It's that time of year again....Over the next few months, the film industries of the world will be choosing their favorite films of the year to compete for a place at the Oscars. A lot of people complain about the one-film-per-country rule, and I admit it's not perfect. However, I think it results in a great list of films every year, in which smaller film-making countries can get their films seen. Historically, the best films are NOT NOMINATED, so it's always fun to track down the films on the list and find out which ones are really, truly the best. The advent of Ebay, Netflix and even Youtube have made finding all these films a little easier. I saw 22 of the 65 nominees last year, and the winner- "The Secret of Their Eyes" was one of the strongest, although I personally preferred Korea's "Mother". One guarantee each and every year is that South Korea will send a truly memorable, fantastic film, and that AMPAS will ignore it.
Over the years, exactly 100 countries have participated in the competition, and here are my predictions for all of them. I know of course that only about 65 countries will enter...14 small countries have only participated once, and three countries haven't sent a film in more than 30 years (Ivory Coast, Kuwait and Pakistan).
Here are the predictions for the first twenty-five. Feel free to let me know if you agree, disagree or have more information from your country!
1. AFGHANISTAN submits films every once in awhile (but only once in the past five years). Sadly, they’re limited by poor infrastructure, a lack of cinemas, a lack of funds and, worst of all, a lack of security. A notable local effort (“Rumi”) the biography of a distinguished Afghan poet, had to be shelved after the set suffered collateral damage from a Kabul bombing. Although it's not a fully Afghan production, they might send "Act of Dishonor", co-starring Marina Golbahari of "Osama" fame in a drama about Afghan cultural traditions as seen through a Canadian film crew. They have two unreleased films that are hoping to come out this year- “Black Tulip”, a drama about a family whose successful business is targeted by the Taliban, and “Secret Agent Nijat”, a $2500 low-budget Afghan take on James Bond. Problems: “Tulip” (which co-stars Jack Scalia) may contain too much English and “Nijat” may not run more than 45 minutes (the minimum running time according to Foreign Oscar rules). And neither one may get a one-week release in local cinemas before September 30th.
2. ALBANIA has submitted two years in a row with films starring local heartthrob Nik Xhelilaj. Perhaps they’ll consider doing so again with “The Albanian”, in which Nik plays an illegal Albanian immigrant in Germany. That film has a German director and I think they’ll prefer a native-born, so I predict they choose “I, Foreigner”, a thriller about the son of a political prisoner. Controversial new erotic drama “Pharmakon” is a possibility but I’m not sure how comfortable the Albanian Academy will be with the sex scenes, some of which are rumored to be real. Less likely: cross-cultural comedy “Balkan Bazaar”, about an international film crew descending on rural Albania and genre action movie “Out of Touch”.
3. ALGERIA will definitely choose “Outside the Law”. First of all, French-born director Rachid Bouchareb has brought Algeria two Oscar nominations out of four giga representing Algeria. Last year, “London River” was reportedly also chosen but it didn’t appear on the official list. That could have been due to a lack of Algerian input or a lack of 50% foreign dialogue (the film is roughly half in English but it did manage to qualify for the foreign-language Golden Globes, although it wasn’t nominated). Or it could have just been late paperwork. I don't know...AMPAS didn't answer my email! In any case, “Outside the Law” is a controversial film about the struggle for Algerian independence which has already sparked anger in colonial power, France (all the more reason to choose it!) and which reunites much of the same cast and crew as the Oscar-nominated “Indigenes”. As for illegal migrant drama “Harragas (I predicted it last year, but it premiered late) and “The Journey to Algiers”, a well-received story of a war widow raising six orphans, they can't really compete with Bouchareb.
4. ARGENTINA, the only Latin American country ever to win this award, is also the returning champion for the first time in 25 years. Argentina makes a lot of good films, but I think this year’s nominee can quickly be whittled down to three contenders. The obvious choice is “Carancho”, a thriller in the same mold as last year’s winner “The Secret in Their Eyes”, and with the same star- Ricardo Darin. The film, about an ambulance chasing lawyer, played at Cannes and has gotten pretty great reviews. Many say that director Pablo Trapero was robbed of an Oscar nomination when his "Leonera" was a surprise snub two years ago. In other words, it would be dumb to bet against “Carancho”. However, the Argentine Academy has chosen Daniel Burman over heavyweights before (“Family Law” beat favorite “Chronicle of an Escape” in 2006), meaning his new hit drama about elderly, bickering siblings sharing a house in the countryside (“Dos Hermanos”) could get the nod, as could “Pots and Pans” (in 3rd position), about a dying composer trying to get his money out of frozen bank accounts. In 4th Place: expensive biographical drama “El Mural”. 5th place: women’s charity drama “The Lips”. In case you were wondering, no country has won two years in a row since 1988 when tiny Denmark managed it.
5. ARMENIA is unpredictable because they rarely submit (only three times so far) and their choices rarely make sense. On the rare occasions where they have big, expensive national productions, they send nothing at all. Last year, they had some indie gems (i.e. “Bonded Parallels”) and they sent a boring documentary short that barely met the length requirements. Who sends a documentary short to this competition?! That documentary was made by the President of their National Film Board, so maybe they make their decision based on connections, not quality. This year, they should send one of their features at the Golden Apricot Film Festival. One is “Maestro”, by acclaimed director Vigen Chaldranyan (he was selected for Armenia’s first Oscar submission back in 2001, so he may have the right connections). Though good, the film is very political, and focuses on the still-controversial 2008 election protests, and I don’t think Armenia’s Academy is that brave. More likely is “Don’t Look Into the Mirror” a drama, expensive by local standards ($700,000), about aging. It got a competition spot at Karlovy Vary. Other than those, I suppose new animated film “The Daredevils of Sasun” is a possibility since it took years to make and is heralded as the return of local animated films...but it’s not supposed to be very good. They chose a documentary last year and if they go that route, their likely choice would seem to be “Charest”, a feature-length documentary about a revered national poet who was killed by the Soviets, or “The Last Tightrope Dancer in Armenia”, which is self-explanatory.
6. AUSTRALIAobviously makes most of their movies in English, but they sometimes have foreign-language movies that qualify. In 1996, 2001 and 2007, they submitted stories about immigrants to Australia. In 2006 and 2009, they chose films in native aboriginal languages. This year, I don’t know of any immigrant or aboriginal films...Some people may predict “Mao’s Last Dancer”, but I’m assured that is well more than 50% in English. They might not send a film this year, but if they do, I’m betting they choose one of two politically relevant films- “Teheran for Sale”, is an independent film about the real lives of middle-class Iranian youth. It was made in Iran clandestinely by an Australian woman of Iranian origin and the topical subject matter may be enough to spur the Aussies to send it to the Oscars. There's also "Virsa", a Punjabi-language film filmed in Australia by an Australian of Punjabi origin, and bringing together stars from India and Pakistan for the first time. I vote for Teheran.
7. AUSTRIA had been doing quite well, and were on track to get their third nomination in a row when Germany stole their submission- “The White Ribbon”- by announcing a few days earlier than the Austrians. Scheisse! Even sixty years after the war, most of Austria’s top films still touch on WWII and the Nazis. A trio of Nazi-themed films with decent reviews premiered this year- “Kill Daddy Good Night”, by previously selected director Michael Glawogger, tells three intertwined stories of families (from both sides of the conflict) during and after WWII, “Mein Kampf” is a satire about Adolf Hitler’s youth living in a boarding house with two old Jewish men. “The Initiation” is about a troubled youth seeking to join, and then escape from, a neo-Nazi gang. All have gotten okay reviews. A fourth film, “In Another Lifetime”, about Hungarian refugees being marched to a concentration camp near the end of the War is yet to be released. Despite the Nazi obsession, I think two of Austria’s likeliest films are not Nazi-oriented. “The Robber” about a marathoner/bank robber played at Berlin, and has been the most visible Austrian film on the FF circuit in 2010, but this German co-production may not count as Austrian enough. I’m going to predict they select “Mahler on the Couch”, a period film about Sigmund Freund. Top Five: I say Austria chooses Mahler on the Couch, followed by (in order) In Another Lifetime, The Robber, Kill Daddy Good Night and The Initiation. If the Austrians want to surprise, they could choose some dark horses like the incestuous French-language “Domaine”, Persian-language “Women Without Men” (set in 1953 Iran), multi-character drama “Schottentor”, “Death Polka” (about the modern-day far right movement), or raucous comedy “The Unintended Kidnapping of Mrs. Elfriede Ott”, which sounds hilarious.
8. AZERBAIJAN, perched atop oil reserves where Europe meets the Middle East, is one of the most obscure countries in the world that has its own film industry. It’s also one of only five countries on this list (and certainly the only one in Europe...) where I have never actually seen one of their movies (the others are Cameroon, Kuwait, Nicaragua and Tanzania). They produce about six films per year and submitted in 2007 and 2008 (but not last year). This year I predict they send “Intention” (Niyyat) which is by the state film company, and which won a national film award in the spring. From the trailer, I think it’s a morality drama about a man, his wife and gambling, but I can’t really tell. In second place: “Dolls”, which may be one of the first Azerbaijani film to play at a Class A Festival (Karlovy Vary 2010). “40th Door”, a 2008 production, was probably the biggest-ever Azeri hit on the international film circuit (Variety jokingly called it an Azerbaijani 8-Mile) and it might get sent if it’s local premiere was this film year. Also possible (who knows?): “Hello, My Angel”, a drama about a war widow, which represented the country at the Kinoshok Film Festival for former Soviet countries.
9. BANGLADESH is the only “Least Developed Country” (a UN term) that is a regular participant in this category- last year made five years in a row. The biggest film news in Bangladesh this year was the announcement that the ban on Bollywood films would be lifted in order to improve revenues for cinema owners. Within 24 hours, the ban was reinstated due to fear that it would kill the local film industry. Anyway, this year’s submission is one of the most obvious of any country- “Third Person Singular Number” had been a major hit with film critics and with local audiences, and has been shown in the UAE and the UK (most Bangladeshi films don’t make it abroad at all). It’s a topical story about a Westernized young woman and the problems she has dealing with a conservative society when she decides to live alone. I’d be shocked if they chose anything else, but if “Number” doesn’t put itself forward, then they’ll sure to choose “Dark Resonance” (Gahine Shobdo), about a lame war veteran who becomes a beggar. War veterans from 1971 are still a big political issue here, and the film was one of two Bangladeshis films to compete at this year’s Dhaka Film Festival (alongside ‘Number’).
10. BELARUS , for reasons unknown, is the only European country to give up on this competition- they haven’t sent a film since 1996. They produce about six feature films every year- specializing in war films and children’s films- and had a pretty good year last year. This year’s most likely submission is undoubtedly “Brest Fortress”, a high-profile co-production with Russia, about a 1941 battle between Soviet and German soldiers when the Nazi invaded the USSR. It will premiere in June, and may have the nationalist credentials needed to coax Belarus back into the competition (a very similar film compelled Latvia’s return in 2008). They’re also proud of “The Wolves”, about a young man escaping from a prison camp to his home village. They publicly announced it would be shown at the Berlin Film Festival...but it wasn’t. Not much chance they’ll send thriller “Masakra”, but the trailer looks like a lot of fun. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be funny or not, but it looks like Young Frankenstein meets The Addams Family, with a touch of Grizzly. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_h-xxIRbxO4&feature=player_embedded)
11. BELGIUM’s filmmakers must find it a dull country because all five of their front-runners take place outside of Belgium or, in one case, feature foreigners living in Belgium. “Altiplano” (winner, Bangkok) takes place in the mountains of Peru, and features a war photographer and her Belgian husband caught up in local conflict. “The Day God Walked Away”, set in the former Belgian colony of Rwanda, tells the tragic story of one woman caught up in the middle of the 1994 genocide. “An Angel By the Sea” is set amidst an expatriate family living in Morocco, and features a young boy trying to save his suicidal father’s life. “My Queen Karo” is set in neighboring Holland, and is a coming-of-age story about a young girl whose family moves to a free-love commune in Amsterdam in the 1960s. “Illegal”, which won an award at Cannes, is actually set in Belgium, but tells the story of an illegal Russian immigrant. Belgium has two National Film Boards and they like to alternate between Dutch-Flemish and French-Walloon films. Flemish films have had the edge lately, which would give a slight advantage to “God”, “Angel” and “Illegal”. “Karo” is Flemish, while “Altiplano” is a coproduction between the two sides. It’s a tough five-way race, but I’m going to predict that underdog African drama “The Day God Walked Away” will rep Belgium, with “Illegal” in second, and “Altiplano” in third. Dark horses in Belgium’s Top Ten include “Beyond the Steppes” (set in the former USSR) and “Dossier K” (a thriller sequel to their 2004 submission, “The Alzheimer Case”) which is set mostly in Albania, plus three home-grown dramas: “Little Baby Jesus of Flander” (Tramps with Down’s syndrome act out the tale of the Magi), “Oscar and Lady Rose”, (a terminally ill boy writes letters to God), and the soon-to-be-released “She Doesn’t Cry, She Sings”.
12. BHUTAN submitted once in 1999 but despite an active local film industry, an established Film Award system and a handful of excellent international-quality productions (“Travellers & Magicians” was the best film of 2003), they never entered the competition again. The front-runner this year would theoretically be “Sem Gawai Tasha”, an action-drama starring Bhutan’s only international actor, Kelly Dorji, in his first local film. The budget and production values are high by local standards and the movie was popular. Runner up would be “Sha Dha Semo”, which won ten awards at the Bhutanese National Film Awards this year including Best Picture, or “The Faraway Girl”, about a Bhutanese-Indian romance.
13. BOLIVIA’s film industry has been doing pretty damn good- I’ve heard 2009 was a record in terms of the number of films produced and they’ll want to show that off. I think this year they’ll choose between claustrophobic low-budget thriller “The Elevator”, and three-story drama “Red, Yellow, Green” (the colors of the Bolivian flag). The “Green” story was directed by Rodrigo Bellott, the prolific and talented 32-year old who repped the country in the 2003 Oscar race, and the film features stories, locations and a deep affection for Bolivia and its problems. It was a box office success and is the most likely submission, but not by much... “The Elevator” won an award in Chile, and the trailer looks interesting, although it did not do well at the box office. In it, a young entrepreneur is kidnapped by two thieves and forced to take them to his apartment building so they can rob him- until the three get stuck in an elevator together. I predict it comes in second place. Also possible: “The Marquis”, a 70s gang movie based on a true story, and “Distant Lives”, about two female migrant workers. Unlikely: “In Search of Paradise”, a poorly reviewed box-office success about Bolivian women living in Spain.
14. BOSNIA had nothing good last year, but this year they have a bumper crop of quality new films. It’s shaping up to be a showdown between the 2004 Oscar winner, Danis Tanovic, and the 2006 Berlinale winner Jasmila Zbanic. I predicted Zbanic’s “On the Path” last year, but it was released in Bosnia after the deadline. It’s about the strained relationship of a young, Bosniak married couple, when the husband suddenly becomes a religious Muslim. In any other year, it would be a shoo-in to represent Bosnia, but facing the competition of Tanovic’s return to Bosnian filmmaking with “Cirkus Columbia”- about a Bosnian man who returns as a wealthy man to his old town in Bosnia, after many years in Germany- which will open the Sarajevo Film Festival. You also can’t necessarily count out the connections of “Blue Orchestra”, a fictionalized account of a beloved local music group starring Emir Hadzihafizbegovic (who costarred in five of Bosnia’s submissions 2003-2008) and directed by Pjer Zalica (who directed their 2003 & 2004 submissions), but I think competition is too fierce. Bottom line: Oscar trumps Berlin. Tanovic will get the nod unless the Bosnians decide to premiere the film locally after September 30th, and enter the film next year instead. Two upcoming releases- “Sevdah & Karim”, about deminers after the war, “Jasmina”, about the struggle to raise an orphaned baby, both sound good, as does Karlovy Vary orphan drama “The Abandoned” and New Years drama “December 32nd” but all will find it impossible to compete.
15. BRAZIL has not had an impressive film year, and last year was not much better. As I researched Brazil’s recent releases, I found it difficult to believe that a major country like Brazil would select any of them. It’s not surprising then that my prediction is a film that hasn’t come out yet- “Astral City”, and I’m pretty certain I’m correct. Looking at the trailer, “Astral City” (Nosso Lar) is a gorgeous sci-fi drama. It has something to do with the death of an old man who then wakes up in a spiritual colony with some kind of vampire spirits. I know the subject matter is weird, but it’s so gorgeous to look at, I think Brazil will choose it for sure. Many others might predict “Lula, Son of Brazil”, a sycophantic look at the life of the popular President by Fabio Barreto, the first Brazilian director to be nominated for an Oscar. However, the film has been a little controversial and some accuse it of being fuzzy, political propaganda. Overseas reviews and domestic box-office have both been so-so and, above all, Brazil is not Cuba. I think Lula is out of luck for the Oscars. The most visible Brazilian film of the year is “From Beginning to End”, but its plot of gay, incestuous love between two brothers turns off as many people as it impresses. Six dark horses which should join these three on the shortlist (in order): “I Travel Because I Have To”, a well-reviewed road movie by a previously submitted director...but which clocks in at a spare and unimpressive 75 minutes, “The Famous and the Dead”, a Lynchesque drama which won the Rio de Janeiro Film Festival, “Smoking is Prohibited”, an edgy relationship drama that has won a lot of minor awards, “Best Things in the World”, a popular adolescent drama, “Amazonia Caruana”, a drama about indigenous people in the Amazon, and “Chico Xavier”, a culturally rich biography of a spiritual medium which got mediocre reviews. Brazil usually has a long shortlist, so you may also see “Hotel Atlantico”, “A Day in Olivia’s Life”, “Topography of a Nude”, “Stolen Dreams” and “Eye of the Storm”. Very unlikely: “Joy” played at Cannes but got poor reviews, “Elvis & Madona” features a too-odd love story between a lesbian and a drag queen, “Blue Eyes” contains too much English.
16. BULGARIA advanced to the Oscar shortlist for the first time last year after nearly forty years of trying. Congratulations to them! They failed to make the Final Five but the Peruvian film probably pipped them by just a few votes. I’m excited to see their film if and when it finally gets a US release. This year, the two most likely choices are “Eastern Plays” and “Voice-Over”. “Eastern Plays” has the edge, since it has played at a lot of major festivals (including Cannes 09, Sarajevo and Thessaloniki), has won Best Picture at some smaller ones (Tokyo, Warsaw), and beat out “Voice-Over” for Best Bulgarian Film in Sofia. "Plays" is about two brothers who end up on different sides of the law, and how their lives intertwine with a Turkish immigrant. “Voice-Over” is newer and has baitier subject matter- a family separated by the Iron Curtain. I vote for “Plays” and I’m sorry I missed it when I was at the Tokyo Film Festival last year. There are a lot of unreleased films and one could always surprise. Rounding out the Top Four: “Steps in the Sand”, about a man returning home to Bulgaria from abroad and “Glass River” about a French-Bulgarian returning to discover her roots. Romantic dramedy “Love.net” and comedy “Mission London” have mass appeal and will probably earn more money than the others, but they’re not going to the Oscars and neither is low-budget frequent festival attendee “Hunting Small Predators”.
17. BURKINA FASO last joined the Oscar race in 1989. They are one of Africa’s leading cinematic countries (though they’re losing ground...) but despite a lot of good films, they don’t seem interested in winning an Oscar. This year’s best possibility is “The Armchair”, a droll comedy about the first woman appointed to a high-ranking position in a government office. It played in Pusan, won a minor award at FESPACO and premiered in local cinemas in December. Also possible (but not yet released): “Notre Etrangere”, by mixed French-Burkinabe director Sarah Bouyain, about a woman who goes to Burkina Faso from France in order to find her long-lost mother.
18. CAMBODIA also sent a single film (back in 1994). The Cambodian film industry is in shambles due to an emphasis on television instead of cinema, and rampant video piracy which means DVDs may be available even before the film is released in theaters. The only local film I know of this year is unlikely gay-interest drama “High School’s Love Story”. Mystery thriller “Vanished” got a surprisingly good review from Variety, but it was released three weeks too early to qualify for this year’s competition.
19. CAMEROON submitted a film once thirty years ago, enough to get them on this list, but not to waste too much time on. They surely won’t send anything, but if they did, it might be French co-production “White Material”, starring Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert and a local Cameroonian supporting cast. The film, about a Frenchwoman surrounded by heightening social unrest in an unnamed African country, played at Venice, and got good reviews, but may not be accepted a fully Cameroonian production.
20. CANADA’s French-language film industry has had a great year and Canada will be hard-pressed to choose just one film. Oscar likes Canada too- Their 2003 submission won the Oscar, their 2006 submission was nominated and their 2007 & 2008 submissions were shortlisted. Their 2005 and 2009 films were even better. This year, I think I’m pretty safe predicting “La Derniere Fugue”, a big family drama by Lea Pool, focusing on the controversial topic of euthanasia. More people will certainly be predicting popular Cannes title “Les Amours Imaginaires” by 21-year old wunderkind Xavier Dolan, about a bisexual love triangle. Dolan is both talented and adorable, but he got the nod last year and Canada has only once chosen a director two years in a row (Denis Villeneuve during a lean period in the 1990s). Both films incidentally look great from the trailers. I also would not be surprised if they chose “City of Shadows” by Viet-Canadian director Kim Nguyen, about a man traumatized by the wars in North Africa, or “Child Prodigy”, the biography of a young pianist (Switzerland made the shortlist with a similar film in 2007), or perhaps one of the new films they will premiere in Toronto in September. Unlikely: Karlovy Vary competitor “Mourning for Anna” (looks SO pretentious), cute low-key comedy “Le Baiser du Barbu”, road movie “A l’origine du cri” (sounds like a film they would send in the 90s), family drama “10 ½” (about a disturbed young child), comedy “Cabotins” and thriller “2 fois une femme” (sounds like Sleeping with the Enemy). They might have considered hockey drama “Lance et compte”, but it won’t premiere until December, or Indian comedy “Cooking with Stella”, but it has too much English. Two similarly themed revenge dramas “7 Days” and “5150 Elm’s Way” (both about Quebecois families avenging the rape/murder of their young daughters) have made the news, but won’t come into play here.
21. CHADwas the most recent sub-Saharan African country to send a film to the Oscars (excluding South Africa); they sent Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s dull “Abouna” in 2002. Chad could very well become the first sub-Saharan African country (again, excluding South Africa!) to send a second film. “A Screaming Man”, a slow-paced father-son drama, won the Jury Prize in Cannes. That’s likely the best Chad will ever do, so hopefully they’ll send this one in. One possible problem? I highly doubt it had a qualifying run in war-torn N’Djamena, and AMPAS is pretty strict with that.
22. CHILE chose the wrong film last year; “La Nana” got a Golden Globe nod and very possibly would have made the 9-film shortlist over the earnest yet preachy “Dawson, Isla 10”. Many of Chile’s best films of the year are scheduled to be released over the summer, making predictions difficult. I’m going with "La Vida de los Peces" (The Lives of Fish), but I’m not confident. It’s a recently released romantic drama reuniting director Mathias Bize with the gorgeous Blance Lewin from Chile’s delightful, thought-provoking (and much imitated) 2006 submission, “En la Cama”. It's about a man who returns to Chile for a short visit from his adopted home in Germany, and what happens when he meets a girl. In second place is “Drama”, a controversial, erotic drama (like their wonderfully underrated 2003 submission, “Los Debutantes”) about a three-way of drama students- two guys and one girl.In third place: “Optical Illusions”, a low-budget, quirky independent film that has been active on the film festival circuit, and (in fourth) “La Esmerelda 1879”, an expensive period drama about a 19th century maritime war with Peru. Those two are the favorites, but I think they’ll miss out to one of the two films I discuss earlier. Rounding out the Top Five: “Old Cats” is an unreleased film about an elderly couple by the director of the snubbed “Nana”. I also wouldn’t count out “La Espera”, an abortion drama with a very different take on the subject, “Lucia”, about a woman’s life during the fall of Pinochet (I would rank it high if I knew it would be released by September 30th), “Manuel de Ribera”, a drama about fishermen on a remote island, “Huacho”, about the life of an eccentric family or “Tourists”, about an older woman who begins a holiday romance with a Scandinavian tourist. Unlikely: “Humanimal”, a wordless drama featuring people in animal costumes acting out Greek tragedy, and the lavish horror-drama “Caleuche”, which after nearly four years of production is still not finished.
23. CHINA's Academy, as I indicated last year, always has to choose a movie that (a)- is a quality film, (b)- is politically acceptable to represent the PRC and usually also (c)- made on a grand scale. That would mean that China’s submission is almost certain to be “Aftershocks”, a big, tragic film based on a 1972 earthquake that killed 250,000 people. The director is a popular, commercial director who’s going serious, and the subject matter is baity. The Chinese are usually pretty predictable and I think it’s a shoo-in. If they prefer a big costume drama (and they often do), they can choose between the two stars of “Crouching Tiger”. Splashy martial arts flick “True Legend” stars Michelle Yeoh in a typical 18th century fantasy-drama (it also co-stars David Carradine, which I don’t understand since he died more than a year ago) about a wealthy man who becomes a King of Beggars. Chow Yun-Fat stars in the title role of biographical drama “Confucius”, China’s most revered philosophers. Neither film got the sort of reviews they were hoping for, making it hard to beat “Aftershocks”. Of course, it would be foolish to count out Zhang Yimou who has represented China six times (three times since 2002) and who has gotten two Oscar nominations. “A Simple Noodle Story” is a remake of the Coen Brothers’ “Blood Simple”, and it marks a return to small-scale filmmaking after years of wire-fu, martial arts and Olympic opening ceremonies. Unlikely but possible: Berlinale drama “Apart Together”, about a soldier who returns to China fifty years after fighting against the Communists, and what happens when he meets his 80-year old former sweetheart, “Lan”, about a little girl sent to live with her grandparents after her parents are imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution, and “Ocean Heaven”, Jet Li’s first stab at non-action drama in which he plays a troubled father. “Wheat” would be a likely choice, but it opened two days too early. As I said, count on the disturbing drama of “Aftershocks”.
24. COLOMBIA is one of those regular competitors that never seems to get anywhere in this competition. I highly recommend “Satanas” and “Our Lady of the Assassins”, two really good gritty, violent dramas submitted by the Colombians among their more mediocre efforts. This year, they’re likely to send “Of Love and Other Demons”, an Inquisition-era period drama based on native son Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novella. It’ll be a really close race with “Stoplight Story”, about a peasant who makes red traffic lights last longer so beggars and street performers can profit from drivers being stuck, but the production values of “Demons” should see it through to the Oscars. In third place: “Crab Trap”, a docu-drama about the Afro-Colombian community living on Colombia’s Pacific coast, that won the FIPRESCI award in Berlin. In fourth: “Garcia”, a soon-to-be-released drama about a man (Damian Alcazar) whose beloved wife is kidnapped, and must kill a man as the ransom. Unlikely but possible: road movie “Portraits in a Sea of Lies”, film noir thriller “My Regards to the Devil”, tragic romance “In a Coma”, and romantic comedy “Lessons for a Kiss”. “Undertow” would have a better chance, but it will probably qualify as a Peruvian production.
25. CONGO-KINSHASA submitted a film just once, way back in 1997. They’re not likely to send anything this year, but they could conceivably submit “Benda Bilili”, a well-received documentary about disabled street musicians that got a standing ovation during its Director’s Fortnight screening at Cannes. The directors are both French, but they have a long history of filming in Congo. It’s supposed to be a great and inspiring film, but may not have been released in Kinshasa as the rules require. Probably better suited for the Best Documentary category.
Next Batch: COSTA RICA-IRELAND