Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2008 Contenders from The Americas and Africa (12 Films)


With 67 national submissions, this year is a record-breaker. That's why it's strange that the number of Latin American submissions has fallen dramatically- only seven this year, the lowest since 2000. Because it's so low, this entry will look at all the films from North America, South America and Africa. African countries submitted a measly four films, which was still good enough to tie the record set in 2004.

Now let's see if we can figure out which of the national submissions will make the 9-film shortlist in January.

Today, let's look at the 12 African and American contenders:

First, the statistics:

Number of countries invited: 17 from the Americas, and 10 from Africa

Number of countries submitting films: 8 from the Americas, and 4 from Africa

Number of countries opting out: 9 from the Americas- Bolivia, Cuba, Peru and Puerto Rico (who usually send films) as well as Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua (who usually don't). 6 from Africa- Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Kinshasa, Tanzania and Tunisia (none of which have sent films more than twice). Bolivia and Puerto Rico both made formal announcements noting that they had wanted to enter the competition. Bolivia said none of their films met technical requirements and Puerto Rico basically said they had no good films (Reggaeton musical "Talento de Barrio" wanted the nod). The most surprising absence was Cuba which had submitted films five of the last six years and had a lot to choose from, including "El Cuerno de la Abundancia" which I was rooting for. I also expected Costa Rica ("El Camino") and Guatemala ("Gasolina") to return.

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: Only 4

Number of Languages Represented: 8: 6 films in Spanish, 3 films all or partly in Arabic, 3 films partly in French, plus one each in Portuguese (Brazil), Inuktikut (Canada) and Xhosa, Afrikaans and Zulu (South Africa)

Country with the Best Shot at a Nomination: Argentina's prison drama "Leonera"

Country with the Least Shot at a Nomination: Venezuela's low-budget drag queen story, "The Colour of Fame"

Number of Comedies: 2 - Algeria and Colombia

Oscar History: Brazil's Bruno Barreto was nominated for the mediocre "Four Days in September in 1998.

Number of Female Directors: Zero.

Tough Choices: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt and Mexico all had especially competitive races. Most surprising omissions were both Youssef Chahine's "Chaos" and terrorist drama "Baby Doll's Night", which didn't make the cut for Egypt and "Parque Via" and "Lake Tahoe", which didn't get the nod for Mexico. Also out: the latest works by Oscar nominees Deepa Mehta (Canada's "Heaven and Earth") and Walter Salles (Brazil's "Line of Passage"). "Passage" would have had a good chance but Salles withdrew it from contention.

Familiar Faces:
The most familiar star is Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro's co-starring lead role in Argentina's "Leonera". Fans of arthouse may recognize the eponymous star of "Atanarjuat" in "The Necessities of Life"

Number of countries I predicted correctly:
I only got one nominee correct (Argentina) and two of my choices were runner-ups (Chile and Colombia). I was pretty surprised by most of these choices.

Film I'm most looking forward to seeing: Easily's Algeria's dark horse comedy "Mascarades".


12. VENEZUELA- The Color of Fame (El Tinte de la Fama)
11. URUGUAY- "Kill Them All" (Matar a Todos)
10. COLOMBIA- "Dog Eat Dog" (Perro Come Perro)
9. EGYPT- "The Island"

For various reasons, these four films were basically out-of-the-running before they even screened. Uruguay selected a serious drama about human rights violations during the 1970s military dictatorships....This may have worked for "The Official Story" (the only Latin American film to ever win this award), but the film is not supposed to be very good. Venezuela's pick is a low-budget drama about a Marilyn Monroe lookalike contest, featuring an aspiring actress and a drag queen, with a good story but low production values. Colombia and Egypt have chosen popular thrillers that are probably better suited to win at the box office than to the Oscar awards committee. Colombia's "Dog Eat Dog" is a violent-comedy-thriller has been compared to Tarantino, by those who like it, and said to lack substance by those who don't. Egypt's choice, "The Island", about a community of Central Egyptians making their living from the drug and arms trade in Cairo...It was a box-office success at home, but it's still a genre film, and unlikely to score here.


8. MOROCCO- "Adieu Meres"
7. SOUTH AFRICA- "Jerusalema"
6. CHILE- "Tony Manero"
5. BRAZIL- "Last Stop 174"

With 67 films in competition, 58 are destined to be also-rans. These four films simply don't have enough people who love them enough to get them to the shortlist stage. Morocco's film is a somewhat melodramatic yet topical and well-reviewed film on interfaith friendship between a Jewish and a Muslim family in the 1960s . South Africa has returned to the competition for the first time since winning this award a few years back with "Tsotsi", and they appear to be channeling that film with crime drama "Jerusalema". It's said to be a good movie, but everyone also compares it (usually somewhat unfavorably) to "Tsotsi". Chile's violent, sexual serial killer drama "Tony Manero" is said to be a very good film, albeit one that is extremely difficult to watch. This committee will hate it. Brazil's "Last Stop 174" is figuring on some blogger's list of predictions, but this dramatization of the real life incidents (also featured in the documentary "Bus 174", which was snubbed for an Oscar nomination in 2004) has gotten very mixed reviews. Although Barreto was nominated 10 years back (for the very mediocre "Four Days in September"), I really don't see Brazil making the shortlist this year.


4. MEXICO- "Arrancame la Vida"

3. ALGERIA- "Mascarades"

2. CANADA- Add Image- "The Necessities of Life"

Algeria, Canada and Mexico all have a good track record in this category, with multiple nominations in the past twenty years. These three films should all be in the Top 15, and one or two should be able to make the shortlist. But which ones? Canada's film is a drama about an Inuit hunter who is transplanted to a hospital in Quebec city after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. A sick Inuit boy helps him to adjust to his surroundings and translated between Inuit and French for him. Cute children, good story and excellent reviews. Mexico's nominee is an expensive period drama set in the 1930s, which begins with the marriage of a beautiful teenage bride to a high-level general. More style than substance perhaps, but still considered a strong film. Algeria's film is a gentle comedy about a man, tired of being embarrassed that his beautiful but eccentric sister is the laughing stock of the village, who begins to brag that he has arranged for a rich, handsome foreigner to wed his sister. Not many people are talking about it, but everyone who has seen it seems to love it, which may (hopefully) mean a lot of high-ranking votes. I'm rooting for Algeria, but Canada appears to have the best chance in this field, with the exception of:
1. ARGENTINA- "Leonera"
More than a standard "woman-in-prison" drama, "Leonera" (Lion's Den) is the story of a young pregnant woman who commits a crime of passion and is sentenced to prison where she gives birth and raises her child. It play like a checklist of the Foreign Oscar Commitee's "likes". It's got cute kids, is "issue-oriented", it's sentimental but not "soft", and it's gotten very good reviews and racked up a reputation of being a quality film. Although I was less than impressed by the director's "Familia Rodante" a few years back, this is described as a much more emotionally powerful film, and stands an excellent chance at an Oscar nomination.
That's it for Group 1....Next week, we'll look at the 18 contenders from Western Europe.

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