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 boy...an 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.