Wednesday, January 21, 2009

NOMINEE PREDICTIONS (January 21, 2009)


1. SWEDEN, Everlasting Moments
2. JAPAN, Departures
3. ISRAEL, Waltz with Bashir
4. CANADA, The Necessities of Life
5. FRANCE, The Class

6. AUSTRIA, Revanche
7. MEXICO, Arrancame la Vida
8. GERMANY, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
9. TURKEY, Three Monkeys

Really....With the exception of Turkey, I think any of the eight have a good chance, but I'm still pretty confident that Canada, Israel, Japan and Sweden will make the cut....The fifth slot is harder to predict, but I'm going to go with France, which I think is more widely liked than the others. The Wild Card is Germany, which keeps getting award nominations even though nobody I know seems to like it at all, so I'm amazed it has even got this far.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I think the 9-film shortlist will come out tomorrow, so here goes:

1. "Gomorrah" (Italy)
2. "Everlasting Moments" (Sweden)
3. "Leonera" (Argentina)
4. "Tricks" (Poland)
5. "Waltz with Bashir" (Israel- Special Committee)
6. "The Rest is Silence" (Romania)
7. "The Class" (France- Special Committee)
8. "Okuribito" (Japan)
9. "Tulpan" (Kazakhstan- Special Committee)

10. "Tengri" (Kyrgyzstan)
11. "Necessities of Life" (Canada)
12. "Revanche" (Austria- Special Committee Only)
13. "Mascarades" (Algeria)
14. "Arrancame la Vida" (Mexico- Large Committee Only)
15. "Mermaid" (Russia)
16. "Der Baader Meinhof Komplex" (Germany)
17. "Captain Abu Raed" (Jordan)
18. "Ultima Parada 174" (Brazil- Special Committee Only)

19. "The Tour" (Serbia)
20. "Blind Sunflowers" (Spain)
21. "The Sorrow of Mrs. Schneider" (Albania)
22. "Worlds Apart" (Denmark)
23. "Crossing" (Korea)
24. "Three Monkeys" (Turkey)
25. "O'Horten" (Norway)
26. "Jerusalema" (South Africa)
27. "Song of Sparrows" (Iran)

Therefore, the most likely countries to get their first Oscar nominations this year are Romania and Kyrgyzstan, with an outside chance for Jordan.

Other than the countries above, I really can't see anybody else getting in (though I came close to including "Hope Eternal" from Wales, mostly because it's so much of an unknown)

I may be under-estimating Germany and Spain, who always do so well in this category....Despite the Golden Globe nomination, I've heard Germany's film is not very good, and that the Spanish film is boring, so I'm hoping that gives some other countries a chance....And I may be overestimating Japan (because I loved the films) and the two Central Asian republics (because I am rooting for them....)

Oh well, we'll find out tomorrow.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

2008 Contenders from Eastern Europe (19 Films)


Last year, Eastern European films did exceptionally well....Two spots in the Top Five (Poland and Russia) plus one more made the shortlist (Serbia), with the Romanians, Estonians and Czechs probably not far behind. This year, the pickings are slimmer....The Asian films this year generally fall into top-tier "contender" or bottom-rung "also-rans"....The Eastern European films should probably fill out the middle. Most of them will come across as good films, but I can't see more than five of these standing any chance at a nomination. Expect Poland and Romania to do well with the large committee, with Russia as a dark horse with both of them.

First, the statistics:

Number of countries invited: 21

Number of countries submitting films: 19, shattering last year's record of 15. Latvia submitted for the first time in fifteen years.

Number of countries opting out: Only 2- Armenia (last submitted 2003) and Belarus (last submitted 1996)....Neither was missed!

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: Only five or six....It's a relatively weak field.

Number of Foreign Languages Represented: 17. Albanian, Azeri, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, German, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Magyar, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovak, Slovene, Ukrainian (but not Georgian)

Country with the Best Shot at a Nomination: Poland

Country with the Least Shot at a Nomination: Azerbaijan

Number of Comedies: Basically only two- Russia and Serbia, although some might also classify Slovenia's film as a comedy.

Oscar History: None of these directors have yet been nominated for an Oscar, but 8 out of 19 countries have been nominated in the past(not including countries like Croatia, Slovakia and Ukraine who did play important roles in past Czechoslovak, Soviet and Yugoslav nominees). Arsen A. Ostojic was also selected to represent Croatia in 2005, Nae Caranfil represented Romania in 2002 and Serbia's Goran Markovic was selected to represent Yugoslavia in 1988.

Number of Female Directors:Three- Russia's Anna Melikyan, Bosnia's Aida Begic and Macedonia's Teona Strugar Mitevska

Familiar Faces: Very few household names here, but movie viewers will probably recognize British actor Ewen Bremner in one of the lead roles in the Georgian submission. Fans of the cinema of former Yugoslavia will probably recognize Serbian actor Svetozar Cvetkovic and Bosnian actor Emir Hadzihafizbegovic in "The Tour" (Hadzihafizbegovic also co-stars in "Snow"). Anna Geislerova, co-star of four of the Czech Republic's recent submissions, finds herself now competing for Albania playing the title role in "The Sadness of Mrs. Schneider".

Tough Choices: Albania hasn't had a contender for years, but this year they had two good ones, forcing them to dump comedy "Mao Tse-tung". The Bulgarians also had a good year, meaning that "Seamstresses" and "The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner" were out of the running. The Czechs couldn't send "A Country Teacher", which got middling reviews but a lot of festival play. The Hungarians didn't send "Delta". The Russians as always had a difficult decision and they were forced to shun high-profile heavily dramatic works by Sokurov (Alexandra), Zvyagintsev (Banishment) and Uchitel (Captive) in favor of light fantasy "Mermaid". And the Slovaks got flack from the producers of expensive gothic horror film "Bathory" (see below)

Controversies: The producers of the big-budget horror drama "Bathory" raised a big stink in Slovakia, alleging discrimination because they held dual Czech & Slovak citizenship. The Slovak selection committee said they didn't consider "Bathory" because it didn't meet AMPAS standards for being a national Slovak production. Ukraine's submission was written by a high-ranking politician.

Number of countries I predicted correctly: 8- Bosnia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, although I came really close with Estonia and Slovenia, and I chose the Albanian submission as a winner last year.

Films I'm most looking forward to seeing: It's a toss-up between Serbia's black war comedy "The Tour", Russia's Amelie-esque fantasy "Mermaid". Today, I'd choose Serbia.


19. AZERBAIJAN- "Fortress"
18. UKRAINE- "Illusion of Fear"
17. MACEDONIA- "I Am From Titov Veles"
16. HUNGARY- "Iska's Journey"

These four films can enjoy the fact that they competed, but none of them have the remotest chance with Oscar....Azerbaijan and Hungary have sent dramas with rather low production values. In Hungary, this was done to achieve a gritty and realistic feel...In Azerbaijan, this was probably done because its the best the national cinematography can do at this point in their history. Azerbaijan's obscure film, which does not even appear to have been released at all internationally, is about an ancient fortress in an ancient village, and the interaction between a film crew and the local inhabitants, all set against the background of a possible modern-day war breaking out in the ancient battlegrounds. It sounds interesting and the stills I have seen look beautifully colorful, but the one review I've read described the filmmaking as "inept". Hungary's docudrama, a grim look at human trafficking, and shot with real street kids, is too grim and gritty to score here.

As for Macedonia and Ukraine, they have selected a pair of rather pretentious dramas, each allegedly loaded up with symbolism and confusing dream sequences. Macedonia's is a grim look at three sisters living in a polluted town with a lead factory...Ukraine's centers on a wealthy businessman who goes to jail and ends up believing he is King Solomon. Ukraine's is supposed to be particularly confusing. In any case, both are too obtuse for this competition.


15. ESTONIA- "I Was Here"
14. LATVIA- "Defenders of Riga"
13. CZECH REPUBLIC- "The Karamazovs"
12. BOSNIA- "Snow"
11. LITHUANIA- "Loss"

For the first time in history, films from all three Baltic republics are competing against each other. Alas, this will not be their year. Estonia's adolescent drama "I Was Here", is about an privileged teen who becomes a drug dealer. If last year's shocking "Klass" couldn't get a nomination, "Here" doesn't have a chance. Lithuania's "Loss" is a gritty multi-character drama, focusing on the theme of six degrees of separation...The shaky hand-held camera will probably doom Lithuania's chances. Latvia's big-budget war drama "Defenders of Riga" took several years to film and was a nationalist box office smash....Unfortunately, Western critics weren't kind and slammed the film as dull and jingoistic, despite extremely impressive production values. Alongside the Baltics in this low-tier are Bosnia's "Snow", a drama about a town populated by women survivors of the Bosnian wars of the 1990s, and the Czech Republic's "The Karamazovs", an intellectual play-within-a-film retelling of a story by Dostoevsky. I've heard "Snow" is good but grim, and that "Karamazovs" is intriguing but very confusing. Nobody is saying any of these five are bad films, and all have garnered mostly positive reviews, but reviews have been mixed enough to ensure that none of them advance to the next round.


10. CROATIA- "No One's Son
9. BULGARIA- "Zift"
8. SLOVENIA- "Rooster's Breakfast"
7. SLOVAKIA- "Blind Loves"
6. GEORGIA- "Mediator"

Also in the middle tier are three thriller- from Bulgaria, Croatia, and Georgia- plus a documentary from Slovakia and a quirky drama from Slovenia. Bulgaria has chosen a Tarantino-esque black-and-white thriller about an innocent man arrested for murder in the closing days of WWII and released years later during the heydey of Communism. I've heard it described as a "midnight movie"....Great reviews, but I don't think this committee will bite. The Croatians have selected "No One's Son", which was almost disqualified because the film couldn't find a distributor in Croatia to screen the film for seven days to meet AMPAS regulations. It's a thriller featured a disabled war veteran at the center of a web of family secrets and intrigue. In yet another thriller, Georgia selected multi-character, multi-lingual (German, Russian and English) "Mediator", a confusing but satisfying murder mystery, which has generated little buzz or festival play thus far. Documentaries don't stand much of a chance in this category, which is the main handicap for Slovakia's well-received "Blind Loves", about the real lives of a number of people living with blindness. Slovenia's "Rooster's Breakfast" is a small, quirky rural drama that was a major box-office hit in its home country, but which is probably too "small" to make an impact on this committee amidst so many epics and higher-profile film.


5. ALBANIA- "The Sadness of Mrs. Schneider"
4. SERBIA- "The Tour"

Old-style Czech filmmaking has traditionally done VERY WELL in this category, and the Albanians have a film that fits that description. "The Sadness of Mrs. Schneider" is a semi-autobiographical tale of an Albanian film student studying in 1960s Prague, and his romance with a local married woman. Expect it to place higher than expected. Serbia's black comedy "The Tour" was described by Variety magazine as "pitch-perfect". I'm not sure if the humor will translate well to the Academy's audience, but this story of a group of travelling troupe of actors trying to fulfill a contract in one of the most violent times and places of the Yugoslav wars, sounds great. Serbia made the shortlist last year, and "Tour" has a dark horse chance as well.


3. RUSSIA- "Mermaid"
2. ROMANIA- "The Rest is Silence"

Like Korea, Romania has bad luck with Oscar....They keep sending good films and probably keep coming close....But despite 22 submissions since 1970 and despite being the "favorite" last year, they remain without a single Oscar nomination. I've been wrong before, but "The Rest is Silence" may well break the drought. "Silence" is an old-fashioned, epic and light-hearted look at the love of movie-making, about the making of the first-ever Romanian feature film circa 1912. I think this theme is likely to appeal to Academy members, particularly those who are older and/or involved in behind-the-scenes production, like most of the Oscar committee. Drawbacks: It's long and maybe a little melodramatic. Still, it stands a good chance to make the list. Russia's answer to Amelie is "Mermaid" (Rusalka), about a girl with green hair trying to find a way to make her dreams come true. It might be a little TOO light for an Oscar nomination, but everyone who sees it seems to fall for the young protagonist's charms, meaning it should be expected to score a large number of high-scoring votes. It could be a sleeper.


"Tricks" Poland's submission is total Oscar bait...and is supposed to be a pretty damn good film too. Featuring a cute little 6-year old protagonist, old-style filmmaking and a heartwarming family theme, this is exactly what the Kolya-loving Foreign Film Committee tends to like. It therefore has a great chance to get one of the six slots selected by the at-large committee. If it fails to make the Top Six however, I think it will probably be ignored by the elite committee. In this family drama, a six-year old boy living in a small town with his Mom and "perfect" older sister decides that a man visiting the town is actually his long-lost father. Expect to see it on the list.

Anyway, the shortlist should come out tomorrow, and it should be an interesting bunch of films.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

2008 Contenders from Asia & the Pacific (18 Films)


Asia usually is lucky to manage even one spot on the Oscar shortlist, but they have a good lineup this year. Will Israel's high-profile "Bashir" hog the one slot to the disadvantage of three relatively unknown but very much acclaimed films from Japan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan?

First, the statistics:

Number of countries invited: 29

Number of countries submitting films: 18, including first-time entrant Jordan which was not officially invited, and Afghanistan, which returned after a three-year absence.

Number of countries opting out: 12. Vietnam announced that they wanted to compete but that they didn't have any films that met the screening requirements. Australia, Indonesia, Iraq and Nepal also opted out for unknown reasons. As for the others, five- Bhutan, Cambodia, Fiji, Malaysia and Sri Lanka- have only submitted once in Oscar history and two more- Mongolia and Tajikistan- have only ever submitted two times. The most surprising absences? Indonesia's film production is up, and they've sent films 7 of the last 10 years.....Australia was expected to submit the Pashto-language "Son of a Lion", Bhutan had the well-reviewed "Golden Cup: The Legacy" , Nepal's supernatural "Kagbeni" is said to be the best movie ever made by a native Nepali director, and Sri Lanka had probably it's best film year ever, including expensive period drama "Aba" and Italian co-production "Manchan".

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

Number of Foreign Languages Represented: 16- Arabic (3 films), Bengali, Cuyonon, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese (2 films), Kazakh, Korean, Kyrgyz, Mandarin (3 films), Persian (2 films), Russian, Tagalog, Taiwanese,
Tamil, Thai. Some films, including Philippines, Taiwan and Kazakhstan, are multi-lingual.

Country with the Best Shot at a Nomination: Difficult to say...I keep wavering between Israel and Japan.

Country with the Least Shot at a Nomination: Most of these films have little chance, but least of all is Bangladesh's lackluster melodrama "Aha!"

Number of Comedies: 2- Kazakhstan (a true comedy) and Taiwan (a romantic comedy-drama)

Oscar History: 9 of the 18 countries have been nominated before....The only director with a previous Oscar nomination is Iran's Majid Majidi, who received Iran's only Oscar nomination ten years ago for "Children of Heaven". Afghanistan's Siddiq Barmak ("Osama"), Israel's Ari Folman ("Saint Clara") Lebanon's Philippe Aractingi ("Bosta") and Singapore's Eric Khoo ("Be With Me") have each been nominated by their countries once before.

Number of Female Directors: Three- China's Jun Gu, Kyrgyzstan's Marie-Jaoul de Poncheville (who is from France) and Palestine's Annemarie Jacir.

Familiar Faces: The most recognizable face is obviously Aamir Khan's, the Indian superstar who directs and stars in India's "Taare Zameen Par". and fans of marial arts cinema will surely recognize Donnie Yen ("Hero", "Shanghai Knights", "Blade II") in the Hong Kong submission. Judy Ann Santos, a major star in her native Philippines, co-stars and co-produces "Ploning". Other recognizable faces include Marina Golbahari (who played the young protagonist in "Osama") playing a small part in "The Opium War" and the entire Chinese 2008 women's gymnastic team in the documentary "Dream Weavers".

Tough Choices: Both China and Hong Kong snubbed two high-profile big-budget period epics "The Warlords" and "Red Cliff" (both China-HK co-productions)....India snubbed Aishwarya Rai's period romance "Jodhaa Akhbar"....Israel had a touch choice and decided not to send funeral drama "Seven Days"....Japan wisely opted not to send Hayao Miyazaki's latest anime, "Ponyo on the Cliff", which would not have gone over well with the Oscar Committee (Japan has sent anime to the committee twice in the 1990s). And I was most shocked that royalist Thailand did not send "Where the Miracle Happens", written and directed by a beloved Thai princess.

Controversies: "The Opium War" is said to be more than 50% in English..."Crossing" was the subject of a plagiarism lawsuit (since dismissed) that almost led to the film's withdrawal. The low-budget "Tingya", which was the runner-up to be India's official entry tried to send itself to the Academy as an independent entry, but was not accepted.

Number of countries I predicted correctly: Eight - Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Palestine and Singapore though I came close to getting Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India, and I predicted the entire 5-film shortlist in Korea correctly (though I guessed "Sunny").

Film I'm most looking forward to seeing: I've seen four of the films already (Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India and Japan)...I'm excited to see a lot of the others, but my #1 pick would be Kazakhstan's "Tulpan" (which I unsuccessfully tried to see at the thoroughly unfriendly and incompetent Tokyo Film Festival).

Now to the Asian nominees.....The movies can be divided into two neat categories: Seven are definitely in running for a spot on the shortlist. Nine are not. As I've mentioned repeatedly, the Oscar committee normally hates Oscar...While there were two Asian movies on last year's shortlist, they were not typically "Asian" movies...Israel tends to consider itself a European country in the cinema world. Kazakhstan's director was a dual citizen born in Russia.

I wish the Asian films "Good luck"!

First are the nine also-rans:

18. BANGLADESH- "Aha!"
17. AFGHANISTAN- "Opium War"

First of all, I applaud developing countries like Bangladesh and Afghanistan for submitting films to this competition against heavyweights like France and Italy. Like the Olympics, this competition allows their best filmmakers to be seen by the Academy and to compete alongside world's best. They may not be contenders for an Oscar, but they increase the visibility of their ideas, their language and their films to a wider audience than they would otherwise have, including an automatic invitation to the Palm Springs Film Festival.

Having said that, "Aha", a melodrama about a middle-aged man living alone in a once-grand manor house who is surprised when his daughter arrives back at home from the US after fleeing an abusive marriage, is simply not Oscar calibre. I've seen the film, and it doesn't stand a chance. Siddiq Barmak, who directed the heartbreaking "Osama" which probably came very close to getting an Oscar nomination five years ago, has sent his second feature "Opium War" to the competition. "Opium War" is about two downed American soldiers in Afghanistan who end up being helped by a local family. Although it won the Rome Film Festival, reviews have been mostly poor, with many faulting poor acting by the two American leads and a mediocre script...It's also roughly half in English, and the Oscar screening had a subtitle problem, so you can forget it.


16. SINGAPORE- "My Magic"
15. TAIWAN- "Cape No. 7"
14. HONG KONG- "Painted Skin"
13. PHILIPPINES- "Ploning"
12. THAILAND- "Love of Siam"

Wire-fu vampires! Authentic feats of masochism! Low-budget soap opera! Teeny-bopper romance! None of these films scream "Oscar", and none of them have gotten reviews that would allow them to transcend their genres and contend for an Oscar nomination....

Both Taiwan and Thailand have both submitted romantic comedy-dramas featuring a lot of local pop music (which will probably not go over well the committee). Both the gay-themed "Love of Siam" and the two parallel, heterosexual love stories of "Cape No. 7" were box office hits in their home countries, and both are said to be entertaining films, but they are wholly mainstream films without critical appeal. Taiwan's film is said to have impressive production values, but also a lot of obscure local pop culture references that will baffle foreign audiences. Singapore's film (in Tamil) was fairly well-received at Cannes, but this story of an alcoholic magician trying to clean himself up for the sake of his son features a lot of graphic acts of masochism (no need to explain here, but not entirely uncommon in some South Asian cultures) that make it a difficult film to watch. The Philippines has sent another romance, "Ploning", to the competition but once again, a limited budget and overacting make this an also-ran.

I've actually seen the Hong Kong submission, "Painted Skin", a big-budget period action film featuring a female fox demon who eats human hearts, who poses as a beautiful woman to seduce a handsome prince who is already happily married . It looks good, but it's purely a "for entertainment purposes only" action movie that stands little chance with critics.


11. PALESTINE- "Salt of this Sea"
10. CHINA- "Dream Weavers"
9. INDIA- "Taare Zameen Par"
8. LEBANON- "Under the Bombs"

These four stand a slightly better chance than the seven Asian films listed above, but they still are completely out of the running for an Oscar nomination.

Considering the political situation in the Middle East, it's not surprising that both Lebanon and Palestine have sent films that show how current conflicts are affecting ordinary people. Palestine's "Salt of this Sea" tells the story of an Arab-American woman who returns to her homeland to collect an inheritance, only to encounter problems due to the Israeli occupation. Lebanon's "Under the Bombs" was shot against the backdrop of the chaos of the 2006 Lebanese war with Israel. It's a gritty, heart-wrenching road picture about a woman and a taxi driver looking for her 6-year son amidst the wreckage of the conflict. However, both films have gotten mixed reviews (Lebanon better than Palestine).

China made the surprising choice to send nationalist Olympic documentary "Dream Weavers" to the competition. I don't think documentaries stand much chance here (Israel's "Waltz with Bashir may have some luck...see below)...."Dream Weavers" is supposed to be a well-constructed film, but some may be turned off by the nationalist slant, and deem it to be Chinese propaganda.

Some people (mostly from India) say that "Taare Zameen Par", an uplifting drama about a failing 7-year old student with dyslexia, is sure to get a nomination. I've seen the film, and although the musical numbers are well-integrated and although there's nothing wrong with it per se, it's clearly an "average" (and long!) film with little chance against the strong competition here.

All nine of these films can be counted out NOW.


7. KOREA- "Crossing"
6. IRAN- "Song of Sparrows"
5. JORDAN- "Captain Abu Raed"

I have a feeling that these three dramas are not going to make the shortlist, although they may place high enough to come into play for one of the lower rungs.

I haven't seen "Crossing" yet, (once again....I could have seen it if not for the incompetence of the Tokyo Film Festival where it played a few blocks from my apartment late last year) but the Korean submission is almost always deserving of an Oscar nomination. However, Oscar ignores them year after year. This year's submission is about the lives of North Korean defectors and how the families continue to suffer even living in the "paradise" of the South. It's all very moving and very baity, but I don't think reviews have been positive enough, especially considering the near-perfect Korean films that this committee has seen fit to ignore in the past.

Two Middle Eastern slice-of-life films with cute kids could surprise- Iran's "Song of Sparrows" features the life of an ostrich farmer-cum-motorcycle-taxi-driver and the difficulties of being lower middle class in modern-day Iran. Majidi is being submitted by Iran for the fourth time. He got an Oscar nomination for "Children of Heaven" but not for the superior "Colour of Paradise". I have a feeling "Sparrows" will be too "small" for the shortlist, but one never knows.

If nominated, Jordan could become the Cinderella story of 2009. Although Jordan has no real film industry of its own, "Captain Abu Raed" has managed to appear at a number of festivals, and secured a US released almost completely on word of mouth. Jordan requested and was accepted by AMPAS to send their first-ever film. "Abu Raed" is about an airport janitor who becomes a hero to a bunch of local kids who mistakenly believe him to be a pilot. Nobody seems to have a bad word to say about "Abu Raed" and the old man-small kid dynamic has been proven to win this committee over time and time again....I have a feeling "Abu Raed" will be one of those films that just miss out on the shortlist, but it's had a good run and could definitely surprise.


4. KYRGYZSTAN- "Tengri"
3. JAPAN- "Okuribito" (Departures)
2. KAZAKHSTAN- "Tulpan"

I think one of these films can make the Oscar shortlist....But which one? The way I look at it, they may very well be in a virtual dead heat for the ninth and final spot on the list.

None of these films is well-known to filmgoers worldwide (although "Tulpan" has had some international success), but they have gotten universally good reviews from those few people who have seen them. The remote and obscure ex-Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have both selected films that beautifully showcase their rugged natural scenery. Kyrgyzstan's "Tengri" is a "chase drama" about a Kazakh man who returns to his native village and he falls in love with a married woman whose husband is fighting for the Soviet army in Afghanistan. The two elope, much to the consternation of the husband who soon returns. Kazakhstan's "Tulpan" is a charming comedy about a boy with big ears trying to woo a bride in a rural part of the country where there are almost no young women.

I live in Japan and I have seen Japan's comic drama "Departures", which is a really excellent and touching film about a man who loses his job as a concert cellist due to the economic downturn in Japan and who returns to his home province where he gets a well-paid but socially stigmatized job performing the ritual washing of bodies for funerals. Think of it as a Japanese "Six Feet Under"...It's funny, it's sad, it presses all the right buttons....I hope it makes it.

All of these films are supposed to be absolute cinematic gems (I can vouch for Japan). I keep changing my mine as to which one has the best chance. As of today, I'll say that Kazakhstan's slightly higher profile may let them squeak ahead to the next round.


1. ISRAEL- "Waltz with Bashir"

I don't think the Academy's Foreign Film committee will select Israel's genre-bending animated documentary "Waltz with Bashir". It's too innovative and too difficult a film for them to get their head around. From what I have heard and seen about "Bashir", I don't think I'm likely to like the film either. Israel makes some great movies (see their 2004 submission, the harrowing family drama "Campfire") but I thought last year's Oscar nominee "Beaufort" was God awful. So, why am I ranking "Bashir" No. 1 in Asia, even against the well-received Japanese and Central Asian submissions? Because the Executive committee is sure to select "Bashir" if the committee rejects it, in an effort to avoid a "Four Months"-style controversy. I'm certain of it. Mark it down for one of the three Wild Card spots, whether it deserves it or not (and while I don't expect to like the film, I acknowledge that most people feel it does deserve to be there....)