Tuesday, December 4, 2007



Today, let's look at the 18 contenders from Asia and the Pacific. Although Asian films rarely get nominated by the Asia-phobic Academy Award committee, the submissions from these countries are often among the best films of the year. Unlike Western Europe, Asian countries often don't seem to understand (or, perhaps, care) what Oscar likes.

Again, we'll start with statistics:
Number of countries invited: 30
Number of countries submitting films: 18
Number of countries opting out: 12, namely Bhutan, Cambodia, Fiji, Malaysia and Sri Lanka (all of which have only ever submitted once), Kuwait and Tajikistan (twice each), Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Palestine (three times) and Nepal (four times). The most surprising omission is Kyrgyzstan, which sent a film last year and whose new "Pure Coolness", a drama about bride-kidnapping, is supposed to be quite good.

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: Lots of "dark horses", very few front-runners......Two-thirds of the films have a slight chance at a spot, but I'd be shocked if more than one makes it through.

Number of disqualifications: 2 Taiwan and Israel

TAIWAN's award-winning spy thriller "Lust, Caution" was ruled out because there was almost no Taiwanese input on the film besides director Ang Lee....This is completely true, but there was almost none on Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" either and that was accepted and went on to win..... ISRAEL's "The Band's Visit" was disqualified for having over 50% English dialogue, even though most of this was funny "gibberish English" used to show the difficulties of an Arabic-speaking band communicating with their Hebrew-speaking interlocutors in Israel. Both countries were allowed to choose new films.

Number of Languages Represented: 17. Arabic, Bangla, Bikol, Chinese (5 films in different varieties of Chinese), French, Hebrew, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Kurdish, Mongolian, Persian, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese (the films from Lebanon & Philippines were bilingual; the film from Australia is about 40% in English).

Country with the Best Shot at a Nomination: Everyone is predicting Korea or Lebanon, but I'll go out on a limb and say the best chances lie with Australia, whose comfortable 50% English-language track (barely qualifying!) will make subtitle-weary voters swoon.

Country with the Least Shot at a Nomination: The Philippines.

Number of Comedies: 2 (Lebanon and Singapore)

Number of Musicals: 1 (Singapore again!)

Oscar History: A dual citizen of Russia & Kazakhstan, Sergei Bodrov Sr., the director of "Mongol", was nominated in this category for Russia in 1997. Ang Lee, who was disqualified from representing Taiwan, had been nominated in this category three times (including one win) and also won the Best Director Oscar for "Brokeback Mountain".

China, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam have all garnered at least one Oscar nomination.

This year's selected directors from Hong Kong, India, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Korea and Thailand have all been chosen by their countries before.

Number of Female Directors: 1 (Just Lebanon)

Tough Choices: China was originally rumored to be sending "The Sun Also Rises"......but they didn't. They also foolishly decided against the surprisingly touching black comedy "Getting Home", which would have had a great chance for a rare Chinese nomination. Korea short-listed patriotic drama "May 18th" and arthouse fave Kim Ki-Duk's "Breath". Japan nixed Cannes runner-up "The Mourning Forest". Thailand has chosen Pen-Ek Rataruang three times, but didn't go with his new comedy "Ploy". Indonesia dumped its lavish, expensive Javanese opera "Opera Jawa" and Vietnam had to drop patriotic war film "The Rebel". And The Film Federation of India got sued by a rival director after choosing "Eklavya" over the better-reviewed "Dharm".

Familiar Faces: The most famous face here is Tadanobu Asano, dubbed into Mongolian, who stars as Genghis Khan in the Kazakhstani submission. Joan Chen co-starred in "Home Song Stories" (Australia), "Lust, Caution" (Taiwan's original pick) and "The Sun Also Rises" (a finalist for both China and Hong Kong, which did not get picked by either country). Ryo Kase (Letters From Iwo Jima) and Koji Yakusho (Memoirs of a Geisha) are co-leads in the Japanese submission. Jackie Shroff (India) is a well-known face in Bollywood. Although not very famous outside of Hong Kong, "Exiled" features local stars Anthony Wong, Nick Cheung, Simon Yam and Taiwanese singer Richie Ren. Kang-ho Song has starred in many of Korea's biggest exports, including the new "Secret Sunshine". And Intira Charoenpura (Nang-Nak, Brokedown Palace) is a familiar face in Thailand.

Number of countries I predicted correctly: Only 8 (Australia, Bangladesh, Israel, Korea, Lebanon, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam). Biggest surprise: Hong Kong's "Exiled" which premiered well over a year ago.

Now the countdown:


16. 881 (SINGAPORE)
14. ISLAND ETUDE (Taiwan)

These six Asian films have various problems that effectively make a nomination impossible. Singapore's film is too frenetic and campy....Iran's film too melodramatic. Philippines has sent a well-reviewed movie with low-production values. India has sent a film with nothing but good production values holding it together. Hong Kong has sent a well-reviewed gangster film, but shoot-em-ups are not what this committee likes to see. Nor is a pretty but meandering and mostly plotless Taiwanese road movie.

Let's start with what looks like the longest of longshots....SINGAPORE'S 881, a musical-comedy whose manic style is compared to a combination of "Kung Fu Hustle" and "Moulin Rouge". It was a huge hit at home, features a lot of local color from my favorite country in the world (really!!!) and is the first Singaporean film to be accepted by AMPAS. However, the over-the-top acting and Asian pop music is sure to baffle the committee.

It's never a good sign when a country itself disparages the film they have themselves selected......When the President of the Film Federation of INDIA announced that "Eklavya", a costume drama and box-office flop, had been selected he noted that he was embarrassed by the selection. A rival director, whose film had garnered much better reviews sued the Federation alleging favoritism and corruption in the voting. This is probably partly true, and despite its pretty sets, the tainted "Eklavya" is unlikely to advance......That said, "Eklavya" is not as bad a choice as most people think....It appears to have done better with Western audiences than Inian ones. IRAN's committee politely noted that they didn't think "M for Mother" was good enough for an Oscar nomination, but they felt it was important to be part of the competition. I applaud them for that. Anyway, "M for Mother", is a dour melodrama about an upper-class family torn apart after the birth of a handicapped child (birth defects due to the mother's exposure to chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War). The reviews simply aren't good enough.

Ditto for HONG KONG. "Exiled" was a well-reviewed gangster film to be sure, but it is what it is. Not even "Infernal Affairs" (remade as Oscar winner "The Departed" managed a nod in this category, so "Exiled" is SO not going to make it. And after TAIWAN was disqualified for "Lust, Caution", Taiwan so it's Oscar hopes disappear. "Island Etude", the story of a hearing-impaired young man bicycling around the island is supposed to make for a pretty travelogue and a cute story, but doesn't have enough of a plot for this category.

As for THE PHILIPPINES, "Donsol" is a quiet romantic drama about two lonely people who meet in a tourist village famous for whale sharks. Lots of beautiful underwater photography, but the filmmakers had no budget, and a "small" digital film like this is simply not going to make the finals.

11. THE KNOT (China)
10. ON THE WINGS OF DREAMS (Bangladesh)
9. JANI GAL (Iraq)

The problem for three of these films have gotten generally good reviews, but lack the wide support or international awards that get you to the next round in this sort of a competition. Iraq's film has barely been seen internationally and remained largely unknown.

INDONESIA'S "Denias" is a touching story, beautifully filmed in one of Indonesia's most remote and photogenic provinces, about a bright young boy from a rural tribe who endeavors to get an education. It got great reviews at home, but it's fairly formulaic and hasn't made any mark on the world stage.

CHINA's "The Knot" is a love story that spans six decades and two continents, from Taiwan to Mainland China to faraway Tibet and America. Sounds like Oscar bait, but China was one of the last countries to make their Oscar selection, largely because they couldn't figure out if any of their movies had a real chance at being chosen. "The Knot" is largely a melodrama and there's too much competition this year.

BANGLADESH is always an "also-ran" in this competition. However, this year's nominee "On the Wings of Dreams", about an impoverished family who believes their troubles are over when they find a large sack of foreign currency, is the first Bangladeshi film since "The Clay Bird" (in 2002) to win awards internationally (in Shanghai). I don't think the film has any chance in this category....it's probably better suited to Asian audiences....but it is definitely an improvement on the last few Bangladesh's cinematic selections.
IRAQ'S Kurdish drama is a real unknown quantity, which is why I am placing it in the middle of the rankings. It's absolutely amazing that Iraq can still produce films in the middle of the war, but they have submitted three years in a row now. This is the second submission made in the (mostly) peaceful Kurdish northern zone of Iraq. It's the story of a man who runs for the midwife when his wife goes into labor, and who is arrested on the way by the brutal national police who believe he has been involved in a political demonstration. He is jailed for ten years with no news of his wife and child. Released after ten years, he goes in search of them. It sounds Oscary for sure, but I predicted the Iraqi nominee would be shortlisted last year and it wasn't. The film could surprise, but production standards may not be high enough for this category.

8. BEAUFORT (Israel)
7. KING OF FIRE (Thailand)
6. MONGOL (Kazakhstan)

Three stories of war and invasion, two ancient and one modern.
"Beaufort" was ISRAEL's second choice, after "The Band's Visit" was disqualified. I actually think the Academy will like claustrophobic war film about Israeli troops stationed in Southern Lebanon.....However, the film does have its detractors and the film will probably fail to get enough "top votes" to secure a nomination. As I've said with other films, there's simply too much competition, and Israel didn't even think this was their best film of the year.
KAZAKHSTAN and THAILAND have sent two expensive epics that feature beautiful period costumes, amazing sets and exciting action. Thailand's is about "King Naresuan", one of Thailand's most celebrated kings. Kazakhstan's is a biopic of the young Genghis Khan. They'll easily score a lot of high-ranking votes from this committee, but I'm not confident they can make the shortlist. Higher-profile epic films like "House of Flying Daggers" and 'Devdas" (which were both beautifully made, but only okay films) and "Curse of the Golden Flower" (which was better) showed that this committee is not automatically dazzled by pretty sets. However, Kazakhstan's "Nomad" was rumored to have come close to a shortlist spot last year an both films are supposed to be surprisingly accessible. They're likely to get lost in the mix, but could surprise.

All of these movies definitely have their fans, (Korea & Lebanon in particular) and have a chance at getting the usual "Asian" slot on the shortlist/nominee list. (However, Asia is sometimes shut out completely; last year the unofficial "Asian" slot went to Canada's Hindi-language film).

5. SECRET SUNSHINE (South Korea)
4. I JUST DIDN'T DO IT (Japan)
3. CARAMEL (Lebanon)

As mentioned before, everyone is buzzing about "Secret Sunshine" and "Caramel". SOUTH KOREA is without a doubt the world's greatest film nation that has never been nominated in this category. Though they keep submitting Oscar-worthy films ("Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring", "The King & the Clown", "Oasis" etc.) they keep getting snubbed year after year. "Secret Sunshine" will probably end up missing out too, although it does have its fans. This award-winning drama (including Best Actress at Cannes) about a young widow trying to start a new life with her young son in her husband's hometown may be a little too slow for it's own good. (I haven't seen it yet but own the DVD).

Not sure why nobody is talking about JAPAN's film. I'd say it has at least as good a chance as the muchtalked about "Secret Sunshine". Masayuki Suo ("Shall We Dance?") has made a scathing indictment of the Japanese judicial system in which an innocent man (accused of groping a woman on the subway) has his future ruined by a system in which you are "guilty until proven innocent" (not officially....but in practice) and the judge loses face if you are not convicted. I think this may resonate with the committee. It is definitely a dark horse.

LEBANON has sent a light, romantic comedy about a Beirut beauty salon that has charmed audiences worldwide. Movies this "fluffy" generally do not make the finals, but they have in the past: "Everybody Famous", "Zus & Zo"......"Mediterraneo" even won. It is competing for the unofficial "fluff" slot with Switzerland. Incidentally, my friend from Beirut joked that an Oscar nomination for "Caramel" would shock and excite Lebanon so much it could potentially end the recent violence there.
VIETNAM, the only Southeast Asian nation to ever be nominated for an Oscar, is back in the running with "White Silk Dress" a beautiful (and long) epic drama following an impoverished family through the decades of the mid-20th century and their attachment to an "ao dai" dress- a prized family heirloom. High production values and just the right amount of melodrama (or maybe too much??) could potentially vault Vietnam to a shortlist spot for the second time.

That said, I really think that while all four of these films are Asia's best bets, they are all long-shots at best. All of them could easily be snubbed, which is a shame.


(Though still likely to be defeated by a slew of European films!)
Ironically, "Asia"'s best chance comes from a country from the Western world (like last year's Canadian film). "Home Song Stories" is an Australian film about immigrants from China. It is in a mix of Chinese & English and apparently just barely qualified as being "over 50%" in a foreign language. This bodes well. "Foreign-Language" films with a lot of English dialogue tend to do well in this category- view "The Wedding Banquet", "Merry Christmas", "No Man's Land" and "Four Days in September" and you'll see what I mean. On top of that, it's a good film. Starring well-known Chinese actress/director Joan Chen (also seen this year in "Lust Caution"), it is a semi-autobiographical story of a Chinese immigrant who brings her family to Australia when she marries an Australian man. She becomes romantically involved with an illegal Chinese immigrant who also has eyes for her eldest daughter. "Home Song Stories" has the best chance of any movie from the Asia-Pacific region to beat off the competition from the strong European contenders.
We'll soon find out if any of the Asians can advance this year! Although I haven't watched any of them yet, I've got the nominees from China, Hong Kong, India, Korea (as well as Japan, but sadly no subtitles) at home and have ordered the nominees from Australia, Singapore and Taiwan. Expect the nominees from Israel, Kazakhstan and Lebanon to soon get released in the West.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007



Today, let's look at the 18 contenders from Western Europe and Turkey. Fair or not, these countries have always contributed the bulk of Oscar nominees in this category. Is this because have the best films? Not really....But a lot of the Western European countries (especially France, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden) are savvy as to what this committee likes to see, i.e. heartwarming family dramas, sentimental comedies and World War II epics.

First, the statistics:

Number of countries invited: 18, plus Ireland who contacted the Academy to submit their first-ever film. All EU countries are now included, except Cyprus & Malta.

Number of countries submitting films: 18 out of 19

Number of countries opting out: Only one- Britain- whose London-based committee (under the auspices of BAFTA) has caused a huge controversy in Scotland, Wales and elsewhere by refusing to submit a film. This is especially odd because BAFTA launched an open call for submissions in July and received two eligible films who have both received critical acclaim at home and abroad. The producers of both films ("Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle", in Scottish Gaelic, and "Calon Gaeth" in Welsh) have cried foul and demanded an explanation. Despite an appeal to BAFTA, an official inquiry from AMPAS in Los Angeles to BAFTA, and the raising of the issue in the Scottish Parliament, BAFTA refused to reverse its decision, and refuses to give a reason why, citing confidentaility. Subsequent statements were quite childish, saying that they are not obligated to send a film if they didn't want to. "Seachd" would have been a dark horse to reach the shortlist...Although the film might not have made the nomination stage, the decision by BAFTA is absurd in its short-sightedness and is a major blow to the region's Celtic language cinema. The decision is certainly strange, and leaves Britain as the only Western European country completely out of the running.

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: 9

Number of Languages Represented: 15: Albanian (1), Danish (1), Dutch (2), Finnish (1), French (2), German (4), Greek (1), Icelandic (1), Irish Gaelic (1), Italy (1), Letzebuergsch (1), Norwegian (1), Spanish (1), Swedish (1), Turkish (2) (Germany & Greece sent multi-lingual entries, so numbers don't add up to 17)

Country with the Best Shot at a Nomination: SEE BELOW, although there are so many countries with a good shot!

Country with the Least Shot at a Nomination: A tie between the Netherlands and Sweden! (who both usually does so well!)

Number of Comedies: 4: Finland, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. Some might include Sweden, though the film really has no plot! And Finland, like always, sent a pretty "dry" kind of comedy.
Number of Horror Movies (?!): 1- Spain

Oscar History: Giuseppe Tornatore, the director of the Italian submission, won the Foreign Film Oscar for "Cinema Paradiso" in 1992. Petter Naess, representing Norway, got an Oscar nomination in 2002 for "Elling". The directors of the Austrian, Finnish, Icelandic, Portuguese and Swedish submissions have all been selected by their countries before, but have not gotten Oscar nominations.

14 of the 18 countries have been nominated before. Portugal, despite submitting films for four decades, has never been nominated. Turkey, which began submitting films in 1989, hasn't had any luck so far. Neither has Luxembourg (now competing for the 6th time) or Ireland (first timer).

Number of Female Dirctors: 3: France (one of two), Greece, Switzerland

Tough Choices: As always, France had the most to choose from, meaning that two Oscar-friendly biopics "La Vie en Rose" and "Moliere" had to be sacrificed to make room for "Persepolis"......Also, Belgium "X"ed " Isabelle Huppert's "Private Property"....Iceland may have chosen "Children" last year, but did not choose its companion piece/sequel "Parents"....Italy's "My Brother Is An Only Child" lost the nom by one vote....Norway was forced to snub Sami-language epic "The Kautokeiro Rebellion" (by another Oscar-nommed director).....And both Sweden & Finland chose not to submit forced-sterilization drama "The New Man", a co-production. And poor Ireland! After years of no Gaelic-language films, this year TWO were produced, forcing Ireland to choose "Kings" over black comedy "Graveyard Clay" for their first-ever submission.

Familiar Faces: Hanna Schygulla is in "Edge of Heaven".....Colm Meaney is in "Kings" (speaking Irish Gaelic!).....Ingvart Eggert Sigurdsson seems to be in nearly every Icelandic film and "Jar City" is no exception. Swedish actor Peter Stormare appears (usually in a towel) in Norway's "Gone With the Woman". And they may not show their faces, but you'll certainly recognize Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darrieux's voices in "Persepolis".

Number of countries I predicted correctly: Pretty damn good! 9 out of 18 (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden; For Ireland "Kings" was my alternate).....The late releases of the films from Belgium & the Netherlands caught me completely by surprise.

Film I'm most looking forward to seeing: Switzerland's "old-ladies selling lingerie" box-office smash comedy "Late Bloomers"

Now the countdown:
18. You, the Living (Sweden)
17. Duska (The Netherlands)
16. Belle Toujours (Portugal)
15. Eduart (Greece)

Okay....Greece (not nominated since 1978) and Portugal (which, despite nearly 30 submissions, has never been nominated) are used to being in the bottom tier....But it's unusual for The Netherlands and Sweden to be out of the running so early! "You, the Living" is an experimental sort of film- no linear plotline, just a bunch of semi-unrelated vignettes all vaguely connected to the meaning of life...or something. I didn't like Andersson's similar-themed "Songs from the Second Floor", and the Oscar committee will never go for Sweden's "Living" either. Greece's "Eduart" is supposed to be a decent enough film...But this "based-on-a-true -story" tale of redemption about a handsome male Albanian immigrant forced into prostution and who eventually confesses to the murder of an abusive client, is just not supposed to be good enough to be in the running for a nomination. The Netherlands usually knows what Oscar likes....But dark comedy "Duska" has gotten mostly awful reviews and doesn't stand a chance with the competition so tough this year. Portugal's Manoel DeOliveira is now 97 years old and can do whatever he wants. And he wanted to make a sequel to 1967 classic "Belle De Jour". So be it. However, this 70-minute film is likely to confuse those who have not seen (or can't remember ) the 40-year old prequel, and be viewed as sacrilege by those who have. Decent reviews, but not nearly good enough.


14. Belgium- Ben X
13. Finland- A Man's Job
12- Turkey- Takva, A Man's Fear of God
11. Ireland- Kings
10. Iceland- Jar City
Five well-reviewed films in this tier.....BELGIUM's Ben X won the Grand Prize in Montreal, but this story of adolescent angst about a borderline autistic teen bullied by his classmates and obsessed with video games is unlikely to appeal to Oscar's older voters. TURKEY's religious drama, "Takva", is supposed a deep movie about a quiet and deeply religious man living a peaceful (almost hermetical) life who is promoted to a position of authority in is local mosque. He is then confronted which more "worldly" problems and learns that even the local religious authorities are tainted by the materialism and sinfulness of society. Is it an indictment of organized religion? Is it showing us the folly of blind faith? This films ask all these questions, but offers no easy answers....Probably too deep and divisive for this committee. IRELAND is submitting for the first time with Irish immigrant tale "Kings", about a group of Irish friends who emigrate to London to seek employment and who are reunited years later for the funeral of one of the group. It's based on a play, and this is said to be very apparent in the film-making and screenplay....FINLAND is back in the race after being disqualified last year....not by the Academy but by the diva-esque behaviour of Aki Kaurismaki who asked for his film to be removed from consideration at the last-minute (purposefully timing his announcement so that it was too late for Finland to choose an alternate film). The Finns have made a brave choice, choosing a wry comedy-drama about gender roles, when a buff, 40-something married man turns to prostitution after being laid off from work. Finland's film is reportedly a very good one, though not always easy to watch, as the protagonist becomes involved with a series of unusual "customers". And while the Academy has shown an appreciation for dark "sad" Scandinavian comedy (unfortunately, they chose to honor "The Man Without a Past", one of the worst of the genre), I don't think this will be their year. Still it's one of the films I most want to see on this year's list. ICELAND went with well-reviewed DNA thriller "Jar City". Nobody seems to have a bad word to say about it, but Oscar doesn't usually go for thrillers and I am convinced it is out of the running by one blogger who likened it to a "very good episode of Cold Case". Ouch. If they didn't nominate Iceland's overlooked masterpiece "The Sea" (by the same director) they likely won't go for "Jar City" either.

Dark Horses:
9. The Orphanage (Spain)
8. Small Secrets (Luxembourg)

Now we start to get to the films that have a chance.....Yes, I know that a lot of people are predicting SPAIN's "The Orphanage" to be a LOCK for a nomination, or even win....But I highly doubt it. The film will be lucky if it gets a spot on the 9-film shortlist. Maybe it will. However, remember that although the film got good reviews, it's not nearly as high-profile or as well-liked as last year's Spanish-language horror "Pan's Labyrinth", and horror movies face an uphill battle at the Oscars. Shortlist? Possibly. Nomination? Absolutely not.

As much as people are buzzing about "The Orphanage", I think it will be bested in the voting by one of the list's LEAST buzzed about films- LUXEMBOURG's sleeper coming-of-age story, "Small Secrets". It's definitely got everything this committee usually likes.....Local flavor, cute pre-teens and a lot of nostalgia. In the end, "Secrets" will probably be too "small" for a nomination, but it will probably do a lot better than anyone expects.

7. Gone With the Woman (Norway)
6. Late Bloomers (Switzerland)

In between the stories about surviving the Holocaust, Communism, child abuse, gang violence, Islamic terrorism and the Balkan wars, this committee has still seen fit to nominate light comedies ranging from the brilliant (Amelie) to the inexplicable (Everybody Famous!, which while not a BAD movie by any means, is definitely not an Oscar-caliber film) and somewhere in-between (the boring Elling and the cleverly mean-spirited Zus & Zo). This year, Norway & Switzerland are fighting for the light-comedy slot (along with Lebanon's much-buzzed about beauty salon comedy Caramel). Films like these are fun and probably get very few "super-low" scores from Oscar's panel, unlike some more divisive "love-it-or-hate-it" dramas.

Old ladies selling raunchy underwear! If that intrigues you, you'll probably love Switzerland's "Late Bloomers", starring 87-year old Stephanie Glaser as a widow who becomes the talk of the town wen she opens a lingerie shop in her conservative village. The director of the Oscar-nominated "Elling" Petter Naess returns with a gender-differences comedy about a man who falls in love with a domineering woman. I did not like "Elling" at all- but supposedly Oscar ate it up, perhaps indicating they like this director's style.

5. Edge of Heaven (Germany)
4. Persepolis (France)
On paper, both of these films should be front-runners, which is why I am ranking them so high. France & Germany have an amazing record in this category (In the past 10 years, Germany managed 2 wins & 5 nominations. France managed 5 nominations plus one shortlisted film). However, deep down, I think that both of them will miss out on the shortlist..... Why?

Germany's "Edge of Heaven" is too bleak and divisive. Germany had a very weak film year, and though this film won awards and critical raves, it is not what Oscar traditionally "likes", and I think Germany knows it. A young German-Turk goes back to the family homeland to find the daughter of his father's mistress. It's possible the committee might bite. We'll see.

France's "Persepolis" has gotten even better reviews, and even more buzz than Germany's film. It's the topical, funny, sad and touching story of a little girl growing up during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Made by a female Iranian emigre in France, and based on a comic book, it has made Iran furious, and the Iranian Embassy managed to get the film pulled from the Bangkok Film Festival. Other than Teheran's mullahs, people adore it. Its main hurdle is that although it is definitely a film for "adults", it still is very definitely "animated". Can this committee get past that? Or will voters decide to vote for it for Animated Film instead? If any country can do it, it's France....But keep in mind that it's those rare times when France goes "wacky" instead of "traditional" (the sublime musical "8 Women"....lesbian comedy "Gazon Maudit") that they DON'T get nominated. If they can manage to make the shortlist of nine, they could be nominated easily....But that's not a guarantee from a committee that scorned even Miyazaki films.

3. DENMARK- The Art of Crying
2. ITALY- La Sconosciuta
Although not as high-profile as "Persepolis" or "Edge", these two films will probably beat them in the rankings.
Italy & Denmark haven't done well in this category lately; in the past 10 years, only 2 noms, (1 win) for Italy, and just one (last year). But historically, they are both strong.
Giuseppe Tornatore already won this award for ITALY with "Cinema Paradiso" in 1989, and there's no reason to believe Oscar has developed a distaste his work. This tale of a mysterious trafficked Ukrainian girl with a secret past who works for a wealthy Italian family is just Oscar's cup of tea.
As for DENMARK, it's one of the best reviewed of a series of coming-of-age drama about precocious teens and pre-teens (also from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cuba, Estonia, France, Indonesia, and Luxembourg and Venezuela). The darker subject matter may turn off some people (as it apparently did with Denmark's brilliant-but-unnominated The Celebration) but I think this film will give Denmark it's second nom in a row. It's the story of an 11-year old in rural Denmark trying to deal with the difficulties of his extremely dysfunctional family.

1. AUSTRIA- (The Counterfeiters)

From Western Europe (and possibly the whole world), the closest thing to a lock for an Oscar nomination is Austria's "The Counterfeiters". Why?

1. Although reviews were merely "very good" in Europe, American critics have really been loving this story about a group of Jewish prisoners forced by the Nazis to counterfeit foreign currency before the outbreak of WWII. By doing so, they get to live in "luxury" in the prison; if they refuse, they face abuse and more "standard" prison conditions.

2. As is well known, the Oscar Foreign Film committee LOVES movies even remotely related to Nazis and/or World War II. They also love "moral dilemmas" and movies in German.
3. Strong performances and a good story (i.e. what the award SHOULD be given for)
4. I actually don't think this committee thinks in terms of countries or directors being DUE when choosing what score to rate a film (they have to choose a number between 6 and 10). However, Austria is certainly DUE. Despite a burdgeoning film industry, they have only been nominated in this category once, although it is reckoned they have come close on a number of occasions. Probably the closest was Stefan Ruzowitzky's The Inheritors in 1998....by the same director as this film.
NEXT: Coming in December: My favorites! The films from Asia & the Pacific!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Official list out! Contenders from Latin America


Well, the official list finally came out in mid-October, and 63 countries have been officially accepted as official candidates for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

I did pretty good on my predictions....Now let's see if we can figure out which of the national submissions will make the 9-film shortlist in January.

Today, let's look at 12 contenders from North and South America.

First, the statistics:

Number of countries invited: 17

Number of countries submitting films: 12

Number of countries opting out: 5 (Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua) Three of these countries have not sent a film to the Academy in over ten years.

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: Only 3

Number of Languages Represented: 4: Spanish (9 films), French (1 film- Canada), German (1 film- Mexico), Portuguese (1 film Brazil)

Country with the Best Shot at a Nomination: Brazil
Country with the Least Shot at a Nomination: Bolivia, which was disqualified for some unknown reason. Even when it was in the running, I had it ranked 11th out of 12 films.

Number of Comedies: 4: Canada, Chile, Puerto Rico and Uruguay, though most are fairly "dramatic comedies"

Oscar History: Canada's Denys Arcand has been nominated in this category three times, with one win.

Number of Female Directors: 2 (Argentina and Venezuela)

Tough Choices:
Brazil and Mexico both faced the same dilemma....Should they choose the film that had been the best received at home? Or the film that had the best chance to win an Oscar nomination? Brazil wisely chose Oscar-friendly "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation" over popular local favorite "Tropa de Elite", which probably would not have satisfied Oscar voters.....Mexico went the opposite route, choosing critical darling "Silent Light" over the baity "La Misma Luna".
Argentina had a great film year....To a lesser extent, so did Cuba.

Familiar Faces: Ricardo Darin stars as the father in Argentina's "XXY", Cecilia Roth co-stars as a dying man's daughter-in-law in the Chilean "Padre Nuestro", USA TV comedian Luis Guzman stars in Puerto Rico's "Maldeamores", (which is executive produced by Benicio del Toro), American singer Rufus Wainwright and German actress Diane Kruger co-star in Canada's French-language "Days of Darkness".

Number of countries I predicted correctly: 6 (Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Uruguay, and Venezuela.....For Mexico and Puerto Rico, I had the winner in 2nd place)

Film I'm most looking forward to seeing: Chile's "Padre Nuestro"

Now the analysis....Remember, just because a film isn't likely to get nominated by Oscar, doesn't mean it's not a great film! I try and see as many as possible.

No realistic chance at a nomination:
12. Bolivia (Los Andes no creen en Dios) Official Site
11. Peru (Una Sombra al Frente) Official Site

Both of these period dramas (both set in the early 20th century) are said to be very well-photographed, but somewhat lacking in what we in America might call "oomph". In another words, a tad slow and maybe a little dull.....In "Los Andes", a young Bolivian emigre who has been living in France returns to his native country and moves to a small mining town. "Sombra" is a biography of a leading Peruvian engineer (and grandfather of the director). Neither film has managed to get reviews indicative of an Oscar nominee, nor win awards internationally. Still, I applaud countries like Peru and Bolivia for entering the competition year after year because it does get their films seen by a wider audience. Last year, the Bolivian entry ("American Visa") was one of my favorites of the competition.
UPDATE: Bolivia's "Los Andes no Creen en Dios" was disqualified by the Academy. Anybody know why?

10. Colombia (Satanas) Official Site
9. Venezuela (Postcards From Leningrad) Official Site
8. Puerto Rico (Maldeamores) No official site
7, Chile (Padre Nuestro) Official Site

These four Spanish-language films will probably all have some fans, but problems of genre and style will keep them from getting very far in this competition, especially with so many more high-profile European films pitted against them. From Chile, comes "Padre Nuestro" a black comedy/farce about a family trying to find their dying father, who has just escaped from his hospita room. The trailer looks hilarious and the films looks like great fun. From Colombia, comes the well-reviewed, multi-character "Satanas", a 1980s-set crime drama whose graphic violence will likely be too much for Oscar. From Puerto Rico, comes "Maldeamores" (Lovesickness), a comedy-drama telling three stories about love....between children, between adults and between the elderly. It's been well-received but, like Chile, its subject is probably much too lightweight to be nominated. Last is Venezuela's stylish but political "Postcards From Leningrad", about children growing up in he 1960s among revolutionary guerillas. Cute children and a weighty subject matter are definitely a draw, but I'm guessing the film may be a little too political to appeal to this committee. All four of them are real long-shots.

Dark Horses:
6. Uruguay- "The Pope's Toilet" No official Site
5. Mexico- "Silent Light" Official Site
4. Canada- "L'age des Tenebres" (Days of Darkness) Official Site
Don't kill the messenger, but "Silent Light" (Stellet Licht) is probably not going to get nominated. I know this film has some extremely vocal people behind it, and I know that a lot of people are pulling for it. That said (and I have not seen the movie), this German-language story about forbidden love in a Mennonite religious community in Mexico is, by all accounts, too inaccessible and divisive to be recognized for an Oscar. With the way the voting is done, "love-it-or-hate-it" films don't stand a chance.....You have to have a high "average rating", and too many people dislike the film and Carlos Reygadas' style in general. "The Pope's Toilet" (El Bano del Papa), from Uruguay, is more difficult to categorize. It's a tragi-comedy about an impoverished and fervently Catholic town whipped into a frenzy when they find out the Pope will be coming to visit. This kind of a comic drama can often score points with Oscar, and Uruguay has come close to a nomination before....I'm not confident the film is good enough, but it should not be counted out entirely. As for Canada, Denys Arcand has had his films submitted to the Academy three times- and racked up an impressive three nominations (and one win for "The Barbarian Invasions") However, his latest intellectual comedy, a fantasy about a bored civil servant and his vivid imagination, is simply not supposed to be up to the same standard as his earlier films. Thus all three of these films have an uphill climb to reach a spot on the short-list.

Shortlist Possibilities:
3. ARGENTINA- XXY Official Site
2. CUBA- The Silly Age (La Edad de la Peseta) Official Site

Now we get to the real contenders...."La edad de la Peseta"
stars an acclaimed Spanish actress as a Cuban grandmother who is suddenly tasked with taking care of her 10-year grandson in 1950s Cuba. Good reviews, good actors, light period drama, and a "Kolya"-type relationship are well-known to charm Oscar voters and could see this small film sneak into the Top Nine. Cuba has not been nominated since 1995. "XXY" is less traditional Oscar fare, but its supposed to be very good and Argentina (not nominated since 2002) is always a serious contender. The difficult life of a 15-year old hermaphrodite and her relationship with her parents is handled deftly with humor, sentiment and serious drama in this film, which has won a number of awards internationally. This may not be a subject this committee is necessarily comfortable with, but the film definitely has a shot at the shortlist.

Major Contender: 1. BRAZIL, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias) Official Site

There is no stronger candidate from the Americas this year than Brazil's "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation". Set against the background of the 1970 World Cup and the Brazilian military dictatorship, a 10-year old boy is left alone by his parents for reasons he does not understand. Besides critical acclaim, this movie has everything that the Oscar committee likes- it's heartwarming and sentimental, it has young children, its historical, it has excitement, music, an ethnic factor Americans can relate to, and it doesn't run too long....Negatives? Well, it probably isn't the best film in the running....But as for Oscar bait, it's 110%. It's not a lock for a nomination, but it's close to being one for the shortlist.
But I could be completely wrong since I haven't seen any of these films yet! I'm going solely by buzz and reviews (which I think makes me more neutral!).....
Feel free to comment to agree or disagree....Happy viewing.
Next we will review the contenders from Western Europe.