1. Afghanistan sent three films in a row 2003-2005 but doesn’t appear to have produced any features since then. The main film news from Afghanistan this year was banning “The Kite Runner”. Siddiq Barmak (“Osama”)’s long awaited “Opium War” is still in post-production.
2. Albania, which has submitted only twice, may return to the Oscar competition with “Mao Tse-Tung”, a black comedy about the machinations of an old Gypsy trying to survive under the absurd Communist regime of dictator Enver Hoxha. It played at Karlovy Vary and Moscow, making it the first Albanian movie in several years to make it on the international circuit.
3. Algeria skipped last year after being nominated in 2007 for “Indigenes”, but they usually send a film whenever they have something good. It’s difficult to tell what is eligible. Most films are co-productions with France which are released in Paris first and then in Algeria months or even a year later. I predict they will go with “Cartouches Gauloises”, which was released in France last year, but in Algeria this year. It’s the story of a young Algerian boy growing up during the last summer before Algeria became independent from France. If that’s not eligible, they may go with one of two well-received Berber-language dramas “The Yellow House” or “Ayrouwen”, or alternatively one of two dramas about the Algerian community living in France- “Dolls and Angels”, about an Algerian family living in the troubled suburbs of Paris, or the lesser “Dernier Maquis”. The biggest threat of these four- “Dolls and Angels”.
4. Argentina always has a lot to choose from and though they’ve only been nominated twice since the winning the award in 1986, they mostly submit serious contenders. There are about a half-dozen films they could choose from, and the top four all feature the tribulations of being a mother. The most likely choice this year is “Leonera”, the story of an incarcerated woman trying to raise her young son from jail. It was directed by Pablo Tropero (“Familia Rodante”, which I didn’t care for at all), co-stars Brazilian movie star Rodrigo Santoro, and was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes. Sounds like what Oscar likes. Also extremely possible: “Salamandra”, in which a bipolar mother proceeds to destroy her young child’s life, “Liverpool”, about a man who goes in search of his natural mother in beautiful, remote Tierra del Fuego, and “Proper Eyes”, about a documentary filmmaker who makes an unusual deal with the mother of an imprisoned teen. In with somewhat of a chance: “The Empty Nest” by two-time submitted director Daniel Burman, “Gigantes de Valdes”, a beautifully cinematographed drama set in Argentina’s Patagonia region and “Blood Appears”, a short, real-time family drama about a taxi driver. Rounding out the Top Ten contenders: “Lamb of God” is a kidnapping drama, “Headless Woman” has played a lot of film festivals but only got so-so reviews and “Word For Word” is about the 1982 Falklands War. Unlikely: ballet drama “Aniceto”, comedy “Abrigate”, S & M drama “La Rabia”, thriller “Don’t Look Down”.
5. Armenia probably won’t send anything, since they failed to enter the expensive “The Priestess” last year, and this year’s Golden Apricot Film Festival in Yerevan didn’t feature a single Armenian feature in competition. For the sake of completion, let’s say they choose “Nothing Will Stay”, about an Armenian-American who returns to Armenia to get married.
6. Australia has shown a lot of interest in this category and always seems to submit if they have an eligible non-English film. To date they have sent three films about immigrants, and one film about the Australian aborigines. I've had the privilege of seeing them all, and last year's "Home Song Stories" was the best yet and I was sorry to see it lose out on a nomination. This year, they seem certain to send Pashto-language drama, “Son of a Lion”, an Australian-production filmed in Afghanistan. Due to recent rule changes, this majority-Australian production should be eligible. “Lucky Miles” is a comedy about Indonesian & Khmer refugees trying to escape from immigration, but like “The Band’s Visit”, it will probably be considered as “English-language”. Unlikely: the Khmer-language drama “The Red Sense”.
7. Austria will be Returning Champion for the first time ever this year, although they probably can’t hope for 2 nominations in a row. They’ll probably choose “Revanche”, a revenge drama which has been Austria’s representative at the most international film festivals this year. Two soon-to-be released films could challenge, if they are released before the September 30th cut-off date- Now that Austria has figured out that the Holocaust = Oscar Win, "Das Vaterspiel” will look attractive, and an operatic retelling of “La Boheme” is supposed to be very good. The directors of all three of these films have been selected by Austria in the past. Rounding out the Top Five: “Import/Export” (which premiered a long time ago, but only came out in Austria in November) an immigration/road film, and “Marz”, a movie about the aftermath of three unexpected suicides, which will debut at Locarno & Sarajevo. Dark horse: If Austria takes a cue from Canada’s “Water”, they may choose the Tigrinya-language, “Heart of Fire”, set in Eritrea.
8. Azerbaijan submitted for the first time last year but didn’t make much of an impression on the committee. This year, it’s difficult to see them choosing anything but state-sponsored historical tragedy “Fate of the King”, which was the Closing Film at the Baku Film Festival and which was funded by the government, (a govt spokesman said they hope every family in Azerbaijan will go and see it). Also possible: black comedy “Absurdistan”, a co-production with Germany that competed at Moscow. Much less likely: “Fortress”, also made by the state-sponsored film studio, or “40th Door”, a copproduction with Germany.
9. Bangladesh has sent four films to the competition, including the last three years in a row. This year, I predict they send “Ghani” (The Cycle), about an impoverished family, which was the only new Bangladeshi film to win an award at the 2008 Dhaka Film Festival. Also possible: light comedy “Noy Nimbor Bipod Shonket”, by a previously submitted director, “Auction” about a British Bangladeshi girl forced into an arranged marriage while visiting Bangladesh and “Aha” about an introverted old man.
10. Belarus continues to step up film production, with almost ten features produced each year. The country, always at odds with the US, has not sent a film since 1996. They’re unlikely to participate, but they could definitely send patriotic drama “Shield of the Fatherland”. Other possibilities: Local films “The Enemies” and “Chaklun and Rumba” both came in the Top Five at the Belarus International Film Festival last year.
11. Belgium makes things complicated by having two National Film Boards- one for the Dutch-speaking Flanders region and the other for French-speaking Wallonia. In the past 10-years, they’ve chosen 7 Flemish films and 3 French films (all three by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne). Given their past record, the favorite is the latest from the soporofic Dardennes Brothers, “The Silence of Lorna”, although Oscar, like myself, seems to be oblivious to their charms. “Lorna” is a thriller about an Albanian immigrant arranging a fake marriage so she can eventually bring her Mafia boyfriend into Belgium. If they’re tired of Dardennes & decide to “go Dutch”, they’ll probably choose “Moscow, Belgium”, a May-December romantic dramedy between a 40-something woman & a 20-something man. It’s gotten great reviews & a minor award at Cannes. The French-language “Distant Tremors” (set mostly in Senegal) is a dark horse and I place it in third position. Patrice Toye’s Flemish-language “Nowhere Man”, about a man who fakes his own suicide, should come in fourth place & road comedy “Eldorado” (in French) should place fifth. Unlikely: animated “Fly Me to the Moon” (dubbed), drama “Lollypop Men” (in French), thriller “Left Bank”, household drama “Happy Together”, CSI-esque “Vermist” (all in Dutch). Impossible: Jean-Claude Van Damme’s surprisingly warmly received action-comedy “JCVD”, his first movie made in his home country. Belgium last held it’s National Film Awards in 2006 so that can no longer be used as a precursor.
12. Bhutan, quite possibly the world’s most photogenic country, sent a single film in 1999, “The Cup”, which was sadly overlooked by the Academy. They failed to send the magical “Travellers & Magicians” (which was even better) a few years ago. If they send a film this year, it is sure to be “Golden Cup: The Legacy”, a supernatural drama about local superstitions, which has received positive reviews and special screenings in Bangkok, Washington DC and South Asia.
13. Bolivia has had the misfortune of sending films to the competition five times,and being disqualified twice for tardiness. I’m not sure they’ll send anything this year (they’d better do it early) but “Saber que te he buscado” stands the best shot if it premieres by the September 30th deadline. Bolivia had scheduled five releases this year, but the only other one I know about is screwball comedy “Wedding Day” which premiered in April.
14. Bosnia-Herzegovina is nearly certain to choose “Snow”, about a widow and her family trying to survive after the ethnic wars of the 1990s. It will open the Sarajevo Film Festival, and also played at Cannes. The two other shortlisted films will probably be comedy “The Rhythm of Life” and drama “Ima nas dvojica” which is yet to premiere .
15. Brazil has quite a few choices this year. With Fernando Meirelles and Hector Babenco working in English & Spanish this year, Walter Salles is the only one of Brazil’s Big Three to make a Portuguese-language feature. So, I’m predicting Brazil chooses “Line of Passage” (Cannes), about a poor familyof four brothers. 4 other films may put up a good fight: “Estomago”, described as a homage to sex, power & cooking, “Mutum”, an Amazon coming-of-age drama, “My Name Isn’t Johnny”, about an upper-middle-class guy who becomes a cocaine dealer and “Alice’s House” about a meek housewife. Likely to get a spot on Brazil’s (usually very long) shortlist (in order of likelihood): “A Proper Name”, about an aspiring writer, bloody, supernatural Amazon drama “The Dead Girl’s Feast” (Cannes), the long-delayed “Out of Tune”, “Nossa Vida Nao Cabe Num Opala”, about the death of the patriarch of a large family, “Chega de Saudade”, a multi-character piece about an old-fashioned dance hall, “Era Uma Vez”, about lovers from different social classes, action anthology “5 Parts of One Story”, popular comedy “Urban Polaroids”, historical drama “Cleopatra” and docudrama “Jogo de Cena” (awarded Best Picture in Sao Paulo). Dark horse possibility: the acclaimed “Tropa de Elite” was submitted to the Brazilian Academy with the promise they would have an Oscar qualifying run before September 30th. They lost the nomination and the film premiered in October. Did that Oscar-qualifying run ever take place? If not, “Tropa” should get the nod.
16. Bulgaria has a number of interesting films this year, and in the past, they have often chosen a dark horse to compete here. The two big Bulgarian winners at the Sofia Film Festival were “The World is Big and Salvation Lies Around the Corner” (which won Best Bulgarian Film), a Communist-era road movie about an amnesiac young man and his grandfather, and “Seamstresses”, about three young friends who try and find jobs in the city. I give “Seamstresses” the edge. If they go with experience, they may choose the arthouse “Which Way Today”, by an acclaimed elderly director, which is the Barbarian Invasion-esque sequel to their 1988 submission (but who will remember the first one??) Dark horses: “Neon”, a black comedy set in a fictional Balkan country which won some minor awards in Moscow, “War Correspondent”, a WWI drama by a previously submitted director & “Small Talk”, a Bulgarian take on “Uncle Vanya. Less likely: violent black comedy “Hindemith”, revenge tale “Inner Voice” and “My Little Nothing”, about the business of illegal adoptions.
17. Burkina Faso usually times its films to premiere en masse every 2 years at the FESPACO African Film Festival, one of the biggest on the continent. Impoverished Burkina Faso has been considered for decades as one of the brightest spots on the African continent for cinema. This year has been slow; I can’t find a record of even one film released.
18. Cambodia’s only leading international director, Rithy Panh, (who directed their sole Oscar submission, sent in 1994) has two new movies out, but one is a French production and the other is a documentary (“Paper Cannot Wrap Up the Embers”). Other than that, Cambodia’s film industry is still in the doldrums; few films are produced and most of those that are, are dubbed by three official “dubbing” actors. They could send “Heart Talk”, a mystery-thriller set to premiere in September, but I highly doubt it.
19. Cameroon sent a film for the first (and last) time in 1980. The local film industry has seen a major resurgence in the last couple of years, (http://www.africine.org/index.php?menu=art&no=7500) and they had a good film to send last year (“Paris, a Tout Prix”), but didn’t. So, they’re unlikely to send anything this year either…If they did, it would probably be “Les Blessures Inguérissables” about the tribulations of modern Cameroonian women, or “Criminal Sentence”, a drama about a young footballer who gets in trouble.
20. Canada used to choose their best French-language film of the year from Quebec and that was it. With the herald of Inuit-language cinema, and Canadian directors who work in other languages (like Deepa Mehta), Canada’s selections have become more diverse. However, lately, it is Canada’s English-language cinema that impressed the world (Away From Her, Eastern Promises) last year, and their Foreign Language selection this year is slim (no French-language features at all will participate in the “Canada First” program in Toronto). I think they will go with “The Day Before Tomorrow”, an Inuit-language drama. Also possible are four French tales: the multi-story “Continental” (which won Best Picture at this year’s Quebecois Jutra Awards), suicide drama “Everything’s Fine” and two period coming-of-age stories: “Mom’s At the Hairdresser” (1956) and comedy “I Swear It’s Not Me!” (the 1960s). Unknown quantity: the soon-to-be-released post-partum depression drama “Last Song”. Dark horse: Deepa Mehta’s latest “Heaven an Earth”, which is in Punjabi and English. Will it have enough foreign language qualify? If so, consider it in a dead heat with the Inuits.
21. Chad has two international directors of some renown. Both had movies come out in 2006, but the only time Chad has sent a film to the Oscars was 2004’s slow-paced also-ran :Abouna".
22. Chile has one of South America’s most innovative film industries, regularly producing quality films. They only began participating in the Oscar competition in 1990, but have lately become a regular fixture. The Chilean Academy is notoriously unpredictable and has variously chosen sexually graphic dramas, children’s cartoons, black comedies, and costume dramas. I’m going to choose dark horse “Life Kills Me”, which is said to have amazingly creative visuals. Also very possible (in order of possibility): 1970s drama “Tony Manero”, which played at Cannes’ Director’s Fortnight in 2008, erotic drama “199 Tips To Be Happy” (by the director of their excellent 2003 submission "Los Debutantes"), nationalist superhero action film “Mirageman”, Matias Bize’s latest “Lo bueno de llorar”, black comedy “Optical Illusion, “The Sky, The Earth and The Rain” (a drama about loneliness) and gay-themed comedy “Lokas”. There’s probably too much competition for family drama “All-Inclusive” (which already has US distribution), the Avenue Q-esque “31 Minutes: The Movie” (based on a Chilean TV series), dour dramas “Desierto Sur” and “Pejesapo”, space comedy “Chile Can Do It!” and the box-office hit comedy sequel “Radio Corazon”. Unknown quantity: the long-awaited Guillermo del Toro-produced horror film “Caleuche” which still has no release date. Chile has an embarrassment of riches this year and their nominee should be a good one.
23. China always thinks that bigger is better- their past six submissions have all been expensive epic dramas; five out of six have been period costume dramas. This is a shame, because many of their best films (particularly last year’s “Getting Home”, which would have been nominated had they submitted it) are smaller character-driven movies without wire fu and digital effects. Still, I expect China to continue this trend by choosing either “The Warlords” or John Woo's “Red Cliff”, with Hong Kong choosing the other. (see Hong Kong below). So, my prediction for Mainland China is “Red Cliff". China and Hong Kong may maintain separate currency, passports, immigration and Olympic teams, but they really are starting to ask like one country in terms of cinema. Top films from both regions feature cast and crew from the other these days. The alternate is certainly nationalist war drama "The Assembly", which got somewhat better reviews. If China goes “small” (which they haven’t done since Gong Li’s “Breaking the Silence” in 2000), I predict they choose “Blind Mountain”, an abduction drama by the director of the excellent thriller “Blind Shaft”....or, less likely, cancer drama “In Love We Trust”. Not many award winners are coming out of China (or Hong Kong) this year but dark horses may include: “Three Kingdoms” (another period film), a trio of smart comedies- “Bamboo Shoots”, “Two Stupid Eggs” and “End of Year”, or “And the Spring Comes”, about an aspiring opera singer. Odd docudrama “24 City” is probably too controversial, and “Lost in Beijing” DEFINITELY is.
24. Colombia’s production is way up and they have several good films to choose from this year. The Oscar nominee should be a showdown between “PVC-1”, a widely acclaimed film shot in one-take about a woman who has a timebomb fastened to her neck by terrorists, and “Dog Eat Dog”, a Tarantino-esque black comedy-crime drama. I give the slight edge to PVC, though it will be close. Possible spoilers: “Actors in Conflict”, a story of three actors caught in a standoff between Colombian authorities and rebel soldiers and “Juana Tenia el Pelo de Oro”; both are films that were made years ago but will premiere in Colombian theatres this year. A slew of new local films are set to premiere this year, but it’s unknown which will be good and which will screen before the cutoff date. The most promising look to be “The Passion of Gabriel” and “El Cielo”, two movies about small-town priests, “El Angel del Acordeon”, about a cute little boy trying to woo a cute little girl and “Riverside” about a homeless Colombian couple in New York trying to get home. Also-rans: action-thriller “The Others”, illegal immigrant dramedy “Paraiso Travel” and “Between The Sheets”, a blatant ripoff of Chile’s excellent “En la Cama”.
25. Congo DR has actually produced some films recently but hasn’t sent one to the Oscars since 1997. If they didn’t submit last year’s “Juju Factory”, it’s unlikely they’ll choose anything this year. However, if it premieres in time, there’s always “Ngambo” a rare African animated feature film. In-development clips were shown at Cannes Film Market 2008.
26. Costa Rica has only submitted once, but will quite possibly choose to submit a second time with "El Camino" (The Path) this year. This story of two abandoned Nicaraguan children searching for their family in Costa Rica played at Berlin.
27. Cote d’Ivoire- formerly the Ivory Coast- won the Best Foreign Language Film award in 1977 for "Black and White in Color", which was in reality a 100% French production. They haven’t submitted in 30 years, and are unlikely to do so this year. The biggest movie last year was "Cocody Johnny", although that was probably released too early to qualify.
28. Croatia invariably choose one of the films from the National Competition at the Pula Film Festival, which narrows the field down to seven films. The most likely candidate is “No One’s Son”, which won most of the major awards at the National Film Festival, including Best Picture and the Croatian Critics Award. The story is about a amputee war veteran who discovers a dark family sercret. In second place, expect “Behind the Glass”, a love triangle which was selected for Karlovy Vary and which was directed by Zrinko Ogresta who was selected twice by Croatia in the 1990s. In third place: the US-set thriller “Buick Riviera”. Rounding out the top five: “Will Not End Here”, a love story between a prostitute and a detective and “Kino Lika”, about the inhabitants of an isolated mountain village. Likely also-rans: “Remember Vukovar” (Croatia selected another Vukovar Massacre drama in 1994) and the dull-sounding “Three Stories About Sleeplessness”
29. Cuba will release most of its annual releases over the summer, so its unclear which will be good and which won’t. I’m predicting they choose “Omerta”, by the director of last year’s submission, about a gangster in 1940s Cuba. Second place: “El Cuerno de la Abundancia”, a drama about a small town that wins a large inheritance (by the co-director of “Strawberry & Chocolate”, and my favorite Cuban film “The Waiting List”). Third place: “El Viajero Inmovil”, by the director of their 2002 & 2005 submissions, containing three parallel stories. Rounding out the Top Five: thriller melodrama “Los Dioses Rotos” and Angola drama “Kangamba”. Small chance: “Te espero en la Eternidad” and “Rojo Vivo”,”. Out of the running: independent Cuban films like “Personal Belongings”, “Tomorrow” & “Asi de Simple”.
30. The Czech Republic has about two dozen eligible films, including three by twice-submitted directors- “A Country Teacher” (Bohdan Slama, “Wild Bees” & “Something Like Happiness”) about a repressed gay 30-year old looking for love among men and women, “I’m All Good” (Jan Hrebejk, “Divided We Fall”, “Up and Down”), a Cheers-esque comedy about a village pub, and “Of Parents and Children” (Vladimir Michalek, “Sekal Has to Die”, “Forgotten Light”), about the relationship between a man and his elderly father. Karlovy Vary featured two Czech films in the main competition- “The Karamazovs”, a theatrical film about a Czech troupe of performers visiting Poland, and “Night Owls”, about a woman working at a convenience store. In addition to these, the Czechs may choose village idiot dramedy “Vaclav”, which won nominated for Best Picture at last year’s Czech Lions, “Grapes”, a romantic dramedy about a thief who returns to his home village, “Czech Road”, about a young woman from a dysfunctional family or “Tobruk”, a psychological drama. A lot of these movies were well-received, but I doubt any will be competitive enough for a nomination. In order of probability: “The Karamazovs”, “Of Parents and Children”, “Night Owls”, “I’m All Good”, “Grapes”, “Vaclav” and “Czech Road”.
31. Denmark has had a fairly weak film year, so this should be an easy year to choose. I think they will choose “Crying for Love”, a hospital drama which will come out in August & which is based on an Oscar-nominated short. The other strong possibilities are “Flame & Citron”, a WWII-drama and box office hit about the German occupation, “What No One Knows”, a claustrophic conspiracy thriller by the director of “Mifune”, possibly the worst Oscar submission ever. Less likely, but possible: guilt drama “White Night”, Arabic-language immigrant drama “Go With Peace, Jamil”, reconciliation story “Comeback” and Jehovah’s Witnesses romance “World’s Apart”.
32. Dominican Republic has a small film industry producing about a dozen pictures each year, mostly for local consumption. They’ve submitted three movies to the Oscars, but not since 1995. Last year, they submitted a film to the Spanish Goyas but not the Oscars. If they return to the competition this year, it will probably be “60 Miles East” about illegal immigrants trying to reach Puerto Rico by boat.
33. Ecuador has submitted twice, and may do so again with the well-received “Cuando me toque a mí”, about a number of characters facing life and death in modern-day Quito.
34. Egypt’s film Academy has proved to be one that honors quality and controversy. After submitting only one film in the 1980s, and only three films in the 1990s, they have once again become a regular fixture in this competition (entering 5 of the last 6 years) but were shamelessly denied a nomination for the excellent “The Yacoubian Building”. I see this year as a two-way race between “Chaos” and “Baby Doll’s Night”. “Chaos”, the latest film from 82-year old master filmmaker Youssef Chahine, is a drama about a corrupt cop who tries to rule his lower-middle-class neighborhood with an iron fist. It’s not supposed to be his best work, but it has done well at the box-office and he hasn’t been selected in this category since 1997 and may be considered due. “Baby-Doll Night”is a multi-story drama set against the background of international terrorism and Middle Eastern instability, focusing on a husband trying to reunited with his estranged wife. I give the edge to “Chaos”. Less likely: the arthouse “Aquarium”, drama “Seventh Heaven” and action-thriller “The Island” have all been featured internationally. Ironically, the best reviewed Egyptian film of the year, the minimalist “Eye of the Sun”, oft compared to “Amores Perros”, has not been shown in Egypt in large part because they have not been able to get past the government censors. “Sun” could easily be a spoiler if it gets screened at home. The Egyptian Academy seems to enjoy courting controversy.
35. Estonia’s has four possible films to choose from – two dark youth dramas- “I Was Here” (a boy gets involved with drug dealing) and “Where Souls Go” (a Goth girl)- plus “Georg”, the biography of a famed Estonian musician and ethnic musical “Taarka". I see this as a dead heat between “Georg” and “I Was Here”- with “Georg” winning by a nose. “For Estonia watchers, “Magnus”, the first Estonian film at Cannes, is still banned within the country by order of an Estonian court.
36. Fiji doesn’t have anything to submit this year, although an English-language feature-length documentary, "An Island Calling", was produced here by filmmakers from New Zealand.
37. Finland, thanks to a well-organized website, can be said to have 18 eligible films. The 2 animated features, 3 children’s films, 1 documentary and 1 horror movie can basically be eliminated. Of those remaining, seven have already screened & the other four will be released in August & September. Of those that have already come out, revenge thriller “Black Ice” which beat out last year’s excellent Finnish Oscar submission “A Man’s Job” for the Finnish Oscar, stands the greatest chance of being selected. WWII drama “Tali-Ihantalaa 1944” and reform school drama “The Home of Dark Butterflies” are not far behind. Of those yet to be released, the most promising is historical thriller “Tears of April”, set in 1918 after Finland won its independence. I predict “Tears” in first place, followed by “Ice”, “Butterflies”, “1944” and theatrical romance “8 Days to Premiere”, which competed in Shanghai. Very dark horses: the yet-to-be-released comedy “The Subtenant” and dramas “Sisters Apart” and “The Novelist”.
38. France, is usually cited as the reason each country can only submit one film. If not, so they say, we may see five French films nominated every year. France likes to win, and they will invariably choose the film they think Oscar will like (and not necessarily what the French like). They miscalculated last year (although "Persepolis" was better than all three of their last three choices which were all shortlisted or nominated). There are no breakout hits this year...."The Secret of the Grain", about an Arab family in France (see TUNISIA) was the underwhelming winner of the Best Film Award at the Cesars...."Entre les Murs" (The Class) won the Cannes Film Festival, but is too sappy for France to rely on, and France knows that Oscar hardly ever agrees with Cannes anyway (the last six Cannes winners submitted in this category failed to be nominated). You can't go wrong with Catherine Deneuve, which is why I'm betting they go with "Un Conte de Noel" (A Christmas Story), which should be screened right before or after Xmas in the US, and which is seen as a well-made family drama of the kind that Oscar might really like. The best chance to unseat Deneuve is Anglophone Kristin Scott-Thomas speaking French in "I've Loved You For So Long", which won awards in Berlin and features a woman recently released from prison. In 3rd place: French doesn't always choose its BEST films if they think Oscar will like a lesser one. Therefore, audience pleasing actioner "Female Agents" set among the French resistance (Oscar loves WWII!) may get to represent France. Dark horses: two new movies with Juliette Binoche, "Summer Hours" about three siblings and an inheritance and "Paris", co-starring Romain Durais, and directed by Cedric Klapisch (of the two WONDERFUL Auberge Espagnole films), about a dancer who needs a heart transplant. Less likely: "Simple Heart", about a maid and her stern mistress, "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life", about five days that turn out to be more important than others, and, if France goes wacky, comedy "I Always Dreamed of Being a Gangster".
39. Georgia had one of the Soviet Union’s most acclaimed film industries, but it has suffered severe financial difficulties over the last decade and this year's war won't help. If it it's released in time, they will probably choose 2-time selectee (and one-time Oscar nominee) Nana Dzhordzhadze’s “The Rainbowmaker”. If it’s not in time, I predict “Murder”, a thriller. Unlikely: “Quentin’s Glasses”.
40. Germany has been fairly low-key this year, and they only have two strong candidates, namely “The Wave” and “Cherry Blossoms”. “The Wave” is about a class project that sets out to simulate what life is like under a dictatorship, but spins horribly out of control. It sounds very similar to Germany’s 2001 submission “Das Experiment”. “Cherry Blossoms” is about an elderly German couple, neither of whom has much time left, and their experience with Japanese culture. Botfilms lost to last year’s submission “Edge of Heaven” at the 2008 German Film Awards, although “Cherry Blossoms” won the Silver award and will probably get the German Oscar nod. Slightly possible: “Cloud Nine” (Cannes) about a mature woman’s extramarital affair, “The Heart is a Dark Forest”, about a woman seeking revenge on her unfaithful husband, “Chiko”, about the German-Turkish community, “Things Between Us”, a modern-day Belle de Jour, and especially “Lulu & Jimi”, about an interracial romance IF it premieres in time. Ineligible: Postpartem depression drama “The Stranger In Me” has gotten great reviews but opens after the deadline. Out of the running: Wim Wenders’ latest “Palermo Shooting” sounds neither promising nor good, nor does the talky “Come in and Burn Out”....Oscar winner Caroline Link’s “Aftermath” does not look likely to premiere in time (and probably has too much English anyway), nor does faerie tale “The Story of Brandner Kaspar”.
41. Greece usually makes this easy- they traditionally choose the winner of the Best Greek Film Award at the Thessaloniki Film Festival & this year, that was “El Greco”, a biography of the Greek artist that got middling reviews. Good or not, the film is almost completely in English and Greece was disqualified from sending the English-language “Brides” in 2005, so they should know the rules. Second place at Thessaloniki was "Uranya", a coming-of-age comedy by a previously submitted director, which got much better reviews than “Greco”. Problem? It was released back in 2006, way before the cutoff date. Greece may sit the competition out, or they may choose 3rd ranked film “Correction”, a labyrinthine mystery. Then again, if the confusion causes them to hold a separate vote, I think “The Homecoming”, involving three parallel stories surrounding an illegal Albanian immigrant, might win. I predict the Greeks will try & send “Greco” but end up with “Correction” as their nominee.
42. Guatemala submitted their first and only film in 1994. This year, they have a strong candidate in youth drama "Gasolina", by an up-and-coming 32-year old director. It's about a group of middle-class kids who end up caught up in the dangerous slums of contemporary Guatemala. It won the In Progress award last year at San Sebastian.
43. Hong Kong is certain to choose Jet Li’s action epic “The Warlords”- that is, if Mainland China doesn’t claim it first. Chinese news outlets as much as said last year that they were hoping to submit “Warlords”, but it wasn’t able to be released on time. The film has two Hong Kong-based directors, 3 (out of 4) Hong Kong-based lead actors, and it won Best Picture at this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards. In any case, “Warlords” will be submitted by one or the other. The other country is likely to send “Red Cliff”, another historical action drama (also with Takeshi Kaneshiro). If they want to send an authentic Hong Kong film (i.e. in Cantonese with local stars), the most likely choice is “The Way We Are”, a morose lower-middle-class drama set in the HK suburbs by acclaimed director Ann Hui. Everyone else, including three Johnnie To films- “The Sparrow”, “Mad Detective” and “Linger” (his films have been submitted three times in the past decade), “Run Papa Run” (by Taiwan’s Sylvia Chang), crowd-pleasing actioner “Empress and Her Warriors”, Wong Kar-Wai's "Ashes of Time Reduc" and Stephen Chow’s new family film, “CJ7”- are out of luck. Impossible: homoerotic flop: “City Without Baseball”. It should be noted that LoveHKFilm.com has declared 2008 to be the worst-ever year in Hong Kong film.
44. Hungary is one of only two countries that have submitted a film every year for the past 40 years (the other is France). And they don’t even care if they win the award! The Hungarians have ignored a lot of potential nominees in favor of inexplicable arthouse, gross-out horror and the weirdest kinds of experimental cinema. I’m curious how many elderly Oscar voters ran out of the theatre watching the vomit-inducing “Taxidermia” last year. In any case, Hungary has had two big critical hits this year- “Delta” is an incest drama that was years in the making (the lead actor passed away during filming) & which won both Best Picture awards at Hungarian Film Week 2008 and a major award at Cannes…."The Investigation” is a thriller that has played at a number of festivals and is slightly more mainstream…and also sounds an awful lot like last year’s excellent “Trap” from Serbia (with more humor). The trouble is that neither film has yet been released in Hungary this year. No less than five of the predictions I made for Hungary last year premiered last year but were released this year. This mean’s last year’s Hungarian Film Week winner “Iska’s Journey”, the visual feast of “Dolina”, a dubbed Tilda Swinton in “The Man From London”, Gypsy drama “Happy New Life” and comedy “The Train Keeps A Rollin’” all still stand a chance. Also possible: “Milky Way”, a surreal experimental film by a previously submitted director, “Adventurers”, a film about a Romanian-Hungarian family, 1956 love triangle “The Sun Street Boys”, and Transylvanian comedy “Good Luck!”. Unlikely: two absurdist comedy-dramas- an unstable woman in ”Panic” and the crime film of “Tableau”. One of the most difficult national decisions this year & a lot depends on release dates, but my Top Five for Hungary: “Delta”, “Dolina”, “Investigation”, “Iska” and “Milky Way”.
45. Iceland has the smallest population of any country invited to the Oscar party, and yet they still have nine eligible films to choose from this year, half of which are yet to be released, and four of which co-star Ingvar E. Sigurdsson. I’m betting they choose “White Night Wedding”, by the twice-chosen Baltasar Kormakur, about a small-time groom with cold feet. However, that’s by no means certain, as there’s lots of competition, especially from small-town drama “Small Mountain”, wedding comedy “Country Wedding”, pot-selling comedy-drama “Back Soon” (premiering at Locarno) and adventure/family film “No Network”. If Iceland wants to be original, the feature-length musical documentary “Heima” is supposed to come close to a religious experience. Competition appears much too fierce for gangster comedy “The Higher Force”, Filipino drag queen comedy “The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela” or action drama “Reykjavik-Rotterdam” (starring director Kormakur) to make an impact.
46. India, which produces more movies than any country on Earth, always has a controversial and contentious Oscar submission process. Last year, it was the subject of a lawsuit, when they chose the plodding “Eklavya” (which admittedly have a great ending) over a better-reviewed film. This year, I think India will make their choice between Aamir Khan’s directorial debut, “Taare Zameen Par” (Stars on Earth), which swept India’s Filmfare Awards, and Aishwarya Rai’s lush 16th century musical “Jodhaa Akbar”. Both Khan and Rai are megastars in India, and both have had their films sent to the Oscars on several occasions. “Stars” is supposed to be a better movie, but I think “Akbar” will be chosen due to superior production values and its portrayal of Indian history. They have hundreds of other films to choose from. Other possibilities include two more megastar vehicles: the expensive Tamil-language action film “Dasavatharam” starring Kamal Hassan, and Shahrukh Khan’s reincarnation comedy “Om Shanti Om”. 9 of India’s last twelve submissions has starred one (or more) of these four actors. Unlikely: “Saawariya” is supposed to be gorgeous but not a great film (similar to the same director’s “Devdas” which was sent to the Oscars in 2002), “Welcome”, a comedy, “Aamir”, a thriller” and, if it premieres, semi-autobiographical drama “Delhi 6”. Barring that, it’s also possible India will choose an obscure film from one of India’s “regional cinemas” (i.e. outside of Bollywood and Kollywood)- they’ve done that only 3 times in the past 25 years, choosing one film each in Marathi (2004), Malayalam (1997) and Telugu (1986).
47. Indonesia’s film industry is booming- but always exclusively with ghost stories, horror movies and teen comedies that deservedly don't make it outside of the country. Oscar-calibre submissions are few. I’d say the favorite is romantic drama “In the Name of Love”, arguably the best reviewed Indonesian movie of the year. I think it will be shortlisted but ultimately lose to “Chants of Women”, a series of stories about the struggles of women, produced & co-directed by Nia di Nata, who has been submitted twice before. (and who I had the pleasure of meeting at a Film Festival in Bangkok). “Love”, a story of five inter-connected romances, will probably round out the 3-film shortlist. Other possible finalists: “They Say I’m A Monkey”, about a troubled young woman, “May”, an interracial romance, “Runaway from Blora”, set on a poor island, “Verses of Love”, an Egypt-set religious romantic drama, “Self-Claimed Prophet”, about a brainwashing religious cult, “Ikhsan”, a poorly reviewed tearjerker about a dyslexic child, and “Kantata Takwa”, an experimental film.
48. Iran almost always chooses one of their films from the domestic Fajr Festival (though not last year). I predict they choose “Song of Sparrows”, by Iran’s only Oscar nominee so far, Majid al-Majidi, which is said to be a return to his earlier style using amateur actors. The gently moralistic theme will also probably suit the Iranian Academy. Iran can surprise sometimes though, and they may well choose “So Simple” (the big winner at Fajr) about a stressed middle-class housewife out to make changes in her life. Dark horses: a man goes home to die and asks neighbors if they want him to send God a message in “Testimonial for God”, plus religious drama “Music Box” about an angel, or divorce drama “Green Fire”. If they’re in the mood for something different than their realistic dramas, they may choose historical film “Flags of Kaveh Fortress”, about the Mongol invasion. Less likely: dramas “Among the Clouds”, “Winter Sleep”.
49. Iraq has been suffering from war and instability and yet they have still entered three films (two Kurdish, one Arab) in a row. This year, they have two feature-length documentaries that have been doing very well, namely “Life After the Fall” and “War, Love, God & Madness” (a documentary about the filming of “Ahlaam”, Iraq’s 2006 submission). Because Iraq has so much instability, it’s difficult for films to meet Oscar's requirements to “premiere” in Iraq. Release dates are almost impossible to come by, but 2006 films Kurdish films like “Narcissus Blossom”, “Night of Many Years” and “Beritan”, could potentially be chosen if they first premiered on Iraqi soil this year. All three are about different aspects of the Kurdish liberation movement under Saddam’s Baath party. One website claims “Blossom” wants the nod. I’m predicting “War” here, but I think it’s more likely they’ll choose a Kurdish fiction film.
50. Ireland had one of the highest-profile submissions last year because they sent their first-ever Gaelic language film to the Oscars, choosing "Kings" over "Graveyard Clay". Last year’s two films were the first Irish-language features released in many years, and they don’t appear to have any more non-English films this year.
CYPRUS is one of only two European Union members that doesn't participate in the competition (the other is Malta), but they could try for the first time with multi-arc drama "Exodos". The tiny Arab kingdom of BAHRAIN has “Four Girls”, about four women of different socio-economic background, which opened the inaugural Gulf Film Festival this year. ETHIOPIA could choose "Teza", which is premiering at the Venice Film Festival and their arch-enemy ERITREA could choose to submit Austrian majority production "Heart of Fire", set in Eritrea and starring Eritreans speaking Tigrinya. HAITI can choose between artsy drama “Eat, For This is My Body” and steamy romance “Le Chauffeur”, but probably won't send either.