Friday, August 31, 2018


 And here's the last group of predictions, from the 24 countries of Asia.

Unfortunately, I'm going on vacation this weekend, so I'm going to have to leave India blank and three incomplete (China, South Korea and the Philippines). I'll try to finish when I get back, if they haven't already announced.

1.  AFGHANISTAN- “Black Kite”  Although they haven’t always met all Oscar requirements, the plucky Afghan Academy has managed to send nominees six years in a row, despite Afghanistan’s precarious security situation. This year, I expect they will send “Black Kite”, a low-budget drama made by Canada-based Tarique Qayumi that played at Toronto 2017. It follows the lives of a kite-maker and his family from the happy days of the 1960s through the war and destruction of the Taliban years and beyond. Also possible is Afghan-American Sonia Nassery Cole’s new refugee drama “I Am You”, though I don’t think that will be finished in time. Siddiq Barmak’s new film “The Postman” is in pre-production and will hopefully be selected next year.

2.  BANGLADESH- “Haldaa” Bangladesh has a half-dozen potential contenders, including new films by three of the seven living Bangladesh directors who have been picked before- “Death of a Poet”, “Haldaa” and “No Bed of Roses”. I’m predicting they send “Haldaa” about the struggles of rural fishermen faced with encroachment and environmental pollution. Unlike other Bangladeshi films which sometimes struggle with production values, the trailer looks beautiful, and it features a cast that have appeared numerous other submissions. The only handicap is that it doesn’t seem to have been made by the main film studio. Only one Bangladeshi submission since 2005 (“Television”) wasn’t made by that studio, and it had the backing of some major awards. In second-place will be “Komola Rocket” (made by Impress Telefilms), about a group of passengers from all strata of Bangladeshi society riding a steamer ship down-river. Rounding out the Top Five options: (in order) “No Bed of Roses” (Moscow, Shanghai), starring Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan, which was banned but finally approved for screening last October, “Sohagi’s Ornament” (Best Bangladeshi Film, Dhaka Film Festival), about a young boy seeking work in the capital, which is tryiung to be the first female-helmed Bangladeshi Oscar submission, and “Chitkini” (Rest in Silence), a rural drama set in the remote north of the country. Less likely: indie “Death of a Poet”, Agatha Christie reimagining “Dangling By a String” (looks like fun!) and popular Bollywood-style romance “Swopnajaal”.

3.  BHUTAN- “Honeygiver Among the Dogs” Tiny Bhutan sent one (fantastic!) film in 1999 but there was a rumor that they were reconvening an Oscar committee last year. I predicted “Honeygiver” last year, but it failed to get a domestic release until April 20th, 2018. This film noir about a detective investigating the disappearance of a Buddhist nun has gotten great reviews and has been featured at a number of international festivals since its Busan premiere last year. As a big fan of Khynetse Norbu (“Travellers & Magicians”), I’d love to see Bhutan back. The two big winners at the National Film Awards- “Nge Tsawai Lama” and “Dhaari Nhaaba”- won’t come into play.
4.  CAMBODIA- “Loung Preah Sdech Korn” I remember when I used to struggle to find even one film that Cambodia had produced in a given year. This year, they have three strong contenders to represent the Kingdom. “Graves Without A Name” is a new documentary by Oscar nominee and Khmer Rouge survivor Rithy Panh, who directed “The Missing Picture” and co-produced “First They Killed My Father”. His latest documentary opens the Venice Film Festival and is about a teenaged boy who tries to find the graves of the family members murdered during the Khmer Rouge genocide. “In the Life of Music”, co-starring Cambodian-Canadian actress Ellen Wong (“Scott Pilgrim”, “GLOW”), is about how a Cambodian song affects the lives of three different generations of Cambodians. It’s already lobbying to be nominated at the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards. Last is “Loung Preah Sdech Korn”, a 15th century royal historical drama reportedly the most expensive Cambodian production ever made, and Cambodia’s first foray into costume drama. I’m predicting “Loung Preah Sdech Korn” because of its budget and the reported support from Cambodia’s president-cum-dictator Hun Sen. However, they may not be able to get it subtitled in time, leaving the door open to Rithy Panh.

5.  CHINA- "Shadow" It's difficult to see China going with anything other than Zhang Yimou's latest epic, "Shadows", which premieres in Venice. Haven't seen any reviews so far, but it (as always) looks beautiful. 

6.  HONG KONG- “No. 1 Chung Ying Street” It’s not been a great film year for Hong Kong. Nothing has made a mark at film festivals, most major directors have skipped this year and those movies that have premiered haven’t are cookie-cutter gangster movies and romantic comedies. I have a feeling that the HK selection will either be a new movie that they release at the very last moment in one theatre, or a “cheat” by sending in a majority-China co-production. Perhaps the surprise release could be Fruit Chan’s mysterious new martial arts movie “The Invincible Dragon” which was originally supposed to premiere in August 2018, but didn’t? Not sure. If they want to send a Hong Kong movie that has actually been released, I really have no idea. Perhaps low-key 60s drama “No. 1 Chung Ying Street”, drawing parallels between anti-UK protests in the 1960s and the debate between pro-China and pro-autonomy protesters…..Or  Donnie Yen’s latest action drama “Big Brother”? Splashy fantasy film "The Thousand Faces of Dunjia"? None of these seem particularly likely and I expect Hong Kong will be selecting something nobody even knew was eligible. Let’s do “Chung Ying” as a placeholder.


8.  INDONESIA- “Sultan Agung” Indonesia has been fairly quiet this year at film festivals, although action-western “Buffalo Boys” has gotten some play at Asian-themed film festivals. But with a Singaporean director, average reviews and half its dialogue in English, that’s a non-starter.  The three most prominent films are (in alphabetical order): (1)- Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts. The Indonesian “Kill Bill”, this feminist western about a woman who defends herself against a vicious gang of men premiered at Cannes 2017 before opening in Indonesian cinemas in November. It’s original and dramatic and the highest-profile choice; but the Indonesian Academy has been skewing conservative lately….(2)- “The Seen and the Unseen. A youth drama about a Balinese girl getting over the loss of her twin brother, it played at a Berlinale side-bar this year. Said to be artsy, symbolic and culturally interesting, it’s the sophomore film of Kamila Andini, whose father and husband are both famous directors whose films have represented Indonesia at the Oscars. (3)- “Sultan Agung”, a big period drama set in 17th century Java, when a controversial but revered Sultan ruled and fought off initial incursions by the Dutch. While reviews have not been universally positive, the production values are some of Indonesia’s best, and the director was selected for another period piece a few years ago. None of these are likely to net Indonesia its first-ever Oscar nomination, but I think the costumes and sets of “Sultan Agung” will beat out the controversial girl power of “Marlina the Murderer”. Unlikely but possible: Borneo tale “Terbang” and romantic drama “Dilan 1990”.

9.  JAPAN- “Shoplifters” Japan announced their Oscar pick early this year, choosing Hirokazu Koreeda’s Palme d’Or winner “Shoplifters” before I had a chance to make a prediction. This was surprising only because Japan never goes for the obvious choice. Despite making some of the world’s greatest films, they usually select a rather obscure and forgettable film. They ignored their past two Palme d’Or winners (“Ballad of Narayama” and “The Eel”, both by Shohei Imamura who was picked twice by Japan for more obscure efforts). In the past seven years, I’ve seen six of their nominees. They selected four “good but not great” movies I barely remember seeing (“100-Yen Love”, “The Great Passage”, “Her Love Boils Bathwater” and “Postcard”), one mediocre one (“The Light Shines Only There”) and one that was downright bad (“Nagasaki: Memories of My Son”). So, I’m excited that they chose “Shoplifters”, by one of my favorite Japanese directors. It’s what they should have chosen. Other films that got ignored in a relatively slow year: mystery-thriller “The Crimes That Bind”, anime-drama “Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms”, comedy “Oh Lucy!” (co-starring Josh Hartnett) and Naomi Kawase’s “Vision” (co-starring Juliette Binoche). 

10.  KAZAKHSTAN- “Talan” Kazakhstan has one of the more confusing races in Asia. Most people think it will be “Ayka”, because it played at the Cannes Film Festival and won Best Actress- certainly a major event for Kazakh cinema. It’s also the long-awaited sophomore film by director Sergey Dvortsevoy, who directed “Tulpan”, one of Kazakhstan’s best-loved films. However, “Ayka”, about a desperately poor Central Asian mother living in Moscow, is not the sort of super-nationalist historical drama out of the national film studio that Kazakhstan usually sends. Remember that the acclaimed “Harmony Lessons”, which did not necessarily show Kazakhstan in the best possible light, was snubbed. Indie director Adilkhan Yerzhanov has two new films this year- corruption drama “The Gentle Indifference of the World” (Cannes) and the surreal, weird “Night God” (Moscow) but I can’t see them selecting them for the same reasons. I actually think “Ayka” will face its strongest competition from two more traditional dramas, namely “A Call to Father”, about the life of a young boy with emotional problems, who comes from a poor dysfunctional family, and “Talan”, a historical drama about two orphan boys who encounter war and famine during Soviet times. “Talan” represented Kazakhstan in the Central Asia section of Kazakhstan’s biggest film festival, while “A Call to Father” was the Kazakh submission for the Russian Nika Awards (where it was nominated). Or they could choose something brand-new like “The River”, due to premiere in Toronto. It’s unclear. For now, I’m predicting “Talan”, because it focuses on history and because the director is a well-known actor.

11.  KOREA- "1987" Tight race and the Koreans are never predictable. May not be my final prediction, as many are also predicting "The Spy Gone North" and "Burning". 

12.  KYRGYZSTAN- “Night Accident” Kyrgyzstan has submitted some of my personal favorites over the years, and the poor, remote country has likely come very closely to an Oscar nomination on more than one occasion. This year, they have two award-winners in contention, namely “Night Accident” (Grand Prize in Tallinn Black Nights) and “Suleiman Mountain” (Winner of the East of the West in Karlovy Vary). Both films are slice-of-life dramas about life in the remote villages and highways of Kyrgyzstan. Though “Suleiman” (about a loutish husband juggling two wives) has the bigger name, I’m predicting they send the more low-key “Night Accident” (a road movie) because “Suleiman” has a Russian director. However, they’re both strong contenders. Dark horse: musical “Song of the Tree”, which played in Moscow.

13.  LAOS- “Moon City” Laos submitted a film for the first time last year and what a debut it was! Creepy, twisty horror film “Dearest Sister” was one of the most entertaining and most enjoyable films of last year’s competition. Lao-American director Mattie Do has a new movie in pre-production, but this year hasn’t yet seen a large number of new features. The Vientiane Film Festival didn’t have any new domestic features and the only eligible film I know of is superhero comedy “Moon City: The Rise of Ninja Attack”. As this is an unlikely choice for Oscar, they may skip and wait until next year. For a good article on Laos’ emergent film industry, see here.

14.  MALAYSIA- “Tomorrow” Malaysia gave no reason for not sending a film last year, despite strong notices for “You Mean the World to Me”, which was probably not sent because it’s in Chinese (spoken by 23% of Malaysia’s population) and not Malay, which receives affirmative action and special privileges in the country. However, it’s odd that they didn’t send “Adirawaku”, which was easily the best-reviewed Malay-language film of the year, either. Their National Film Awards were postponed from September to December, so there will be no precursors….If they return, I expect it will be “Tomorrow” (Pulang), a drama about a sailor who travels the world for 61 years, while his devoted wife waits for him at home, “Jibam”, about a special-needs child (similar to their last entry in 2016), or “Dukun”, a horror-thriller by the director of the previously submitted “Bunohan”. I expect “Tomorrow” has the edge.

15.  MONGOLIA- “Out of Paradise” It’s extremely rare that films from remote Mongolia films make it to international film festivals. So, when they win the Grand Prize at a Class-A Festival- even one of the smaller ones- it’s pretty much a certainty it will be their pick for their Oscars. “Out of Paradise”, about a poor couple on a desperate road trip to get medical attention for a difficult pregnancy, won the Grand Prize at Shanghai. Since Mongolia rejoined the Oscars last year after a 12-year absence, you can expect to see this film on the longlist.

16.   NEPAL- “Hari” Nepal has become a regular contributor to this category since 2013, sending three arthouse films and two very local dramas. They don’t seem to consider their Bollywood-style musicals, romances and action movies, which make up their majority of their filmmaking industry. That’s probably a good idea, but it does narrow their options from 100 to just one or two. Nepal hasn’t had any films at any international festivals this year, and they were the only country absent from the SAARC Film Festival (even tiny Maldives sent a movie) For the Oscars this year, I think the two frontrunners are “Bhor”, a social drama about the pain and suffering Nepali brides endure under the traditional “dowry” (bride price) system, and “Hari”, a quirky drama about an overly superstitious and unquestioningly religious man. These both seem like the sort of movies Nepal has sent in the past. Other choices include romance “Bobby”, sports drama “Damaru Ko Dandibiyo” or mega-hit wedding comedy “Shatru Gate”. I think “Hari” will ultimately be selected.

17.  PAKISTAN- “Cake” I spent a year living in Pakistan and this year I have seen my Pakistani friends raving about two new films that they say herald a new kind of Pakistani cinema. One of these is “Cake”, about a middle-class family (yes! Pakistan has a middle-class!) consisting of two aging parents and their adult children facing normal, everyday problems. No terrorism, no honor killings, no Bollywood-style tunes….Just a family drama. And I think this will resonate with American audiences too. The other film- “Motorcycle Girl”, is about a young woman who decides to travel around Pakistan by motorcycle. Though this is perfectly legal, it is virtually unheard of in most parts of Pakistan. This film hasn’t been as big as “Cake”, but it does show off the natural beauty of Pakistan. I think the Pakistanis will select one of these two, but they could also go with pro-military drama “Parwaaz Hay Junoon” or sexual assault drama “Verna”, but I think both of these would be too controversial for the selection committee.

18.  PHILIPPINES- "Balangiga: Howling Wilderness" It's rare that the two biggest film awards in the Philippines award Best Picture to the same movie, but they did this year. Still, I haven't researched the Philippines yet, so this is just a placeholder. 

19.  SINGAPORE- “A Land Imagined” Singapore’s biggest film of the year is “Crazy Rich Asians”. It may be an American movie, but the film (based on the bestseller book by Singaporean Kevin Kwan) is very much a love letter to Singapore, and brought back so many memories for me of the cityscapes, the food and the talented actors there. Like Mongolia (see above), it’s a huge achievement when a tiny country wins at a Class-A Festival, so it’s pretty certain they’ll select “A Land Imagined”, which won the Golden Leopard a few weeks ago in Locarno. This film noir mystery about a detective searching for missing migrant workers has not gotten very good reviews and it’s victory was a bit of a surprise. But the Golden Leopard and an overall weak year should make this an easy choice. It’s main competition is Eric Khoo’s “Ramen Teh” , a Japanese co-production, and a celebration of Singapore and Japanese cuisine. Oscar loves foodie movies, so this would arguably be a better choice. Autism drama “Wayang Kids” and raucous wedding comedy “The Big Day” are eligible but unlikely.

20.  SRI LANKA- “The Goddess” Sri Lanka produces dozens of films annually, but they have only entered the Oscar race twice, with two rather obscure and forgotten titles. This year, they re-started their dormant Film Awards where the winner was “28”, a film  that I predicted to represent Sri Lanka in 2015, but which didn’t get a domestic release until June 2017. In any case, it’s not eligible. In the unlikely event that they return, it would probably be with “The Goddess” (Vaishnavee), made by the widow of Sri Lanka’s most famous director Lester James Peries and based on a story he wrote. It’s a fantasy-drama about a puppeteer who carves a puppet in memory of the fiancée who abandoned him, which then comes to life.  Other options: romantic drama “The Day We Will” and scam-artist tale “The Undecided” joined “The Goddess” in a special Sri Lanka retrospective at the Moscow Film Festival. Other possibilities include national reconciliation drama “Her. Him. The Other”,  and “Joyful Journeys”, about an 85-year old grandfather getting to know his young grandson.

21.  TAIWAN- “Father to Son” This year is likely to be a race between glossy crime drama “The Bold, Corrupt and the Beautiful” and the new Hou Hsiao-hsien produced drama “Father to Son”. “The Bold, Corrupt and the Beautiful” won the Golden Horse Award last year and has gotten very strong notices for its story of murder, corruption and political intrigue, revolving around a widow who becomes the head of a crime empire.  “Father to Son” debuted this year in Rotterdam and is executive produced by Hou Hsiao-hsien, whose painfully languorous arthouse films have represented Taiwan three times. In the film, a dying Taiwanese man travels to Japan to find news of his long-absent father, while another Hong Kong man travels to Taiwan to search for him. With “Bold”’s political themes, “Father” is perhaps a more relatable story.  Taiwan has made some odd choices lately including last year’s LGBT well-meaning documentary “Small Talk”, which was more of a therapy session than a film. So, it’s definitely possible they’ll select the bizarre “Great Buddha”, a B+W indie black comedy that won the 2017 Taipei Film Festival, or “Love Education” (Busan) by Sylvia Chang (selected twice), a family drama set in Mainland China about the conflict between two widows who shared the same husband. LGBT dramedy “Dear Ex”, which won the Taipei Film Festival in 2018 won’t be released in time, while “Angels Wear White” may be considered too much of a Mainland Chinese film. I think "Father to Son" and "Bold" are in a virtual tie, but predict "Father" has the edge.

22.  TAJIKISTAN- “Narrow” Tajikistan has entered the race twice before, but never since 2005. Their national film festival only runs every other year so they are probably preparing any national premieres they have for this year’s edition that opens in October. If they chose to send a film, the only one I’m aware of is “Narrow”, a drama that played at the Eurasia International Film Festival in neighboring Kazakhstan. It’s about a 9-year old boy who famous social exclusion because his family has not gotten him circumsized per Islamic custom.

23.   THAILAND- “Samui Song” Thailand doesn’t have much to pick from this year and I’m kind of confused as to what they would send. However, it’s always foolish to bet against Pen-ek Ratanaruang, who has represented Thailand four times (five if you count 2006 when the Thais changed their mind after picking “Invisible Waves”). Cult thriller “Samui Song” played in Venice Days and has some high-profile Thai actors in it. I’m just not sure what else Thailand would pick. Manta Ray” premiered in Venice Horizons but surely won’t get a release at home by September 30. “Khun Pan 2” looks good but is a silly action sequel. “7 Days” sounds like a melodrama version of “Quantum Leap”. It’s “Samui Song” by default. Maybe?

24.  VIETNAM- “Song Lang” Vietnam’s most widely anticipated film of the year is “The Third Wife”, which will have its World premiere at the Toronto Film Festival on September 7. Filmed with the backing of Spike Lee’s production company, it’s a 19th century period piece about a 14-year old girl chosen to be the third wife of a wealthy landowner. Make no mistake about her name- director Ash Mayfair is born and raised in Vietnam. Vietnamese films have often struggled to get a qualifying release so it’s highly unlikely it will be released before October 1st. Count on it being chosen next year. Vietnam doesn’t have too many other films to choose from. I think two new nostalgic dramas- “Song Lang” and “The Tailor” will be the main films considered. “The Tailor” (Busan) won Best Picture at the Vietnamese Silver Kite Awards and has been compared to a Viet “Devil Wears Prada” for its comedy-drama story of fashion designers rejecting and then re-appreciating Vietnamese traditional dress, the ao dai. “Song Lang” is more concerned with music than fashion, focusing on a boy growing up in post-war Saigon, and obsessed with traditional cải lương Vietnamese folk music. Somehow, I think the more serious, male-oriented “Song Lang” will beat out the better-known “Tailor”. Less likely: melodrama “The Mother-in-Law”.

Possible Debuts:
25.  UZBEKISTAN- “Fortitude” Uzbekistan is the most important Asian country that has never sent a film to the Oscars. With the new President opening the country up, it’s possible they could send “Fortitude”, a drama that has been representing the country at a number of festivals in the former USSR, including Moscow, Eurasia (in Kazakhstan) and the Golden Apricots (in Armenia). It’s about a dying man seeking to make amends with his estranged son before he dies. Also possible "Passing Rain" from tiny Macau and "Mystery of Burma" from Burma (Myanmar). 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


Here are my predictions for the 21 nations of Western Europe. Though they traditionally dominate the Oscars, last year they only secured two spots on the shortlist (for overrated Oscar nominee "The Square" and underrated Golden Globe winner "In the Fade") so their dominance has slippel;d.

1.   AUSTRIA- “The Murer Case” With three nominations (two wins) in eleven years, Austria usually has quite a few options to choose from. This year, I see five major contenders: (1)- “Angelo” (San Sebastian/Toronto), about an 18th century West African slave brought to Europe and educated to be an elite servant, (2)- "Joy" (Venice Days), about a West African woman brought to Austria and forced into prostitution, (3)- “Mademoiselle Paradis”, an 18th century period drama about a young blind, piano prodigy, and the doctor trying to heal her sight, (4)- “The Magician” (Zauberer), a thriller telling a number of interlocking stories, and (5)- “The Murer Case”, a courtroom drama about an Austrian SS officer who killed thousands of Lithuanian Jews during WWII but did not go on trial until the 1960s. A sixth contender- “Styx”- is a mostly wordless film, but the spoken dialogue is mostly in English so I think it would be disqualified if selected. It’s a very even race; I give the edge to “The Murer Case” due to AMPAS’ affection for Holocaust dramas, but the sumptuous costumes and period pieces of “Mademoiselle Paradis” make that film a very strong contender. “Joy” and “Angelo” don’t have domestic release dates yet, so they may contend for next year.

2.   BELGIUM- “Insyriated” Last year, I was somewhat surprised that Belgium did not select acclaimed Arabic-language drama “Insyriated” (Audience Award, Berlin Panorama 2017). This year, most Oscar watchers are expecting that Belgium will send “Girl”, easily the most acclaimed local film of 2018. However, if you pay attention to the release dates, “Insyriated” debuted in Belgian cinemas on October 11, 2017 and “Girl” (Cannes) isn’t set to premiere until October 17th, 2018. So, for now, “Insyriated” is eligible and “Girl” isn’t, though Belgium could easily do an early qualifying release if they wanted to (they did it last year for “Racer and the Jailbird”).  I think “Insyriated”, the story of a Syrian family trapped in their home when their neighborhood comes under attack, will ultimately represent Belgium and “Girl”, about a trans girl going through adolescence, will contend for next year. As you may know, Belgium has two independent film industries catering to its French-speaking (Walloon) and Dutch-speaking (Flemish) populations. “Insyriated” dominated the 2018 Maigritte Awards  in the French sector. The nominations for the Flemish Ensor Awards were announced this week and the winners will be announced on September 15th. Ironically, the frontrunner from the Flemish side is another Middle Eastern drama- “Zagros”, the story of a Kurdish family that emigrates to Belgium, where the wife adjusts easily to her newfound freedoms while her husband fails to assimilate. Rounding out this year's Top Five are some more movies showcasing Belgian multiculturalism: “The Faithful Son” (La part sauvage; in French), about a Belgian convert to Islam, "Bitter Flowers” (in Chinese), about a Chinese woman who emigrates to Paris, and murder mystery-thriller “Control” (in Dutch), directed by Jan Verheyen.

3.   DENMARK- “The Guilty” Denmark typically announces a three-film Oscar shortlist, which is likely to consist of Oscar winner Bille August’s upcoming “A Fortunate Man”, critical darling thriller “The Guilty”, and family drama “Winter Brothers” which won both Best Picture awards at Denmark’s two national film awards this year. We could also see “The Charmer” (about an Iranian gigolo) or “While We Live” (after the aftermath of a tragic accident) sneak into the final three, but the Danish nominee is almost certainly going to be one of the above three films.  I’m going to predict “The Guilty” (the only film on this list of predictions that I’ve actually seen) which has by far the strongest buzz. It’s the story of a police detective on 911 call duty who gets a phone call from a woman who says she has been kidnapped by her abusive husband. He has to figure out how to save the woman, and locate her children who have been left at home. It’s a great mystery and an even better thriller, and it easily has the credentials both to appeal to discerning film critics and to a mainstream American audience. Bille August won an Oscar for “Pelle the Conqueror” but nobody has yet seen the nearly three-hour “A Fortunate Man”, about a successful man trying to avoid making the same mistakes with his own family that his conservative, religious family made when raising him. It’s likely to make the list, but August’s best days seem to be behind him. As for Icelandic co-production “Winter Brothers”, despite great reviews it’s at a disadvantage having been released so early. I think “The Guilty” will beat “A Fortunate Man”, while “Winter Brothers” will be relegated to third.

4.   FINLAND- “Laugh or Die” Looking over my blog, I’ve only predicted Finland correctly once in ten tries (“Letters to Father Jacob”, way back in 2009). So statistically speaking, my prediction- “Laugh or Die”- is a long shot. With shades of both “Life is Beautiful” and “Land of Mine”, “Laugh or Die” is a jet-black comedy-drama about a troupe of Finnish actors condemned to death during the Finnish Civil War. The men are given one last chance, and are promised that they will be allowed to live if they can make a visiting German commander laugh. Finland’s Oscar committee does sometimes go “historical”, though they rarely select big war movies. With no frontrunner, I think “Laugh or Die” will get this. If they want to go for a more contemporary film, they could select Aleksi Salmenperä a third time for his B&W dramedy “Void”, which will premiere at the end of September. It’s the story of a writer married to an actress and their obsession with furthering their own careers at the expense of their marriage. Finland has chosen B&W movies two of the past four years. In third place: 3-hour war epic “The Unknown Solider” by Aku Louhimies, who directed my favorite Finnish film (“Frozen Land”) and who I’ve incorrectly predicted twice. In fourth place: documentary “Wheels of Freedom”. In fifth: heavy metal comedy “Heavy Trip”.

5.   FRANCE- "Custody" France is nominated so frequently that it's easy to forget that they've only won once in the past 40 years (for "Indochine" in 1992/93). To put that into context, out of all the countries that have won the Oscar, almost all of them have managed a win since the victory of "Indochine" (all except Algeria, Sweden and Switzerland). "Custody" almost seems too obvious. It's been to dozens of festivals since it debuted at Venice 2017, winning the Silver Lion. It's gotten excellent reviews from critics and audiences. It's very much a thriller disguised as a family drama. Most importantly, as we learned from Iran's "A Separation", it's a subject that American audiences can easily relate to. I actually was pretty sure that France would select one of two glossy period dramas set to debut in September, namely "Mademoiselle de Joncquières" (Toronto) and "One Nation, One King" (Venice). The trailer for the expensive, all-star drama of "One Nation, One King" looks beautiful, but I worry that the French history lesson will be perceived as being over the heads of American audiences. France wants to win. As for "Mlle. de Joncquières", the plotline sounds like a totally luscious, vengeful "Dangerous Liaisons", but the trailer looked a bit too light to compete for France. However, both of us will definitely have a chance if they win awards in Venice/Toronto. Obviously, France has a dozen films that could proudly fly the French colors. Three others to look out for: crime drama (1)- "See You Up There", set in the 1920s, won five Cesar Awards including Best Director, (2)- "C'est la vie" is a crowdpleasing comedy about a chaotic wedding from the team that brought you "Les intouchables". Critics haven't loved it but audiences have, and it managed a Best Pic nomination at the Cesars (People often forget that "Les intouchables" made the Final Nine) and (3)- "To the Ends of the World", about French soldiers fighting the unwinnable war in Indochina. Others titles mentioned as possibilities: "Climax", "La douleur", "Freres ennemis", "Promise at Dawn", "La villa" and "Sorry Angel", though I don't think they'll get very far. 

6.  GERMANY- "Never Look Away" Germany announced this week that they would be considering eleven films. As with many countries, this is primarily a race between an acclaimed film that has already been released (“The Captain”) and a hotly anticipated film set to debut soon (“Never Look Away”). It would be foolish to bet against “Never Look Away”, the first German-language film from director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck since he won an Oscar for “The Lives of Others”. It will debut in Venice and screen in Toronto and will apparently arrange a qualifying release (as did “In the Fade” last year) before it debuts in German cinemas on October 3. Focusing on an artist whose work is influenced by the traumas of living under both the Nazi and East German Communist regimes, it co-stars Sebastian Koch (“Lives of Others”, “Bridge of Spies”) and checks a lot of boxes. The only negative? von Donnersmarck’s last film (“The Tourist”, with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie) was a big critical flop and he still has to prove he’s not a one-hit wonder. “The Captain” is the true story about a 19-year Nazi deserter who became involved in a series of atrocities in the final days of WWII, after putting on an abandoned Nazi uniform to stay warm. It’s cerebral, it’s gotten a small US release, and Germany may wish to choose it symbolically to showcase their displeasure with far-right movements in both the US and Europe. There are three other films on the list to keep your eye on: (1)- “Ballon” (co-starring David Cross of “The Reader”) is an upcoming thriller set in 1979 about an East German family trying to escape to West Berlin, (2)- “In the Aisles” (Berlin 2018) is a quirky romantic drama set in a superstore and (3)- “Transit” (Berlin 2018), directed by Christian Petzold, is about a man who flees Nazi Germany to France, assuming a dead man’s identity. There seem to be lots of people fleeing Nazis and Communists this year. As for the others, they’re either too unusual (Persian-language animated film “Teheran Taboo” and docudrama “The Invisibles”), too German, i.e. inaccessible to American audiences (Lola winner “3 Days in Quiberon” and “The Silent Revolution”) or reviews haven’t been strong enough (“My Brother Simple” and “Mackie Messer”). My Top Five: “Never Look Away”, “The Captain”, “Ballon”, “Transit” and “In the Aisles”.

7.   GREECE- “The Last Note” Traditionally, the Greeks select either the winner of the Greek competition  at the Thessaloniki Film Festival (this year was B&W indie comedy “Too Much Info Clouding Over My Head”) or the winner of the national film awards (this year was “Son of Sofia”). However, I think these two abstract films will be overshadowed by historical drama “The Last Note”, about the Nazi execution of 200 Greek resistance fighters, or “Pity”, a black comedy written by the man who brought us “Dogtooth” and “Chevalier”. Factor in the two films that lost to “Sofia” at the National Film Awards in the Picture, Director and Screenplay categories- inheritance drama “Polyxeni” and geriatric comedy “Women Who Passed My Way”, and you have a potential six-way race. Pantelis Voulgaris’ “The Last Note” is the most likely to appeal to Oscar voters (he was rumored to have come close to a nomination with his previous film, “Little England”) and it was the #2 Greek of 2017, so that's my final prediction. I think “Pity” will come second, “Sofia” third, and “Women Who Passed My Way”, made by an 82-year old director who last represented Greece nearly thirty years ago, in fourth.

8.  GREENLAND- “The Raven and the Seagull” Massive Greenland has a tiny population (56,000) so they rarely have an eligible film to send. This year, they could return for the first time since 2012 with documentary “The Raven and the Seagull” (Lykkelænder) about the ordinary lives of Greenlandic Inuits living on the Danish territory’s remote West coast.

9.   ICELAND- “Woman at War” Despite a population of just 350,000, Iceland has about ten eligible releases. The odds-on favorite is Cannes comedy-drama “Woman at War”, which Variety called “near-perfect”. It’s an unusual film with elements of comedy, musical and drama and it’s easily the best reviewed Icelandic film of the year. Director Benedikt Erlingsson has been chosen once before for "Of Horses and Men". “Woman” faces competition from refugee drama “And Breathe Normally” (Best Director, Sundance), about the friendship between an Icelandic woman and an asylum seeker from Guinea-Bissau. Given the visibility of the global refugee crisis and last year's shock pick of the late release "Under the Tree" over favorite "Heartstone", it's definitely got a chance.  In third: “Let Me Fall”, about two young women who re-connect 15 years after a drug-fueled adolescent friendship.

10.  IRELAND- “Penance” English-speaking Ireland submits a film whenever they have something eligible, and they’ve managed to send a film three of the past four years. This year, there’s little doubt it will be Tom Collins’ “Penance”, a historical thriller about a nationalist young priest who encourages his parishioners to violently rise against the English in 1916, causing an unforeseen tragedy. 50 years later, the priest is reunited with the boy at the center of the tragedy. Tom Collins has been selected twice before for Irish-language films and this has a bigger budget and more important subject matter than “Kings” or “The Gift”. A very safe bet.

11.   ITALY- “Happy as Lazzaro” Italy has won more Foreign Film Oscars than any other country so they always have a very competitive race. Most people see this as a battle between two films that won awards at Cannes, namely Mafia drama “Dogman” (Best Actor) and quirky  “Forrest Gump”-esque “Happy as Lazzaro” (Best Screenplay). Matteo Garrone has been selected before for “Gomorrah” (which I hated) while Alice Rohrwacher has come close twice. “Dogman”, a gritty realist drama about a mild-mannered man who becomes involved with the Italian mafia, has been critically divisive. Nobody dislikes “Lazzaro”, but this drama about a peasant and a nobleman is weird and a bit risky. Italy has made a fairly surprising choice three years in a row, and they usually announce a long “shortlist”, so they’ll be looking beyond these two films. Other options include “The Armadillo Prophecy”, based on a graphic novel about two slacker guys which will debut in Venice and premiere right before the deadline, “Daughter of Mine” (Berlin), about a daughter torn between her adopted and biological mothers, Paolo Sorrentino’s “Loro”, a biopic of Italy’s flamboyant politician Silvio Berlusconi that was released in two installments, two weeks apart, “Love and Bullets”, an ultra-Neapolitan “Mafia musical” that won Best Picture at the Donatello Awards, and “The Place”, a multi-character drama and crowdpleaser that was one of the biggest local hits of 2017. Crime drama “On My Skin” looks like total Oscar bait and landed a plum slot in Venice but the film’s partnership with Netflix and its controversial online VOD release has upset a lot of people in the Italian film industry, so I think that’s out. My Top Five: “Lazzaro”, “Dogman”, “Loro”, “The Place” and “Daughter of Mine”. Next year, keep an eye out for “Capri-Revolution” set to debut in Venice and premiere in Italy in December.

12.  LUXEMBOURG- “Gutland” Luxembourg just announced the seven eligible finalists for their Luxembourg Film Prize, which is given out every two years and which will be awarded on September 22. Films must be majority Luxembourg productions. Two were released too early, two are in English and two are cartoons. That makes quirky “Gutland” (Toronto 2017) the obvious frontrunner. Starring Vicky Krieps (the breakout star of last year’s “The Phantom Thread”), this is a “Twin Peaks”-esque drama about a German thief who tries to hide out in a strange little Luxembourgian town. Luxembourg has chosen documentaries and animated films to represent them before. So, you can’t entirely count out the animated “White Fang” (based on the Jack London novel) which was made in both French and English versions (the English version features the voices of Paul Giamatti, Rashida Jones and Nick Offerman) or “Sixty8”, by Andy Bausch (possibly Luxembourg’s most popular local director), a documentary about the Grand Duchy in the counterculture 1960s.

13.   MALTA- “Fate” Tiny Malta has only submitted a film once but they have a number of Maltese-language films in the can scheduled to premiere over the course of the next year. I was hoping to predict quirky comedy “Limestone Cowboy”, about an eccentric old man obsessed with America, who decides to run for town mayor. Unfortunately, it looks like it never got a domestic release. So, I’m predicting “Fate” (Id-Destin), a new crime drama.

14.  THE NETHERLANDS- “Rafael” The Netherlands was the first European country to announce a shortlist, naming nine potential contenders. With the Dutch absent from nearly every major film festival this year, it was a list of films and directors that were relatively unknown outside of Holland. Three of these films can be eliminated right off the bat- three-hour medieval action movie “Redbad” has gotten terrible reviews at home, “Life is Wonderful” looks like an entertaining but silly rom-com and “Thirst”, a comedy-drama about a girl and her terminally ill mother, has no buzz and is a clear non-starter. Two others- gritty adolescent drama “Cobain” (Berlinale 14+) and Spanish-language road movie “Messi and Maud” (aka “La Holandesa”)- would also make surprising choices. The two frontrunners on the list are box-office hit historical drama “The Resistance Banker” and Ben Sombogaart’s upcoming “Rafael”. The Netherlands has always done best in this category when they choose historical dramas but the Dutch Academy insists on sending in modernist films, often showcasing social issues. That bodes well for “Rafael”, a drama by Ben Sombogaart (who directed the last Dutch Oscar nominee- “Twin Sisters”- more than a decade ago) about a Tunisian man imprisoned in a refugee camp while trying to get home to his pregnant Dutch wife. It’s doing an early release to get selected for the Oscars, which bodes well for its chances. “The Resistance Banker”, a true story about how two brothers helped bankroll the Dutch resistance during the Nazi occupation- might be a better choice, but it’s probably going to come second. The other two Dutch films on the shortlist- Middle Eastern drama “Brothers” and upcoming thriller “Catacombe”- are dark horses but they are unlikely to beat these Top Two.

15.  NORWAY- “The 12th Man” Since 2011, the Kingdom of Norway has announced a three-film shortlist. This year, Erik Poppe’s “U-July 22” and Iram Haq’s “What Will People Say” are almost guaranteed to take two of those spots. Both directors have been selected before and they faced off at last weekend’s Amanda Awards in the Best Picture, Director and Screenplay categories. “What Will People Say” won all three (it also beat the favorite- last year’s Oscar submission “Thelma”). I think the final shortlist spot will go to “The 12th Man”, creating an exciting three-way race. “What Will People Say” may have dominated the Amanda Awards, but this small drama about a Norwegian teenager forced to move to Pakistan by her immigrant parents is the least likely to appeal to American audiences. They’ll clearly prefer big-budget WWII resistance drama “The 12th Man”, about a Norwegian saboteur on the run from the Nazis. It co-stars Jonathan Rhys-Meyers but the trailer appears to be mostly in Norwegian and German. Erik Poppe’s “U-July 22” is a dramatization of Norway’s worst terrorist attack, by far-right terrorist Anders  Breivik in 2011. Told from the point of view of one student looking for her sister amidst the carnage, this will resonate with American audiences horrified by the recent spate of school shootings. It would be a divisive choice, and will likely place third, but all three of these films are incredibly close. Disaster movie “The Quake”, family drama “Blood Brothers” and eclectic music documentary “The Monkey and the Mouth” could theoretically “upset” one of those three to get onto the shortlist, but they wouldn’t have any chance at being selected.  

16.   PORTUGAL- “Soldier Millions” Portugal holds the record for the most Oscar submissions without a nomination (34) and is the only regularly submitting Western European country never to have made the Oscar shortlist. That looks unlikely to change this year. I originally thought Portugal would select one of two big historical dramas. Alas, splashy royal drama “Pedro & Ines” won’t premiere until October and the exotic 16th century “Pilgrimage”, about a Portuguese explorer travelling in the Far East has gotten fairly negative reviews. So, I predict Portugal will send WWI drama “Soldado Milhoes” (Soldier Millions), about a decorated war hero who fought off German troops to protect a squadron of Portuguese and British soldiers. That seems somewhat more likely than “Al Berto”, an LGBT-themed historical drama about a gay writer whose freedoms remain curtailed evenb after Portugal’s 1975 democratic revolution. It’s the only Best Picture nominee from Portugal’s Sophia Awards that is eligible this year. Also possible: Teresa Villaverde’s Berlinale drama “Colo”, about the country’s economic crisis, “Ruth”, a crowdpleasing football drama, popular action comedy “Bad Investigate” and talky crime drama “Leviano”, featuring a series of interviews shedding light on a complex murder plot. They could also choose a documentary like “In the Interstices of Reality” (Best Doc at the Sophia Awards) or “Saudade’s Labyrinth”, a documentary about the Portuguese psyche by the director of “Jose and Pilar”. Oscar watchers will remember that "Jose" was selected over potential nominee “Mysteries of Lisbon” a few years ago. My predictions for the Top Five: “Soldier Millions”, “Colo”, “Al Berto”, “Pilgrimage” and “Ruth”.

17.   SPAIN- “Todos lo saben” (Everybody Knows) Spain announced its three-film shortlist on August 14th, making this much easier for me. Spain is going through its worst-ever Oscar drought- 7 years without making the semifinals, and 14 years without getting an actual Oscar nomination. That means they are going to be less willing to take risks. This bodes well for two-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi, whose “Everybody Knows” starring Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Ricardo Darin, is the safest bet and the acknowledged frontrunner. Though some are saying that this melodrama about secrets being revealed at a family reunion isn’t Farhadi’s best, that didn’t stop “The Salesman” from winning an Oscar two years ago. Will the Spanish Academy choose a foreign director? That’s the only question mark, leaving the door open a crack for Basque-language drama “The Giant” and heartwarming comedy “Champions”. “Champions”, about a coach sentenced to do community service with a group of mentally challenged athletes, has arguably gotten better reviews than “Everybody Knows”, but Oscar rarely picks comedies. And Spain knows that. “The Giant” was the most awarded Spanish movie of 2017, but Western critics weren't as kind as Spanish ones. Many criticized the screenplay and said it’s very old-fashioned. Spain wants to win this, so Farhadi is the one. 

18.   SWEDEN- “Becoming Astrid” Sweden has made it to the shortlist five of the past ten years and has been nominated two years in a row. They only have a few contenders this year, and the two most likely options are weird Un Certain Regard winner “Border” and a more traditional biopic, “Becoming Astrid”. Lately, Sweden has tended to go more arthouse- in the past ten years, they’ve picked two old-fashioned dramas, three films that are more or less mainstream, and five somewhat pretentious arthouse flicks. I wouldn’t describe “Border” as pretentious like Roy Andersson or Ruben Östlund, but it’s a weird supernatural thriller about two Swedes with caveman-like features and an extraordinary sense of smell. It’s certainly original and the Cannes win is a big one. It's also the only Swedish-language film on the longlist for the European Film Awards. However, “Becoming Astrid” is less divisive, has overall stronger reviews and is definitely  more likely to appeal to Hollywood voters. It’s a biopic of Pippi Longstocking author Astrid Lindgren and Variety just called it a “gorgeous piece of heritage filmmaking”. Three other Swedish films could be selected- “Amateurs”, a comedy about multiculturalism in Sweden directed by a previously submitted director, “Jimmie”, a weird alternate reality drama that imagines Swedish refugees fleeing a domestic conflict, and “Ravens”, a family drama about a hardscrabble farmer family in the 1970s. Of these, the comedic “Amateurs” is most likely to break through. I predict “Astrid” reps Sweden with “Border” an incredibly close second.

19.   SWITZERLAND- “Eldorado” Switzerland became the first Western European nation to announce their Oscar pick on August 3rd. Unlike Turkey (see below), there's no way I would have predicted Switzerland correctly. The Swiss chose “Eldorado”, a documentary about the European migrant crisis contrasting current batch of African and Middle Eastern asylum seekers with director Markus Imhoff’s own memories of European refugees coming to neutral Switzerland during WWII. The Swiss Academy seems unusually attached to documentaries, as they’ve now selected four documentaries (plus one animated film) in the past six years.  I probably would have predicted “With the Wind” (Le vent tourne) about a peasant couple living in an isolated community whose relationship is disturbed by an unexpected visitor.  I also might have considered “Blue My Mind”, about a girl’s unusual journey through puberty, which won Best Picture at the Swiss Film Awards, or maybe LGBT football love story “Mario” which lost Best Picture but got stronger overall reviews.

20.  TURKEY- “The Wild Pear Tree” So, Turkey jumped the gun and announced “The Wild Pear Tree” before I had a chance to make my prediction, but this was an easy one to guess. This is Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s fifth time representing Turkey (more than any other director) and he’s the only Turkish director ever to get Turkey to the Final Nine. “Wild Pear Tree” was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and has gotten very good reviews. Although I have no desire to see this three-hour film about a prodigal son writer who returns to his home village, there was little doubt in my mind it would be selected. That was bad news for likely runner-ups “Butterflies” (Sundance), “Debt” (Winner of Best Turkish Film at the Golden Tulips) and “Yol Ayrimi” (the latest from semi-retired director Yavuz Turgul). Some expected Semih Kaplanoğu's "Grain", but that film is in English. 

21.   UNITED KINGDOM- “I Am Not A Witch” After a six-year absence, the UK returned to the Oscar competition in 2008 and has submitted films eight of the past ten years, representing a panoply of cultures ranging from Africa (2008) to the Middle East (2014 + 2016), from East Asia (2013) to the Subcontinent (2009, 2017) and from Latin America (2011), back to Britain itself (2015, set in Wales). This year, they are likely to send “I Am Not A Witch”, directed by Zambia-born, Wales-raised Rungano Nyoni, which played at Cannes Director’s Fortnight last year and shares the same innovative cinematographer with Oscar nominee “Embrace of the Serpent”. Set in Zambia, and mostly in the Bemba and Nyanja languages, it’s the story of a little girl accused of witchcraft in a traditional Zambian community. It has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and would represent Britain proudly. As for its competition, I don’t know of any Welsh-language features this year, and its main competitor on paper- Persian-language “Ghulam” starring Shahab Hosseini- (star of “A Separation”, “The Salesman”)- hasn’t been so well-received.

22.   CYPRUS- "Smuggling Hendrix" Cyprus is the only EU Member State and the only filmmaking country in Europe that has never entered the Oscar race. They produce about four films per year and this year, no less than three have received critical acclaimThey include drama “Pause” (Karlovy Vary) and two comedies about the absurdity of the island’s 40-plus year division into independent Greek and Turkish mini-states. Hopefully, this will be the year that Cyprus joins the competition with “Smuggling Hendrix” (Sarajevo) which won Best International Film at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. It’s about a man whose dog runs away from the Greek side to the Turkish side a few meters away, forcing him to launch a Kafkaesque mission to smuggle him back. The third film- “Sunrise in Kimmeria” probably has too much English, but I’m not certain.