Monday, August 20, 2007

Foreign Film Oscar Submissions 2007: Predictions AFGHANISTAN to ISRAEL

Well, it's that time of year again....Every year, (almost) all of the world's nations are contacted by Oscar and asked to submit their best foreign-language picture of the year (no English-language films allowed). The list DOES NOT ALWAYS represent the best in world cinema (last year's two best foreign films were both Japanese but neither was selected by the Japanese Academy!), but it does provide an interesting look at what each country (or at least their selection committee...) deems a superior film. For years, I have used the list to guide what I see during the year, and have seen some gems I never would have seen otherwise....

Here are my predictions of what will be on the list this year. Like the Academy itself, I consider every nation equal, i.e. Belarus and Fiji are highly unlikely to submit a film for consideration, but they have submitted in the past, so they are included here.

In this blog entry are the first half of 50(of 100 countries), including Afghanistan to Israel. More to come:

AFGHANISTAN- (Last submission: 2004) With Siddiq Barmak (Osama)’s new film still not ready, it seems likely they will send “Zolykha's Secret”, about a family trying to make ends meet under Taliban rule. Another possibility is “Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame”, about a 6-year old girl in Bamiyan. “The Kite Runner”, which is in Dari, is not an Afghan production.



ALBANIA- (Last submission: 2001) Albania seems to have lost interest in this category. Their only major film this year is “Father and Grandfather”, about an Albanian village in the 1930s.






ALGERIA- Algeria received their fourth-ever nomination last year for Indigenes. The pre-eminent Algerian film on the festival circuit this year, “Barakat!”, a story of female friendship, won major awards in Cairo and Ouagadougou, but I believe it was released too early. The same goes for “Bled Number One”. Because of that, I’m going to predict they go with “Morituri”, a film about the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism, an issue that has polarized Algerian society for two decades. Possible: “The Yellow House”, a slice-of-life Berber drama that played at Locarno. But will Algeria want a ethnic minority film representing them? Less likely: “Paloma Delight”, a well-received comedy about the madam of a brothel and “Rome Rather Than You” a slow road movie.

ARGENTINA- As always, Argentina has plenty to choose from. I think they’ll choose “City in Heat”, a comedy-drama about three friends bonding after the suicide of a fourth friend. Also very Oscary are “Stray Girlfriend” (Cannes/Toronto) about a woman determined not to give up on her romantic vacation, even after her boyfriend leaves her in the middle of it, “A Wrecked Filmmaker” focuses on the foibles of film-making and “XXY” is about a young teenage hermaphrodite (won the Grand Prize in Bangkok). “El Otro” got mixed reviews, but screened at Berlin like last year’s submission “Family Law” (which handily beat the much-better regarded “Cronica de una Fuga”, loudly touted as a potential Oscar winner) and also at Moscow. Possible but unlikely: the picturesque “A Star & Two Coffees”, gay interest drama “La Leon” and Patagonian drama “Born & Bred”. Wild card: the yet to be released “Resultatdo del amor”, about a woman who discovers she has HIV (by the previously submitted director of Dark Side of the Heart) and dramedy ”Graduated”.

ARMENIA (Last submission: 2003). Production is down in Armenia; this year’s Golden Apricot Film Festival did not feature a single Armenian fiction feature. However, Vigen Chaldranian (whose “Symphony of Silence” was Armenia’s first-ever submission in 2001) has a new film out this year called “The Priestess”, an expensive historical drama about a woman with amnesia who recalls a past life. It's likely to enter the race.

AUSTRALIA (Has submitted 3 times) submits films on the rare occasions when they have an eligible feature film not in English. Depending on exactly how much English there is, they may choose “The Home Song Stories”, a co-production with Singapore about Chinese immigrants to Australia (it's about half and half). Australia sent the similarly themed “Floating Life” in 1996. Less likely: Japanese-English comedy "Academy".

AUSTRIA- Poor Austria has not been nominated for an Oscar in 20 years despite a steady output of quality films. This year, I predict they go with “The Counterfeiters”, a high-profile film about real-life Nazi counterfeiters, which has been representing Austria at a number of international film festivals. “Import/Export”, the story of a Ukrainian immigrant will surely come in a close second since the Austrian Academy chooses immigrant stories for their national submissions as often as not. Mean-spirited “Slumming” premiered over a year ago, but wasn’t released in Austria until November so it also may be eligible. The other two major contenders, “Der Vaterspiel” and “Nordwand”, may not premiere in time. Dark horses with a shot: “Forever Never Anywhere” a comedy about three men trapped in a luxury car, “Just Before”, a human trafficking drama and “Heile Welt”, about a group of adolescents. Unlikely (but sounds like so much fun!): well-reviewed horror-comedy “On Deadly Ground”

AZERBAIJAN (Never submitted; First invited: 2006) In 2006, Azerbaijan became the twelfth of the 15 ex-Soviet republics to be invited to the Oscar party. If they submit for the first time this year, they will likely go with “Good Bye Southern City”, which played at Berlin. It’s a dreary drama about the residents of an apartment building in the Azeri capital, Baku. In what may be a record, six of screenwriter Rustan Ibragimbekov’s (an Azerbaijani) last seven films were submitted in this category, for no less than five different countries (Estonia, France, Kazakhstan, Russia and the USSR). These films received no less than THREE nominations. Also possible: comedy “Three Girls”.

BANGLADESH (Has submitted three times) “On the Wings of Dreams”, involving a poor family who finds a large cache of foreign currency, has played at a number of international film festivals including Rotterdam and Sofia and won a rare award in Shanghai, automatically making it the front-runner. It faces competition from local hit “Made in Bangladesh”, a hostage drama. Also: the surreal “A Fairy Tale”

BELARUS- (Last submission: 1996) Production is up in Belarus, but the government’s strongly anti-Western stance means that an Oscar submission is still highly unlikely. Their big patriotic movie, “Shield of Fatherland” probably won’t be released before the cut-off date. Their highest profile film is “New Years in July”, a children’s film which combines live action and animation. Also: “Temptation”, which played at their national film festival.

BELGIUM is always one of the hardest countries to predict because they have TWO distinct national film boards. A large percentage of the Flemish-language productions are co-productions with the Netherlands, and a large percentage of the French-language productions are co-productions with France. So, it’s difficult to say which films are eligible as “Belgian”. Adding to the confusion, the Belgian Oscars did not take place this year. From the Flemish side, I’m going to go out on a limb and say they go with adolescent drama “With Friends Like These” or alternately “Khadak”, a Mongolian-language film by two Belgiuandirectors that has gotten a lot of acclaim (it’s also my prediction for Mongolia). Also looking to represent Flanders, boxing comedy “A Chicken is No Dog” (by the director of Belgium’s last Oscar nominee), and rock-n-roll comedy “Ex-Drummer”. Less likely: romantic comedy “A Perfect Match” starring Oscar favorite Jan DeCleir. From Wallonie (the French-speaking part), they have Alain Berliner’s (My Life in Pink) musical “Gone for a Dance” and testosterone-laden adventure “Horse Thieves” (the only Belgian film to compete in Brussels), but neither got especially good reviews. So, from the French part, I’m going to predict Isabelle Huppert’s latest family drama “Private Property”. Also possible: “My Son”, about a dysfunctional family, or another ethnic tale- the Belgian produced, African-set drought drama “Sounds of Sand”. Dark horse: yet to be released Flemish thriller “Small Gods”. In conclusion: I expect “Private Property” to get the nomination followed by “Dance”, the two foreign-set dramas (“Sand”, and “Khadak”) and “Friends”

BHUTAN (Only submission: 1999) For a country of its small size, Bhutan has a very successful local industry, producing about a dozen or so films each year. However, only three films have ever been made that are up to international standards; the first, The Cup, was submitted in 1999. They don’t have any major films this year. The stand-out and National Film Award winner is “49th Day” a supernatural drama about a dead woman whose restless spirit tries to rescue her imperiled daughter.

BOLIVIA- Their most likely choice is the beautifully photographed “The Andes Don’t Believe in God”, a 1920s period drama about a man traveling to small mining town. However, Bolivia went wacky last year, and I wouldn’t count out the bizarrely surreal comedy “Who Killed the White Llama”, by previously submitted director Rodrigo Bellott, which features llama murder, a pair of gay American tourists and smuggling drugs in body cavities. I know which one I’d rather see!

BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA- Bosnia’s small cinema industry has managed a surprisingly high market share at home in recent years, in addition to winning the Foreign Oscar in 2002. Croatian co-production “Armin” would be a likely choice, but I think Croatia will submit it instead. “It’s Hard To Be Nice”, which just had its international premiere as the Opening Film at the Sarajevo Film Festival, stands the best chance. Also possible: “Mom and Dad”, about the lives of an elderly couple (has appeared at a number of festivals), “All For Free”, a comedy-drama about a man who decides to dedicate his life to giving away his meager belongings and refugee documentary “Carnival”.

BRAZIL- It’s been a relatively slow year in Brazilian cinema, and the standout has been “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation”. Set against the vibrant backgrounds of military dictatorship, the 1970 World Cup and Brazil’s Jewish community, the film features a lonely little boy pining for his parents, and won Awards in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. If that’s not Oscar bait, I don’t know what is! If not, there are two other likely contenders. The first is “City of Men”, a sort-of spinoff of the acclaimed "City of God" (which was famously NOT nominated in this category). It’s not a sequel like IMDB says, but rather a less violent spin-off of a TV series, set in the same township, and featuring some of the same cast and crew. The second is “Suely in the Sky”, about a woman who holds a raffle in which she is the prize. Likely to be finalists: Youth drama “Forbidden to Forbid” which has won a lot of local awards, “Not By Chance” featuring a number of characters looking for love, “Slightly Out of Tune”, about a bossa nova band, and “Alice’s House” a family drama. All have garnered positive notices. Human trafficking and sexual exploitation feature prominently in the dark “Happy Desert” (Berlin) and “Bog of Beasts” (Rotterdam), but I think they’re too grim for Brazil. Dark horse: “Drained”, a comedy about a backfiring toilet that won the top prize in Sao Paulo. Also-rans: rural drama “Mutum” (Toronto), the comic “Twelve Labours” and minimalist “Stray Dogs” (which won in Recife).

BULGARIA- In a slow year, “Investigation”, a murder mystery that was released late last year, would seem to be Bulgaria's most likely candidate. It won the main award at the Sofia Film Festival. Also possible: “Warden of the Dead” has won some regional and local awards; “Night and Day” features a mother and son in rural Bulgaria; and “My Friends Call Me Old Chap” features a man released from prison. “Christmas Tree Upside Down” is a worthy competitor, though its early festival release probably makes it ineligible. “Which Way Today” was well-received at home, but it’s the “20 years later” sequel to a film nobody on the committee is likely to have seen. “Seamstresses” has so far not been released.

BURKINA FASO (Only submission: 1990) usually prides itself on being one of the cinematic capitals of Africa, yet they have only entered the Oscar competition once, and that was almost twenty years ago. As usual, they premiered some well-received films at the Ouagadougou Pan-African Film Festival. None of them won any awards, but the most Oscary was definitely “Djanta” about a bright young woman seeking to avoid an arranged marriage. There’s also, “Code Phoenix” about an attempted coup, and “Life is a Ballet”, about a singer who is widowed.
CAMBODIA- (Only submission: 1994) The Cambodian film industry produces mostly low-budget, low-quality films for the local market. Only Rithy Panh manages to get distributed overseas. Most prominent this year is “Staying Single When?”, a romantic comedy, box-office hit, and the first feature by Cambodia’s independent film company Khmer Mekong, whose young founders are applying to international film festivals and actively trying to increase national production standards. Also: the as-yet-unreleased “To Speak”, a co-production with Australia and Singapore.
CANADA- All three of Canada’s French-language Oscar nominations have belonged to Denys Arcand, including Canada’s single win in 2004. So, it seems likely they will choose black comedy “The Age of Ignorance”, even though reviews have been mixed. It’s not scheduled to premiere till the end of the year in Canada, but it’s gotten some festival play (including Cannes & Toronto), so an Oscar-qualifying run is a strong possibility. Last year’s Jutra Awards (Quebec Oscars) mostly went to “Congorama”, which straddles the release date. I’m not sure if it’s eligible. If “Age” is not released in time and “Congo” was released too early, Canada may choose the wry “Little Book of Revenge”, or “Mona’s Daughters”, about two sisters trying to cope after their mother’s death. Also possible are mystery-thriller “Against All Hope” or “Our Private Lives”, about a budding relationship on the Internet. If they decide to go ethnic like year, they have “Amal”, a Canadian-produced comedy set in India, about a kindly but poor low-caste man who receives a giant inheritance from a millionaire. “Fugitive Pieces” would seem very likely if it’s primarily in a foreign language. The film follows a WWII refugee from Poland to Greece to Canada.

CHAD- (Only submission: 2002) “Daratt” has been playing internationally this year. It is by the same director of Chad’s only previous submission, 2002’s “Abouna”.





CHILE has less to choose from than usual this year. I’m going to predict they go with dark horse “Caleuche”, a well-reviewed horror film which was executive produced by Guillermo (Pan’s Labyrinth) DelToro. In second place: “Fiesta Patria”, about a family reunion where secrets are revealed; it sounds a lot like Denmark’s shamelessly NOT nominated “Celebration”. In third position: “Padre Nuestro”, about a dying man who decides he wants to die at home with family instead of the hospital. Two other major contenders probably won’t be released in time- Chile’s most expensive film ever- “El Brindis” (The Toast) which is scheduled for December (although IMDB claims it has been released already) and “All-Inclusive”, which features an all-star cast.

CHINA- In the last five years, China has selected five big-budget epics replete with martial arts and emperors, period costumes and pretty scenery. They’ve ranged from artful (the Oscar-nominated Hero) to overblown (The Promise) to somewhere in between (Curse of the Golden Flower, which I actually really liked, and the lesser House of Flying Daggers). However, the overwhelming majority of China’s film output consists of low-budget dramas about ordinary modern life in the cities and the countryside. China hasn’t selected one of these since 2000 when the quiet Gong Li drama Breaking the Silence was overshadowed by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon from rival Taiwan. China has come under some domestic criticism for choosing “Western-style” epics instead of more authentically Chinese stories (http://www.dianying.com/en/news/view/326). I can’t think of one big-budget option this year, so they seem to have no choice than to go with a smaller-scale film. Which of their wire-fu-deficient stories will the still-very-political Chinese Academy choose? A half-dozen stick out, although it should be noted that the director will have to apply in order to be selected. The front-runner is biography “The Go Master”, about a champion at the chess-like game of go, which has achieved some degree of popularity in Asian countries (less so at Western festivals). Another biography, this time of Chinese Nationalist leader Sun Yat-Sen, (a hero in both Mainland China and Taiwan) “Road to Dawn” is also a contender. It stars Winston Chao, of The Wedding Banquet. The succinctly titled “The Park” (father-daughter relationship), “The Knot” (a family history spanning Mainland China, Taiwan and the USA), Joan Chen’s “The Sun Also Rises” and “Bliss” (a family drama set in Central China) are the front-runners among the family dramas. Two popular dark horses: black comedy “Getting Home”, about a man trying to bring his dead friend’s body back to his village and body parts thriller “The Case”. All within the realm of possibility: Cannes dramas “Night Train” and “Blind Mountain”, Shanghai Fest dramas “An Appointment With Life” or “Teeth of Love”, Moscow’s “Lost in Beijing” (with Tony Leung), ethnic Hmong drama “I Want to Dance”, rural people in the big cities in “The Exam” or “Distance”, post-Cultural Revolution story “Western Trunk Line”, and “One Foot Off the Ground”, about a financially troubled theatre troupe. Unlikely: The as-yet untested “Blood Brothers” is closing Venice, but I doubt China will choose a movie directed by an Overseas Chinese. No chance in hell: the acclaimed “Still Life”, whose anti-dam message will not be appreciated. Predictions for Top Eight: (in order) Road to Dawn, The Knot, The Go Master, Getting Home, Bliss, Lost in Beijing, Teeth of Love, and The Park.

COLOMBIA- A few films from Colombia have a chance this year…The most likely is “Satan”, three inter-connected stories set against the violent background of the “Pozzetto Massacre” (whatever that is), which has gotten excellent reviews and played in Miami. In 2nd place: “The Colombian Dream”, a comedy-drama and one of two South American films narrated by an aborted child this year (see Venezuela)! 3rd place: “Bluff” a quirky comedy-thriller involving sex, blackmail and murder. Less likely, but still in the running: PVC-1, a disturbing kidnapping drama filmed in one take, which played at Cannes Director’s Fornight (it’s rare Colombian films reach this level). Dark horses: “Espectro” a thriller about an agoraphobic woman, “When the Waves Break” about a little boy exploring his grandmother’s house and USA co-production “Gringo Wedding

CONGO-KINSHASA- (Only submission: 1997)- The front-runner would appear to be “Kinshasa Palace”, a docu-drama by the director of Congo’s previous submission ten years ago. They also produced “Juju Factory”, about Congolese immigrants in Belgium.




COSTA RICA (Only submission: 2005)- Costa Rica is Central America’s wealthiest nation, and the only Central American country to send a film to the Academy in the past decade. They could send “El Camino”, a story of two Nicaraguan children seeking to be reunited with their Mom in Costa Rica, if it is released in time.


CROATIA- For at least the past eight years, Croatia’s submission has been featured at the summer Pula Film Festival. This year, that limits the choice to six, most notably “Armin”, which is about a Bosnian man who travels with his young son to Germany in order to audition for an international motion picture. In second place, “The Living and the Dead” (which won Best Picture and Director at Pula) which tells two parallel stories taking place during two wars, in 1943 and 1993. Less likely: I Have to Sleep, My Angel”, about a mixed-ethnic family in the 1970s. Of the others, all seem to be dark horses at best- a comedy (Play Me A Love Song), a political thriller (The Recollection Thief), and a mystery (True Miracle)

CUBA- Despite their chilly relations with the United States, Cuba and Iran have become regulars in this competition, (Cuba has sent films 4 of the last 5 years) and both have managed to make the Final Five one time apiece. Cuba’s film industry is experiencing something of a renaissance, and they are really spoiled for choice this year, with a half-dozen films having a more or less equal shot. My ranking: Starpower alone will propel “Night of the Innocents”, by Arturo Sotto Diaz, whose films have been submitted twice, and starring Jorge Perugorria of ‘Strawberry & Chocolate” fame. It’s a comic drama about the intrigues and secrets revealed when the police interview an extended family after their son is severely beaten on Christmas Day. In second place is “Manana”, about a 25-year who takes action after violence strikes his family. Also very possible: festival favorite “The Silly Age”, featuring a grandmother-grandson relationship, “Mauricio’s Diary” about a the life of a 60-year old man, and “Madrigal”, by another previously submitted director. Less likely: “La Pared”. Wild cards: any of the half-dozen releases scheduled for this year, including historical drama “Garden of Eden” and African war drama “Kangamba”. No chance: Cuba’s first independent film in decades, “Asi de simple”.

CZECH REPUBLIC- Last year’s madcap lunatic asylum animation film“Lunacy” (which I liked a lot!) was a bizarre choice. This year, it looks to be a battle between two old-school directors. It would be hard not to choose former winner Jan Sverak’s new film “Empties”, which re-unites the father-son team behind Kolya (Dad stars and writes; Son directs) AND whose film was the only Czech feature chosen for the Karlovy Vary main competition. It would also be hard to say no to Czech legend Jiri Menzel who won this Foreign Film Oscar in 1967, and whose “I Served the King of England” is a lavish production and box-office smash which just won Best Picture at the Czech version of the Oscars (Empties was not eligible). However, since they can only choose one, I think Sverak will manage to get the nod for a fourth time. Any other film can forget about it. Contenders in a weaker year would be comic hotel story “Grandhotel” (which managed a Best Pic nom last year), “Pleasant Moments” (which did not) by another legend, Vera Chytilova, and surreal puppet tale “One Night in a City”

DENMARK- “After the Wedding” failed to win Best Danish Picture of the year at either of Denmark’s two main end-of-year ceremonies (the Bodil Awards and Robert Festival), but it did achieve an Oscar nomination for the first-time since their 1988-1990 triumvirate (two wins and a nom). 2007 wasn’t a great year for Denmark, and they’ve been largely invisible from film festivals this year. I predict they will go with “The Art of Crying”, about an 11-year boy in rural Denmark, and his dysfunctional family. If not that, then “A Man Comes Home”, the latest from Thomas Vintenberg, about a small town’s preparations to welcome home a local boy turned-famous opera singer. Others in with a chance (in order of likelihood): “Temporary Release”, about a prisoner who receives permission to attend his son’s wedding (won two awards in Moscow), “Eric Nietchsze”, featuring an all-star cast, about a young boy who wants to become a film director, “With Your Permission”, a tragic-comedy by Paprika Steen, and “Prague”, about the disintegration of a couple’s marriage while on holiday in the Czech Republic. Unlikely dark horses: two black comedies “Just Like Home”, about a nudist town where nobody trusts one another, and the satirical “How to Get Rid of the Others”, in which the Danish Government decides to get rid of “unproductive citizens” by executing them.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (Last submission: 1995)- Despite a recent upswing in production, the Dominican Republic has not submitted a movie to the Academy since 1995’s silly immigration comedy Nueba Yol. Most likely submission this year is Sanky Panky, a culturally unique musical-comedy featuring local music and dance. They also have Yuniol, a drama about two friends from different social classes.

ECUADOR- (Last submission: 2004)- Ecuador has only ever submitted twice. This year, it’s likely they will go with “Que tan lejos” (How Much Further?), a female buddy road movie.




EGYPT- The most prominent film at Egyptian film festivals this year has been “Cut & Paste” the story of a growing friendship between a man and a woman who feel their lives will be worth living if they can just emigrate out of Egypt. It is their probable submission. It faces strong competition from “Chaos” (by Youssef Chahine, Egypt’s only internationally celebrated director) if and only if that film is released at home before September 30th. “Leisure Time” was a well-received low-budget box-office hit, although I think it was released before the cut-off. Don’t know much about Egypt’s industry, but other possibilities include “Hide and Seek”, about a pre-wedding gathering of friends, “In the Heliopolis Flat”, a romantic comedy that received mixed reviews and “Game of Love”, about two young people who meet on a train.

ESTONIA- (Last submission 2005) This has been a good year for Estonian film. They will probably submit one of two extremely dark dramas. “The Class” is a brutal film about school violence, and “Magnus” focuses on a suicidal young man and his relationship with his hedonistic father. A third possibility, “Georg”, a historical biography, is scheduled to be released a few days after the deadline. In any year, comedy “186 Kilometers” would have a strong shot, but this year they’ll likely go with “Magnus”, the first Estonian features in competition at Cannes.

FIJI- (Only submission: 2005) Fiji’s last submission, The Land Has Eyes, was their first and only feature film. They have nothing to send this year.



FINLAND- Finland was embarrassed last year by the infinitely overrated Oscar nominee Ari Kaurismaki, who withdrew his film at the last minute (purposefully causing Finland to be unable to choose a new film; Kaurismaki pulled the same stunt in 1996). Thanks to their well-organized website, it appears Finland has thirteen eligible films this year, about half of which sound somewhat ‘Oscary’. Top three contenders: “Frozen City”, about father’s parental rights, has represented Finland at the most festivals this year, and secured a Best Pic nomination at the Finnish Oscars, “Jade Warrior”, a lavish and expensive fantasy co-production with China building on elements of Finnish and Chinese mythology and “The New Man” about an impoverished girl facing state-sponsored sterilization. Dark horse: the well-received “A Man’s Job”, about a male prostitute. Wild cards: The yet to be released “Colorado Avenue”, about an immigrant girl coming back home from America, and “The Matriarch”, by a twice-submitted director. My prediction? I’d definitely go with “The New Man”, but it may be too “Swedish” to qualify as a Finnish film, leading me to choose the as-yet-untested “Colorado Avenue”. Runner-ups: “Jade Warrior”, “New Man” and “Frozen City”.

FRANCE- France’s great success in this category lies in (usually) knowing what Oscar’s dinosaur-like committee likes. Their Academy has set down guidelines for selection, and has an official goal of reaching the nomination stage every year. In the past eight years, they’ve managed 5 nominations (even though two of those films weren’t especially good), 1 short-list, and 2 also-rans, but no wins since Indochine in 1993. To represent France, a film has to have achieved (or have the capability to achieve) a certain level of box-office success, and must be capable of achieving a widespread international release. No tiny independent films welcome here! Due to that reasoning, the competition looks to be between three movies that have already hit U.S. shores. "Lady Chatterly" won the French Oscar last year, Edith Piaf biopic "La Vie en Rose" is already considered a major Best Actress contender and "Moliere" is a period comedy about one of France's greatest playwrights. While France has a lot to choose from, as always, I am betting it will be one of these two three, probably Rose. Runner-ups: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" won a major award at Cannes, but may not eligible because it has an American director. Other possibilities: "Hunting and Gathering" pairs a previously nominated director (Claude Berri) with superstar Audrey Tautou in a traditional French romance. "Don’t Touch the Axe" is a period drama that played at Berlin, and "Actress" played at Cannes. "Dialogue with My Gardner" is a slow but satisfying traditional drama starring Daniel Auteuil. Unknown quantities: "The House", starring Sergi Lopez which has good buzz and is set to be released in August, and 87-year old Eric Rohmer’s possibly last film “Love of Astree and Celadon”. Unlikely: Regis Warnier is usually a good bet for France, but "Paris vite et Reviens Tard " just isn’t supposed to be very good. Unlike Japan, France is not foolish to send an animated film to this committee, even when it’s as acclaimed as Iranian revolution drama "Persepolis". AIDS drama “The Witnesses” is probably too dreary, “La France” is too “small” and the chances of well-reviewed musical “Love Songs” were probably doomed by the failure a few years ago of under-rated gem, 8 Femmes.

GEORGIA- (Submitted five times since 1996) The once-great Georgian film industry is extremely difficult to research. If they submit, I predict “The Last Quest”, a Georgian action-adventure film. Also very possible: “The Legacy” (a co-production with France) which I believe was released too early and “The Man From the Embassy (a co-production with Germany). Unlikely: thriller “Russian Triangle” was definitely the highest-profile Georgian film of the year, but the nationalist Georgians probably don’t want a Russian-language film representing the country.

GERMANY- In recent years, Germany has developed the world’s best record in this category; in five years they’ve managed two wins, two nominations and one near-miss (Goodbye, Lenin!, which is a better film than all the other four!) Some more statistics: in the past ten years, they’ve chosen the winner of the German Film Award five times, four of their other Oscar submissions received GFA nominations, and the tenth failed to even get nominated at home in Germany (the acclaimed Hitler biopic Downfall). This year’s GFA winner was “Four Minutes”, a female prison drama that did not wow most critics, so I don’t think they’ll choose it. The most acclaimed German film of the year is easily “Edge of Heaven”, the story of a Turkish-German’s trip to seek out the stepsister he’s never met. However, I’m not sure Germany will want to choose a story that is largely in Turkish to represent them. Among the more traditionally “German” stories, “According to the Plan” won the Shanghai Film Festival and features a woman returning to her elderly mother’s home, a young conscript goes to a civil service position in 2007 Auschwitz in “And Along Came Tourists” (Cannes/Toronto), and “Husband and Wives” is a comedy-drama about the intersecting relationships of two couples. Also possible: a woman hears voices in the thriller “Yella”, disaffected affluent youth are “Prussian Gangsters” (Locarno), a boy has a comic dysfunctional coming-of-age in “Hounds”, and a woman flees to Belgium to avoid prosecution in “Madonnas”. As yet untested: “Nothing But Ghosts” and “Sooner or Later”, which both premiere at Locarno. No chance: Hitler comedy “Mein Fuhrer”. In a fairly weak film year, I predict “Edge of Heaven”.

GREECE- For the past eight years, Greece has chosen the winner of the Greek Competition at the Thessaloniki Film Festival to represent Greece at the Oscars. That would mean that this year will be “Eduart”, the true story of an Albanian immigrant who is forced to resort to gay prostitution to sen money home, and ends up committing a murder in the process. If they buck the trend, other potential nominees are “Uranya”, a village comedy and “False Alarm”, a drama about an apartment complex, both by previously submitted directors or “Pink” or “The Guardian’s Son”, which have played at international festivals.

GUATEMALA- (Only submission: 1994) Guatemala does not appear to have any eligible films this year. Their highest-profile film, “Railroad All-Stars”, a documentary about a women’s soccer team for prostitutes, was released too early.





THE GULF ARAB STATES- have been seeing a rise in interest in film production. One or more of them may choose to enter the competition soon. The most likely this year are Bahrain (“A Bahraini Tale”, about a middle-class family in 1967 Bahrain) and the United Arab Emirates (“Haneen”, the only Emirati feature film in competition at last year’s Dubai Film Festival). Oman produced their first-ever feature film last year with “Al-Boom” about traditional pre-oil life in the sultanate, but that straddles the release date line. Yemen also made their first-ever film last year (“A New Day in Old Sana’a) but did not submit the film to the Oscars because they said it would require too much paperwork. Saudi Arabia also produced their first two feature films in 2006 (Keif al-Hal? and Shadow of Silence), but they were not released in the country since movie theatres are banned (a cinema restricted to cartoons for women and children was quickly opened and closed within last year). Kuwait is the only country to ever send a movie to this competition (several decades ago; not sure what year). Only Qatar has still never produced a film.

HONG KONG- “After This Our Exile” is the front-runner, having won last year’s Golden Horse and Hong Kong Film Awards, The film is said to be a career peak for local superstar Aaron Kwok. The film analyzes the relationship between a gambling addict father (Kwok) and his gang member son, and it’s played at innumerable Film Festivals this year. Also in the running were two films that played at festivals last year, but were released in Hong Kong later on: the dream team of director Ann Hui and actor Chow Yun-Fat in gigolo comedy melodrama “The Postmodern Life of My Aunt”, which got middling reviews, and Johnnie To’s acclaimed action thriller “Exiled”. Both directors have previously had their films submitted twice. Unlikely dark horses: the surprisingly well-reviewed actioner “Battle of Wits”, Anthony Wong’s sentimental “Mr. Cinema”, Andy Lau’s “Protégé” and actioner “Eye in the Sky” (which opened Shanghai).
HUNGARY- The Hungarian submission is almost always one of the films that does well at Hungarian Film Week, although it is rarely the Best Picture winner. More often than not (4 of the last 5 years), it is in fact the “Critic’s Choice” winner (chosen by international critics and not the Hungarian jury) that is ultimately selected. The Best Picture winner this year was “Iska’s Journey” a well-received drama about an impoverished young girl and the Critic’s Prize went to “Opium”, by a twice-submitted director, about a drug-addicted doctor who runs a mental institution. Don’t count out “Dolina”, which is supposedly visually stunning (oft compared to Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”) if the Hungarians want to show off production values. Several Hungarian films were not at this year’s “Film Week”, including “The Man From London” which was the first Hungarian film in competition at Cannes in nearly 20 years (co-starring a dubbed Tilda Swinton) but it got generally poor reviews. There’s also “Children of Glory” about the historic Hungarian 1956 Gold medal victory in water polo against their Soviet occupiers. Aside from these five, “Konyec”, about a 70+ “Bonnie & Clyde” (nicknamed “The Bloodthirsty Pensioners") has charmed Hungarian audiences, and “Happy New Life”, about a young Gypsy man under Communism has also gotten gotten good reviews. Dark horse: “Train Keeps A Rollin’”, described as a comeback acclaimed comic director Robert Koltai. Less likely: quirky comedy “Fresh Air, “Noah’s Ark”, which opened Film Week, but failed to win any awards and gay drama “Men in the Nude” which got a lot of festival play but little acclaim or awards. My predictions for the Top Five: Opium, Dolina, Children of Glory, Happy New Life and Iska’s Journey.
ICELAND- With a population of less than 300,000 people it’s hard to believe that Iceland produces a half-dozen films each year. This year, it looks like a vicious two-movie race between “Jar City” and “Parents”. “Jar City” won the Icelandic Oscar and Grand Prize at Karlovy Vary, and “Parents” is the companion movie to last year’s submission “Children” (same director and cast; the supporting characters from “Children” become the stars in “Parents” and vice versa). If I have to guess, I’ll say “Jar City”. Well-received thriller “Cold Trail”, Michael Imperioli’s “Higher Force” and comedy “Dorks & Damsels” don’t stand a chance.
INDIA- India still produces the largest number of feature films in the world (Nigeria, by some accounts, now makes more movies, but most of these are cheapie straight-to-video flicks), making their task of choosing a single nominee a difficult one. India’s selection process has sometimes been condemned for playing favorites (particularly 1998’s Jeans) and is closely watched and analyzed by the Indian film-making establishment. The Indian Academy tends to like a few actors a whole lot (Either Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai or Kamal Hassan have starred in nine of their last eleven submissions) but they will occasionally go out of left field with a no-star anti-Bollywood regional film (1997 and 2004, which were in Malayalam and Marathi respectively). In 2005, they couldn’t decide on a film at all. The front-runner rightfully should be historical epic drama-cum-musical “Jodhaa Akbar”, which is scheduled to premiere 12 days after the deadline. By the director of Oscar nominee Lagaan and starring superstar Aishwarya Rai, it should get the nod IF they can get it to do a one-week qualifying run. If not, they could still honor the former Miss World with the well-received "Guru",about a poor villager who becomes a rich man. Other than those, big splashy musicals are few and far between this year. My prediction is “1971”, a patriotic drama about escaped POWs in one of India’s many wars with Pakistan. Other options: “Cheeni Kum” a romantic comedy, set in London, involving a 64-year old chef, his 90-year old mother, a 30-something romantic interest and a dying 9-year old girl, “String”, a low-key feminist drama and “Yatra”, the story of a prostitute. Unlikely: Shahrukh Khan’s mistaken identity thriller "The Don", returned émigré tale "Sivaji", troubled engagement drama "Vivah", widow drama "Baabul", and 3 ½ hour young adult soap opera "Salaam e-Ishq", all of which are basically popcorn fare. "Valley of Flowers", a beautifully photographed co-production with Japan, is also unlikely since it is not what the Indian Academy usually goes for. If they go regional and commercial, consider frenzied tragedy "Paruthiveeran" (in Tamil). If they go regional and artsy, expect the Telugu-language Vanaja, about a young woman from a poor fishing village who becomes a dancer.

INDONESIA- The Indonesian film industry now produces several dozen films a year, (they were down to single digits during the Asian financial crisis) most of which seem to be forgettable horror movies. The two obvious contenders are “Three Days to Forever” and “Opera Jawa”, both by previously submitted directors. “Forever” is a road movie about two cousins on their way to a wedding, and “Opera” is a lush production of a traditional Javanese musical, not for all tastes. “Opera” has been thrilling film festivals, but still has not received a wide release at home. Still, “Opera” is my prediction this year. Dark horses: “The Photograph”, about Indonesia’s Chinese community, “Kala”, about an “imaginary” country (i.e. Indonesia) in crisis, and "Denias" (a young Papuan boy struggles to go to school). Less likely: “Long Road to Heaven”, about the Bali bombings (largely in English), "Pesan Dari Surga" (a grim adolescent drama), and "Jakarta Undercover" (about the seedy underbelly of the capital).
IRAN- With US-Iranian relations at a consistently low ebb, it is surprising to note that Iran is one of only four Asian countries to send a film to this competition every year for the past decade (the others are US allies- Israel, Japan and Taiwan). In the past twelve years, all of Iran’s Persian-language submissions were selected from among the line-up of their national Fajr Film Festival. (The two exceptions were both Kurdish films by Bahman Ghomadi), although Iran’s Oscar submission only rarely matches up with the winner at Fajr. There were three main prizewinners this year, which reportedly screened films that were much more political and religious than usual: “The Third Day”, about a brother and sister during the 1980s war with Iraq (Picture, Director, Actress), “Mainline”, about a heroin-addicted bride (Screenplay, Actress) and “Barefoot in Heaven”, a religious tale about a man who works in a hospice (Best First Film, Best Spiritual Film). I predict “Barefoot”. Others with a chance “Eternal Kids”, which won two minor awards, as well as Best Picture at Iran’s children’s festival, “Robin”, with children and pretty mountain scenery (Best Inter-Religious Film), and “Night Bus” (Best Asian Film, which was voted on by a different jury), also about the Iran-Iraq War. Dark horse: war comedy “Ekhrajiha” (Audience Award; directed by an alleged Hezbollah leader) and documentary “Persian Carpet”, fifteen stories directed by fifteen of Iran’s most prominent directors including Oscar nominee Majid Majidi. Wild card: Kurdish road comedy “Half Moon” (also by Bahman Ghobadi) which was originally selected by Iraq last year (until they changed their mind) and which only just opened in Iran.

IRAQ- (Submitted past 2 years) To many people’s surprise, Iraq has now submitted films two years in a row. I even (incorrectly) predicted they would make the shortlist last year. It’s difficult to figure out what is eligible, because local films have to carried around in mobile cinemas due to the security situation. Most likely is ‘Dol”, from Iraq’s Northern Kurdish region about a man on the run after his wedding is disrupted by the Turkish military. The same director (Iraqi Kurd by birth) competed for Armenia in 2001. If not, perhaps they will choose “Crossing the Dust”, about the 2003 invasion, which won acclaim in Singapore.

IRELAND- (Never Submitted) Ireland almost never produces feature films in the Irish language, which is spoken as a mother tongue by only a small percentage of the population. Thus, they have never submitted a movie in this category. This year, there are two significant Irish Gaelic releases. The first , “Kings”, played at Cannes and is about six Irishmen living in London, and starring Colm Meaney. It’s a co-production with the United Kingdom, which means it could probably compete for either country. The second is “Graveyard Clay”, a black comedy about two sisters (one dead, one alive) in 1940s Ireland, based on a Gaelic classic novel. The first film is much more well-known, but I think they’ll go with “Clay” for their first-ever submission.

ISRAEL- Last week, Israel became the first country in the world to announce a shortlist. In September, the Israeli Academy will automatically send their Best Picture winner to the Oscars (though they had a quandary last year when there was a tie in the voting). The five finalists are:
1. Joseph Cedar’s “Beaufort”, which won the Silver Bear at Berlin for its story of Israel’s retreat from Lebanon.
2. “The Band’s Visit”, about an Egyptian band that gets lost in rural Israel. It won an Un Certain Regard award at Cannes & the Grand Prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
3. Multi-character drama “Jellyfish” won the Golden Camera at Cannes
4. “My Father, My Lord” won Best Picture at Tribeca and is a family drama about a respected rabbi in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community
5. Dark horse: “Noodle”, a culture-clash comedy-drama between an Israeli woman and a Chinese boy who ends being abandoned when his parents are deported.
The Jerusalem Post was not exaggerating when they pointed out in June that Israeli films were winning more international awards than at any point in history. No less than three Israeli films were featured at Cannes, and they’ve been well-represented at festivals worldwide. Most notable omission from the shortlist: “Tehilim”, about an Orthodox Jewish family in Jerusalem, which was in the main competition of Cannes. Word on the street is that it’s a dead heat between “Beaufort” (Joseph Cedar has been selected twice before) and the lighter “The Band’s Visit”. I predict Beaufort, but only by a hair.

6 comments:

aviad said...

From what I hear in Israel, The Band's Visit and Jellyfish have better odds at winning Ophir 2007 than Beaufort, but I could be wrong.
I'd say that My Father My lord is the dark horse, getting a very limited domestic release and not being nominated for directing (the "lonely director" spot went to Tzahi Grad for "Foul Gesture").

Noa said...

According to the three major internet betting agencies regarding the best foreign film prize, The foreign films with the best odds are:
The Romanian film ‘4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days’
The Israeli film ‘The Band’s Visit’
And the Japanese film ‘The Mourning Forest’

Film Buff said...

I saw the Band Visit and while it is a great film, I do not understand how it could be considered for foreign film for the American Academy Foreign slot seeing as it mostly in English! I would say at least 60% of the dialogue is in English and that would disqualify it or at best they(American Academy) would send it back to Israel with a note and a recoomendation for someone who can count the words. Am i the only peson who realises this?? comments please. The film must have no more that 50% English -that being said I would put my money on Beaufort.

aviad said...

film buff, you're not the first to mention this, but some (including members of Israeli Academy) claim the movie has just enough Hebrew and Arabic to get by. I haven't seen it yet, but two years ago, "What a Wonderful Place" was considered eligible even though it's about 50% in English.
Also, let's face it, if AMPAS would really want a movie to be eligible, it would be. :)

leo said...

First, i love this site. There is not better way to know about international cinema that following all the possible candidates from each country. Please keep doing it.
Now, I though jellyfish and beaufort were the same movie.
No wey in hell the mourning forest can get a nomination, too slow and divided.
Consider brazil, the year my..., Spain the orphanage and Austria the counter....
I am sorry you did not research mexico but i agree it can be frustrating. Mexico has several award winning movies right now. Two embraces, tribeca ; more than anything in the world, montreal; the last gaze, cairo, san francisco, cinesul; turtle family, Tolousse, Pusan, Santiago, FICCO, san sebastian; Blue eyelids guadalajara; bad habits, guadalajara, vegas; El violin, more than 30 awards including cannes, SFFF, san sebastian, huelva. silent light, cannes, lima, and others just opening in Venice. I hope it will be the violin but bad habits or same moon seem to have the right connections.
Thanxs again

jmp said...

“Pozzetto Massacre” (whatever that is),

- Massacre in the 80's in Bogota in a restaurant called "Pozzetto". This really happened. The guy was a Colombian Vietnam Vet. He killed something like 24 people.

jmp