Monday, November 2, 2009

2010 FOREIGN OSCAR NOMINATIONS PART I- The Americas, Africa and Australia

AMPAS announced it's Oscar longlist in October and 65 films made the cut, plus two countries that were apparently disqualified....The most surprising thing? For the first time since 1988, there were no countries entering the competition for the first time....I would have thought for sure we would have seen Cyprus, Ethiopia or Montenegro.....

It's a pretty weak list overall....I doubt more than 20 films have any chance at a nomination.....Every few weeks, we'll look at one-fourth of the nominees and see who's likely to get nominated for Oscar.

Part One- The Americas, Africa and Australia (16 films)
Part Two- Eastern Europe (17 films)
Part Three- Asia (17 films)
Part Four- Western Europe (17 films)


The "Other" group of countries includes all the countries outside of Europe and Asia, and varies from the ten Spanish-language films of Latin America to the more exotic tongues of Australia and Africa. Several Latin American countries bowed out last year, but they're back with a vengeance this year.....Last year this group of countries didn't get any Oscar nominations, but Canada and Mexico made the shortlist, as they often do.


16. ALGERIA- "London River" Had he shot one more scene in French, Bouchareb might have gotten his third nomination for this topical and well-reviewed drama about two parents looking for their children amidst the rubble of the London bombings....Alas, it's on Oscar's cutting room floor.


15. VENEZUELA- "Libertador Morales"
14. PUERTO RICO- "Kabo & Platon"
13. CUBA- "Fallen Gods"
12. URUGUAY- "A Bad Day to Go Fishing"

It's an honor to be nominated, and that's how these four directors should feel....With 65 films in the running, there's just no way that a low-budget, Venezuelan comedy about a motorcycle cop, which verges on nationalist propaganda can get an Oscar nomination....Ditto a low-budget inner-city drama drenched in local music, about the dreams of two Puerto Rican reggaeton singers. Neither one of these has the subject matter nor the production values to contend for an Oscar. Uruguay and Cuba have better production values, but their films- a minimalist comedy-drama about an aging wrestler touring small-town Uruguay and an ambitious, lusty but ultimately dull Cuban drama about history repeating itself amidst the world of Havana's prostitution- don't stand a chance.


11. BOLIVIA- "Zona Sur"
10. COLOMBIA- "The Wind Journeys"
9. MOROCCO- "Casanegra"
8. BRAZIL- "Salve Geral"

Bolivia has selected "Zona Sur", a topical, class-conscious drama about a spoiled, wealthy white Bolivian family that now struggles to pay for their lavish lifestyle, and the Aymara servants who have served them for years. It also features unusual (and slightly annoying) rotating cameras that frequently have none of the cast in frame. Brazil has chosen yet another violent crime drama- "Salve Geral"- about the 2006 prison riots that ended up terrorizing the entire city of Sao Paulo. Colombia's "Wind Journeys" follows a middle-aged musician who makes a road trip through the Colombian countryside with a young boy to return a treasured musical instrument to its owner. Morocco has selected "Casanegra", a gritty thriller about two best friends in Casablanca who stuggle to achieve their dreams- one to woo a beautiful woman, one to emigrate to Europe- in an atmosphere of petty crime and violence. All four are destinated to be also-rans. I've seen the films from Bolivia and Morocco- they're good but just not good enough....Bolivia's film is too low-key...Morocco's is a better film but probably too coarse for this committe. Brazil has unsuccessfully submitted films like this twice before- "Carandiru" and "Cidade de Deus", and those have been better reviewed than "Salve Geral", which has already been written off by most Brazilian bloggers. Colombia's "Wind Journeys" got good reviews and a small award at Cannes, but it too slow to make waves against 64 competitors.


7. SOUTH AFRICA- "White Wedding"
6. CANADA- "I Killed My Mother"
5. PERU- "The Milk of Sorrow"

The problem with these three films is that they are divisive....Nobody dares say a bad word about South Africa's light-hearted, inter-racial, road comedy, featuring a bridegroom trying to make it to the church on time...Everyone likes it- it's funny and charming and makes you feel good at the end (so they say....I haven't seen it...). But in the same breath, nobody thinks it's a great cinematic masterpiece. It's a fun film but not the sort that is meant to be honored alongside "The Lives of Others" or "The Shop on Main Street". That said, fluffy comedies have been nominated by the committee before- surprise nominee "Everybody Famous" was similar to "White Wedding" in this respect. Peru won the Berlin Film Festival with "The Milk of Sorrow", but the artsy Berliners are known for choosing inaccessible fare. Reviews for this powerful film- about how the ravages of rape and war affect women years after the conflict has finished- have been somewhat mixed, but it could potentially compete for the one of the three wildcard slots chosen by the smaller committee. "I Killed My Mother", directed by a 20-year old newcomer is a French-language Canadian drama about the antagonistic relationship between a gay teenage son and his mother. The film has often mentioned as a shortlist contender but Variety notes that there's a lot of room for improvement- the film is great for a debut but not quite good enough. Add to that that Canada submitted a similar-themed, cinematically perfect film in 2005- "C.R.A.Z.Y."- and that didn't get a nomination.


4. MEXICO- "El Traspatio"
3. AUSTRALIA- "Samson & Delilah"

"El Traspatio"- a drama about a series of real-life brutal (and mostly unsolved) murders of women on the Mexico-Texas border- hasn't gotten the best of reviews....BUT, Mexico has been shortlisted four of the past nine years and two of those films also got merely average-to-positive reviews- including "El Crimen de Padre Amaro", by the same director as "Traspatio". This sort of slick, well-produced drama has worked with this committee before. I have a feeling that "Samson and Delilah"- a road drama about two Aboriginal teens on the run- is too arty for this committee. It contains very little dialogue (slightly more than half is in Aboriginal languages) and aimless, drug-addled teen drama just doesn't sound like the right genre to get a nomination....However, it has gotten excellent reviews and a lot of people like the film. With this many films in play, I think it will end up missing the mark....


2. CHILE- "Dawson, Isla 10"

One potential nominee that no-one is talking about is Chile's "Dawson, Isla 10". Chile has never been nominated but they make some good films- I've enjoyed many of their well-made, original and thought-provoking Oscar submissions over the years. Miguel Littin, a Chilean who fled to Mexico in the 1970s, has been nominated twice for Oscar but never as a representative of his home country. His latest film is a drama, praised by the Chilean President herself, about a group of political dissidents living in exile on a prison island on a bitterly cold island in Southern Chile. It premiered at the last minute (beating out favorite "La Nana") so there's not much on the web, but Littin has scored in this category before and the trailer looks quite Oscary. The political slant may hurt, but the human story seems universal. Expect it to contend for the shortlist.

1. ARGENTINA- "The Secret of Their Eyes"

Argentina is the only Latin American country to ever win an Oscar in this category and "The Secret of Their Eyes" has gotten some of the best reviews of the year. The film is a well-crafted mystery about a man trying to solve a murder case from 30 years earlier. Every review is a testament to the filmmaking, every website sings its praises. It's probably the closest thing to a lock this year...The only minor drawback? Many people also considered previous Argentine also-rans "Leonera" and "Kamchatka" as locks...Still, count on "The Secret of Their Eyes" to get shortlisted with little difficulty.

Now, the statistics:

Number of countries that have participated in the past: 17 from The Americas, 11 from Africa and 2 from Oceania.

Number of countries submitting films: 12 from The Americas, 3 from Africa and 1 from Oceania.

Number of countries disqualified: ALGERIA's El-Watan newspaper reported in early October that "London River", by two-time Oscar nominee Rachid Bouchareb would rep Algeria, but it was apparently disqualified for containing more than 50% English.

Number of countries opting out: The most notable absence is EGYPT, a great film-making country that has sent films six of the past seven years, and had a decent year at home.....Egypt holds the record (tied with Portugal now....) for the most submissions without an Oscar nod. Not sure why they didn't send a film this year....Also surprising: ETHIOPIA was expected to make its first-ever Oscar showing with "Teza", which won awards in Venice and Ouagadougou, and which had a successful run locally in Addis Ababa....TANZANIA's Josiah Kibira lobbied unsuccessfully for Tanzania to submit Swahili-language comedy "Bongoland 2". Others opting out: BURKINA FASO, CAMEROON, CHAD, COSTA RICA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, ECUADOR and TUNISIA , which actually had films to submit, and CONGO-KINSHASA, COTE D'IVOIRE (a former Oscar winner!), FIJI, GUATEMALA and NICARAGUA, which likely didn't.

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: Six, and that's pushing it.

Number of Foreign Languages Represented: Ten out of sixteen films are mostly in Spanish....but more interestingly, three of these films are also in indigenous Indian languages: Aymara (Bolivia), Quechua (Peru) and Wayuu (Colombia). The other six films were in Afrikaans, Arabic, French, Portuguese, Warlpiri, Xhosa, Zulu, and three have a healthy dose of English.

Highest profile films: PERU, which won the Golden Bear at Berlin, and AUSTRALIA, which won the Camera d'Or at Cannes.

Country with the Best Shot at a Nomination: ARGENTINA, hands down

Country with the Least Shot at a Nomination: VENEZUELA's political propaganda comedy.

Number of Comedies: Three- South Africa, Uruguay and Venezuela

Oscar History: Argentina's Juan Jose Campanella was nominated for "Son of the Bride" a few years back, Mexico's Carlos Carrera was nominated for "The Secret of Father Amaro", and Chile's Miguel Littin was nominated in this category in both 1976 (representing Mexico) and 1983 (representing Nicaragua). The director of Algeria's disqualified nominee was nominated twice before...Also, the directors from Bolivia, Colombia and Peru have repped their countries in this competition before.

Number of Female Directors: Two- Peru's Claudia Llosa, and South Africa's Jann Turner

Familiar Faces: The most recognizable faces among this lot are probably US TV star Jimmy Smits (Mexico's "El Traspatio"), two-time British Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn (Algeria's "London River") and Ricardo Darin (Argentina's "The Secret of Her Eyes"). Those with more specialized tastes may recognize former "Strongest Man on Earth" Jouko Ahola, a Finnish bodybuilder who stars in the Uruguayan submission, and Cristián de la Fuente who has small roles in several US TV shows like "The Class" and "Ugly Betty", as well as the starring role in the Chilean submission.

Tough Choices: Almost everyone expected wry comedy "Gigante" and black comedy "La Nana" to represent URUGUAY and CHILE respectively....Sebastian Silva admitted he was stunned to lose the Chilean nod to upstart "Dawson Island 10"....."Rudo y Cursi" was expected by many to rep Mexico based on the starpower of Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, but it was dropped for more serious fare....I was seriously rooting for Cuba to choose "The Horn of Plenty", which reunites the director and stars of my favorite Latin American film "The Waiting List", but to no avail....And South Africa dumped two politically sensitive dramas- "Zimbabwe" and "Triumph"- for a feel-good romantic comedy that rocked the local box office.

Controversies: Some said "London River" and "Samson & Delilah" wouldn't qualify because they had too much English dialogue....The mostly silent "Samson" made it in, but "River" was cut.....Some griped that the selection of Venezuela's nominee (made by the national film studio, and reflecting a pro-government slant) was politically motivated.

Number of countries I predicted correctly: 8- I got Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Morocco and Peru right, plus I correctly picked the Mexican nominee from their longlist and guessed that Algeria would try to send "River". I came close with Puerto Rico and Uruguay, while Brazil & Chile took me completely by surprise.

Films I'm most looking forward to seeing: I've seen the films from Bolivia (B-), Cuba (C-) and Morocco (B+) it's a toss-up between ARGENTINA's "The Secret of Their Eyes" (stellar reviews) and SOUTH AFRICA's bright and happy comedy "White Wedding" which allegedly made its whole country smile.


Jann Turner said...

I very much enjoyed reading your blog. You say that you can't decide which movie to see next - please go and watch WHITE WEDDING. Was thrilled to note that you think we might get lucky with Oscar.
Jann Turner

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