Monday, July 13, 2009


Here are my predictions for the 22 "Western" countries plus the three Maghreb co
untries (Algeria, Morocco & Tunisia) that typically co-produce their films with France. Obviously these countries provide the bulk of nominated films each year (four out of five last year).

1. ALGERIA's Academy is a fan of director Rachid Bouchareb, and with good reason. M. Bouchareb has made four feature films since 1990...all have been submitted and accepted to represent Algeria (even though two had minimal Algerian input), two got Oscar nominations (“Dust of Life” and “Indigenes”) and one is rumored to have come quite close (“Little Senegal”). Bouchareb’s fifth feature, “London River” is about the 2005 London terrorist attacks and it may have the Academy screeners getting out the stopwatches for the “50%” English-language rule (“Senegal” was in a similar situation and it qualified). I don’t think it will qualify (too much English), but then I haven’t seen the film. If that's the case, they have three other good options: “Le Dernier Maquis”, about the tense relationship between Algerian laborers and their French bosses in contemporary France, “Inland”, a road movie which won a major award at Venice, and “Harragas”, a story of illegal immigrants trying to reach the promised land of Western Europe. All are good choices, but put your money on “Harragas” if “London River” is ineligible.

2. AUSTRALIA has sent four non-English movies since 1996. This year, they can choose between “Lovers” (set in Shanghai, filmed in Chinese and English by Australian-Chinese director Carl Zhang) and Cannes selection “Samson & Delilah” (very little dialogue, but in English & one of the Aboriginal languages). I don’t know whether either film overcomes the “50% foreign dialogue” threshold or not. If both qualify (and I doubt that), “Samson” has the edge.

3. AUSTRIA has received two nominations in a row (including one decidedly undeserved win for the merely average “Counterfeiters”). Although the cast and crew of taut thriller “The Bone Man” and Italian-language opera “La Boheme” would love to think they’ve got a chance, the decision is clear: Cannes Palme d’Or winner “The White Ribbon” will surely be selected, and Michael Haneke will represent Austria for a fourth time (not including his disqualification in 2005).

4. BELGIUM is always a pain to research because their federal political system means they have two distinct, independent film bodies- one for each linguistic community. In the past ten years, the Belgians have chosen six films from Dutch-speaking Flanders, and four from French-speaking Wallonia (including three by the depressing Brothers Dardennes). This year’s most likely Flemish nominee is “Loft”, a mystery-thriller about five married friends who discover the corpse of a beautiful woman and come to realize that one of them is the killer. Director Erik Van Looy represented Belgium in 2004. He faces competition from “Altiplano”, about a Belgian war photographer in beautifully cinematographed Peru, geriatric R & B dramedy “The Over the Hill Band”, “Lost Persons Area” a muted drama about a Belgian family and a Hungarian engineer, and two dramas by previously submitted female directors- “Unspoken” about a missing teenager (director Fien Troch was selected in 2006) and “Nowhere Man”, a thriller about a man who decides to drop off the face of the Earth (director Patrice Toye repped Belgium in 1998). From Wallonia, it’s a pretty clear win for “Soeur Sourire”, a biographical drama about the famed “Singing Nun”, who sang the hit song ‘Dominique’, came out of the closet as a lesbian and eventually committed suicide. Walloon dark horses are drama “The Misfortunates”, whose director rode stark naked through Cannes on a bicycle to re-enact a scene from the movie, and “9mm” a thriller about second-generation immigrants. Predictions: Directed by Oscar nominee, Stijn Coninx (“Daens”), the biography of “Soeur Sourire” will rep Belgium, with Flemish runner-ups “Loft”, “Altiplano”, “Over the Hill Band” and “Lost Persons Area”, following in that order.

5. CANADA has been doing quite well in this category- they won the Award in 2003, and have been shortlisted three years in a row- the only country to do so. None of this year’s Jutra or Genie Award nominees are eligible...I’m fairly certain they’ll go with “I Killed My Mother”. . .a semi-autobiographical film about the antagonistic relationship between a young gay man and his mother. The film won three minor awards and got a standing ovation in Cannes. In second place: “Je me souviens”, about a Quebecois mining community, that shows off the region’s culture and history. Many others may be expecting a trio of other films: “Polytechnique”, by three-time Canadian representative Denis Villeneuve, is a violent film about a brutal 1989 massacre, “Heaven on Earth”, by Oscar nominee Deep Mehta (“Water”) is about a Punjabi immigrant family, and “Lost Song” is a slow-moving drama that won Best Canadian Film at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival. Reviews for all of these films have been mixed, and I don’t think they’ll be able to muster enough support, even though I’ve heard “Polytechnique” described at the favorite. Dark horses: “3 Seasons”, a multi-character drama revolving around unwanted pregnancies, “Carcasses”, about a man collecting old cars, “Dédé”, a music biopic, and “Elle veut le chaos”, a dark drama about a woman living in rural Quebec. Keep in mind that Canada’s past two submissions were late releases and they may well choose one of their new films that premieres at the Toronto Film Festival. The Canadian lineup will be announced in early August.

6. DENMARK has a few good films to choose from, four of which stand out above the rest: “Aching Hearts”, an adolescent drama, was filmed over a period of three years by acclaimed director Nils Mamros with a cast of young amateur actors, “Deliver Us From Evil”, a well-reviewed thriller about xenophobia, in which an immigrant is framed for the hit-and-run killing of a beloved local woman, “Original”, a quirky comedy that won Best Picture at the 2009 Shanghai Film Festival, and “Terribly Happy”, the surprise winner of this year’s Bodil Awards (the Danish Oscars). It won against last year’s Oscar submission and the big-budget favorite, “Flame & Citron”, and also won the 2008 Karlovy Vary Festival. It’s a tough choice, but I think Denmark will go for “Deliver Us From Evil”, which has gotten the most positive reviews, and thriller “Terribly Happy” (whose style is compared to the Coen Brothers) will come in an EXTREMELY close second. Rounding out the Top Five will be “The Blessing”, a drama about post-partum depression. Dark horses: they haven’t premiered yet, but “Applause”, about an actress seeking custody of her children and “Profetia”, about a woman’s writings who prophesize the future, probably won’t factor in. Unlikely: “Little Soldier”, “When Heaven Falls”, “Love and Rage”, “Sorte Kugler” and “The Escape” will have small bases of support, but they’re likely out of their league.

7. FINLAND has sixteen eligible films this year (their website makes it very easy to see what’s eligible and what’s not). Looking them over, the most likely choice is “Letters to Father Jacob”, about a tough female ex-con who is released from prison and begins working for a church. Klaus Haro has represented Finland twice, and the film has gotten good reviews, though it is spare at only 74 minutes. In second place: “Forbidden Fruit”, by last year’s winner, Dome Karukoski. The film, a coming-of-age story about two girls, has played at more festivals than any other Finnish film this year. In third place: “The House of Branching Love” by Mika Kaurismaki, Aki’s brother. He’s never been recognized before and his upcoming film, a “War of the Roses” dramedy about a bitter divorce sounds good. Rounding out the Top Five: “One Foot Under”, a sad, romantic comedy about a relationship in which one party is dying, and “The Visitor” (Venice), about an isolated mother and son who are visited by a gunshot victim with a past. Less likely: hit crime drama “Hellsinki”, domestic thriller “Last Cowboy Standing” and animated reindeer film “Niko & the Way to the Stars”, which may have won Best Picture at last year’s Finnish Oscars but which seems unlikely to be sent to Los Angeles. Impossible: “Sauna”, a successful and gory horror thriller.

8. FRANCE is the only country that has competed each and every year since this category was created and, although Germany and Italy might argue, their contender is generally more likely to get an Oscar nomination than any other country. The French have made no secret that they want to be nominated each and every year, and their recent record of successes with baity films (“Joyeux Noel”, “Les Choristes”) and misses for quirky ones (“Persepolis”, “8 Femmes”) have taught the French to play it safe. This year’s nominee will probably biopic “Coco avant Chanel”, about the famed fashionista. The film has everything Oscar likes….it’s a baity biopic, it has a big star (Audrey Tautou) who’s well-known in the United States, reviews have been very positive, and it stands a fairly good chance of being nominated if selected. Although “Coco” is likely to rep la France, they have plenty of other films to choose from. “Seraphine”, another biopic, won the Cesar Award for Best Picture this year, and it tells the story of a famed 19th century French painter…though I’ve certainly never heard of her. “Un Prophete” won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and is about a young Arab man who becomes a leading mafioso after going to jail. “Wild Grass”, which starts with a lost wallet, has gotten great reviews and is directed by an 87-year old auteur. “Welcome”, about a young Kurdish refugee, showcases France’s modern-day multi-ethnic society. “Public Enemy Number One” is a two-part crime drama- the two films shared a single Best Picture nomination at the Cesars- but I doubt the French would choose such a genre film. “Skirt Day”, starring Isabelle Adjani as a teacher who takes her class hostage, is probably too divisive. I have modern-day Candide story “Eden in the West” representing Greece, but it’s a part-French production. “Coco” seems to check the most boxes. Count on it.

9. GERMANY is always a major contender- five nominations including two wins in the past seven years. Despite their prolific film industry, their choice this year can easily be narrowed down to just a few films. In reality, I would be VERY surprised if they chose anything other than acclaimed WWII drama “John Rabe”. Germany has figured out that hawking their WWII remorse is the key to winning Oscar gold. Their 2002, 2004 and 2005 Oscar nominees- ”Sophie Scholl”, “Nowhere in Africa” and “Downfall”- were all set during World War II. “John Rabe” tells the true story of a German businessman in China who saved thousands of Chinese civilians during the Japanese Rape of Nanking. It won Best Picture at this year’s German Oscars, and featured a multi-national cast of well-known actors from Germany, the US (including Steve Buscemi), Japan and China. Count on it to get the German nod and be a lock for the shortlist. Having said that, it would be foolish to count out Caroline Link, who at the age of 45 has already proven to be an Oscar favorite with two nominations and one win to her credit (“Nowhere in Africa”). Her first film in eight years is “A Year Ago in Winter”, about the aftermath of a suicide, one year after the fact. It placed second to “Rabe” at the German Oscars and will probably come in second for Oscar as well. In third place will likely be “Vision”, an arty biopic about Hildegard von Bingen. Although I’ve never heard of her, apparently she was an extremely accomplished 12th century renaissance woman (pre-Renaissance, that is) and the world's first feminist. With these three films hogging the spotlight, minimalist drama “Everyone Else” (Silver Bear in Berlin), musical biopic “Hilde”, “Deutschland ‘09” a series of thirteen short films by some of Germany’s best directors, and “Jerichow”, about an unconventional love triangle loosely based on “The Postman Rings Twice” don’t stand a chance.

10. GREECE, who have gotten only one Oscar nomination in the past 40 years, changed their selection process this year. For the past ten years, the winner of the Greek Film Competition at the November Thessaloniki Film Festival automatically represented Greece. Films that didn’t compete there were out of luck. Two of the past five years, the Thessaloniki winner wasn’t eligible (“Brides” and “El Greco”) so now Greece will have a normal submission process like everyone else (except Israel). Five films stand out. First, are the three big winners from Thessaloniki- “Without”, a story about a dysfunctional middle-class family with a number of secrets, won the Greek Competition (and would have been Greece’s automatic nominee under the old rules), “Slaves in their Bonds”, a period drama set in Corfu circa 1900, came in second place and won most other major awards , “Well-Kept Secrets”, about a Greek-American woman returning to Greece to rediscover her roots, came in third. “Dogtooth”, a violent drama about an even more dysfunctional family than that featured in “Without”, won the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes, but did not play at Thessaloniki. It has gotten decidedly mixed reviews...but then so do most Greek films. The wild card is Costa-Gavras’ (he won the Foreign Oscar in 1970) “Eden is West”, a modern retelling of Candide, about a clandestine immigrant from an imaginary Eastern European country trying to get to Paris. The film is a majority French-Italian production, and Greek input may be considered insufficient. The Greek submission is almost certain to come from this group of five. Wild cards include wedding comedy “Bang Bang Wedding”, starring Alex Dimitriades, “Carousel” about abused women and children and extreme longshot, “Woman’s Way”, a racy gay-themed drama. Extremely unlikely: Easter tragedy “The Mountain in Front”, the three interlocking stories of “Three Moments” and documentary “Exile Island”. Top Five predictions: “Eden is West”, followed by “Dogtooth”, “Slaves”, “Without” and “Secrets”.

11. ICELAND, with a population of only 300,000 will submit this year for the thirtieth year in a row. Although the Icelanders became the last of the Scandinavian countries to enter the competition (1980), they have the longest unbroken streak in submitting films. In Europe, they rank behind only France, Italy, Spain and Hungary! What an amazing record! As I see it, this year Iceland has four eligible films (pretty damn good considering their small population and the financial crisis). Only “Reykjavik-Rotterdam” has premiered so far; the other three will be released this summer. It would be foolish to count out Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s “Mamma Gogo” about a film director and his family dealing with a granny with Alzheimers Disease. As far as I know, all of Friðriksson’s Icelandic-language features have been selected, he can brag to have received Iceland’s sole Oscar nod, and the plot sounds baity. The other three choices are thrillers: “Bodberi” involves a man with disturbing dreams, “Undercurrent” is about relationship between a ship’s crew after a suicide, and “Reykjavik-Rotterdam” (which has gotten great reviews) is about a smuggler. All sounds pretty good, but I choose “Mamma Gogo”.

12. IRELAND produces very few Irish-language films, and has only entered the competition once, in 2007. I think they'll sit this year out.

13. ISRAEL has received two Oscar nominations in a row after a 20-year Oscar drought (ironically, the same can be applied to Austria). This year’s most promising contenders are a trio of films that competed for the Wolgin Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival and also in various sections at Cannes 2009. Two of them are stories of forbidden love- “Eyes Wide Open” is about the burgeoning romantic relationship between two ultra-Orthodox men, and “Kedma” is about a Jewish girl who gets pregnant by the son of the Arab family that works at her family’s garage. The third, “Ajami”, won a Special Prize at Cannes and was filmed jointly by an Israeli & Palestinian director. The film focuses on a number of characters (including yet another forbidden love story) living in the historical city of Jaffa. All three of these films should easily make the Ophir shortlist. If the film meets all other requirements, the Israeli Oscar submission is automatically awarded to the winner of Best Picture at the Ophir Awards (“The Band’s Visit” notably did not). Nominations will be announced in late July or early August. The other two nominees are likely to be “Lebanon”, about one of Israeli’s older wars with Lebanon (Israel’s two consecutive Oscar nods were both about conflicts with their cosmopolitan Arab neighbor to the north) and “Full Monty”-esque sumo wrestling comedy “A Matter of Size”, which has gotten good reviews and is scheduled for a US remake. Wild card: “The Loners” about two Russian immigrants accused of treason. My predictions: “Ajami” won the Wolgin Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival and will also rep Israel, with "Kedma", “Matter of Size” and “Lebanon” no far behind.

14. ITALY My prediction is "Baaria". More later.

15. LUXEMBOURG is certain to choose “Refractaire”, a WWII drama about a boy who returns home to German—occupied Luxembourg, refuses to join the Nazi army and ends up holed up in an abandoned mine shaft with a number of other army deserters.

16. MOROCCO has submitted five films over the years, ranking third in Africa alongside South Africa. This year, I predict they go with “Casanegra”, a film about lower-middle-class life in the country, focusing on the lives of two young Moroccan men. “Kandisha”, a fairly well-received horror flick, was the only Moroccan movie in contention at the Marrakech Film Festival but it probably won’t be able to rise above its genre. Rounding out the Top Six contenders: “Number One”, a comedy poking fun at male-female gender relations, “24th Marrakech”, a series of shorts by young Moroccan directors, “Veiled Love”, about a female doctor who chooses to have a sexual relationship before marriage, and “Do you Remember Adil?”, about a Moroccan émigré in Italy. “The Man Who Sold the World” will be a contender on the off chance that it is released in time.

17. THE NETHERLANDS hasn’t been nominated since their back-to-back nominations in 2002-2003. It’s been a mostly quiet year, and their submission is more than likely to be “The Storm”, about a woman desperately searching for her infant child after a disastrous flood. Director Ben Sombogaart directed the last Dutch Oscar nominee, “Twin Sisters”, and the subject matter (desperate mother) sounds very baity. The film hasn’t been seen yet (it will premiere in September) so if it’s no good, they'll probably choose either “The Last Days of Emma Blank”, a black comedy about a loathsome, wealthy old woman driving her servants to distraction on her deathbed or “Winter in Wartime”, a coming-of-age story set during World War II. Rounding out the Top Five choices are: “Katia’s Sister”, a drama about a Russian immigrant family involved in prostitution, (nominated for a Golden Calf at last year’s Dutch Oscars), and “Hunting and Sons”, a psychological drama about a young couple’s first pregnancy. Also possible (in order): multi-lingual, multi-character “Amsterdam”, nihilistic and original youth drama “Life in One Day”, African-set drama “White Light”, “Stella’s War”, about a soldier who comes back to his wife shell-shocked from a peacekeeping mission, and “The Aviatrix of Kazbek”, about a married Dutch woman bored with life until she meets a group of Georgian soldiers. I would also give a good chance to “De Punt”, but IMDB says it premiered on TV before its film release (the same thing caused the Netherlands to be disqualified in 2006) and “Happy End” is scheduled to premiere the day after the Oscar deadline. Anyway, count on “The Storm”.

FOR MORE DETAILS, see the "Comments" section for a local perspective from the Netherlands from someone who has seen many of the above films.

18. NORWAY appears to have 22 eligible features, but one, “Max Manus”, stands heads and shoulder above the rest of the competition. It’s one of the most expensive Norwegian films of all time and also one of the country’s biggest-ever box-office successes. It’s the favorite to win Best Picture at the Norwegian Oscars (the Amanda Awards) in August, it has already secured a UK release, and most importantly, it takes place during WWII meaning AMPAS will want to honor it. The film takes place in Nazi-occupied Norway and concerns a Winter War veteran/saboteur who is part of the Norwegian resistance. In the extremely unlikely event that they choose something else, “North”, a road movie about a man travelling to frigid Northern Norway, is relatively certain to be the runner-up. It’s also nominated for Best Picture at the Amandas and has won awards internationally. These two films will outclass all the other competition, including family drama “Together”, espionage drama “Iskyss”, 19th century family movie “Yohan”, father-son drama “Shooting the Sun”, drama-thriller “The Accident” and “Upperdog”, about siblings who are raised by two different families.

19. PORTUGAL never gives up. For nineteen of the past twenty years (they skipped 1996), they have dutifully sent in their nominee on time and each year they fail to even come close to the Oscar shortlist. Only Egypt has a longer dry streak. The Portuguese mostly send in incomprehensible European arthouse and dreary, depressing family dramas. This year is no different; they haven’t had any major critical successes. I predict they choose either the production values of sumptuous 19th century melodrama “The Northern Land” or the age and experience of centenarian Manoel DeOliveira (who will turn 101 years old in December) who has represented Portugal NINE TIMES (a record for all countries?) and his latest film, “Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl”, which clocks in at a spare 64 minutes. Since neither has much of a chance at an Oscar nod, I predict “Eccentricities” to honor Mr. DeOliveira. Others in Portugal’s (weak) Top Five: yet-to-released incest drama “How To Draw A Perfect Circle”, the star-crossed lovers of “Doomed Love” and “April Showers”, about Portugal’s turbulent 20th century history. Less likely: Electra adaptation “Misbegotten”, kitchen sink melodrama “Entre os Dedos”, capital punishment drama “The Last Hanging”, and transvestite tale “To Die Like A Man”.

20. SPAIN's nominee, like Germany, would appear to be a foregone conclusion. Pedro Almodovar and the Spanish Academy managed to make up when “Volver” represented Spain in 2006 (Almodovar was very loudly critical and bitter when two of his most-acclaimed films were passed up in 2002 and 2004...In retrospect, ”Mondays in the Sun” was clearly a poor choice over “Talk to Her”, but “The Sea Inside” ended up winning the Oscar which kind of justifies the snub of “Bad Education”). Spain typically announces a shortlist of three films, and Almodovar’s latest, “Broken Embraces” a film noir starring Penelope Cruz, will easily get one of the three slots. Spain has had a mediocre year, although there are a number of interesting new Spanish films premiering in San Sebastian and Spain often chooses a late release as its Oscar nominee. I predict the other two spots on the shortlist will go to “La Mujer Sin Piano”, about 24 hours in the life of a Spanish housewife and “Camino”, about the sinister Opus Dei Catholic sect, which won Best Picture at last year’s Spanish Goya Awards. “Broken Embraces” should easily be able to crush the chances of either one of these. Also possible: (in order) “Luna Caliente”, about a Basque terrorist trial (I Spanish is pretty bad..."Caliente" probably won’t premiere in time), “Ander”, a love story between a Basque farmer and a Peruvian immigrant, “Me Too!”, about a man with Down’s syndrome who falls in love with a woman, “The Condemned”, about a man who returns to Spain from South America to search for a long-lost ex-guerilla comrade and “La Verguenza” about a yuppie couple trying to decide whether to adopt a Peruvian child. One major dark horse is “The Dancer and the Thief”, a Spanish-Argentinian coproduction shot in Chile by a Oscar-winning Spanish director (Fernando Trueba of “Belle Epoque”) and a South American cast (Will it be eligible to rep Spain?). I think it’s not Spanish enough. Unlikely smaller countries, Spain will only consider choosing an authentically Spanish film, so films like “Map of the Sounds of Tokyo” (Japanese & English) and Carlos Saura’s “Io Don Giovanni” (Italian and German) are out, as is a big Argentine co-production like “The Secret of Her Eyes”. They’d probably love to shortlist “Agora”, but it’s overwhelmingly in English. Anyway, count on Almodovar.

21. SWEDEN is traditionally the powerhouse of Scandinavia- they have more wins and nominations (3 & 14) than all the other Scandinavian countries put together (2 & 13). By all rights, the Swedish submission SHOULD BE “Let the Right One In”. It was released within the eligible dates and it’s popular, original and has won awards worldwide, including several at this year’s Swedish Oscars (the Guldbagge Awards)....not bad for a teenage vampire movie. However, due to an obscure technicality, “Let the Right One In” would appear NOT to be eligible since it was released in the United States in 2008 and was theoretically eligible for last year’s Oscars. The same obscure rule prevented “A Very Long Engagement” from representing France. With the biggest Swedish “festival film” of the year mostly in English (Lukas Moodysson’s “Mammoth”), Sweden doesn’t have much else. Their most likely choice is “The Girl”, an adolescent drama which won two awards in Berlin, and which is about a young girl who is left alone for a summer in 1981. If that doesn’t appeal to them, then it will probably be “The Involuntary” , about five interlocking stories- it was nominated for Best Picture against “Let the Right One In” but both eventually lost to last year’s Swedish Oscar submission, “Everlasting Moments”. In with a very slight chance (in order): “The Eagle Hunter’s Son”, a Mongolian-language drama about life on the Kazakh steppes, “The Swimsuit Issue”, a Full-Monty-esque comedy about a men’s synchronized swimming team and “A Rational Solution”, about a man who falls in love with his best friend’s wife. Count on “Girl” unless the Swedish Academy can persuade AMPAS to change the rules for the “Right One”

22. SWITZERLAND usually chooses films from their German and French-speaking regions. This year however, I think it’s a two-horse race between the dark-horse Italian-language romantic comedy “Marcello, Marcello” and French-language family drama “Home”. “Home” is the favorite- it has received a lot of festival play and won Best Picture at the 2009 Swiss Film Prizes (the Swiss Oscars). However, three of Switzerland’s last five submissions displayed an affinity for a wry sense of humor, and a fourth “Vitus”, was at least upbeat...(the fifth, “Tout un Hiver sans le Feu”, is most like “Home”). I think the Swiss will go with the uplifiting romantic comedy “Marcello, Marcello” about a young man trying desperately to impress a girl’s father. I haven’t heard a bad word about it. Others with a slight chance: “Cargo”, a rare sci-fi film from Europe that has gotten very good reviews (in German), “The Noise in My Head”, about the dysfunctional relationship between a woman and a teenage boy (in French), and “Tandoori Love”, a fusion of arthouse and Bollywood (in German and Hindi). Dark horses: espionage drama “The Interrogation of Harry Wind” and "Happy New Years”, which has been seen at a lot of festivals. Turkish/Kurdish-themed dramas have been selected by Switzerland twice before, so they could also go with “Zufallbringen”...Rounding out the Top Ten: the surreal “Pepperminta” and the supernaturally-tinged “The Valley”. “Sennentontschi” won’t be released in time but should figure prominently next year.

23. TUNISIA continues to produce good films each year, but has only sent films for Oscar consideration twice, most recently in 2002. If they send a movie this year, it will probably be “Un si beau voyage”, about a Tunisian man in France who returns to his homeland of Tunisia to die. If they want to choose a more daring subject they could go with “The Other Half of the Sky” (women & Islam), “The Wedding Song” (relations between Jews and Muslims) or “Khamsa” (the poverty of Tunisian immigrants in France). Although, Voyage is the favorite, I doubt they’ll enter.

24. TURKEY came close to a nomination last year due to the new rules- “Three Monkeys” is rumored to have gotten one of the three “auteur” slots on the shortlist. They have a lot to choose from this year, and nearly a dozen films have a chance at representing Turkey. It depends on what kind of film they want to go for. I was going to predict “Bazaar: A Tale of Trade”, a well-reviewed film about a black-market profiteer that won the Best Film awards at the Golden Orange Festival and also in Flanders until I found out the director is not Turkish. That may cost the film the nomination in such a competitive year.....The three big winners at the Istanbul Film Festival were “Men on the Bridge”, a story of three young men in Istanbul (Best Turkish Film), ”10 to 11” a man whose vast collection of keepsakes and memorabilia is endangered by a construction project (Special Jury Prize) and “The Wrong Rosary”, about a Muslim cleric who falls for a Catholic woman (Best Director). Two harrowing dramas about young people- “Bogeyman” (young children) and “My Only Sunshine” (an adolescent girl) have gotten some good reviews, although Variety’s review of Sunshine is scathing. The directors of historical drama “Pains of Autumn” and provincial drama “Shadowless” have been selected to represent Turkey before. Also in the running: “Pandora’s Box”, about a dysfunctional family and their dying grandmother, or “On the Way to School”, about a Turkish teacher in the Kurdish region. Things are too competitive for dramas “Milk”, “Conscinece”, “Dilbert’s Eight Days”, the overtly political “Autumn” or controversial documentary “Mustafa”. Tough call. Top Five: “10 to 11”, “Bazaar”, “Pains of Autumn”, “Wrong Rosary” and “Bogeyman”.

25. THE UNITED KINGDOM obviously produces most of its films in English, but they have a very small Celtic film industry that has managed two Oscar nominations, plus a small South Asian- and Chinese-language film industry. The films are usually virtual unknowns, like last year's "Hope Eternal". The most likely choice that I know of is Welsh-language road movie “Patagonia”, followed by “She, A Chinese” a British production by a Mainland Chinese director in Mandarin Chinese and English.

CYPRUS is one of only two EU members that doesn't participate in this competition, but I think that will change this year. Cyprus has two films that have been very well-received- a picturesque drama set in 1973 around the time of partition ("The Last Homecoming") and a quirky romantic comedy ("Small Crime"). Most countries are inclined to go serious, so expect baity "The Last Homecoming" on this year's Oscar longlist.

Most likely to submit a film : Most of these countries submit each and every year. It would be difficult to imagine Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain or Sweden missing out.
Least likely to submit a film at all: Definitely IRELAND, which has nothing eligible.
Most likely to get a nomination at this early stage: GERMANY is basically a lock...with Spain, France, Austria and Italy looking good.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Here are my predictions for the 25 countries from Latin America and Africa, as well as the tiny Pacific island of Fiji, which doesn't fit into any other region. Only nine of these countries sent films last year, and I really don't expect countries like Congo, Guatemala or Fiji that have submitted only a single film to rejoin this year.

1. ARGENTINA has been quiet on the Film Festival circuit this year which is why I’m betting that they choose a film that hasn’t yet been released- thriller “The Secret of Her Eyes”. Director Juan Jose Campanella brought Argentina their last Oscar nomination, and star Ricardo Darin has co-starred in four of the past eight Argentinian submissions. The film itself is a thriller about a man trying to solve a cold case murder from 30 years before. The film faces its two main challenges from two other previously selected directors, namely Marcelo Pineyro (selected in 1995, 1997 and 2002) and Lucia Puenzo (selected in 2007). I’d say Puenzo’s “The Fish Child”, a lesbian crime drama about two teenagers on the run is slightly more likely than Pineyro’s “The Widows of Thursdays”, a soap opera focusing on a triple murder in an elite neighborhood of Buenos Aires. But all three have a chance. So do lower-profile films “Green Waters”, a family drama about a paranoiac father, and “Rodney”, an independent comedy-drama that has gotten mostly good reviews. Also possible (in order): “Liverpool”, about a sailor who returns home to his isolated home in Tierra del Fuego, “A Week Alone”, about kids living in a gated community, lightning-fast comedy-drama “Castro” and “La Camara Oscura”, a poorly reviewed film that got a lot of nominations at this year’s Argentine Oscars. Unlikely: “The Window” has a good shot at the Goyas (selected in a separate vote) but not for the Oscars, Daniel Hendler’s films have been chosen twice before, but I don’t give much chance to comedy “The Paranoids”, “Pots and Pans” looks good but I don’t think it will be released in time and screwball comedy “Musica en Espera” looks too light for the serious Argentina Academy, which likes its comedies to include more pathos.

2. BOLIVIA made an announcement last year that they really wanted to participate but that they only had digital films. I guess nobody told them that AMPAS started allowing digital films a few years ago. This year I think they’ll send “Le Maldicion de Rocha”, a mystery about a man who finds a centuries-old skeleton while renovating his house. Second place: “El regalo de la pachamama”, a Weeping Camel-esque docudrama in the native Quechua language...Evo Morales' government should like that. In 3rd & 4th place: documentary “Un Dia Mas” and “Nocturnia”, a digital drama set in the United States. Unlikely: “Los Condenados”, “Hospital Obrero” and Rodrigo Bellott’s “The Perfidy”, which might be chosen but for the fact that it is a majority Chilean production.

3. BRAZIL has probably had the weakest film year of any of the "major" Oscar countries, most of its best directors are either filming abroad in the US or Europe or taking the year off, and the country has no obvious contenders. I'm going to predict long-shot "Birdwatchers", a drama in both Portuguese and Guarani languages about the struggle between Portuguese settlers and Native Americans in the modern-day Amazon jungle. Most people however will be predicting one of Brazil's two Cannes films (Brazil has otherwise been nearly absent from international festivals this year), namely "Eye of the Storm", which is produced by Walter Salles and is the obvious favorite. The film, like last year's submission, is about a hostage crisis but reviews have not been very good, which is why I think Brazil will dump it for the better-reviewed "Birdwatchers". Still, I have "Storm" in second place. In third: "Jean Charles", a semi-biographical drama about the Brazilian man killed by British police in the aftermath of the London bombings, and its effect on the Brazilian community in London (will it have too much English?). In fourth place: "If Nothing Else Works Out" ("Se nada mais der certo"), a small but positively-reviewed comedy that won Best Pic at the Rio de Janeiro Film Festival. In fifth: "Adrift" (A Deriva), a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl growing up with an adulterous father (French actor Vincent Cassel). Possible long-shots: low-budget rape thriller "Retribution", expatriate drama "Budapest", frenetic comedy "Carmo", depressing documentary "Garapa", and finally Brazil's first Dogma film, the slice-of-life drama "Feliz Natal". Unlikely but possible: "The Dead Girl's Feast", "Romance" and box-office smash "If I Were You 2". With competition so weak, it would not be surprising for a new film released at the end of the year to get the nod. I think Brazil can be counted out this year.

4. BURKINA FASO prides itself on being the home of Africa’s “Oscars” (the FESPACO Film Festival) but they have only submitted one film for Oscar consideration, and that was way back in 1989. There’s a chance they may return this year with “Heart of a Lion”, a drama looking at African complicity in the slave trade and one of the most expensive films in West African history. The film premiered at this year’s FESPACO Film Festival and it came back with one (albeit minor) award. The director, Aboubacar Diallo, is somewhat of a box office draw at home, and the film does appear to have met Oscar screening guidelines. Less likely: “Le Fauteuil”, about a woman facing up to local corruption and “Amour, sexe et Mobylette” about love and STDs (yikes!).

5. CAMEROON sent one film back in 1980- Daniel Kamwa’s “Our Daughter”. In the unlikely event that Cameroon rejoins the competition after nearly thirty years, they’ll probably choose Kamwa’s new film, “Mah Saah-Sah”, which played at the FESPACO Film Festival. The film, a romance featuring a great deal of traditional African dance, got decidedly mixed reviews in Ouagadougou.

6. CHAD sent a single film in 2002. They could potentially reappear this year with “Le Pelerin de Camp Nou”, a drama about a poor soccer team in provincial Chad which apparently had some U.S. funding. “Tartina City”, another recent film appears to have premiered too early.

7. CHILE ‘s submission this year will take the country into the “ten-years-in-a-row” club, and it’s likely to be “La Nana”, which won the Grand Jury Award at Sundance, and which has already been picked up for a limited US release in the fall. I think this is pretty sure to be the Chilean nominee, with probable runner-up “Secrets”, about a Chilean leftist returning home from self-imposed exile, in a distant second place. Dark horses: “Turistas”, about a newly single woman gallivanting around a national park with a Norwegian guy, “Huacho”, about a family in rural Southern Chile, and comedy “El Regalo”. Unlikely: family vacation soap opera “All-Inclusive”, horror-thriller “Oscuro/Illuminado” and the arty “Navidad”. I've predicted Chilean horror film “Caleuche” would be a major contender for the past two years...but it’s still not finished.

8. COLOMBIA’s submission is almost sure to be “The Wind Journeys”, which was featured in Cannes, and whose director was selected a few years ago for the dreary “Wandering Shadows”. The film, about a man returning a musical instrument of sentimental value to his old teacher, won a minor award at Cannes and got good reviews. If Colombia looks elsewhere, they may select “The Passion of Gabriel”, about a priest trying to maintain the peace between warring political factions and “Nochebuena” (Christmas Eve), a well-received family comedy. Out of luck this year: “El Arriero”, about a cocaine trafficker, and much-delayed comedy “Actors in Conflict”.

9. CONGO-KINSHASA sent one film back in 1997 and never entered again since despite some decent possibilities in the last few years. They’re unlikely to participate this year. The only feature I know about is a low-budget one called “Le Kinois”, about a woman who becomes involved in a conspiracy involving Darfur and mercenary killers in France.

10. COSTA RICA submitted one film in 2005 and the same director, Esteban Ramirez, has his sophomore film out this year. “Gestacion”, a drama about how a surprise pregnancy tests the relationship of two people deeply in love, is Costa Rica’s most likely submission this year.

11. COTE D’IVOIRE sent a single film, “Black and White in Color” in 1976 and won the Oscar. That film would never have qualified under today’s rules (it was totally a French film), and they’re little chance the Ivorians will enter again this year. That said, “Bla Yassaoua”, about a girl who mobilizes the women of her village to resist efforts by the men (including her father) to submit to the strict edicts of the local church, has been making a mark on the African film circuit.

12. CUBA was one of the few countries to opt out last year, and now I think I understand why...Four of the five films I predicted for them to choose last year were delayed for one reason or another and did not premiere until after the deadline. So, although it may seem lazy, I believe they’ll choose one of these same four films, which were the four national representatives at the Havana Film Festival in December. They are: “El Cuerno de la Abundancia” (The Horn of Plenty), a comedy-drama about an inheritance, by the director of Cuba’s only Oscar nominee, “Los Dioses Rotos” (Broken Gods), about prostitution in turn-of-the-century Cuba, “Kangamba”, about Cuba’s role in the Angolan civil war, and “Omerta”, about the life of a bodyguard. “Kangamba” is the “biggest” film, (although Cuba has never chosen a “big” film) but “Plenty” has the best buzz. It’s a 4-way dead heat. I predicted “Omerta” would get the nod last year, but now I have it in 3rd place, with “Abundancia” getting the Cuban nod, and “Kangamba” as runner-up.

13. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC hasn’t submitted a film since 1995, when they sent Angel Muniz’s NYC-set comedy “Nueba Yol”. If they rejoin the competition this year, it will probably be drama “Hermaphrodite” (sounds like Argentina’s XXY) or, less-likely, Muniz’s new film, family comedy “Ladrones a Domicilio”.

14. ECUADOR has submitted twice, and may do so again with “Impulso”, a B & W suspense-thriller about a young woman in search of her father.

15. EGYPT holds the dubious record of submitting the most films without getting an Oscar nomination- 26 times they’ve tried, and they’ve sent some pretty good films without any luck. I don’t think they’ll get a nomination this year either, but they will probably send one of seven new films, many of which have been controversial at home. As I mention every year, the Egyptian Academy tends to send quality films that cause a stir among conservatives. “Basra”, an independent film about the US invasion of Iraq from the perspective of ordinary Egyptians, “The Day We Met”, a romantic drama and the only Egyptian film in competition at Cairo last year, “Eye of the Sun”, a controversial film that premiered last year at Cannes but which was banned at home until December 2008, "Fawzia's Secret Recipe" (aka Fawyza: A Special Blend), a feminist and 'Fellini-esque' film by Magdy Ahmed Aly who represented Egypt back in 2002, “Heliopolis”,a multi-layered film about middle-class malaise and nostalgia for the past which may not premiere in Egypt in time, ”Ibrahim Labyad”, an action-thriller (they chose one last year) by the director of "The Yacoubian Building", and “One-Zero”, a multi-character drama focusing on a series of people following a football match. I would predict “Heliopolis” if not for the release date problem, so I will go with “Fawyza”, followed by “One Zero” and “Ibrahim Labyad”. Impossible: Egypt’s Academy loves to court controversy but gritty independent gay drama “All My Life” is probably a bit much, even for them. Less likely: “Al-Farah” and “Swimming Bolteya”.

16. FIJI submitted their first-ever feature film (in the Rotuman language) in 2005, but they haven’t produced anything else so far as I know.

17. GUATEMALA sent one film back in 1994. They had a good potential submission last year and didn’t send it, so it looks like they don’t care about this competition anymore. I don’t know that they have anything eligible this year.

18. MEXICO I'm kind of cheating with Mexico since I waited for their eight-film shortlist to come out before I chose....I think the mostly likely choice from the shortlist is "Backyard", a thriller co-starring American actor Jimmy Smits and directed by Carlos Carrera, who has represented Mexico twice, including one Oscar nom for "El Crimen del Padre Amaro". Problem: a lack of any international awards or major festival exposure. In second place: drama "The Desert Within", about a man who wants to build a church (sounds like "Field of Dreams"). Third place: dark horse "Rudo & Cursi" reteams the dynamic duo from "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (which was NOT selected for Oscar) in a vulgar, but well-reviewed comedy. Not a baity choice, but it is their highest-profile film of the year. In 4th place: arty youth drama "I'm Going to Explode". In the middle tier are well-reviewed comedy "Nora's Will" and documentary "The Inheritors", which are probably too genre. Highly unlikely: thriller "Bajo la sal" and migrant worker drama "Los Bastardos", which got middling reviews.

19. NICARAGUA sent two films in the 1980s, and even managed to get one Oscar nomination. “La Yuma”, about an aspiring female boxer from the slums, is reportedly the first Nicaraguan feature in 16 years and it is scheduled to be released later this year.

20. PERU doesn’t often win awards at the major international Film Festivals. Last year they didn’t even have a suitable film to send to the Oscars. That’s why this year, it’s difficult to see them choosing anything else than “The Milk of Sorrow”, which was the surprise winner at the Berlin Film Festival. The film, about abused women in Peru, is possibly the only time Peru won such a high honor at a major Festival, and director Claudia Llosa was selected once before to represent Peru. In any other year, “Dioses”, a black comedy, would have gotten the nod. Out of their league this year: the well-reviewed “Mancora” and “El Acuarelists”.

21. PUERTO RICO opted out last year, even though the biggest-ever local box-office hit, “Talento de Barrio”, had requested to be sent to the Oscars. This year, they will likely rejoin with one of four films. The two favorites are probably “La Mala”, a musical drama about a Cuban singer trying to "make it” in Puerto Rico, and “Kabo & Platon”, a story of two adolescent also trying to "make it", this time in the reggaeton business. Notably, both are musically themed films like “Barrio”. However, I’m going to predict the Puerto Ricans choose dark horse, “Seva Vive”, the first-ever Puerto Rican feature documentary made directly for cinemas. The documentary is about a newspaper article that spread controversy around the island in 1898. Unlikely but possible: “Lie”, a psychological thriller.

22. SOUTH AFRICA was, I suspect, secretly disqualified last year. AMPAS originally announced 67 films had been accepted and when the shortlist was announced, they said that 65 films had been considered. According to IMDB and Variety, the submissions from South Africa (“Jerusalema”) and Afghanistan were more than half in English, and may (or may not) have been ruled ineligible. This year, the front-runner is Darrel Roodt’s “Zimbabwe”, about a young female refugee who escapes to South Africa and falls into a life of crime. If that’s too controversial, they could go with the (also controversial) “Triomf”, about the lives of poor, white Afrikaners. They haven’t chosen a “white” South African film since 1997, but “Triomf” feels like a stronger pick than their third choice, the commercial comedy of “White Wedding”, a multi-lingual road movie about two middle-class black South Africans who meet up with a white Englishwoman on the way to a big Western-style African wedding. Reviews for that have been mixed. Roodt has been nominated for an Oscar before, so “Zimbabwe” should make it, although the other two films sound much more interesting.

23. TANZANIA sent one film in 2001 but nothing else since then. Their national film output consists mostly of small Nigerian-style low-budget English-language films. If they send something, I’m guessing it will be “Bongoland 2”, a comedy sequel in Swahili about a man from the fictional African nation of Bongoland who returns to his country after living in the United States. The director has said publicly that he would like Tanzania to submit it.

24. URUGUAY has two potential contenders; “Gigante” is a minimalist drama that won a major award at the Berlin Film Festival, while “Bad Day to Go Fishing” is a minimalist comedy about small-town con artists. I'd say “Gigante” is the safe choice, but Uruguay has made strange choices in the past (last year they chose “Matar a Todos” over two better-reviewed films).

25. VENEZUELA keeps submitting films despite political name-calling with Washington, DC. In the past sixteen years, they’ve sent films thirteen times (it would have been 14, but a lawsuit made them miss the deadline in 2005). The most likely candidate this year is government-supported historical drama “Zamora”, whose politics and production values seem to be just right to represent Venezuela. “Taita Boves”, another historical drama, looks even better. Others in with a chance: “The Black Virgin” got mixed reviews, but it co-stars acclaimed Spanish actress Carmen Maura, “A Faraway Place” hasn’t been seen yet, but has a strong pedigree behind the scenes, “A Tea in Havana” is a long-awaited Cuban coproduction about a love triangle and “El Enemigo” features a baity “bereaved mother” story. Less likely: writers comedy “Desautorizados”, vigilante political comedy “Libertador Morales” and transsexual drama “Una casa pa’maita” (they picked one last year, after all).

Worldwide, the most likely new country to send a film is clearly ETHIOPIA - “Teza”, about an intellectual who returns to Ethiopia under the brutal dictatorship of Mengistu, has played at a dozen international film festivals and I can confirm it has played in Ethiopian cinemas since January, making it eligible. Expect it on the Oscar longlist. Mali’s “Tell Me Who You Are”, about upper-class life in the capital city of Bamako, played at Cannes, but Mali has ignored better films before. Senegal has also ignored great films on several occasions...This year’s best bet is “L’Absence”, followed by “Les Feux du Mansare”. Both are about expatriates returning home to Senegal. Panama’s potential submission "Granpa" (co-starring Ruben Blades) is about the friendship between an old man and a little Oscar staple. Liberia’s “Johnny Mad Dog” got good reviews but it may not have ever premiered at home and its dialogie in an English Creole would probably get it disqualified anyway.

Most likely to submit a film : Argentina, Brazil and Mexico never miss a year, and the high visibility of the films from Chile, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay virtually guarantee their appearance as well.
Least likely to submit a film at all: Lots of these countries won't send anything, but Congo, Fiji and Guatemala don't even have anything to send.
Most likely to get a nomination at this early stage: Cuba's "Horn of Plenty", followed by Argentina, South Africa and Chile. (TBA: Mexico)

Next week: the Oscar submissions from the final 25 Oscar participants, including the Western Nations and the Maghreb.