Sunday, December 21, 2008

2008 Contenders from Western Europe (18 Films)

FOREIGN OSCAR ANALYSIS: WESTERN EUROPE AND TURKEY

Although Western Europe won this award for the 43rd time last year for the well-done-but-average Austrian film "The Counterfeiters" (Eastern European films have won 9 times, African films 3 times, and movies from North America, South America and Asia one time each), their traditional dominance was clearly gone- "Counterfeiters" was the only Western European nominee and one of only two W.E. films on the 9-film shortlist.

This year, I expect Western Europe to take about four of the shortlist spots, mostly because of the number of high-profile picks (especially from France, Italy, Sweden and, possibly, Germany) which are sure to benefit from the new two-committee selection rules that go into effect this year.

First, the statistics:

Number of countries invited: 19

Number of countries submitting films: 18

Number of countries opting out: Only Ireland, but they didn't produce any eligible Irish-language features this year.

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: Seven to nine

Number of Foreign Languages Represented: 19- Arabic (2), Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French (3), German (3), Greek, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian, Welsh + 3 African Languages in the UK Submission. The films from Austria, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the UK are multilingual.

Country with the Best Shot at a Nomination: Italy's "Gomorra" which is basically guaranteed a spot on the shortlist both through a committee vote and, if snubbed, will certainly be one of the three wild cards.

Country with the Least Shot at a Nomination: Greece's poorly reviewed mystery "Correction"

Number of Comedies: Two real comedies (Belgium + Iceland) and two bittersweet "tragicomedies" (Norway and Switzerland).

Oscar History: 15 of the 18 countries have been nominated before....Only Luxembourg, Portugal and Turkey are perpetual strike-outs. The only director with a previous Oscar nomination is the impressive Jan Troell of Sweden, who has been nominated in the Best Foreign Film category three times (last in 1982), PLUS one nomination each in the mainstream categories of Best Director and Best Screenplay. He was selected in 1996 to represent neighboring Denmark (but not nominated). Iceland's Baltasar Kormakur and Austria's Gotz Spielmann have both been put forward twice before, with no luck so far (although Kormakur's "The Sea" clearly deserved a nod back in 2003). The nominees from Norway (Bent Hamer) and Turkey (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) were also in contention once before, when they competed against each other for the 2004 Oscars.

Number of Female Directors: Just one- the Netherlands' Dana Nechushtan

Tough Choices: As usual, France had the toughest choice this year, with "The Class" being selected over Catherine Deneuve's "A Christmas Tale", Cesar Best Picture Winner "The Secret of the Grain", and potential Best Actress nominee "I've Loved You For So Long". Among the other high-profile films not selected: Belgium snubbed "The Silence of Lorna" by the infamous Dardennes Brothers, Denmark did not choose the pre-nominee favorite, WWII drama "Flame and Citron", Germany ignored "Cherry Blossoms", Italy was forced to dump the political intrigue of "Il Divo", and Norway made the unusual move not to submit the work of a former Oscar nominee, the Sami-language historical drama "The Kautokeino Rebellion".

Familiar Faces: The most recognizable stars come from Germany and Spain. You probably know the names of Moritz Bleibteau (Run Lola Run, Das Experiment) and Maribel Verdu (Pan's Labyrinth, Y Tu Mama Tambien) and you probably know the faces of Martina Gedeck (The Lives of Others) and Raul Arevalo (Talk to Her). Not many other stars this year, although Kati Outinen (the "muse" of Aki Kaurismaki) co-stars in the Finnish entry and British rugby star Shane Williams has a cameo in the UK entry.

Number of countries I predicted correctly: 7. Austria, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, although I came close with Finland, Italy, Norway and Portugal.

Film I'm most looking forward to seeing: Icelandic farce "White Night Wedding".

HELL NO
18. GREECE- "Correction"
17. PORTUGAL- "Our Beloved Month of August"

Perpetual also-rans Greece (last nominated in 1978) and Portugal are out of luck again this year. Greece's "Correction" is a convoluted and confusing mystery that has been described as boring by every review I have read, and every person I know who has seen it agrees. Portugal's film is a lengthy (2 and a half hours) docudrama about a rural summer festival that blurs the line between reality and fiction. Even the glowing review from "Variety" noted that the film would "inspire some walkouts...wherever it plays". Both films are out of their league. Better luck next year.




EXTREMELY UNLIKELY
16. ICELAND- "White Night Wedding
15. LUXEMBOURG- "Nuits d'Arabie"
14. FINLAND- "Home of Dark Butterflies"
13. THE NETHERLANDS- "Dunya & Desie"
12. UNITED KINGDOM- "Hope Eternal"

These five films have garnered largely positive reviews, but haven't gotten sufficiently positive notice to have a real chance at an Oscar nomination. A lot of people love Iceland's screwball wedding farce "White Night Wedding", about a wedding that everyone agrees shouldn't happen, and I for one can't wait to see it. However, just as many people dislike it and this category isn't usually kind to comedies, relegating it to the bottom tier. Finland's reform-school drama "Home of Dark Butterflies" and Luxembourg's thriller "Nuits d'Arabie" (Arabian Nights), about a man who falls for a mysterious Arab woman aboard a train, are both supposed to be good-but-not-great films. The Dutch entry, the girl-power road movie "Dunya and Desie", has gotten the best reviews of these five, and the Netherlands is traditionally a power in this category...but I simply can't believe that a movie based on a TV soap/sitcom will be honored in this category. The British (Welsh) submission, "Hope Eternal" is somewhat of a mystery....It's barely made a blip internationally, and very few people have seen it....That's not a good sign. The film is a drama set mostly in Africa and featuring a cast mostly of women, about the doomed romance of a Welsh doctor and an African nurse, and her escape to Britain after his death. The only review I've read of the film described as well-meaning but predictable. With 67 countries in play, I think all of these films can be counted out.

UNLIKELY...IT'S A COMPETITIVE YEAR

11. TURKEY- "Three Monkeys"
10. BELGIUM- "Eldorado"
9. NORWAY- "O'Horten"
8. SWITZERLAND- "Der Freund"

I'll say it again...with 67 films in play, there is A LOT of competition for the nine spots on the shortlist. All four of these films have their supporters, but I think they are all too "small" to make the top tier of films. Nuri Bilge Ceylan's films are said to be an acquired taste; I saw "Distant" several years ago and hated it. "Three Monkeys", a treatise on guilt about a politician who pays an underling to go to jail for him after killing a man while driving, is supposed to be just as good a film, and somewhat more accessible but it still contains enough slow-pans and dialogue-less scenes to frustrate Oscar voters. "Eldorado", a Belgian road comedy about a man who gives a lift to a drug addict who tried to steal his car, is a well-liked film but is probably too quirky to make the list. Some people are predicting Norway's "O'Horten", a dry Scandinavian comedy about a retired railroad employee, for an Oscar nod, and it may well appeal to Oscar's older voters...but reviews, while always positive, generally point out the film is fairly lightweight. Switzerland's "The Friend" takes a very original idea- a beautiful young singer gets a socially inept schlub to pretend to be her boyfriend for a family dinner and promptly dies with the family still believing they were a loving couple- and does it well! "Der Freund" will rank well in this field, but I still think it's too quiet a film to place in the Top Nine.

The bland quality of "O'Horten" might appeal to the larger committee and the dark, brooding filmmaking of "Three Monkeys" and quirky originality of "Eldorado" and "Der Freund" might appeal to the smaller, elite committee, but I think all four of these will be also-rans.

DARK HORSES


7. DENMARK- "Worlds Apart"
6. SPAIN- "Blind Sunflowers"

Denmark and Spain both have good records in this category. I don't think either film can get an Oscar nomination, but they both have an outside chance at the shortlist if Oscar voters identify with their films. "Worlds Apart", a based-on-a-true story of a family of Jehovah's Witnesses whose teenaged daughter falls for a non-believer. "Blind Sunflowers" is a period drama set after the Spanish Civil War. However, these two films suffer from opposite problems. Spain's film is supposed to be visually beautiful with superb production values and excellent acting....but is also said to be melodramatic and just a bit boring. Denmark's star-crossed romance is said to be a fascinating story...but the film is "small" in scale with weak supporting actors. With a lot of behind-the-scenes (non-actors) people on the committee, expect Spain to beat out Denmark slightly for the race to 9th place.

CONTENDERS...BUT THEY WON'T DO AS WELL AS EXPECTED

5. AUSTRIA- "Revanche"
4. GERMANY- "Der Baader Meinhof Komplex"

I'm confused as to where to put the two German-language thrillers, and both have more supporters than I ever expected. Austria's "Revanche", a taut thriller about fate, revenge, sex and violence, is a critical darling, favored by festival critics and bloggers worldwide. I'm looking forward to seeing it myself, but the graphic sex and dark tone of the film has led to some negative reviews...It will have its supporters to be sure, but I don't think it will make it. As for terrorist drama, "Der Baader Meinhof Komplex", it's an action thriller that has garnered no awards and little critical acclaim. I've heard it variously described as confusing, pretentious and overlong....and yet it still got a Golden Globe nomination. I don't understand! It's said to be very much a "Hollywood" type of film, and that doesn't typically do well here. Other than high production values, this film doesn't seem to have much going for it. I'm ranking it high as I am because, for reasons I can't understand, it does seem to have a large base of support, and Germany has had a great record in the last 5 years....2 wins (Nowhere in Africa & The Lives of Others), one nomination (Downfall) and one near-nomination (Goodbye, Lenin!, the best of the four).

GOOD BETS FOR THE SHORTLIST


3. FRANCE- "Entre les Murs" (The Class)
2. SWEDEN- "Everlasting Moments"

I'm fairly confident that these two films will make the shortlist this year. France and Sweden are always good bets, and both of these films have received strong notices. Sweden's "Everlasting Moments" sounds excrutiatingly dull- an battered housewife receives a camera and finds joy in life through the art of photography- but the film has gotten universally perfect reviews, a Golden Globe nomination and (as mentioned above) the director Jan Troell has a history of charming Oscar. It has a good shot with both the large and small committee. France can never be counted out, and "Entre les Murs", about a multi-racial inner-city school, is supposed to be a really great film. I tried to see it in NYC, but unfortunately it only played a one-week engagement. I actually DON'T think the large committee will rank the film in their top six (winners of the Cannes Golden Palm are cursed here), but I do think that the more elite committee will choose it. Expect Sweden & France to be called for the shortlist, and both have a chance at an Oscar nod.

A LOCK...POSSIBLY FROM BOTH COMMITTEES
1. ITALY- "Gomorra"



The closest thing to a lock for an Oscar nomination this year is Italy's Neapolitan mob saga "Gomorra". It's gotten great reviews and won many awards (Golden Globe nom; both Entertainment Weekly reviewers named it one of the Top Ten of the year) and Italy has won the award more than any country (including France). Will Gomorra's extreme violence and confusing multi-story plotlines alienate Oscar's older-skewing committee? Maybe. They nominated "Amores Perros" but rejected "City of God" ....But it doesn't matter. If it's snubbed by the main committee, the elite committee will be sure to choose it, if only to avoid the embarrassment of the next-day headlines of another "Four Months"-style snub. It's A LOCK.

Later this week, we'll look at the 18 films from ASIA.....

1 comment:

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