Monday, July 13, 2009

FOREIGN OSCAR RACE 2009-2010: THE WESTERN COUNTRIES and THE MAGHREB

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 think...my 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.

PROBABLE DEBUTS:
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.

8 comments:

Patrick H. said...

Hi, love the posts on the predictions for foreign film oscar submissions, but have some extra thoughts on The Netherlands (guess where I'm from).

"De Punt" not only premiered on tv, it was never theatrically released, as was "Amsterdam", which only had one or two theatrical showings in Amsterdam and was released on dvd. "The Aviatrix of Kazbek" is delayed and will probably released in 2010. "Hunting and Sons" does not seem to make the deadline either, it is headed for an october release.

Major film not to be included is "Bride Flight", which was released in october 2008, and also directed by Ben Sombogaart. It has four major oscar-advantages as it has quite a lot of English dialogue (but still less than 50%), it is inspired by a true story, it is a period drama and it has beautiful scenery; the plot features dutch emigrants to New Zealand in the 1950's. I saw it was released in New Zealand last month to favorable (but not raving) reviews and it made the top ten of the box office in its second week, so apparently it has foreign appeal.

Considering foreign appeal, I'd say the chances of "White Light" (official english title is "The Silent Army") considerably grew after it was selected for Cannes (Un Certain Regard). It had mixed reviews here, mainly due to the acting of lead actor Marco Borsato. As the most popular dutch singer ever in his first acting role, dutch audiences could not disconnect him from his public persona. Foreign reviewers, not familiar with mr. Borsato outside of the film, actually praised the acting. It was re-edited for Cannes, maybe a good decision would be to submit the re-edited version (and giving it a small theatrical release just to be sure).

But, keeping in mind almost nobody has seen "The Storm" yet, "Winter in Wartime" still seems to be the safest bet for submission. It was the highest grossing dutch film of the past year and was also favorably reviewed. I doubt it will score a nomination. It is based on a 1970's children's book, the popularity of the film amongst adults mostly comes from the book being a classic and local hype; it got a LOT of attention in Holland's best watched early-evening tv-show, the broadcaster of which coincidentally also co-produced the film. Don't get me wrong, it is a pretty good film, but I doubt it will connect in a big way with the Oscar committee. The only Oscar-advantage it has is the second world war, but here it is used as the setting for an adventure story. Being a kids movie won't stop the film from being submitted by the way, out of the last ten submissions, four were aimed at kids (none of them were nominated).

To me "Stella's War" and "The Last Days of Emma Blank" are second tier, not big enough, not what the committee usally feels to be "oscar bait". Usually, since 2007 submission "Duska" would fight right in with those, especially with "Emma Blank". "Stella's War" got not-so-good reviews and flopped in cinemas so that one is out of the question. Its director also released "Bollywood Hero", which might fit in with last year's Slumdog Millionaire"-hype, except that it really got bad reviews and bad box-office (and it might be over 50% english, can't really recall). "Life In A Day" will probably also fit in this category (haven't seen it yet as it hasn't been released yet).

"Katia's Sister" seems to be too arthouse to be submitted (or nominated), even though its director also did "Bluebird" which got submitted (and disqualified) a couple of years ago. And if "Katia's Sister" isn't too arthouse, "The Last Conversation" surely is, shot in one take with one actress.

Patrick H. said...

And on another note: "Let The Right One In" is eligible. It does not matter that the film was eligible for the 'regular' Oscars in 2008. "A Very Long Engagement" was ineligible because it was nominated (for art direction and cinematography) in the previous year, a film can not be nominated in two separate years.

dzong2 said...

Thanks for the comments, especially those about which Dutch films will be too late and which premiered on TV....This "First Seen on TV" issue seems to be unique to the Netherlands.

I placed "Emma Blank" quite high because it seemed to fit into the Netherlands "Duska"/"Zus & Zo" mold. I'm sticking with "Storm" as my prediction, although it sounds like "Winter in Wartime" definitely has a better chance than I thought.

As for "Let the Right One In", I hope it is eligible to represent Sweden, although I still think the rules say you can only be eligible one year, and that was 2008 for "Right One". Let's hope you're right!

Heng Cheng Suang said...
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Heng Cheng Suang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heng Cheng Suang said...

Hi dzong2,

I wanted to applaud you for your effort ... Please pardon me for spreading your blog link in the website I am helping to maintain (i.e., foreignfilms.yuku.com) and in imdb as well ... I guess there are many interested parties in foreign films ...
;)

Here is another great link in wiki ... which have the updates ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_submissions_to_the_82nd_Academy_Awards_for_Best_Foreign_Language_Film

PS: Apparently, Germany (instead of Austria) is submitting The White Ribbon

rgds
hengcs

Jorge Rodrigues said...

Hello and thank you for your very thorough comments about each of these countries.

I'm Portuguese so I wanted to talk about my country's submission.

Portugal had critical acclaim with last year's film «Amália», a musical biopic about the Portuguese Fado singer Amália Rodrigues. And since it can be eligible for this year's competition, this will be our submission. It is better than «La vie en rose» which got Marion Cotillard her Oscar, so...

kenru said...

Hi, your e-mail is bouncing so I'm commenting here:
I love comparing the actual films chosen to your blog. Today I read that Bulgaria is sending THE WORLD IS BIG AND SALVATION LURKS AROUND THE CORNER, which you didn't even mention, but which sounds like a great choice from the article I read. Also Japan...which I was certain you'd peg, your second choice made the cut, so bravo! for that. Hong Kong also apparently crossed you up with PRINCE OF TEARS (which also sounds awesome). And Taiwan nominated one of your "dark horses" at least. And you hit Korea right on the nose.

Also, Kazakhstan...I think I would have preferred GOODBYE, GULSARY, which sounded great from your description to the "spoiler" they chose KELIN (which is described as "dialog free", something which makes a hash of the category foreign *language* film.)

And you pegged Slovenia exactly. Good job! Can't wait for more choices to be announced.