …no 9-film shortlist). I predict this year’s three shortlisted films will be Jonas Elmer’s Internet drama “In Real Life”, Simon Staho’s village drama “The Miracle”, and Niels Arden Oplev’s youth-oriented “Race Walking”….but it’s really, really tight. Many bloggers are predicting Pernille Fischer Christensen’s “Someone You Love” will take home the whole thing, while Niels Arden Oplev’s rap music drama “Flow” has strong buzz. Oscar winner Susanne Bier’s new thriller “Another Chance” looks like it won’t premiere until January 2015, but if released earlier, it will definitely make the shortlist and probably represent Denmark. Final prediction: Denmark wants a 5th Oscar nomination and I think they’ll choose the more topical “In Real Life”, about a number of characters interacting online as well as “in real life” over the more traditional “Miracle” (about a man who returns to his native village and begins an affair with his former sweetheart, now married to the village minister) and youth-skewing “Race”, about a trio of adolescents.  “Race Walking” should manage second place, with “Miracle”, “Someone” and “Flow” rounding out the Top Five. Unlikely: “Sorrow and Joy”, based on the true story of the director’s wife’s post-partum murder of their young child, and hit police mystery “Keeper of Lost Causes”. Also out of the running: Bille August’s “Silent Heart” will be released too late but will be a strong contender next year, while the bilingual western “The Salvation”, starring Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green looks like it contains way too much English.

 5. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC- "Cristo Rey" The Dominican Republic is seeing a record number of films produced each year, averaging about fifteen.  This year, two films have been representing the country internationally, namely “Cristo Rey” a gritty urban drama with Romeo + Juliet overtones, about a feud two between half-brothers (one with a Dominican mother, one with a Haitian mother) over the same local girl, and “To the South of Innocence”, a road movie/coming-of-age tale about three wealthy teens who run away on a road trip.” I predict “Cristo Rey”, which got better reviews and is which is by a previously submitted director. In third place: “Despertar”, a sci-fi/drama about death and memories, whose filming was shrouded in secrecy. The Dominican Academy tends to prefer modern stories to stuffy, historical dramas so I think “Color of the Night”, “Duarte: Betrayal and Glory” and biopic “Maria Montez” will have a hard time getting picked (thankfully), as will critically acclaimed documentary “The Mountain”, about two Dominican mountaineering teams, one climbing Mount Everest, and the other a local peak.
6. ECUADOR- "Holiday" (Feriado) Ecuador rejoined the Oscar race last year after a ten-year absence and I think they’ll decide to stay. Though they used to produce very few films, they’re expected to release a record fifteen features in 2014. They also made their debut at the Berlin Film Festival (in the Youth competition) this year. In fact, 2014 is surprisingly competitive. The obvious candidate on paper is “Holiday”  (Feriado) which competed in the “14+” Section at Berlin. Ecuadorean films rarely get such high-profile festival play. It’s a gay-themed coming-out drama about the unlikely attraction between a rich teen on vacation and the local indigenous boy who saves him from a beating.  Ecuadorean cinema seems to be an unlikely source of queer cinema lately. Last year’s nominee had one gay lead character and there is also a lesbian-themed feature among the fifteen this year (“UIO”). I see two films threatening “Holiday” for the nod, namely “Quito 2023” a violent, low-budget sci-fi film and “Girl Without Fear”, described as a South American “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, and perhaps even father-daughter thriller “The Facilitator”. “Quito 2023” is certainly the innovative choice, but reviews have been decidedly mixed. “Holiday” has done better, even though many critics say it’s a well-made film lacking originality. “Girl”, about a punk girl trying to save her grandfather from an evil corporation, looks like the best choice but I think the festival pedigree will promote “Holiday” to Hollywood.

7. EGYPT- "Factory Girl" Egypt has been going through political turmoil, but Egyptians are still going to the movies. Three of the past six selected directors have new movies this year (Ibrahim el-Batout’s “The Cat”, Marwan Hamed’s “Blue Elephant”, and Mohamed Khan’s “Factory Girl”) and all three are contenders. Three others- comedy “Excuse My French”, drama “Rags and Tatters” and female-helmed arthouse dramedy “Villa 69” will also compete for the nod. I predict the Egyptians will select “Factory Girl” (Winner, FIPRESCI and Best Actress, Dubai 2013), a drama about a lower-class factory worker who falls for her wealthy floor supervisor. “Factory Girl” has done better with Arab critics than with Western ones (who say the supposedly feminist film actually aims to put women in their place) but Khan’s distinguished reputation and the film’s awards and box-office success should help it rep Egypt.  Close behind will be organ-trafficking thriller “The Cat”, which was screened as a work-in-progress in Venice last year. In third place will be controversial black comedy  “Excuse My French”, which pokes fun at the sensitive subject of Muslim-Christian differences. The Egyptian Academy has been known to court controversy (the film had trouble with the censors until the appointment of a more liberal chief), but with the old guard back in charge, that may no longer be possible. In fourth place, “Rags and Tatters”, a Revolution-themed drama about a man released from prison during the Arab Spring, who ends up wandering around the chaotic streets of one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods. “Blue Elephant”, a supernaturally tinged drama by Marwan Hamed, (who probably got Egypt the closest to an Oscar nod for “Yacoubian Building”) will round out the Top Five. With Egypt in chaos, it’s a pretty damn good lineup.
8. ESTONIA- "In the Crosswind" Estonia has four interesting contenders this year, two of which were directed by the prolific Ilmar Raag, who directed my favorite Foreign Oscar film of 2007. Raag’s “Kertu” (Love is Blind) is a quiet, introspective drama about a village drunk who falls in love with a beautiful village girl. It lost “Best Estonian Film” at the Tallinn Film Festival (the closest thing to an Estonian Oscar) to “Tangerines”, which is a film set in Georgia by a Georgian director. Reminiscent of “No Man’s Land”, "Tangerines" is about an Estonian farmer who settled in Georgia during Soviet times, who gives shelter to Georgian and Abkhazian soldiers from opposite sides of the civil war. Raag also has the Russian-language “I Won’t Go Back”, about a young woman on the run from the police who is joined on her journey by a orphan girl. It got warm reviews at Tribeca 2014. Last and not least is“In the Crosswind” a highly unusual film about the Soviet -era deportations of tens of thousands of Estonians to Siberia. The film consists of 13 nearly motionless tableaus in 86 minutes, with accompanying narration. All four films have an excellent chance of advancing. With “Tangerines” and “I Won’t Go Back” mostly in Russian, I’m thinking they’ll be at a slight disadvantage. The Estonians have been going “arthouse” in recent years, so I suggest “Crosswind” beats out the two more mainstream efforts from auteur Raag. “Cherry Tobacco” (Karlovy Vary) premieres October 16 in Estonia and won't be eligible.
9. ETHIOPIA- "Difret" It’s rare that Ethiopian films appear on the Film Festival circuit, much less win awards. That’s why Ethiopia should certainly choose “Difret” as their second-ever Oscar submission. Winning prestigious Audience Awards at both Sundance and Berlin in 2014, “Difret” is the harrowing story of a teenaged girl arrested for murder after she kills a man who was trying to abduct her into a forced marriage.  “Difret” is definitely one of the films I will be seeking out on the film festival circuit this year, so I hope the director (or executive producer Angelina Jolie, who seems to have attached her name to the film AFTER it was made) can get the film a qualifying release at home in Addis.
10. FIJI- Nothing Eligible Fiji became the first country to send a film in an indigenous Pacific Island language to the Oscar race in 2005, beating larger neighbors Australia (2006, “Ten Canoes”) and New Zealand (2011, “The Orator”). They don’t have much of a domestic film industry, though they are often used a filming location. The only film I know of in development is Hindi-language comedy “Unlimited Tamasa”, a low-brow local comedy that has been in post-production for a while. Even if it premieres it time, expect Fiji to sit out.
11. FINLAND- "Very Grumpy Old Man" Finland has 24 eligible fiction features according to Finnish Film Foundation website, but I really think that 21 of these are non-starters. Oddly enough, two of their only contenders are directed by Dome Karukoski, who directed Finland’s 2008 submission and who was recently named as one of Variety’s “Ten Directors to Watch”. Last year’s “Heart of a Lion” (Toronto 2013) is about a member of a neo-Nazi group who falls in love with a beautiful Finnish girl, only to find out that she has a half-black son from a prior marriage. Their budding relationship gets him in trouble with his neo-Nazi buds. Karukoski also directed the upcoming “Very Grumpy Old Man”, a comedy about an old man forced to move in with his daughter-in-law in the city due to an injury, while his son in the city has to take care of the family farm. It will be released end of September. Also shown in Toronto was “Concrete Night”, a black & white drama that swept last year’s National Film Awards (the Jussis) winning Best Picture, Director and four other awards.  Based on a novel, it’s about two brothers spending their last night together before the older one goes off to prison. Finland has chosen movies released in September (perhaps to boost their distribution and/or buzz?) three years in a row so I’m giving “Grumpy Old Man” an edge, followed closely by “Concrete Night”.


13. GEORGIA- "Blind Dates" The Georgians have an easy decision to make. “Blind Dates” has charmed audiences at Toronto, Abu Dhabi and Berlin for its deadpan comedy of a 40-something man nagged by his parents into a number of blind dates. Director Levan Koguashvili has already been selected to represent Georgia for the underrated “Street Days” (which deserved an Oscar nod in 2010), and he’s owed. So really, the Georgians just have to meet, pick the movie and send it to Los Angeles. Runner-up: “Brides”(Berlin First Features sidebar, Tribeca), a drama about the wives and families left behind when men go to prison. Unlikely but technically possible: “Corn Island” (winner, Karlovy Vary 2014), about a father and his daughter living on a disputed border, and “Tangerines”, a majority Estonian production by a Georgian director, set in Georgia about an Estonian settler whose farm is invaded by Georgian and Abkhaz soldiers during the 1991 civil war.

14. GERMANY- "Wolfskinder" Germany announced their official shortlist of 15 films on August  6th, so I’ve got a little bit of help from one of Oscar’s most successful countries. Among their contenders are three Jewish-themed movies (“Hanna’s Journey”, “The Last Mentsch”, “Run Boy Run”) and just one dealing with their favorite theme, East German history (“West”). All of these films have gotten good reviews but with no front-runner, it’s a wide-open race. I see the two front-runners as  Feo Aladag’s Afghanistan-set drama “Inbetween Worlds” (yes, it is spelled wrong) and WWII-aftermath children’s drama “Wolfskinder”.  The Germans have a habit of choosing a last-minute release (they did this 2007-2009 and again last year), which bodes well for the upcoming “Wolfskinder” about the flight of orphaned and displaced German children in 1946 to Lithuania and other Eastern lands after the Nazi loss. It sounds much like Australia’s grim “Lore” from two years back (and Variety says the comparison is not favorable). Aladag was selected in 2010 and not nominated. I think that will hurt her rather than help her. Germany rarely chooses a director more than once….it’s only happened three times in the past thirty years (including the more famous Caroline Link and Wim Wenders). “Inbetween Worlds” (Berlin 2014) has gotten strong reviews and has been compared to the work of Susanne Bier (and Germany knows Oscar likes her)  for its story of a German soldier facing a series of moral dilemmas while trying to keep the peace in Afghanistan. The backstory is a great one (a female director working in Afghanistan about Germany’s peaceful military) and it’s a strong candidate. Three others to watch out for: (1)- “Home From Home”, a 4-hour B&W period drama about the goings-on in a small town. It swept the Lola Awards this year, but it’s a prequel and it may prove less thrilling to American audiences, (2)- “Stations of the Cross”, one of the best-reviewed German films of the year, about a teenage girl from a fundamentalist Catholic sect whose life and death mirrors that of Jesus Christ, and (3)- “The Last Mentsch”, about a German man who has hidden his Jewish heritage his entire life, but who wishes to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. It’s an uphill struggle for  costume drama “Beloved Sisters”, multi-story drama “Finsterworld” (sounds great, but perhaps a little too “local” to be selected), East German-themed thriller “West” (baity plot, middling reviews), and “Run Boy Run” (mostly in Polish) about a Jewish Polish boy escaping a concentration camp (mostly recognized for technical achievements). I think the others (corporate indictment “Age of Cannibals”, Israel-set rom-com “Hanna’s Journey”, comedy “We’re the New People”, musical-comedy “The White Horse Inn” and thrillers “WhoAmI” and “Stereo”) are destined to be also-rans. Any of the Top Five could easily be selected. For now, I choose “Wolfskinder”.
 15. GREECE- "Little England" Until 2009, Greece automatically sent the winner of Best Greek Film at the Thessaloniki Film Festival to the Oscars. Contrary to popular belief, they do not now automatically send the winner of Best Picture at the Hellenic Film Awards to the Oscars, though they usually do (In 2011, “Knifer” was pipped by “Attenberg” to go to Hollywood). Based on these two pre-cursors, the two front-runners are “The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas” (Thessaloniki) and “Little England” (Hellenic Film Awards). If the Greeks choose to look elsewhere, four other films could be considered- namely “Xenia” (Cannes 2014), a bizarro queer comedy –drama/road movie, “The Enemy Within” (winner of three major Hellenic Film Awards), a film noir about a mild-mannered man goaded into taking violent revenge after his daughter is raped, “Miss Violence” (Venice 2013), a mysterious film about a teenage girl’s apparent suicide, and the decidedly less likely “Stratos” (Berlin 2014), about a baker/hitman. My prediction is the obvious choice- “Little England”, Pantelis Voulgaris’ sumptuous box-office hit period drama about the wives of sailors living on a small island. It's the hot favorite. Runner-up:  dark horse “Xenia”, which (unlike “Enemy”, “Violence” and “Antonis”) wasn’t eligible for the Hellenic Film Awards.   
16. GREENLAND- Nothing eligible. Enormous Greenland has a population of only 56,000 people, making them the smallest country in the Oscar race. They’ve sent two films recently but I don’t think they have any eligible feature films this year.

17. GUATEMALA- "Where the Sun is Born" (Donde Nace el Sol) Guatemala used to struggle to make one feature film a year but now output averages roughly eight per year. They only ever submitted once way back in 1994 (only five countries have been absent that long) so I doubt they’ll enter this year. Their strongest candidate is “Where the Sun is Born” (Donde Nace el Sol),  a visually beautiful and intriguing cultural film about the Mayan indigenous people, filmed in their language. It represented Guatemala at the Chicago Latino Film Festival. Other options include murder mystery/thriller “12 Seconds” and quirky classroom dramedy “Pol”. As  side note, I'm going on vacation here tomorrow, which is kind of exciting. :)
18. HONG KONG- "The Golden Era" Hong Kong made the shortlist for the first time last year for a genuine Hong Kong film (its 2 previous Oscar nominations were for Mandarin-language films by acclaimed Mainland China directors Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige). Hong Kong has had a fairly weak year so far. If the year were to end now, they’d probably end up sending Fruit Chan’s cerebal horror-thriller “The Midnight After”, based on a viral Internet novel about a busload of people who find a virus has decimated all of Hong Kong in the minutes they passed through a railway tunnel. It played at Berlin and Hong Kong, and is still a threat, but I think it will be overtaken by a September release. That’s likely to be “Dearest” (by Peter Chan, “Perhaps Love”) or “The Golden Era” by Ann Hui, probably Hong Kong’s senior arthouse director. “The Golden Era” is the clear favorite even though it opens one day too late. In the past, Hong Kong has arranged a qualifying release (an 11:55pm screening the night before would also do) for films it wants to send, and Ann Hui’s period biopic will probably receive the same treatment. The three-hour biopic about one of China's most acclaimed female writers has already been announced as the Closing Film at Venice 2014. If Chan’s “Midnight” is too genre and Hui’s “Era” doesn’t premiere in time, “Dearest”, an all-star drama about the search for a kidnapped boy, will get the nod. Rounding out the city-state's Top Five choices: family dramedy “Aberdeen” and  “Red Passage” a political drama about a Hong Kong boy who moves to Mainland China during the 1970s. The latter film would annoy the PRC Academy and has not been able to find a distributor in Hong Kong yet, so it’s a little unlikely. If Hong Kong insists on sending one of their triad dramas, it’ll probably be “White Storm”, a HK Film Award Best Pic nominee, though it didn’t get particularly good reviews.

19. HUNGARY- "White God" Hungary's film industry is showing signs of recovery after years of decline. Last year, they won the Crystal Globe in Karlovy Vary and made the Oscar shortlist for the first time since 1988 for "The Notebook", and this year they won the main prize at Cannes Un Certain Regard. They launched a new Film Fund in 2011, and this year they’ll revive Hungarian Film Week after a much publicized 18-month hiatus due to a “lack of films”, according to filmmaker Bela Tarr. They’ve lots of films in production, but not many have been released so their Oscar submission is certain to be “White God”, an odd, violent thriller about the canine takeover of a small Hungarian town. The film, using over 250 dogs, was the aforementioned winner of Cannes Un Certain Regard and for the first time ever, its cast of dogs were awarded a Cannes acting prize (the Palm Dog). Not everyone likes the film, but Hungary rarely wins such a major prize, and their Academy likes avant-garde oddities like this. Reviews for "God" have been stronger than the other major contender,  Gyorgy Palfi’s “Free Fall”, a portmanteau film about an old woman who jumps out the window to commit suicide, fails to die, and then trudges up eight flights of stairs peeping into the lives of her neighbors. It won three awards at Karlovy Vary 2014. Dark horse football drama “Land of Storms” (Berlin) and quirky ghost comedy “Afterlife” (Karlovy Vary) probably won’t even figure into the conversation. Variety talks about the country’s revival here.

20. ICELAND- "Life in a Fishbowl" Iceland has 10-12 eligible films to choose from this year. Not bad for a nation of 300,000 people that nearly went bankrupt a few years ago!  Three films stand out: (1)- “Metalhead” by Ragnar Bragason, was released last October and went on to be nominated for 16 Edda Awards (a new record) winning six (though losing in most major categories). It’s a drama about a girl in an Icelandic village who deals with the grief of her brother’s death by donning his heavy-metal persona. (2)- “Rocket Man” by Dagur Kari is  the first Icelandic-language feature by Kari since his acclaimed (boring!) debut “Not the Albino”. It’s been in development a long time and it’s a story of a socially inept man whose life is brightened by a single mom and her young daughter. Last is (3) “Life in a Fishbowl” by an up-and-coming director about three intersecting lives in Reykjavik. Bragason and Kari have won Best Director at the Icelandic Edda Awards a combined five times and both have had their films submitted before. There are also two other potential films scheduled to come out in September  (geriatric comedy “Grandpa” or abandoned children drama “Summer Children”) that could come into play. My prediction: “Life in a Fishbowl” has the buzz, the box-office and is being heralded as The Best Icelandic Movie Ever Made at home, so I think it’s in, followed by Kari’s “Rocket Man”, “Metalhead” and “Summer Children”.

22. INDONESIA- "The Sinking of Van Der Wijck" Indonesia has chosen glossy, period-piece historical dramas three years in a row and three of their four major contenders this year fit the same mold, including two by recently selected directors. Last year’s director has the new “3 Nafas Likas”, a biopic covering 70-years in the life of Likas, the wife of an Indonesian war hero (in the 1950s) turned statesman (through the 2000s). Upcoming martial arts epic “The Golden Cane Warrior” has a big-budget and an all-star pedigree. Director Ifa Isfansyah represented Indonesia in 2012, producer Riri Riza represented Indonesia in 2005, and the two leads (Indonesian grande dame Christine Hakim and heartthrob Nicholas Saputra)  have starred in about half of the country’s recent submissions.  Last of the costume dramas is “The Sinking of Van Der Wijck”, about the doomed romance between a local girl and a mixed-race man during the colonial era. The final major contender is set in the modern-day- “99 Lights Over Europe”, about three Muslim women (I think two Indonesians and a Turk) facing Islamophobia during their travels in Europe. The two highest-profile Indonesian movies this year are high-adrenaline genre films that are unlikely to be chosen: action sequel “The Raid 2” is a huge hit and it's supposed to be better than the original, but it has a British director and is clearly an action film, not a critics prize winner; “Killers” is a Japanese co-production about serial killers who broadcast their crimes over the Internet. Variety calls it “torture porn”. ‘Nuff said. Dark horses include village school drama “Sokola Rimba” (Riri Riza), controversial historical biography “Sukarno”, about the country’s first President, action-drama “Cahaya Dari Timur”, about religious violence on the island of Ambon, and historical anime (and Miyazaki wannabe) “Battle of Surabaya”. It’s tricky…”Sinking” has the production values, “Golden Cane Warrior” the budget and “99 Lights” a subject that AMPAS might actually relate to. My prediction: “Sinking of Van Der Wijck” reps Indonesia despite some shaky critical reviews (that’s normal for them), followed by “Golden Cane Warrior”, “99 Lights”, “Likas” and “The Raid 2”.
24. IRAQ- "In the Sands of Babylon" Iraq has only submitted one film in the past five years (“Son of Babylon”) but I think it's possible they will send the sequel this year.  In reality, the Iraqi film industry is divided into two virtually independent film industries- a (struggling) Arabic one and a (thriving) Kurdish one. This year’s top contender is “In the Sands of Babylon”. If you saw “Son of Babylon” a few years ago, you’ll remember it’s about an elderly mother and her grandson wandering around post-war Iraq in 1991 in search of her son who was imprisoned by Saddam. “In the Sands of Babylon”, which has gotten very good reviews, is a prequel detailing the story of the son’s capture and imprisonment. It premiered in dangerous Baghdad on March 27, but I’m not sure if it had a qualifying Oscar run (Iraq is a mess this year).  The Kurds will be ready to take their place with “My Sweet Pepperland”  or “One Candle, Two Candle”. “Pepperland”, a western about a former peshmerga rebel fighter who has become a police chief in a frontier town, co-stars exiled Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, and has been playing on the film festival circuit for the past year or so. It finally premiered in Erbil, the Kurdish capital, in February 2014. “One Candle, Two Candle” is a comedy-drama about the life of a young bride-to-be engaged to be married to an elderly village headman the same age as her grandfather. Kurdistan has regular working cinemas making it much easier for them to qualify their films with AMPAS. I think “Babylon” will coax Iraq back to the Oscars, with “One Candle” coming second.

25. IRELAND- "Moscow Never Sleeps" Ireland has not made a Gaelic-language feature film since 2007 when they made two. They do have a new Gaelic film in development called “Suicide” (Féinmharú), although it appears to be a mid-length film (technically any film over 40 minutes is eligible, though few countries seriously consider them for submission). Most people think the Irish will sit out, but I predict they’ll send in “Moscow Never Sleeps”, a multi-strand series of stories made in Russia (said to be “Crash” without the racism), filmed in Russian by an Irish director who has lived there two decades. The film is co-financed by the Irish Film Board and Irish tax money, so I think the Irish will consider it home-grown (the Irish sent in a Bosnian-language film a few years ago).

26. ISRAEL- "Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" Israel's submission is always the Best Picture winner of the national Ophir Awards in September (assuming it is eligible…once it was not, and a more traditional selection committee had to meet). The Ophir nominations won’t be announced until August, but I think four of the five nominees are very likely to be: (1)- “Dancing Arabs” (Opening Film at the 2014 Jerusalem Film Festival; director Eran Riklis repped Israel in 2010 for “The Human Resources Manager”), (2)-“ Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” (2014 Cannes Director’s Fortnight; actress/director Ronit Elkabetz is an 2-time Ophir winner and 8-time nominee), (3)-“Next to Her” (2014 Cannes Director’s Fortnight and Karlovy Vary) and (4)- “Yona” (director Nir Bergman repped Israel in 2002 for “Broken Wings” and almost did again in 2010 for “Intimate Grammar”). The fifth nominee is probably a dead heat between “Pracht Inn” (a group of Holocaust survivors work to revive the Yiddish language in Israel) and “Self-Made” (Cannes Critics Week/Jerusalem….about an Israeli and Palestinian woman whose lives end up switched due to a police error). Other contenders include: “Encirclements”, “The Kindergarten Teacher”, “Red Leaves” and “The Valley”, but presumably not Keren Yedaya’s controversial incest drama “That Lovely Girl”, which has turned a lot of people off. So, which of the four main contenders will win the Ophir? I’ve got my money on “Gett” (aka “The Divorce”) which has been getting glowing reviews for its tragicomic story of a woman unable to get a divorce from her husband because of Israel’s unfair divorce divorce (which seem to be subject to the religion of the couple and not on any secular law). Director Elkabetz has been rewarded for her acting, but never won an Ophir for her writing or directing, so she is due. In second place: “Dancing Arabs”, about the friendship between an Arab scholarship student and a Jewish boy in a Jewish boarding school. The Ophirs like Arab-Israeli themed tales (“Ajami”, “Bethlehem”), and director Riklis is always good. Festival favorite “Next to Her”, about a woman taking care of her mentally disabled sister and poet biopic “Yona” shouldn’t be counted out either, but I predict “Gett” will win the race handily.

27. ITALY- "Human Capital"  Italy returns as returning champion this year after somehow winning the award for “The Great Beauty” (a pleasant enough film, but too talky for my taste). This year, most of the pre-cursors have been going to Paolo Virzi’s acclaimed “Human Capital”, which not only dominated the Italian Oscars (the Donatellos) by beating “The Great Beauty”, but also won Best Picture at the Italian Golden Globes and the most awards at the Silver Ribbon Awards (though it lost Best Production to comedy “I’ll Stop When I Feel Like It”). Virzi departs from his comedic roots with“Capital”, a drama-thriller about the lives of two families affected by a hit-and-run accident. Critics compliment it both for its “whodunit” thriller elements as well as its scathing critique of Italian high society (a bit like "Beauty"?). While it is true that these precursors do not include films released in Italy during summer 2014, I think “Capital” has the momentum to be selected. Most online buzz seems to  be for “The Wonders” (starring Monica Bellucci), which was the Jury Prize winner at Cannes 2014. It's a drama about a family under the thumb of its 12-year old daughter. However, reviews don’t seem exceptional, and the film has mostly been overshadowed by “Capital” in Italy, and "Capital" sounds like a much more likely Oscar nominee. Two other films that have been released so far also have a chance at a nod- black comedy “The Mafia Only Kills in Summer”, a Sicily-set story about how public opinion turned against Italia's notorious Cosa Nostra mafia, and comedy “I’ll Stop When I Feel Like It” (Smetto quando viglio) about a band of intellectual professors who band together to make and distribute drugs due to the economic downturn. Two big threats in the pipeline are Nanni Moretti’s dramedy “My Mother” (starring John Turturro) and Mario Martone’s poet biopic “Il Giovane Favoloso” which is set to debut in Venice. Other films that are likely to appear on the (usually very long) Italian shortlist include the female-driven “Quiet Bliss” (Berlin), Asia Argento’s “Misunderstood” (Un Certain Regard), Daniel Luchetti’s “Those Happy Years”, Ferzan Ozpetek’s “Fasten Your Seatbelts” (they always shortlist him but never choose him) and LGBT-interest drama “Darker Than Midnight” (Cannes Critics Week). In conclusion, I really think “Capital” will get this quite easily, with “The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” a dark horse for second place and favorite "The Wonders" out of luck, just like "Reality" was.


Two possibilities from Europe: CYPRUS-born filmmaker Yannis Economides’ “Stratos” competed in Berlin and won Cyprus Film Days for its film noir story of a hit man living under an assumed identity at a bakery. It’s a majority Greek production, but has the credits to represent Cyprus. The autonomous FAEROE ISLANDS are part of the Kingdom of Denmark like Greenland (which was allowed to join the competition in 2010) but they have their own language and culture. “Ludo”, a psychological drama about a seemingly perfect family hiding some secrets, is the first Faroese film in 15 years. Originally a short, the feature version will premiere in Faroese cinemas in September 2014. There’s also EL SALVADOR’s “Contraste” featuring actress Cristina Melendez as two different women- a wealthy socialite and a desperately poor maid.
NEXT (in August):
Japan thru Peru