Friday, August 17, 2018

FOREIGN OSCAR PREDICTIONS- Africa and the Middle East

Here are the 26 submissions from Africa and the Middle East. Most of these countries don't submit regularly, but last year a record 14 (eight from Africa and six from the Middle East) entered films, including first-time entrants from Mozambique, Senegal and Syria. 

1.  Algeria- “The Blessed” Last year, it was expected that Cannes drama “Until the Birds Return” would represent Algeria if it got a domestic release. It didn’t, so it’s the unofficial frontrunner this year. However, it has strong competition from two new female-helmed films, “The Blessed” and “Until the End of Time”. “The Blessed” won Best Actress at the 2017 Venice Film Festival for its story of a middle-class couple torn between their desire to live in their own country, and the mounting political violence causing many of their friends and family to flee to France. It appears somehow less controversial than the politically tinged “Until the Birds Return” (which may also get dinged for competing at  the Jerusalem Film Festival). “Until the End of Time” is a gentle drama about an elderly widow and widower who discover they have feelings for one another. Those are the most likely choices but you can’t completely count out shepherd documentary “Of Sheep and Men” or patriotic drama “The Seven Ramparts of the Citadel”, set in the 1950’s amid the war for independence from France. It’s a close race and a strong year for Algeria. I predict “The Blessed” wins the nom, followed by “End of Time”, “Birds”, and “Seven Ramparts”. For an interesting article on the growing local film industry see here.

2.  Burkina Faso- “Wallay” Although Burkina Faso considers itself the home base of African arthouse cinema, they haven’t entered a film since 1989. If they wanted to enter a film this year, they could send “Wallay” (Berlin 2017), about a 13-year old raised in France who is sent to live with relatives in rural Burkina Faso. It got a domestic release in December 2017 and is directed by a European director who has a production company in Burkina Faso. 

3.  Cameroon- “Minga and the Broken Spoon” Cameroon submitted a film once in 1980. This year, they’re quite proud of a brand-new 2-D animated film based on a local folktale- “Minga et la cuillère cassée” (Minga and the Broken Spoon) though it’s unlikely they’ll send it in. Cameroon’s most famous director- Jean-Pierre Bekolo- also has a new film out but it’s mostly in English.

4.  Chad- “A Season in France” Chad has sent two films by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, the country’s only international director of note. Haroun also served as Chad's Minister of Youth and Culture, until he was fired in February. This year, Haroun made his first movie in France. “A Season in France”, about the life of an illegal immigrant from the Central African Republic, is not really a Chadian film and it probably never screened at home in, Chad will presumably sit out this year. 

5.  Congo-Kinshasa- “Maki’La” Congo sent a film once in 1997 but never again, not even sending arthouse darling “Viva Riva” when that was eligible a few years ago. The Congolese did have two films at Berlin- fiction feature “Maki’La” (Forum) and documentary “Kinshasa Makombo”, about political activists. With a bitter election campaign being waged this fall, the documentary would be a non-starter, but I’d love to see them send “Maki’La”, a gritty drama about a married 19-year old girl trying to make ends meet on the mean streets of Kinshasa.

6.  Cote d’Ivoire- “"Le pouvoir de la femme” The Ivory Coast returned to the Oscars in 2015 after a 40-year absence but that hasn't spurred them to regularly send in films. For the sake of completion, I’ll predict melodrama “"Le pouvoir de la femme" about a housekeeper who decides to destroy the marriages of the wealthier families she works for. But they won’t send it.

7.  Egypt- “Diamond Dust” Most people are predicting “Yomeddine” a quirky little indie about a recently cured Christian leper who goes on a journey across Egypt. It was the first Egyptian movie ever selected for the Main Competition at the Cannes Film Festival, and it would make an excellent choice. However, I don’t think it will be released in Egypt before the October 1 deadline. Instead, I think Egypt will select “Diamond Dust”, a long-awaited thriller by the director of “The Yacoubian Building”, about a young pharmacist who becomes embroiled in solving a series of murders. A few other options: Historical action movie “Karmouz War”, set in 1952, hasn’t gotten great reviews but has been a sizeable hit. If they want to go more arthouse, they have “Photocopy”, a gentle drama about a retired old man who finds new meaning in his life or “Cactus Flower”, about three resilient women who suddenly find themselves homeless. “Photocopy” in particular could do very well with the elderly folks on the Foreign Film committee. “Talq Senaee”, by the brothers who made “Clash”, is a comedy-drama about Egyptians trying to get a visa to have a baby born in the U.S. My predictions: “Diamond Dust”, followed by “Photocopy” and “Talq Senaee”. But expect “Yomeddine” to get this if it’s released.

8.  Ethiopia- “Enkopa” Ethiopia sent two great films in 2014 and 2015 but they’ve taken the past two years off. The local film industry is doing well, but the movies are mostly aimed at entertaining domestic audiences. The only feature at the Addis Ababa Film Festival this year was a human trafficking drama called “Enkopa”, about a woman trying to illegally emigrate to Canada via a particularly dangerous route via Sudan. If they send anything, I think that’s likely to be their pick.

9.  Iran- "No Date, No Signature"

10.  Iraq- “The Journey” Last year, Iraq richly deserved an Oscar nod for “The Dark Wind”, which was certainly one of the most impressive of the 65 Oscar submissions I saw last year. Similar to Belgium, Iraq has two independent film industries- an emergent scene in the smaller, peaceful Kurdish north, and a struggling one in the larger, dangerous Arab south. Over the years, Iraq has selected six films from the Kurdish region and two from the Arab region. Both Arabic films were directed by Mohamad al-Daradji. I think this year’s Iraqi nominee will come down to a race between al-Daradji’s latest film (“The Journey”) and the winner of Best Kurdish Film (“A Dream Before Dying”) at the 2017 Duhok Film Festival (open to Kurdish films of all nations), where it was the only representative of Iraqi Kurdistan. A lot of this will probably come down to who’s represented on the committee. If it’s Kurdish-dominated, count on “A Dream Before Dying”, a film about Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and their families fighting ISIS terrorists. If the committee is more evenly divided, I think this will be a year where they give the  nod to the beleaguered Arab half of the country. I think “The Journey”, a drama about a female suicide bomber and a cast of characters at a train station she intends to attack, is likely to be their choice. Two foreign co-productions are unlikely but possible: Iraqi Kurdish/Belgian “Zagros” (Dubai) and Iraqi Arab/Lebanese“Yara” (Locarno).

11.  Israel- “The Cakemaker” Israel has made things a little easier by announcing their shortlist of five films fairly early. As always, the Best Picture at the Ophir Awards will be sent to the Oscars to represent Israel. This year's five nominees are “The Cakemaker”, “The Fig Tree”, “Flawless”, “Laces” and “Noble Savage”. Only “The Cakemaker” has been released (where it has had a successful arthouse run here in the USA) while “The Fig Tree” will premiere this month in Locarno. The other three are complete mysteries. Interestingly enough, two out the three involve kidney transplants. So, “Flawless”, a drama about a bunch of teenaged girls who try to sell their kidneys for prom dresses, just sounds too out there, so I predict it will come fifth. “The Fig Tree” is set in Ethiopia rather than Israel, and it’s the only one without a Best Director nomination, so I predict it will come in fourth. Out of the remaining three, “The Cakemaker”, sounds like the best bet for Hollywood. It’s about a gay German baker who moves to Israel to secretly get to know the wife of his deceased gay lover. Some say that Israeli Academy voters take into account the film’s chances in the USA, and the film has already proven its appeal to US audiences, including a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. If the LGBT themes turn off Israeli voters (and I don’t think the film is “very” gay), then expect this to go to “Laces”, a drama about a mentally disabled adult trying to donate his kidney to his estranged father. This sounds like it could be done very well....or very badly. Dysfunctional family drama “Noble Savage” should come third, but I’d emphasize that four out of five have not been seen by anyone yet so it's a wide-open race.

12.  Jordan- “17” Bizarrely enough, filmmaking in Jordan seems to have ground to a screeching halt as soon as they got nominated for an Oscar. “Theeb” made the Final Five in 2015/2016 but the Jordanian Film Commission website notes that the last Jordanian movie to be filmed in the country was the 2016 film “Blessed Benefit” (which was banned by the government). Despite all my best efforts, I can’t find a single fiction feature that has been released or that is awaiting release, although the writer/producer of “Theeb” has a new film in pre-production called “The Alleys”. Jordan has also been completely absent from all the Arab-themed film festivals. A few years ago, they were making a few movies each year, so not sure what is going on. For the sake of completion, I’ll guess women’s football documentary “17”.

13.  Kenya- “Supa Modo” Kenya has sent films twice before, both made by One Fine Day studios, a Kenyan production company founded by German director Tom Tykwer. This year, Kenyan censors have banned the country's most high-profile film (lesbian love story “Rafiki”, which played in Cannes) in a decision that the Kenya Film Commission called “ridiculous”. So, it makes sense that they would choose the latest flick from One Fine Day, namely “Supa Modo” a tearjerker about a little Kenyan girl who returns to her home village after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. The village works together to make her wish of becoming a superhero come true.

14.  Kuwait- “Swarm of Doves” Kuwait submitted two films in the 1970s and then stopped. This year, they have several eligible films and could conceivably return to the race with “Swarm of Doves”, which was able to secure screenings at several major Middle Eastern festivals, including Cairo and Fajr. That’s a rare feat for a Kuwaiti film. “Swarm of Doves” is a patriotic film about a group of Kuwaitis under siege during the Iraqi invasion. The film's nationalist credentials and the creation of Oscar selection committees in nearby Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen may coax them back to the competition.

15.  Lebanon- “Capernaum” Winner of the Cannes Jury Prize, “Capernaum” will certainly represent Lebanon and may even net them their second Oscar nomination in a row. The film focuses on the plight of impoverished, mostly undocumented children in Beirut’s worst slums. Reviews have been very positive, though a bit more divisive than last year’s Oscar nominee “The Insult”. Actress/director Nadine Labaki is best known for her comedic work and has represented Lebanon twice before for charming comedies, "Where Do We Go Now?" and "Caramel". Without “Capernaum”, family dramas “Heaven Without People” (Jury Prize in Dubai) and “Yara” (Locarno) would have been strong contenders. If, for some strange reason, “Capernaum” doesn’t get a domestic release by September 30, “Heaven Without People”- a drama about family tensions that come to the fore during a large Easter dinner- will be the runner-up.

16.  Mauritania- “Returning Without a Grave” Mauritania got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for their first and only submission, “Timbuktu” four years ago. There hasn’t been a Mauritanian film made since and they’ll probably wait until Abderrahmane Sissako makes another movie to enter again. The only film I know about is 52-minute documentary short “Retour sans cimetiere”, about the struggle of black Mauritanians to use a cemetery reserved for the lighter-skinned Moors.

17.  Morocco-“Volubilis” “Volubilis” premiered at Venice Days last year and went on to win Best Moroccan Film at the national awards at the Tangier Film Festival this past spring, beating many of this year's other contenders plus last year’s submission, the middling “Razzia”. Directed by Faouzi Bensaidi (who was selected in 2012 for the grim “Death for for Sale"), "Volubilis" is the story of a newly married couple who find their life turned upside down when the husband has a violent incident at work. I had high expectations for multi-story drama “Burnout”, by Noureddine Lakhmari (“Casanegra”) who was selected in 2009, but it has gotten middling reviews and didn’t win anything in Tangier. Two films from last year- the farcical “Headbang Lullaby” (Berlin 2017) and rural drama “Sweat Rain” (the Best Picture winner at Tangier 2017) are also eligible this year due to release dates. I predict “Volubilis” gets a local release by September 30 (it hasn’t yet) and represents the Kingdom, followed by “Sweat Rain”, “Burnout” and “Headbang Lullaby”, with  documentary “A House in the Fields” rounding out the Top Five.

18.  Mozambique- “Our Madness” Mozambique was an unexpected new addition to the Oscar race last year and I heard their film was actually really good. If they wish to continue submitting regularly, their best bet this year would be “Our Madness”, which played in Berlin’s Forum Section. It’s a dreamlike B&W film in the Tswa language (which I admit I’ve never heard of) about a woman in a psychiatric hospital. It’s directed by Angola-born Portuguese director João Viana and would make a good choice.

19.  Palestine- “The Reports of Sarah and Saleem” It’s an interesting two-way race between the forbidden romance of “The Reports on Sarah and Saleem” and the upcoming “Screwdriver”, which will debut soon at Venice Days. I give “Sarah and Saleem” the edge only because it’s already been released to enthusiastic reviews. This story of an affair between a married Jewish woman and a married Palestinian man in the West Bank has picked up Best Picture awards from Seattle and Durban, and the Audience Award in Rotterdam. It’s supposed to be very good. “Screwdriver”, about a political prisoner released from an Israeli prison, has the pedigree of a Class-A festival and a subject matter that’s probably of greater interest to the Palestinian Academy. But I’m not sure it will be released in time. Dark horses: documentaries “Ghost Hunting” (Best Doc, Berlin 2017) and “Naila and the Uprising”.

20.  Saudi Arabia- “The Great Muse” Saudi Arabia re-opened cinemas this year for the first time in decades (the first film premiere was “Black Panther”), making it easier for local films to qualify. Previously, they had to awkwardly secure a special release at a foreign cultural center or oil compound. This year, they will probably send “The Great Muse” about a high-school graduate juggling social and family pressures to decide his future. This should resonate a lot in Saudi Arabia whose past two submissions have focused on the restlessness of the country’s youth.

21.  Senegal- “Wulu” Senegal entered the competition for the first time last year and came incredibly close to a nomination; they made the Final Nine out of 92 movies. However, that hasn’t yet translated into a large number of good Senegalese films. I haven’t heard of any new films made this year, although perhaps they could arrange a qualifying release for crime drama “Wulu”- a Mali/France/Senegal co-production that got special screenings last year. It’s about a smart, young drug dealer and is the only recent Senegalese film of note that I know of.

22.  South Africa- “Number 37” South African producers took a gamble and really screwed up last year. In what was already a competitive year, the producers of four critical darlings decided to schedule an Oscar qualifying release in September 2017 in the hopes of being selected to represent South Africa. That worked out very well for “The Wound”, which made the 9-film shortlist. But it was a foolish mistake for musical “Asinamali”,  road movie “Vaya” (which would have charmed the large committee) and especially thriller “Five Fingers for Marseilles” (Toronto 2017), which probably would have found it very easy to be selected this year.  I have a feeling one or more of these films will try and make a second go of it, but according to the rules they aren’t eligible. Most of South Africa’s other high-profile films (including Darrell Roodt’ horror film “Lullaby”, drama “Farewell Ella Bella” and Durban Best South African Film winner “High Fantasy”) are wholly or mostly in English. Thus, most of South Africa's eligible options are films made by the white Afrikaner community, but the South African Academy has only selected one of those films (“Skoonheid”) since the end of apartheid. For that reason, I think the front-runner is “Number 37” (SxSW), a Hitchcockian thriller with shades of “Rear Window”. It’s gotten good reviews, the South African Academy likes urban dramas, and it’s set amidst the Afrikaans-speaking Coloured community. Thanks to its slot at Cannes, “The Harvesters” (Cannes), a family drama set in the Afrikaner heartland, is likely to come second. Three other possibilities: (1)- “The Tokoloshe” is a supernatural drama in Zulu that opened the Durban Film Festival. It opens in December 2018 but could arrange a qualifying release; (2)- “Ellen: The Story of Ellen Pakies”, a “based-on-a-true story” drama/tragedy about a mother unable to deal with her drug addict son; and  (3)-“Wonderlus”, a romantic comedy-drama in Afrikaans. 

23.  Syria- “The Day I Lost My Shadow” Another country wracked by civil war, Syria was a surprise addition to last year’s Foreign Oscar list, with pro-opposition documentary “Little Gandhi”. I’ve never heard how the film managed to get an Oscar-qualifying screening at home….that will prove to be the major obstacle to Syria continuing to submit films in this category. Despite the civil war, Syria has no less than five films on the film festival circuit this year- “My Favorite Fabric” (Cannes), “The Day I Lost My Shadow” (Venice), “The Bees Way” (Cairo), “The Taste of Cement” (Sarajevo ’17) and “Rain of Homs”, which has gotten quite a lot of play, including in Fajr. Sexual feminist frankness and middling reviews will probably exclude “Fabric”, while the pro-regime slant of “Rain of Homs” means the film won’t fly with the Syrian selection committee in exile. That means “The Day I Lost My Shadow”, a harrowing film about a woman attempting to make a short but potentially deadly trip outside her home to obtain heating supplies, will rep Syria if they can get a domestic release in the middle of a war zone. That’s a pretty big “if”. I don’t expect them back.

24.  Tanzania- “Fatuma” Tanzania submitted a film just once in 2001 but they do have a local “Bongo” film industry and this year’s Zanzibar International Film Festival (the country’s largest) had five new local features. If they were to submit a film, the two front-runners are both directed by US-born Tanzania-based Jordan Riber. “The Envelope” (Baha'sha), about the aftereffects of a civil servant’s small act of corruption, opened ZIFF. “Fatuma”, about the struggles of a hard-working rural Tanzanian woman married to an abusive husband, won Best Film at ZIFF. So it would seem “Fatuma” is better.

25.  Tunisia- “Beauty and the Dogs” Tunisia has only sent movies twice before but they have long had one of North Africa’s most interesting film industries and they had a great cinematic year this year, with half a dozen potential submissions. The cosmopolitan Tunisians have the most liberal censors in the Arab world and can often show things that other Arab countries cannot (take a look at the poster for “Of Skin and Men”). The front-runner this year should be “Dear Son” (Mon cher enfant) which played at Cannes Director’s Fortnight. It's about two loving parents who are devoted to their 20-year old son, and who are shocked when he suddenly disappears. They later learn he has joined an Islamic militant group. Unfortunately for “Dear Son”, the film doesn’t have a Tunisian release date and isn’t scheduled to debut in France until late fall. So, although it’s the strongest film, I think it will have to wait until next year. That leaves the door wide open for “Beauty and the Dogs” from Cannes 2017. It was finally released in Tunisian cinemas in November. This #MeToo-themed film from the Arab world is about a woman seeking justice after she is sexually assaulted by the police. While the film had no problem with censors, I’m not sure they want this sort of film representing them at the Oscar level. I think it’ll be okay, but if not they’ll likely go with one of two films about global migration. “Benzine” (Dubai) is about the “left behind” family of a young man who left for Europe and never was heard from again. “Northern Wind” (Carthage) is about a Frenchman who loses his factory job, and about the Tunisian who gets his job in the outsourced factory in Tunisia. These are definitely topics that Tunisians will want Western audiences to know about. Rounding out the Top Five in a very strong year: Kafkaesque “bureaucracy” drama “Mustafa Z.” (Carthage).

26.  Yemen- “The Runaway” Yemen is in the midst of the world’s most brutal civil war, but they somehow qualified a bold film about child marriage two years ago. This year, they have another film on the same topic, although I doubt it will be able to screen in the midst of the conflict. “The Runaway” (Delhi), by Italian director Tommaso Cotronei, is about an escaped child bride who finds solace in a small village. 

Ghana and the United Arab Emirates promised to send their first-ever films last year, but neither one did. Ghana said they were disappointed with the lack of qualified submissions, while the Emirates said they wanted to send a really special film as their first entry. This year, they're both likely to debut. Ghana has the Akan-language "Akali", about a 14-year old girl who gets stranded in an impoverished slum in the capital and must find a way home to her village in the north. It has a lot of buzz in Ghana and was selected to open the country's "Black Nights Film Festival", the country's largest. The wealthy UAE is likely to go with "On Borrowed Time", a geriatric senior citizen comedy about four traditional, elderly Emirati men living in an assisted-living facility, and their adventures in ultra-modern Dubai after a distant relative leaves one of them a small fortune. I saw it here in Washington and it's a fun film to watch. Less likely: "L'orage africain" from BENIN, "The Wedding Ring" from NIGER, "Agwaetiti Obiuto" from NIGERIA, and "Ace of Hearts" from RWANDA. 

Friday, August 10, 2018


And here are my predictions for the 24 countries from The Americas and Oceania. Last year, a record 19 of these countries sent films, including first-time entrants from Haiti and Honduras. 
1.   ARGENTINA- "Acusada” (Dolores) Argentina has five main contenders although I’m confident that they will select crime drama “Dolores” (Acusada), a drama premiering in competition at Venice about a young woman accused of murdering her best friend. It seems like the sort of noir film that the Argentine Academy likes. It has major starpower (Gael Garcia Bernal) and is strategically scheduled to open right before the Oscar deadline. “Acusada” faces its strongest competition from two thrillers with Oscar pedigree- “Animal”, written by the Oscar-winning team who wrote 2015 Best Picture winner “Birdman”, and Pablo Trapero’s “The Quietude”, starring Oscar nominee Berenice Bejo (nominated for 2012 Best Picture winner “The Artist”) in a film about a pair of long-lost sisters. Argentina has selected Trapero three of the past ten years with no luck. I think Argentina may want to give someone else a chance. Others are mentioning serial killer drama “The Angel” (Cannes), based on the true story of a 19-year old sociopath who terrorized Buenos Aires in the 1970s. However, reviews have been unimpressive.  Rounding out the top five is comedy “My Masterpiece” (Mi Obra Maestra) by the team who made “The Distinguished Citizen”. I’m pretty sure it will be “Acusada”, but “Animal” is a potential dark horse.

2.   AUSTRALIA- “One Less God” Obviously most Australian films are in English but they often have films eligible because of films made in Australian aboriginal languages (2006, 2009 and 2014), films set in their vibrant immigrant communities (1996, 2001 and 2007) and the penchant of Australian directors for working abroad (Bhutan, Germany, Italy, Laos and Vanuatu between 2012-2017). For the films made in Australia, it’s often difficult to figure out which meet the 50% foreign language requirement. I think the two most likely options this year are “Star Sand” (filmed in Japan) and “One Less God” (set in India), both made by Australian directors. Based on their trailers, both seem to meet the language requirement. “Star Sand” is about an injured Australian soldier who is taken in by Okinawan locals towards the end of World War II. “One Less God” (which I predicted last year) is a multi-lingual drama about a number of international travelers trapped in a luxury hotel during the 2008 Mumbai hotel attacks. “Sweet Country” (directed by Warwick Thornton) is in English, so the most likely indigenous film is documentary “The Song Keepers”….but I think that has too much English is well. “One Less God” looks thrilling and terrifying…I can’t understand why it doesn’t have more buzz. Less likely: Greek-language romantic comedy “An Island Named Desire” looks too much last year’s breezy Mediterranean romance “The Space Between”. 

3.    BOLIVIA- “El rio” (The River) Bolivia has a confusing race as three of their strongest options don’t have a release date yet. That being the case, I’m predicting they send the debut feature by Juan Pablo Richter- “El rio”, a slow-burn rural drama about a teenager from the city sent to live with his estranged father in the countryside, where he encounters lust, misogyny and violence. It received good notices at the Miami Film Festival and got an August 2018 release at home. Three upcoming films- controversial historical documentary “Algo quema?”, LGBT-themed “I Miss You” (Rodrigo Bellott) and Chaco War drama “Fuertes”- will all have a chance if they are released in time, but I predict only “Algo quema” meets the deadline. This Bolivian history lesson will likely be too obscure for US audiences. Bolivia’s Top Three: “El rio”, thriller “Muralla” (about a man who must commit a crime to earn money to pay for medical treatment for his son) and drama “Eugenia” in third.

4.   BRAZIL- “The Great Mystical Circus” If you look at Brazil’s recent submissions, they don’t always choose the most critically acclaimed film of the year. “Little Secret” and “Lula, Son of Brazil” were rumored to be politically motivated choices while the selection of “Elite Squad 2” and even “The Clown” was probably motivated more by star-power and spectacle than critical acclaim. For these reasons, I’m predicting Caca Diegues’ circus soap opera “The Great Mystical Circus” even though the film has not gotten the best of reviews. 78-year old director Carlos “Cacá” Diegues has represented Brazil six times, and this is his first feature in more than a decade. It played at Cannes 2018, co-stars French actor Vincent Cassel, and production values are high…even if the story about 100 years in the life of a Brazilian circus has been called silly. It seems to be what the Brazilian Academy usually picks. If they want to go more arthouse, the three front-runners are “Gabriel and the Mountain” (Cannes 2017), about a Brazilian travelling around Africa, “Loveling” (Sundance), a drama about the life of a typical middle-class Brazilian mom, and “Good Manners”, a werewolf horror-drama that has picked up some of the best reviews and won Best Brazilian film at last year’s Rio de Janeiro Film Festival. Brazil typically has a long “shortlist” (averaging 15-20 films) so we’ll probably also see “Araby” (Cartagena), docudrama “The Dead and the Others” (Cannes), “Rust” (Sundance), historical drama “The Seamstress” (by previously submitted director Breno Silveira), and “Vazante” (Berlinale Panorama) on the list. My prediction: “Mystical Circus” gets this, with “Loveling”, “Gabriel & the Mountain”, “Good Manners”, and “The Seamstress” the most likely runner-ups.

5.  CanadaCANADA- “The Fall of the American Empire” Canada has had its films shortlisted eight of the past 15 years, but Denys Arcand is the only Canadian director ever to win the prize. With most of Canada’s international directors working in English lately (including Oscar nominees Kim Nguyen, Denis Villeneuve, Philippe Falardeau, and Jean-Marc Vallee, plus Xavier Dolan), Arcand has less competition than you would think. An English-language movie won Best Picture at the Canadian Oscars (only the second time that’s happened in nine years) and a French-language zombie movie (“Ravenous”) won the Quebecois version (now called the Prix Iris). Now, even a really great zombie movie is not going to represent Canada; they've made it clear they want a nomination every year. Rounding out the Top Six options for Canada (in order): “Ava” (in Persian), a drama about a rebellious Iranian high-school girl,  “Great Darkened Days” (Toronto), a turn-of-the-century drama co-starring French actor Romain Duris, “La Bolduc”, a 1920s music biopic, indigenous drama “Edge of the Knife” (Toronto), the first film ever made in the Alaskan Haida language, and “The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches”, about a young woman traumatized by the death of her father.

6.         CHILE- “La Isla de los Pingüinos” (Penguin Island) Chile is the returning champion in this category for the first time in Oscar history. Strangely enough, this is actually a really weak year for Chile. None of their films seem particularly likely and I'm unsure what they'll choose. Among their options: “Oblivion Verses” won Best Screenplay at Venice 2017 and is arguably the best reviewed local film of the year, but I’m not sure Chile would choose a film by a foreign director. “Too Late To Die Young” (Locarno) has gotten good reviews but seems too small to be selected, as does “Les perros” (Cannes ’17). Dark comedies “I’m Not Crazy” (No estoy loca!) and “Calzones Rotos" both seem too light.  “Murder Me Monster” (Cannes ‘18) is too weird. “And Suddenly, Dawn” (Y de Pronto el Amanecer) would make a sentimental choice since it’s the first film in 14 years by Silvio Caiozzi, the first-ever director to represent Chile. It won Best Picture at the Montreal Film Festival, but it’s over three hours long and has no buzz. Thriller “Some Beasts”, starring Paulina Garcia, hasn’t been released. I’m going out on a limb and predicting the unheralded “Penguin Island”, about a recent series of student protests. But that doesn’t seem right either.  

7.   COLOMBIA- “Pajaros de Verano” (Birds of Passage) This week, Colombia announced a list of eleven eligible films that will be whittled down to four finalists, to compete to be Colombia’s next Oscar submission. There’s little point as Colombia is certain to choose “Birds of Passage”, Ciro Guerra’s critically acclaimed follow-up to the country's first-ever Oscar nominated film “Embrace of the Serpent”. “Birds” has arguably gotten even stronger reviews for this narco-drama set amongst the Wayuu-speaking indigenous people of Colombia. It’s also a clear threat for the Oscar's Final Nine. Colombia's four-film shortlist will likely also include revenge drama “Killing Jesus” (the probable Colombian runner-up, which has quietly been winning awards at festivals worldwide), transgender documentary “Senorita Maria” and weird animated feature “Virus tropical”....but I can’t see any of them having a chance.

8.  COSTA RICA- “Violeta al fin” (Violeta Has a Plan) Film production is way up in Costa Rica, with approximately a dozen local features being released in the past year. This year’s front-runner is “Violeta Has a Plan", a drama about a 72-year old woman determined to stop the bank from repossessing her home. It’s gotten warm reviews and some festival play, and director Hilda Hidalgo was selected once before. On paper, its chief competition is “Medea”, an experimental film about an accidental pregnancy that won Best Central American Film at the 2017 Costa Rica Film Festival. The more mainstream “Violeta” is clearly a better choice....AMPAS loves old people! Also possible: the upcoming “The Two Fridas” about Frida Kahlo’s relationship with her Costa Rican caretaker will be released in the fall. 

9.  CUBA- “Sergio & Sergei” Cuba was the only major country that opted not to send a film last year, and relations between Cuba and the U.S. have just been getting worse…They might send a movie this year, they might not, but the most likely choice is “Sergio & Sergei”. The Hollywood Reporter calls it “a satisfyingly wild ride”, and the film has won awards in Cuba (including the Audience Award at the Havana Film Festival, where it was the only Cuban feature to win anything) and in the United States (Best Screenplay at the Cuban Film Festival in New York), showing it can entertain Western audiences while also passing the Cuban censors. Based on a true story and co-starring American actor Ron Perlman (“Hellboy”), it’s set in 1991 Cuba at a time when a Soviet cosmonaut was stuck in space due to the collapse of the USSR. Stranded, the cosmonaut began having conversations with a local radio enthusiast in Cuba. It’s chief competition is “The Translator”, starring Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro as a professor brought in to translate for victims of the Chernobyl disaster, who were brought to Cuba for medical treatment. That certainly would show Cuba in a positive light. In third place: feminist drama “¿Por qué lloran mis amigas?”. Two of Cuba’s most prominent Communist-era directors- Arturo Sotto Diaz and Fernando Perez- have promising new movies coming out, but I don’t expect they will be released in time.

10.   DOMINICAN REPUBLIC- “Veneno” Since last year, I’ve expected that the Dominican Republic would send “Cocote”, a drama-thriller about a deeply religious man who returns to his hometown to attend his father’s funeral. There, he is pressured by family members to take part in an act of revenge against his father’s alleged killer. The film has been the most visible Dominican film on the film festival circuit (Locarno, San Sebastian, Istanbul) and is said to have an interesting visual style blending music and images. However, it now has strong competition from wrestling drama “Veneno”, the first film in a trilogy about one of the DR’s most important sporting heroes. “Veneno” has gotten surprisingly good reviews, a limited US release, and is said to be a game-changer for Dominican cinema. Will they go for the festival favorite or the domestic hit? On July 31st, “Veneno” crushed the competition (including “Cocote” and last year’s Oscar candidate “Woodpeckers”) at the national Silla Awards so I think it has the edge to win here. I'd personally rather see "Cocote". 

11.     ECUADOR- “Cenizas" (Ashes) Ecuador is likely to choose “Cenizas” (Miami), a family drama about an awkward father-daughter reunion that occurs when a desperate woman visits her estranged father after her home is threatened by a volcanic eruption. Not only is it the best-reviewed Ecuadorian film of the year, but it also has the backing of “Moonlight” producer Andrew Hevia. Dark horse: B&W indie comedy “Black Hole” (Agujero Negro) Possible but unlikely: commercial rom-com “Verano no miente”. Trivia: Last year, Ecuador became the last of the 10 South American countries to choose a film by a female director.

12.   FIJI- Nothing eligible. Fiji’s film industry is primarily as a filming location for international productions. Fiji recently announced that 2018 was a record year for the country, with 74 foreign productions filming on the islands, ranking from Bollywood to Hollywood to Survivor to French TV shows. Fiji has only ever submitted one film, way back in 2005 when they sent “The Land Has Eyes”, directed by Hawai’i-based Vilsoni Hereniko. I'm pretty sure they don't have anything eligible.

13.   GUATEMALA- “Los gigantes no existen” (Giants Don't Exist) Guatemala has only sent films twice before, but they could very well send “Giants Don’t Exist” (Los gigantes no existen) this year. It’s a baity drama set during the military dictatorship of the 1980s about a young boy who survives the massacre of his village, and is adopted by the family of one of the killers.

14.    HAITI- “Impression” Impoverished Haiti submitted a film for the first time last year with “Ayiti mon amour” directed by Haitian-American Guetty Felin. I don’t think Haiti will submit films regularly but for the sake of completion, I’ll predict low-budget wedding comedy-drama “Enpresyon”, about a Haitian-American family in Boston whose daughter is pursued by two suitors.

15.  HONDURAS- “Una luz en el camino” Honduras sent a film to the Oscars for the first time last year, when they had several eligible releases. This year, they don’t have much. I only know of three films that are eligible, namely a Christian-themed drama, an adolescent soap opera and a silly Christmas comedy. The religious film- “Una luz en el camino”- looks like the most serious of the bunch but Honduras probably won't bother sending it.

Image result for Alfonso Cuaron Roma16.   MEXICO- "Roma"

17.     NEW ZEALAND- “Waru” There will be questions about eligibility for New Zealand’s Maori drama “Waru” which is in English and Maori. The film has gotten great reviews for its unique structure in which eight female Maori directors each tell one ten-minute part of the story of a young Maori child who has been killed. If the film is more than 50% in the Maori language, the film is certain to be their third Maori-language submission. If not, they’ll probably opt for Chinese-language fashion documentary “Yellow is Forbidden”, about a designer trying to succeed with original designs in the land of high-end knockoffs. Kiwi filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly was selected in 2016 for a film she made in Afghanistan.

18.    NICARAGUA- “Heredera del Viento” (Heiress of the Wind) Nicaragua has only sent one film to the Oscars in the past thirty years. Last year, they sent a film to the Goyas but opted not to enter the Oscar race. This year, they’ll almost surely sit out, but their best chance would be documentary “Heiress of the Wind”, which explores the aftereffects of the 1979 Sandinista Revolution in which the parents of director Gloria Carrion were heavily involved. The film did get a domestic release in April but the political turmoil and violence in Nicaragua against the current Sandinista government would make this an awkward selection. Very unlikely.

19.     PANAMA- “Diciembres”- Panama (pop: 4 million) has seen a big upswing in film production recently, including a number of successful local comedies and respected documentaries. This year, their Oscar pick will probably come down to documentary vs. fiction. “Ruben Blades Is Not My Name”, a documentary about one of Panama’s most famous musicians, is the most visible Panamanian film of 2018 and it won an Audience Award at SXSW. “Diciembres” is a fiction film about the American invasion of 1989, and the effect it had on the lives of three characters a decade later. Panama has selected documentaries twice (2014 and 2015) but I think “Diciembres” will get this. Unlikely but possible: sexual assault drama “Sin voz” and silly World Cup comedy “Frozen in Russia”, the country’s highest-grossing film e‎ver. 

20.  PARAGUAY- “Las herederas” Paraguay doesn’t have a very large film industry so when you screen at Berlin and win Best Actress, that’s a pretty good indication you’re going to the Oscars. “The Heiresses” is a story of two aging lesbian lovers who have fallen on hard times, but it's a film about individualism and loneliness. I saw it last month and thought it was good, though I confess I forgot most of the story the following day….In any case, it’s guaranteed to represent Paraguay. 

21.   PERU- “Retablo” Peru is really unclear. Most of their films in 2018 have been silly comedies aimed at domestic audiences, while the more serious films are patiently awaiting a domestic release. That includes front-runner “Retablo”, an LGBT film about a conservative father who learns his son is gay. It’s one of the first films ever made in Quechua, the most-spoken indigenous language in South America. It won a youth film award at Berlinale 2018, and was named the Best Peruvian Film at the 2017 Lima Film Festival. Peru has chosen an LGBT-themed film once before and if “Retablo” can get released it will probably be selected. The 2017 Lima Film Festival had three other Peruvian fiction features; only two have been released- “Winaypacha”, the first film made in Aymara, an indigenous language which has official status alongside Spanish and Quechua, and “The Grandfather”, about an old man who reveals a decades-old secret when his family takes him home to his ancestral village. The third- “Delicious Dried Fruit”, about a vivacious older woman with a new lease on life- has not. The 2018 edition had seven more Peruvian debuts, none of which have been released. We should know which of them is strongest on August 11th, when they announce this year's Best Peruvian Film award, but I’d guess that village festival drama “Mataindios” will take home that prize. For now, expect “Retablo” to get this with “Dried Fruit” in second place.

22.   PUERTO RICO- “Quien eres tu?” (Who Are You?) Puerto Rico was inexplicably and unfairly “uninvited” from the Foreign Oscar race in 2010 when AMPAS sent the Corporación de Cine de Puerto Rico a letter saying that it would be the last year they could send a film. The reasons for this were never explained. Puerto Rico had sent eleven films over the years with no problems and had earned one Oscar nomination. AMPAS said all "US protectorates" would no longer be invited, but this only affected Puerto Rico. Interestingly enough, Palestine was invited (after being rejected in 2002) in 2003, and Greenland (a Danish “protectorate”) was invited beginning in 2010, the same year Puerto Rico was banned. So, it’s quite ridiculous and very unclear why AMPAS is picking on poor Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has launched an appeal this year to get the decision reversed. If AMPAS relents, the most likely Puerto Rican submission is “Who Are You?” (¿Quién Eres Tú?), a drama about a politician who cares for his mother who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. An alternate choice would be “Silence of the Wind”, a drama about human trafficking and the feature debut of a short film director who was nominated for Best Short Film at Cannes in 2012.  It would theoretically be a closely fought contest. Write a letter to AMPAS and get Puerto Rico back in the competition!

23.     URUGUAY- “La noche de 12 años” (A Twelve-Year Night) Uruguay has a fairly easy decision this year and will almost certainly send Alvaro Brechner’s military dictatorship drama “A Twelve-Year Night” (La noche de 12 años). Brechner has been selected twice before for the well-reviewed comedies “Bad Day to Go Fishing” and “Mr. Kaplan” (I preferred “Fishing”), the film earned a prestigious berth at the Venice Film Festival, and stars respected Spanish actor Antonio de la Torre. It’s opening in Uruguay and Argentina in late September, and I think that’s been done on purpose to qualify for the Oscars. Based on a true story, it’s a dark drama about political prisoner José Mujica (later to become Uruguay’s president) who was jailed and abused for 12 years from 1972-1985. Uruguay’s other promising films have either disappointed critics (horror film “You Shall Not Sleep” and time-travel dramedy “The Waves”) or failed to get sufficient buzz (creepy horror film “Wood Eyes” and abortion drama “Breathe”). I’m still excited for Araki-esque comedy “Neptunia” which is yet to be released, but “La noche” should win this easily. 

24.     VENEZUELA- “El amparo” Venezuela is on the brink of economic and social collapse, but their film industry is somehow doing better than ever. They had 19 new features at the national film festival in Merida (which I think is a record) and started their own national film awards. This may come down to a race between the winners of the 2017 and 2018 Festival de Cine Venezolano. Last year, it was “El amparo”, based on the true story of a group of innocent fisherman massacred on the border due to a political conflict between neighbors Colombia and Venezuela. This year, it was incestuous “Blue Lagoon”-esque drama “Children of the Salt” (Hijos de la Sal). You can add to the list of possibilities, poverty stricken father-son drama “La familia” which finally got a domestic release more than a year after its 2007 Cannes premiere, and serial killer drama “The Lake Vampire”. Rounding out the top five choices in a strong year is senior citizen comedy “Más vivos que nunca” about a bunch of friends who escape a nursing home. My predictions: “El amparo” gets this but if they don’t want to choose a movie about the Venezuelan military shooting people, it’s “La familia”, “Children of the Salt”, “Lake Vampire”  and “Mas vivos”.  
Image result for La palabra de Pablo25.   EL SALVADOR- "La palabra de Pablo" (Pablo's Word) With last year's entries of Honduras and Haiti, El Salvador is now the only country in Latin America that has never sent a film to the Oscar competition. If they are embarrassed by that, they could enter "Pablo's Word", a film noir re-telling of "Othello" about a young man trying to sabotage his father's relationship with a younger woman. It has played at a number of Latin film festivals but so far as I know has not premiered in San Salvador.