Here's my analysis of the Foreign Film Oscar race, from Israel to Vietnam. Incidentally, SOUTH KOREA has already announced their official selection, "Crossing". I have it listed below, but I predicted they would choose the musical drama "Sunny", which also made the official Korean shortlist.
1. Israel always sends the Best Picture winner at the Ophir Awards to the Oscars. Lately, this has not worked very well...Two years, there was a tie and Israel had to figure out how to break it. Last year, AMPAS disqualified their first choice (“The Band’s Visit”) and ended up nominating the movie Israelis felt was second best ("Beaufort"). However, Israel has not changed the rules. Therefore, it seems clear that Israel will choose one of three nominees. The frontrunner is an animated documentary about the 1982 war with Lebanon (Although, I don’t understand how a documentary can be animated…) “Waltz with Bashir”, although it faces stiff competition from “Lost Islands”, a 1980s family drama and box office hit, and “7 Days”, about a large Moroccan-Jewish family coming together during the 7-day mourning period of a Jewish funeral. Everyone is predicting “Waltz” will have it easy, but I think it will be a very, very close race with “7 Days”. I’ll pick “Waltz” for now. The other two nominees, comedy “Out of the Blue” and “Just Like Your Father”, about an Israeli family living in France are not expected to have any chance. Not nominated: Amos Gitai’s “Disengagement” and the acclaimed “The Lemon Tree”.
2. Italy is the last of the countries I'm writing about, until next year.....Of course has lots of movies in play, but I predict three main contenders: : "Il Divo" is the biography of a controversial Italian prime minister, which may be too "inside" for American audiences. "Sanguepazzo" focuses on Oscar's favorite subject, World War II, but more on a love triangle than the war itself. "Quiet Chaos", about the pain of bereavement. got the most nominations at the Italian Oscars this year, but it didn't win Best Picture (the winner is not eligible). Wild card: the possible dark horse "Gomorra". Prediction: Quiet Chaos
3. Japan, more than any other country, needs an Oscar consultant. Almost every year, they choose the wrong film from among their large pool of quality films, picking something that is sure to be rejected. I should know. I speak Japanese, live in Japan and try to see the best Japanese films every year. This year, the most likely candidates are: “Ponyo on the Cliff”, the latest animated soon-to-be-masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki, “Tokyo Sonata”, a family drama and a rare non-supernatural pic from horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and Japan’s biggest hit on the film festival circuit this year; “Kaibei”, a tearjerker by Oscar nominee and 4-time submission, Yoji Yamada,“Even If You Walk and Walk”, another dysfunctional family drama, this time by the consistently excellent Hirokazu Koreeda, and “Grave of the Fireflies”, a live-action version of the tearjerker WWII anime of the same name. I think the first three all stand a good chance, but I’m predicting “Ponyo”. Outside chances: pedophilia drama “Children of Darkness”, the latest farce from Koki Mitani “The Magic Hour”, “Always Sunset on Third Street Part 2”, the inferior sequel to what should have been Japan’s Oscar submission in 2006 and “United Red Army” an unusual WWII film that uncomfortably fuses documentary and fiction. Less likely: gaijin-directed “Tokyo”, about foreign perspectives on Japan, “Fine, Totally, Fine”, a very well-received comedy about two brothers fighting over a girl, war tribunal drama “Best Wishes for Tomorrow”. The Japanese nominee is usually one of the more unexpected ones in this competition.
4. Jordan has never submitted a film to the Oscars before, but I predict they will debut this year with “Captain Abu Raed”, a drama about a janitor mistaken for an airline pilot by a gaggle of neighborhood children. It’s the most widely-seen Jordanian movie ever, and won the Audience Award at Sundance. If they do, they will become the 9th Arab country to compete.
5. Kazakhstan’s film production is way up this year, and they look to become a regular fixture in this competition after last year’s surprise nomination for "Mongol". After choosing three large-scale historical epics, I think they will go smaller this year, with the gentle steppe comedy “Tulpan”, which won the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes. However, they’ve lots of small films to choose from. Second & third place will probably be “Song of the Southern Seas”, a drama about inter-ethnic relations between neighbors and “The Racketeer”, a local hit about a young boxer. Dark horse: musical comedy “The Fuss”. Also possible: “Baksy” and “Karoy” are by two Kazakh female directors and both have been shown internationally. Historical drama “Mustafa Shokai” stands a good chance at being chosen if it is released in time before the deadline. “Chouga”, “Ulzhan” and “Strizh” have also been shown internationally, but I don’t think they stand a chance.
6. Korea (South), as I remark every year, has the world’s greatest film industry never recognized by Oscar. With remarkable consistency, they submit great films and Oscar ignores them again and again. My picks for the usual 3-film shortlist are: “Sunny”, a drama about a housewife who becomes a singer entertaining South Korean troops during the Vietnam War, along with serial killer thriller “The Chaser” (which won Best Picture at this year’s Grand Bell Awards), and patriotic Olympic handball drama “Forever the Moment”. Also possible: North Korean refugee drama “Crossing” and action-comedy “The Good, the Bad and the Weird” (the most expensive film in Korean history; it has already a secured US release). “Night and Day”, a slow arthouse drama about a Korean fugitive living in Paris, could make it based on its good showing in Berlin, but reviews were only mediocre. Very dark horses: comedy “Radio Dayz”, “With a Girl on Black Soil”, a drama about a poor mining town and “Fantastic Parasuicides” which features three separate stories. Final prediction: “Sunny”.
7. Kuwait submitted two films in the 1970s, and then pretty much quit making movies altogether. This year’s their Oscar drought could end as they have produced not one, but TWO new features. If they enter, crime drama “One More Chance” should beat out romantic thriller “Al Donjowana”.
8. Kyrgyzstan will probably send “Tengri, The Blue Sky” a nomadic tale & co-production with France. Kyrgyzstan’s famous father-son team Aktan Abdykalykov & his young son Mirlan both have separate directorial projects in the works, but neither has premiered yet. My prediction from last year, the bride-stealing tale “Pure Coolness”, which was released last year, could be a wild card if it premiered late at home
9. Latvia submitted only one time, in 1992, immediately after achieving independence. This year, they are likely to return with the long-awaited war drama “Defenders of Riga”, which is the most expensive film, and biggest box-office hit in Latvia’s cinematic history (beating the record set by “Titanic”). It recently was screened in New York.
10. Lebanon found itself in the unusual position of being a dark horse favorite for an Oscar nomination last year and a lot of people were extremely disappointed that the ultra-charming “Caramel” didn't get a nod. This year, they have five eligible films, the most likely being “Under the Bombs” about a woman and taxi driver trying to find the woman’s son during the 2007 war with Israel. The same director was selected two years ago. Catherine Deneuve usually means Oscar bait, so they may consider docudrama “Je Veux Voir”, in which she co-stars. Less likely: “Khalass”, “Falling From Earth” and “Melodram Habibi” which will find it difficult to be selected. Rival Israel was nominated last year for a film about the recent war with Lebanon. Hopefully that won’t lead Lebanon to boycott.
11. Lithuania sent a movie for the first and only time in 2006. If they send a movie this year, it will surely be “Loss”, about a mentally disturbed woman who emigrates to Ireland to support the orphaned child she truly believes to be her own. It won two awards in Shanghai. Only other possibilities: opera “Rigoletto” and Karlovy Vary drama “The Collectress”.
12. Luxembourg participates in a lot of co-productions but makes very few films on its own. Stung by their 2006 disqualification from this competition, they have been choosing their national productions, (rather than co-productions) lately. This year, they’re certain to choose “Refractaire”, a French-language film about a young man who deserts rather than be conscripted into the German army during WWII-occupied Luxembourg. If that doesn’t premiere in time, they’ll probably go with “Arabian Nights”, a thriller about a ticket inspector who becomes obsessed with a mysterious Algerian woman aboard his train. Unlikely: Coming-of-age drama “Red Ants” (a coproduction with Belgium) and comedy “Luftbusiness” (made with Switzerland).
13. Macedonia only seems to have produced one film this year,”I Am From Titov Veles”, (it played in Berlin) about three sisters living in a polluted industrial town notable only for a lead factory. They’ll probably send it in.
14. Malaysia submitted once in 2004 with their big-budget national epic “The Princess of Mount Ledang”. They may return this year with another patriotic nationalist story, the independence drama, “1957: Hati Malaya”, which played at the Kuala Lumpur Film Festival, or “Wayang”, a drama about a puppeteer passing on the traditional art to the next generation. "Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang", a mystery-comedy was the surprise winner at the 2008 Malaysian Film Festival (the Malaysian Oscars) and serious drama “Anak Halal” also got very good reviews. However, Malaysia has shown it's not very interested in this category... “Flower in the Pocket” might have been a contender, but Malaysia is loath to honor non-Malay-language (i.e. Chinese or Tamil) films (they are not even allowed to compete for awards at the Malaysian Film Festival).
15. Mexico has two new movies from up-and-coming director Rodrigo Pla, which are among Mexico's four front-runners. I predict that “La Zona”, the story of a well-to-do neighborhood racked by a violent murder, will be selected over wartime drama “The Desert Within”. Also in the top four: “Burn the Bridges”, an engrossing upper class soap opera that is supposed to be greater than the sum of its parts and my alternate choice “Parque Via”, about indigenous Mexicans, which won the Grand Prize in Locarno. Also likely to be shortlisted (in order), Goodbye Leninesque comedy “Nonna’s Trip”, “The Bastards”, about illegal day laborers in the USA, artsy comedy “Lake Tahoe”, suicide drama “Aurora Boreal”, documentary “Old Thieves” and family drama “Used Parts”. Also possible: dark horse science fiction “Sleep Dealer”. Not good enough: antiglobalism thriller “El Cobrador”, Gael Garcia Bernal’s directorial debut “Deficit”, and indigenous language drama “Cochochi”.
16. Mongolia has submitted two charming docudramas, both directed by Byambasuren Davaa, Mongolia’s first and only Oscar nominee. She is currently filming her third feature (“The Two Horses of Genghis Khan”, continuing her animal motif after focusing on camels and dogs). Mongolia will probably sit this year out, although they theoretically could send local hit “Elsnii Nuudel”
17. Morocco has sent only four films over the years, two of them directed by Nabil Ayouch. He has the highest profile Moroccan film of the year- romantic comedy “Whatever Lola Wants”- but it’s mostly in English. That means Morocco will almost certainly go with ”Burned Hearts”, the story of a Moroccan schooled in France and his difficulties re-assimilating back in his home country...if they send anything at all. Dark horse: The similar themed “Francaise”, about a teenage girl born in France, whose family returns to Morocco. Probably out of the running: “Samira’s Garden” about a woman’s extramarital affair, “Waiting for Pasolini”, a comedy, “Satan’s Angels”, about a rock band jailed when a court declares their music Satanic, and “Kandisha”, a supernatural thriller.
18. Nepal, the world's newest republic, took last year off, but will probably return to the competition this year...But will they choose quality filmmaking or political propaganda? Supernatural drama “Kagbeni” is described by many critics as the best Nepali movie ever made. Based on the tragic Western fairy tale “The Monkey’s Paw” and set in Nepal, it has wowed audience at home with its relatively high production values, and toured the United States in limited release at cultural centers throughout the country. Its main competition is political propaganda musical “Janayuddha”, a movie about the 12-year Maoist struggle against the monarchy, whose party now rules the country. I’m hoping they’ll choose “Kagbeni”, but in a corrupt country like Nepal, I’m somewhat skeptical.
19. The Netherlands is traditionally a power in this category (though they chose foolishly last year) and this year almost every recently submitted Dutch director (all five submitted from 2001-2005) has a new movie out. There’s no obvious front-runner, but I predict they go with “Nothing to Lose”, a thriller about an escaped convict, imprisoned for killing his father & sister, who escapes, ostensibly to find the real killer. In second place: Mijke de Jong was disqualified in 2005 on a technicality & the Netherlands may wish to make it up to him by submitting his latest, divorce drama “Stages”, although it couldn’t even manage a Best Pic nominee at this year’s Golden Calf Awards. In third position, multi-storyline drama “Amsterdam”, featuring a thoroughly international cast. Rounding out the Top Five: teenage murder drama “Blood Brothers” and family drama “Morrison”, about a jealous little boy who kidnaps his newborn baby sister. All five stand a good chance with the Dutch Oscar committee. “Bride Flight” (by the director of “Twin Sisters”) could easily be chosen, but I don’t think it will premiere in time, nor will Eddy Terstall’s political black comedy “Vox Populi” and Mijke de Jong’s new film “Katia’s Little Sister”. Also possible: “How Do I Survive Myself?”, a teen angst drama, “Skin”, about a young neo-Nazi, “In Real Life”, a psychological comedy, and “Tiramisu”, by the director of “Zus & Zo” (though it’s not supposed to be that good). Unlikely in such a competitive year: well-received mainstream comedy “Love Is All”, circus drama “Calimucho”, dialogue-less drama “The Muse” and “Far From Family” about a young Indonesian-Dutch woman raised in America.
20. Nicaragua submitted two films in the 1980s, and got an Oscar nomination on their first try. They haven’t produced a feature film in several years, but they do have one or two in the pipeline. Anyway, forget them this year.
21. Norway appears to have sixteen eligible films. I correctly chose last year’s nominee in large part because two of last year's frontrunners were postponed until this year, and it’s one of these both have a good chance at getting the Norwegian nomination. “The Kautokeino Rebellion”, an expensive historical drama in the Sami language (Lapp), is directed by a former Oscar nominee (Nils Gaup). “Our Dreams” is based on a true story and centers on the forbidden love between a Norwegian female spy and a Russian POW. It’s not competing at the Norwegian Oscars because it won’t be released until September. Gaup has wooed Oscar before, so I predict he gets the nod. The favorite however is probably “O’Horten” one of Scandinavia’s famous slow, boring comedies, which is the favorite to win the Best Picture “Amanda Award” in August. Lots of competition this year, so “The Unseen” about a murderer released from prison, and the mother of his young victim & “ The Man Who Loved Yngve” (also up for Best Picture at the Amandas) about a teenager growing up in 1989 are dark horses at best. Unlikely: Chechen hostage drama “Night of the Wolf". I know “Rebellion” is a dark horse, but I predict it over "Horten".
22. Pakistan has the world’s largest film industry (and largest population) that has never competed in this category (at least not since 1970). This year, it’s quite possible that they will choose “Ramchand Pakistani”, about a 7-year old boy and his father who are imprisoned in neighboring India for 5 years after accidentally crossing the border. It’s based on a true story, and Pakistan may enjoy thumbing it’s nose at India by sending this film to the Oscars.
23. Palestine submitted films from 2003-2005, but production has since halted. This year, they are certain to re-enter the competition with “Salt of the Sea”, by the courageous Annemarie Jacir who went to her film’s premiere at Cannes and was then denied entry by Israeli authorities to return home to the West Bank. It appears the film screened in Palestine at a refugee camp, since the Territories only have a single functioning movie theatre (in Ramallah). There’s also “Pomegranates and Myrrh”, by yet another female Palestinian filmmaker.
24. Peru’s cinema has been slow lately (only 3 films released in 2007), but they have a number of films in the can and it’s unclear which ones will premiere by September 30th . My prediction for Peru is “El Premio”, about a small-time teacher who wins the lottery. Also possible: (in order) the super-low-budget & so far unreleased “Naked Body”, by Francisco Lombardi, who has been chosen in this category four times before, “Mancora”, a coproduction with Spain, “Dioses”, which will premiere in Locarno & “The Watercolorist”, the debut film of a new production company.
25. The Philippines’ national cinema gets no respect. Rarely featured in-competition at international film festivals, the Philippines will probably be so starstruck that they competed at Cannes this year- albeit with the bleak, sexually explicit and (say, many) inexplicable “Service”- that they will forgot how few people actually like the film. After all, despite dozens of films they don’t really have much else to choose from- the winner of the once-prestigious Metro Manila Film Festival was a Transformers-ripoff called “Resiklo”. Dark horse: “Jay”, a small independent film that recent won the Cinemalaya Film Festival. “Pisay”, a teen comedy, has played at the most international festivals this year, while others have featured: “Santa Mesa”, the story of a Filipino-American boy sent back to his native Philippines when his mother dies suddenly, the abstract three stories of “Years When I Was a Child Outside”, “Tribu” which stars real-life gang members, “Batanes”, by the director last year’s submission, and especially “Slingshot”, by the same director of “Service”, but which was released with half the fanfare but twice better reviews. The AMPAS Foreign Film committee will likely be absolutely horrified if the Philippines sends the 5-hour “Now Showing” or worse, the 9-hour “Death in the Land of Encantos”.
26. Poland was nominated for the first time in 25 years last year for “Katyn”, and they could potentially make it two-in-a-row with the acclaimed gentle “Tricks”, which they’re almost certain to choose for Oscar. The film was the winner of last year’s Polish Film Festival and lost to “Katyn” at this year’s Polish Oscars. The movie is about a six-year old boy growing up in a provincial Polish, in the shadow of his beloved elder sister. If any film has a chance at beating it, it’s the age and experience of “A Time to Die”, starring 93-year old actress Danuta Szaflarska, who had her first starring role in 1947. “Die” was also up for the Polish Best Picture award this year. I can’t really see any other Polish films competing with these two although “Luiza’s Garden” and “Strawberry Wine” do have an outside chance. Poland often premieres some of their best films at September’s annual Polish Film Festival (as they did with “Katyn”). The deadline for mainstream releases is September 30, so some of those films could conceivably enter the race. But I’m sticking with “Tricks”.
27. Portugal has a terrible record in this category- the Portuguese have submitted more films than any other country without being nominated, and I can never remember them even coming close. This year, three films stand out- (1)- Manuel DeOliveira turns 100 this year & Portugal may choose to honor him again (he’s been chosen by Portugal 8 times, with no success!) for talky historical drama “Christopher Columbus, The Enigma”, in which he casts himself in one of the leads. (2)- “Call Girl” is a political thriller that won Best Picture at last year’s National Film Awards and (3)- “Our Beloved Month of August” is a lengthy drama about town life, which played out of competition at Cannes. Outside chances: Carlos Saura has won Foreign Oscar nominations for both Spain & Argentina and may contend for one for the musical docudrama “Fados”. “The Other Bank” is about a drag queen returning to her small hometown. Unlikely: the depressing tragedy “Misbegotten”, buddy drama “Good Night, Irene”. Unknown quantity: the soon-to-be-released “Simao Botelho”. Never bet against a 100-year old man: Christopher Columbus.
28. Puerto Rico doesn’t have many contenders this year, so it's pretty likely they will send “La Mala”, a musical drama about the life of a Cuban singer living in Puerto Rico. Also possible is “Kabo & Platon”, a reggaeton drama set in the barrio (I hate reggaeton) or, if they’re in a lighter mood, they could send gender-identity comedy “Manuel & Manuela”. Also-rans: “The Two Faces of Janus”, about a serial killer who preys on closeted gays & 80s teen comedy “Partytime”.
29. Romania had a great film year last year, and this one was not so bad either- they won a major Short Film award at Cannes, and had several movies quietly playing at international festivals. If they’re not still bitter at being snubbed for “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” (after all, if that wasn’t nominated then maybe they never will be….incidentally, “4 Months” was a great film, but I did not think it was one of the Top Five on last year’s list), then they’ll probably choose “The Rest is Silence”, a popular new movie about the production of the first Romanian feature film circa 1912. “Boogie”, a nostalgic seaside comedy should be considered as the alternate. Sergiu Nicolescu, whom most film critics consider is way past his prime, is often selected to represent Romania, meaning his new unpronouncable Russian Roulette drama “Supravietuitorul” may get the nod. Rounding out the Top Five: “Weekend with Mama” and “Silent Wedding”. There’s too much competition this year for “The Beheaded Rooster”, “Crossing Dates”, “An Angel Hooked on Me” or “Angling” to have a chance.
30. Russia has lots to choose from and I’m betting it will be one of my two predictions from last year- “Aleksandra” (Aleksandr Sokurov) and “The Banishment” (Andrei Zvyagintsev). Both played the film festival circuit last year but neither opened in Russia until this year. Like last year, I’m predicting that “Aleksandra”, about an octogenarian on a pilgrimage to Chechnya, gets the nod. Also very possible (in order): Alexei Uchitel (sent in 2000)’s latest film “Captive” is about the war in Chechnya, a subject which has been at the heart of 2 out of Russia’s last three Oscar nominations. “By the Will of Chinghis Khan” is a big-budget epic, though will its similarity to last year’s nominee “Mongol” help or hurt it? “The Mermaid” features a young girl who believes her wishes can come true, “Shultes” follows the depressing adventures of a pickpocket and “1612” is an expensive period drama (that only got mediocre reviews). Historical drama “The Paper Soldier” premieres at Venice, but probably won’t make the September 30th deadline in Russia. Dark horses: missing child drama “Yuri’s Day”, “Live and Remember”, a formulaic WWII drama about an AWOL soldier, prodigal father drama “Mukha” (which won the Shanghai Film Festival), and Anton Chekhov-based “The Cherry Orchard”.
31. Serbia should have been nominated last year for “The Trap” but they only managed to make the shortlist. This year, their two main candidates are “Love and Other Crimes”, a black comedy/tragic romance, and “The Fourth Man”, a thriller about a man with amnesia. I give "Fourth Man" the edge. Two other films have an outside chance- the multinational Love Boat-esque “On the Beautiful Blue Danube”, featuring romance and sex aboard a cruise traveling from Austria to Serbia, and “Lost and Found” about Gen-X angst in modern-day Serbia. Family drama “Prince of Paper”, feminist action comedy “Tears for Sale” and the moody “The Reject” are all unlikely. Dark horses: “St. George Shoots the Dragon”, an expensive government-funded nationalist WWI drama is nearly certain to be chosen next year, and is currently scheduled to be released a few days after the Oscar deadline. Expect it to be chosen this year if it has an Oscar-qualifying run.
32. Singapore produces a lot of fun films each year (about half of which are in English), and has entered the Foreign Oscar competition twice. The directors of both previous submissions have new films out this year- the Tamil-language “My Magic”, which became the first Sing movie to compete for the Palme D’Or at Cannes, and “12 Lotus”, the prequel to last year’s box office smash Oscar submission, the musical “881”. Singapore could also submit the multi-story, multi-ethnic independent drama “Salawati” (which probably would have a better chance with Oscar), or Chinese-language coming-of-age story “Keluar Baris”. Less likely: romantic comedy “18 Grams of Love” and atmospheric horror film “Untold Beauty”. I predict ”Magic”, followed by “Salawati”, “Keluar” and “Lotus”.
33. Slovak Republic’s biggest film of the year was the English-language biography of famed medieval murderess “Bathory”, a.k.a. The Blood Countess. The Slovaks appear to have five eligible foreign-language films this year (last year, only two). They’re certain to choose “Music”, which was the Slovak entry to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, and Slovakia’s biggest box-office hit in eight years. It focuses on a group of friends in Communist-era Slovakia. Also-rans: Slovakia has selected auteur Martin Sulik’s films five times, but I don’t think they will choose his new documentary “The Man Who Planted Trees”, nor will they choose urban black comedy “Half-Life”, multi-arc Christmas-themed drama “Demons” or documentary “Blind Loves”.
34. Slovenia appears to have six eligible films this year (last year “Short Circuits” was chosen by default) and “Estrellita” is the front-runner. It’s a small, violent film about a feud between two rival families over a priceless violin. It’s managed to quietly win some small awards at international fests. Next most likely is surprise box-office smash “Rooster’s Breakfast”, a quirky drama about a rural car mechanic. Dark horses: children’s fantasy “Tea” and comedy film-within-a-film “Installation of Love”. Out of the running: the artsy “Forever”, the Czech-set “L for Love”. Premiering too late: ”We’ve Never Been to Venice” (which premieres in Sarajevo).
35. South Africa has surprisingly taken two years off after winning this award in 2006 for “Tsotsi”. Although South Africa has 11 official languages, most of their films are made in English. South Africa has two main contenders this year (both in Afrikaans), and here’s hoping they return. Their best bet is “Meisie”, directed by Oscar nominee Darrell Roodt, about a bright young girl whose father does not want her to attend school. Runner-up: “Confessions of a Gambler”, about a devout Muslim woman who develops a weakness for gambling.
36. Spain is the one country I am skipping researching this year. I’m going to go along with the conventional wisdom on the Net that Spain will be selecting Post-Spanish Civil War drama “Blind Sunflowers”, which will premiere this week (August 2008).
37. Sri Lanka submitted a film in 2003 but otherwise has ignored Oscar. Last year, they had two prominent candidates, and still did not submit. If they send a movie, I predict it will be “Aba”, a historical drama based on the life of a prince who ruled the island country circa 400BC. It’s reportedly Sri Lanka’s most expensive film ever. Also with good reviews- “King Siri”, a drama about a poor village boy given a scholarship to an elite school, and “Yahawuloho”, about the intermingling of Sri Lanka’s ethnicities. Dark horses: handball comedy “Manchan”, Bollywood-style musical “Rosa Kele”, and especially the extremely controversial “'Prabhakaran”, about the country’s ongoing civil war.
38. Sweden is usually a force to be reckoned with in this category. This year, I think they’ll choose “Maria Larsson’s Everlasting Moment”, a Swedish-language period drama by 2-time Oscar nominee Jan Troell. Also very possible (in order): “Heaven’s Heart”, a drama about infidelity among friends, “Wolf”, a contemporary drama set in rural Northern Sweden, “Leo”, a violent revenge drama by two-time selected director Josef Fares (who is only 31 years old) and Cannes tragicomedy “Involuntary”. Dark horse: star-studded medieval action-adventure “Arn- The Knight Templar”. Highly unlikely: Colin Nutley was selected three times in the 1990s, but Sweden has ignored him for 10 years & his latest, “Angel” is supposed to be awful (rating 1.2 on the IMDB). Vampire drama “Let the Right One In” is arguably the best reviewed Swedish film of the year, but it won’t open until after the deadline. Consider it in second place to "Maria" if it gets an Oscar qualifying run.
39. Switzerland’s front-runner is “The Friend”, a German-language drama about a socially inept young man who is hired by a pretty girl to play the role of her boyfriend at an important family dinner. When the girl dies suddenly, he is embraced by the grieving family. It won Best Picture at this year’s Swiss Film Awards. Two other Swiss Film Award nominees are also eligible- the French-language “Max & Co.”, an anti-capitalist animated film (and Switzerland’s most expensive film ever) + “Fuori Dalle Corde” (which I predicted last year), an Italian-language boxing drama. Barter comedy “Marcello, Marcello” premieres at Locarno, but it remains to be seen if it will debut at home in time for consideration. Dark horse: comedy “Luftbusiness”, by a previously submitted Swiss director, and starring Iceland’s Noi the Albino. Also with a slight chance: recluse drama “A Few Days Before Night”, immigrant drama “Roulette”, “Bursting”, a drama about fate and death, father-daughter drama “Hello Goodbye” and “The Sound of Insects”, about a mummy found in Switzerland. Are the following eligible? “Voltaire and the Callas Affair”, by a previously submitted director, should place high but IMDB indicates it played on TV first….”Days and Clouds” has gotten good reviews but appears to be a majority Italian production.
40. Taiwan loves being inviting to the Oscars because Oscar still recognizes them as a separate country from China. Youth dramas, lesbians, aboriginal people and interconnected stories feature prominently this year. Taiwan has a half-dozen well-received movies, but no front-runners, and essentially no chance at an Oscar nomination. The Taiwanese Academy is fairly unpredictable but I think they will choose “The Most Distant Course”, a three-character drama which won an award at last year’s Venice Film Festival. In second place: “Cape No. 7”, a big-budget patriotic film about a local Taiwanese band that opens for a Japanese rock star (though Taiwan usually goes more arty). In a close 3rd place: “Parking”, a black comedy which played Un Certain Regard at Cannes, about a man having a particular bad day. Rounding out the top five are “The Wall”, about a family hiding a Japanese fugitive & the slow, arty film “Soul of a Demon” (whose “Best of Times” was submitted in 2002). Dark horses: the interlocking stories of “God Man Dog” and the family rivals of “Tea Fight”. Less likely: the poorly reviewed Tsai Ming-liangesque “Help Me Eros”, movie insider comedy “What On Earth Have I Done Wrong?”, teen drama “Orz Boys” and Cheng Wen-Tang’s (submitted in 2006) “Summer’s Tail”.
41. Tajikistan has submitted films to this competition twice, but there don’t seem to be any eligible films this year. At a recent Central Asian film festival, the Tajiks sent only one documentary and a few shorts. Neither of their two international directors, Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov & Jamshed Usmonov, appear to have anything new this year.
42. Tanzania, which sent a movie once in 2001, is unlikely to participate this year, although they could go with Swahili-language drama “Fimbo ya Baba” (Father’s Stick), about a young woman forced into a marriage with an older HIV-positive man.
43. Thailand (my home until last year) hasn’t produced many quality films this year, and most domestic releases prominently feature either sappy teen romance, scatological horror-comedy or some combination of the two. The favorite for the Thai submission is probably “Love of Siam”, a gay-themed romance which won Best Picture at this year’s Suphannahongsa Awards, (the Thai Oscars). Post-tsunami drama “Wonderful Town” has been the most awarded Thai film of the year internationally, but the slow, artsy filmmaking is not likely to be appreciated at home. The Thai Academy often likes to choose films that showcase Thai history & culture, meaning that “First Flight”, about the origin of the Thai Air Force may get the nod. However, I think that powerful royalist sentiment will push the recently released “Where the Miracle Happens”, a drama written by and starring Thailand’s Princess Ubol Ratana to be the Thai Oscar candidate. (beating “Siam” by a nose). Ethnic Akha drama "Mheejou", comedy “Boonchu 9”, by twice-selected director Bhandit Rittakol and romantic drama "The Last Moment" have gotten some positive notices, but stand little chance at being chosen.
44. Tunisia has only submitted films for the Oscar twice, despite having one of the most liberal film industries in the Arab world. Two eligibility questions: fantasy drama “Bab’Aziz” had its international premiere in 2005 but was just released in Tunisia this past spring; "The Secret of the Grain", the winner of the French Cesar for Best Picture, was a co-production with Tunisia, and is a story about Arab immigrants living in France. Clearly eligible is drama “The Accident”, about a contented, married taxi driver whose life is changed by a beautiful female passenger. There’s also “Villa Jasmin”, but I doubt Tunisia would select a film about the Jewish community to represent them. Like Algeria’s “Indigenes”, I think “Grain” will be allowed in, and it is my prediction for Tunisia.
45. Turkey has had a great film year, but their clear top candidate is “The Egg”, a movie about a poet who returns to his hometown after a long absence. It won two major awards at the Istanbul International Film Festival, including the Golden Egg. Runner-ups: “The Messenger”, about a minstrel whose stories ignite a revolution, “Summer Book”, a low-budget film about a boy’s summer vacation and the acclaimed Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest pretentious tripe from Cannes, “Three Monkeys”. Also in with a chance: the misadventures of a reluctant thief in “Dot”, low-budget drama “Ara”, and the soon-to-be-released action epic “Beyaz Huzun”. Rounding out the top ten contenders: drama “White Angel”, Locarno/Sarajevo debut “Autumn” and “My Marlon and Brando”, in which real-life people play out their real life romance. Probably destined to be also-rans: honor killings in “Hidden Faces”, murder investigation “Murky Waters”, traditional tale “Shadow” and acclaimed horror film “Semum”.
46. Ukraine’s 2006 selection process was controversial because (a)- the selection process was not transparent and (b)- it appeared the selected film (cancer drama “Aurora”) did not premiere until months after the deadline. In 2007, they formed a special committee to choose a nominee- but it never met. Anyway, Ukraine’s film body held screenings at Cannes for the first time and it’s very possible they’ll choose one of their seven new films to send to Oscar. Among the films was Ukraine biggest ever box-office hit- “Sappho”- a 1920s love triangle which was controversial for its lesbian love scenes. However, that was filmed mostly in English. So that’s out. The most likely Ukrainian submission is “Birds of Paradise” (Karlovy Vary & Moscow), a look at Soviet-era repression, which was made by an well-respected elderly director. If not, they could choose between 17th century historical drama “Bogdan Zinoviy Khmelnitskiy”, 19th century biography “Vladyka Andrey”, the experimental 36-character “Casting”, or political thriller “Illusion of Fear”, in that order. Unlikely: criminal drama “13 Months” & family movie “An Awesome Tale”.
47. The United Kingdom caused a huge controversy last year when they asked British filmmakers to submit films to represent the UK, but then decided not to send either of the films they received. Despite inquiries by AMPAS, the two involved directors, and even the Scottish Parliament (one of the films was “Seachd”, the first feature film made in the Scottish language in decades), BAFTA resolutely refused to send either film & also cryptically said that perhaps they weren't the right film body to choose the British nominee. Nevertheless, BAFTA sent out an identical open call for submissions this year….Will they be embarrassed by last year’s controversy and submit? Or will they bow out again? The only serious non-English film I know about it the 3-hour Welsh drama “Cwcw” (The Cuckoo). They also have some mediocre Hindi-language films, but nothing award worthy.
48. Uruguay has a few films to choose from, but will almost certainly go with “Polvo Nuestro que Estas en los Cielos”, the sophomore effort by Beatriz Flores Silva, whose debut film was submitted to the Oscars in 2001. The film’s trailer seems Almodovaresque, with comedy, melodrama and absurd imagery set against the background of 1960s South American politics. “Paisito”, a Spanish co-production about reunited lovers (also by a female director), is also in the running. Also-ran: “Acne”.
49. Venezuela, despite troubles with Washington, has submitted films eleven years in a row (though their film arrived latein 2005 and was disqualified) and seems likely to choose “Miranda Regresa” this year. It's an expensive lavish historical drama that got mediocre reviews. They could also choose the upcoming supernatural comedy-drama “The Black Virgin”, which co-stars Carmen Maura. Both Elia Schneider & Jose Ramon Novoa (each of whom have been selected twice by Venezuela) have new movies out this year, so they may opt for “En un lugar lejano”, a cancer drama (Novoa) or new comedy “Unauthorized”, about a writer who is visited by his own fictional characters (Schneider). More popular at home was “Puras Joyitas” a caperesque action comedy about a group of thieves trying to steal Miss Venezuela’s crown. Less likely: romantic comedies “A Cup of Tea in Havana” and “Cyrano Fernandez”, and digital hospital drama “El Enemigo”. Unknown quantities: the upcoming dramas “Libertador Morales”, “One, Two, Three Women”, and “Orange Day”
50. Vietnam had a much slower film year this year than last year. Like previous years they will probably look to the Golden Kite Awards to make their selection. In that case, they will probably choose one of the two joint winners of the Silver Kite Award- “The Hot Kiss” or “Little Heart”. I predict they will choose “Heart”, the story of a 17-year old village girl who winds up being exploited when she moves to the big city to earn money for her family, over action-comedy-romance “The Hot Kiss” starring the world’s most beautiful Asian man, former stuntman Johnny Nguyen.
OTHERS (in order of likelihood):
The mostly likely debutante from Latin America is Panama’s “The Wind and the Water”, which is a movie made by the indigenous Kuna people that played at the Sundance Film Festival. Laos’s first film in years, the low-budget romance “Good Morning, Luang Prabang” was released with some fanfare in neighboring Thailand, which co-produced the film. Suriname, has a brand-new Film Academy which recently produced their first film, “The Secret of the Saramacca River”. Other than South Africa, no Sub-Saharan country has sent a movie in five years. Potential debuts this year include Mozambique’s “Sleepwalking Land”, a road movie about an old man and a little boy (the Foreign Film committee generally loves old people and kids hanging out together) There’s also Liberia’s “Johnny Mad Dog”, which could cause a “Foreign Language” controversy as most of its dialogue is in an English Creole patois (incomprehensible to most Americans) with English subtitles. Syria, always at odds with the USA, is occasionally seen on the film festival circuit and this year had the controversial comedy “Out of Coverage”, about a man trying to decide between two women. Kenya’s “Benta” and Nigeria “Ezra” might have been contenders but they're both almost entirely in English- Kenya could opt for “The Race” instead, but that’s highly unlikely. Tiny Maldives sent “Dharinnattakai” as their national representative to the South Asian Film Festival. Turkmenistan now allows film production again and submitted three local films to the 2008 Eurasia Film Festival in neighboring Kazakhstan. It’s extremely unlikely they’ll join but they could send “This is Life”. Moldova could technically send the well-received documentary "The Flower Bridge", but I’m sure they won’t. Saudi Arabia doesn’t have any movie theatres (which means they can’t enter the Oscars), but they did premiere two films regionally this year- historical drama “ Sabah Allil” sounds more Oscary than horror flick “The Forgotten Village”.