Here's the next batch:
So far, I'm batting 1 for 1.....IRAQ became the first country of the year to enter the competition, and as I predicted, they went with "Son of Babylon".....
51. ISRAEL does not have numbers on its side. They’ve been nominated three years in a row, and no country has been nominated four times in a row since 1980 (France). The Israeli Oscar slot is automatically given to the winner of Best Picture at the Ophir Awards, and nominations should be released before early August. There’s a good article predicting the Ophirs (http://www.ioncinema.com/news/id/5221/2010-ophir-awards-race-part-1) on iocinema. I think “Gei-On”, “Infiltration” and “Intimate Grammar” will easily get Best Picture nominations on the basis of baity plots, slots at the Jerusalem Film Festival and the fact that all three directors have won before. I was going to predict “Gei-On”, a 19th century period drama (I’ve never heard of one from Israel before….) about the arranged marriage of a young Russian woman to an old man in Ottoman-ruled Palestine. However, it was snubbed at the Jerusalem Film Festival, where coming-of-age story “Intimate Grammar” was the big winner, meaning it will also likely win the Ophirs. “Infiltration”, a drama about a multi-ethnic platoon of troops in 1950s Israel, should come third. The other two nominees are up for grabs, but could well be “Once I Was”, another coming-of-age drama but this time focusing on a family in the 1960s, and “Bena”, about a man dealing with the mentally handicapped. “And On the Third Day”, a nihilistic, sexual drama could sneak in. Other possibilities: Cannes drama “The Wanderer” got mixed reviews, female action movie “The Assassin Next Door” and documentary “Revolution 101” are probably going to be handicapped by their genres, and “Maya” will likely get lost in the shuffle.
52. ITALY has less to choose from than usual. While they have as many films out as usual, they don't have many that have the calibre to represent an Oscar powerhouse like Italy. Two and only two stand out: “The Man Who Will Come” won the Rome Film Festival and was the surprise winner of the David di Donatello Awards, beating favorite “Vincere” and last year’s Oscar submission, “Baaria”. “The Man” presses every Oscar button- it’s a large-scale WWII drama, set in 1944, about a historical massacre, seen through the eyes of the child. It’s definitely the favorite to represent Italy, but it faces competition from “The First Beautiful Thing”, a bittersweet comedy about the sacred relationship between an Italian man and his terminally ill mother (and made by Berlusconi’s film studio). Other options: Turkish-born Ferzan Ozpetek is shortlisted by Italy nearly every year with no luck so far- but his coming-out dramedy “Loose Cannons” has a shot, as does romantic tragedy "I Am Love". But I think it’s a two-film race, unless something new and exciting comes out in the next two months. In fact, no other Italian movie has gotten great reviews this year. A few comedies that sound good on paper, like "Our Life" (competed in Cannes), “Happy Family” (Gabriele Salvatores) and “Youngest Son” (Pupi Avati) aren’t well-liked enough. Wordless shepherd’s tale “The Four Times” has better reviews, but is too odd a film to rep the Italians.
53. JAPAN has a lot of great films, and an unpredictable Academy, so I’m not sure what they’ll pick this year. It certainly could be WWII drama “Caterpillar” (competed in Berlin and won Best Actress) about a war hero who returns to the care of his wife after becoming horribly disfigured during war with China. There’s also the 3-hour plus “The Unbroken”, starring Ken Watanabe, about Japan’s greatest air tragedy and which won Japan’s Academy Awards this year, taking Picture and Actor. Several previously submitted directors have a new movie or two: 2001’s Yukisada Isao has “Parade”, Japan’s only Best Pic nominee at the Asian Film Awards, about four roommates, a violent assault and a gay hustler, 2002‘s Hideyuki Hirayama directed “Shin-san, Song of a Coal Mining Town”, about a mining town in 1960s Kyushu, 2003’s Oscar nominee Yoji Yamada (“The Twilight Samurai”) has “Little Brother” (Ototo), about a woman (Sayuri Yoshinaga, aka the Japanese Meryl Streep) and her relationship with her n’er do well brother, and 2006’s Lee Sang-il has “Villain”, a sort of murder mystery that will premiere right before the deadline. Also in with a chance are “Confession” (the trailer looks great) by one of my favorite Japanese directors (Tetsuya Nagashima) about a vengeful teacher, and “Travels with Haru”, about an old man living with his recently fired granddaughter in provincial Hokkaido. Reviews haven’t been strong enough for Takeshi Kitano’s latest “Outrage”, interracial comedy “My Darling is a Foreigner”, and losing Japanese Best Pic nominees “Villon’s Wife” and “Zero Focus. “Desperate Blade” (also directed by H. Hirayama) might have a chance, but it’s Part Three of a series and unlikely to make it. It’ll be really close….My prediction: “Caterpillar” gets the nod by a nose over “The Unbroken”, with “Parade”, “Shin-san” and “Younger Brother” rounding out the Top Five, and the film I’m rooting for, “Confession”, in sixth place.
54. JORDAN submitted a film once in 2008, and they deserved a nomination for the wonderful “Captain Abu Raed”. I’ve heard that “Cherkess”, about the arrival of Circassian immigrants to Ottoman Jordan, is not as good, but it is a special film that highlights an exotic culture and language few people would ever hear about otherwise. I hope they send it.
55. KAZAKHSTAN got a nomination in 2007, a shortlist spot in 2009, and was rumored to have come quite close in 2008 with “Tulpan”. Last year’s “Kelin” was truly an original work of art, and deserves to be seen by the world (the DVD is available in Kazakhstan, and this wordless film requires no subtitles). This year, however, pickings are slim. I predict they send “Seker”, about a little girl raised as a tomboy, and how her life changes at age 12. It was made by the national film studio, giving them an edge over independent films “Letters to an Angel”, a sexy modernization of “1001 Nights”, and “Strayed”, a Twilight Zone-esque thriller that has been doing well on the fest circuit, attracting divisive reviews. In fourth place: action thriller “Who Are You, Mr. Ka?”. Unlikely: uplifting youth drama “The Burst”, and kid’s film “Baiterek”. Highly unlikely: silly but popular romantic comedy “The Irony of Love”, an “Tale of the Pink Hare”, a baity film that probably won’t be released in time. Next year’s nominee is already clear: I predict big-budget “Atazhurt”, about the arrival of Soviet deportees in the republic in the 1950s, and how they changed the ethnic makeup of Kazakhstan forever.
56. KOREA has deserved a nomination for almost every film they have submitted since 2002, but they have yet to even make the shortlist. Last year’s brilliant “Mother”, although perhaps not as impressive as “Secret of Their Eyes”, was my favorite of the two dozen submissions I saw last year. They usually choose their Oscar candidate from a shortlist. In 2008, I predicted the shortlist exactly. This year, I expect the list to include the following seven films (in alphabetical order): “71 Into the Fire”, a patriotic box-office hit Korean war drama about 71 teens conscripted to fight against the North Koreans, “Blades of Blood”, a big, splashy 16th century martial arts drama about a blind swordsman helping to repel a Japanese invasion, “Brand New Life”, about a 9-year girl abandoned in an orphanage, “Harmony”, a sentimental hit melodrama about women in prison who form a choir (the Foreign Oscar committee loves choirs), “The Housemaid”, an erotic soap opera remake of a Korean classic which competed in Cannes but got surprisingly average reviews, “Poetry”, Chang Lee-dong’s latest Cannes entry about the life of an elderly woman raising her grandson, and “Scooping Up the Moonlight”, the 101st film by Im Kwon-Taek about the cultural art of hanji paper. Other films that could be shortlisted (but not submitted): “Hahaha”, about the adventures of two drunk men telling stories, which somehow won the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes, despite universally tepid reviews, “Moss”, a summer blockbuster about a village secret, “Paju”, about a trouble woman returning to her hometown, and “The Servant”, a comedy-melodrama re-telling of a classic Korean folktale. What a diverse group of films! Korea has tried all most of these genres before, except the “cute-kid” drama of “Brand New Life” which would probably go over well with the committee. My prediction: Chang Lee-dong gets the nod a third time for “Poetry” (3-1) with war drama “71 Into the Fire” (this is the 60th anniversary of the Korean War) in a close second (4-1), with dark horses “Blades of Blood” (9-1) and “Scooping Up the Moonlight” (10-1) in third and fourth place, and “Harmony” (12-1) in fifth.
57. KUWAIT last submitted a film in 1978. Gulf film is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance, but as far as I know, they only have short films this year, including “Whisper of Sin”, about a youth raised by a widowed father, and “The Fisherman”, a low-budget action film.
58. KYRGYZSTAN is a beautiful country (I went there last year) but has had to deal with a coup d’etat and ethnic massacres in the past four months. If they decide they’re stable enough to send a movie, it will surely be “The Light Thief”, but Aktan Arym Kubat, the director of Kyrgyzstan’s first two submissions (He used to use the name Aktan Abdykalykov). It’s about an electrician in an impoverished rural area of the country, and it played at Cannes.
59. LATVIA has only submitted twice, in 1992 and 2008, and the director of their first submission has a new costume drama – “Rudolf’s Gold”, about rural life in 19th century Latvia. I think they’ll send it in. If they don’t, they’ll probably not send anything, but the runner-up should be wartime love triangle “Three to Dance”, about a Latvian POW, a German soldier and the girl who both of them fall for.
60. LEBANON took last year off. I wonder if they are upset that the Israelis have been nominated three times in a row (twice for Lebanese-themed movies). This year, I know of three films (all directed by women) and the frontrunner is “Everyday is a Holiday”, about three Lebanese women on a journey by bus, and starring acclaimed Palestinian actress, Hiam Abbass. In second place: “From My Window, Without a Home”, about a Lebanese woman reunited with the daughter she abandoned 17 years before. Unlikely: musical “What’s Going On?”
61. LITHUANIA will probably send Tarantino-esque comedy-thriller, “Zero 2” (not a sequel), which Screendaily reports is negotiating with a US distributor. The Best Picture winners of both the 2009 and 2010 Silver Crane Awards are somehow both eligible, with “Low Lights”, a road movie about three young men and which represented Lithuania at their 2010 Film Festival has a definite edge over “Eastern Drift”, a thriller about a small-time crook on the run from the Russian mafia. In its defense, “Eastern Drift” won Best Picture and Director over “Zero 2”, which is surprising considering how incredibly bad their Variety review was. Unknown quantity : “Back to Your Arms” is a baity Cold War drama about a family separated during WWII, although I don’t think it will premiere in time. The third Best Picture nominee at this year’s Silver Cranes was “Farewell”, about a man with cancer returning home to say goodbye. I hope they choose “Zero 2”, which sounds like one of the more interesting films out there this year.
62. LUXEMBOURG may have a problem. Most of “their” films are co-productions with only a small Luxembourg stake. Out of the four majority-Luxembourg productions that I know of, three are in English, including the gay drama “House of Boys” that won Best Picture at this year’s Luxembourg Film Awards (yes, even Luxembourg has its own Film Awards, though they’re only held every two years), plus “Dust” and hip-hop documentary “Hamilius”. Their other film is part three of a local crime-comedy trilogy, “Trouble No More”. They submitted Part Two back in 1998 (I saw it), but these films are simply not Oscar-calibre. They may sit this year out, or send “Trouble” as a default. Alternately, they may try to send one of their minority efforts, of which the most likely would be “Just the Three of Us”, a French romance starring Emmanuelle Beart.
63. MACEDONIA has the smallest film industry of the five Yugoslav republics (the sixth republic, Montenegro, does not compete), and hasn’t had much to choose from this year or last. This year’s nominee is likely to be “Mothers” or “This is Not an American Movie”. “Mothers” is an expensive film by Macedonia’s only Oscar nominee (Milcho Manchevski). Like his previous Oscar nominee, it tells three parallel stories about Crime and Punishment. Post-production has been delayed and is now scheduled to premiere in September, right before the deadline. “This is Not An American Movie” is an action movie about a film-obsessed crime boss which has a great-looking trailer (http://www.thisisnotanamericanmovie.com/) and a lot of jokes aimed at film buffs. Manchevski will easily get the nomination if the film premieres. Otherwise, it will be the “American Movie”. Two movies about Macedonia’s Albanian community are dark horses- “The War is Over”, about refugees in Switzerland, and “My Father”, about a man whose son died in the Yugoslav wars.
64. MALAYSIA sent a film only once, in 2004. They probably won’t send anything this year, but they could send “Karaoke”, which was the first Malaysian movie at Cannes in fifteen years, or “Muallaf”, about three people finding religion, which was released a year about director Yasmin Ahmad’s untimely death. I predict they send nothing, but for the sake of completion I’ll say “Papadom” which won Best Picture at last year’s Malaysian Film Festival, and which is a sentimental drama about a widower’s attempts to raise his young daughter. Acclaimed Chinese-language films like “At the End of Daybreak” (Locarno, Toronto, Pusan, etc.) and “My Daughter” (Pusan) need not apply in Malaysia, where Malay language benefits from discriminatory preference laws.
65. MEXICO has an easy choice this year. It appears fairly obvious they will select “Biutiful”, starring Oscar winner Javier Bardem and directed by Oscar nominee Alejandro Inarittu Gonzalez. The bleak drama has gotten great reviews from critics and audiences (including an 8.7 on IMDB), and there’s not much competition coming from South of the border. It's main competion will come from "Northless", about a man trying to cross into Tijuana illegally and the upcoming biographical drama of “Hidalgo” (released right around the cutoff, which always helps).....Other possibilities for the shortlist include father-son drama “To the Sea” (Alamar), Carlos Carrera’s latest drama “From Childhood” (he’s repped Mexico three times since 1998), historical drama “ Chicogrande”, and the artsy, urban angst of “Leap Year”, Mark it down for Biutiful to make the 9-film Oscar shortlist for Mexico.
66. MONGOLIA announced they were sending a movie last year, but it didn’t appear on the list. It was probably disqualified (it was definitely a majority Russian production) but AMPAS never responded to my inquiry. Oh well! Mongolia has competed only twice before- both times with docudramas by Byambasuren Davaa about families with cute animals (first a camel, then a dog). Davaa, who is based in Germany, has “The Two Horses of Genghis Khan” (which actually is not about horses) this which has been somewhat less well-received than her first two. And she has competition! “"Grace from Heaven" claims on its website that it aspires to go to the Oscars and this beautiful-looking traditional drama about a traditional herder falling in love with a blind musician is made with a fully Mongolian crew. Tough call: I say Oscar nominee Davaa and her horses make it.
67. MOROCCO was the only Arab country to compete last year. This year, they have lots of possibilities but no obvious front-runner. The most visible film on the circuit this year is “The Man Who Sold the World”, a film based on a Dostoevsky novel, about an office worker descending into insanity, but it’s so arthouse I’m not sure it will get anywhere with the Moroccans, or with Oscar. There are a lot of small-scale dramas (which also will probably go nowhere with Oscar) in with a shot, including “Crossed Destinies”, about eight friends reunited by a strange letter, “Forgotten History”, a controversial drama about human trafficking and forced prostitution, and “Les gars du Bled”, about three unemployed young college grads. Less likely: “Grand Villa”, about a Frenchwoman who moves to Morocco to be with her abusive husband and “Fissures”, a violent film about three losers, made without a script. All of the above films competed together in Tangier and were beaten by “Pegasus”, about a woman who believes she is pregnant with the child of a saint, which is not scheduled to be released until November 2010. If Morocco wants something lighter, they could consider sending “Le Clandestin”, a comedy about a young man who turns to smuggling after he is repeatedly denied an ID Card that would enable him to get a job legally. Highly unlikely: “Story of a Wrestler Mchaouchi”, “Ahmed Garriaux” and (although it sounds great….) Cube-esque thriller “Mirages”. My prediction: Hmm…I dunno….maybe “Crossed Destinies”, which won second prize to Pegasus.
68. NEPAL last submitted in 2006. Like nearby Bhutan, they produce a lot of small, cheap films for the local market along with the occasional international co-production, that wins awards at festivals but may or may not ever be screened locally. I doubt they’ll send a film this year, but I think last year’s Film Awards winner “Timi Bina Marihalchu” and box-office champ “Kaha Bhetiyala” will lose out to “God Lives in the Himalayas”, about a young boy whose mother is killed and father injured in an accident, and his attempts to understand the cruelty of life.
69. THE NETHERLANDS has one of the best records in this category. This year, I can’t decide whether the Dutch will choose box-office hit romantic dramedy “Happy Housewife” or a much-anticipated drama heavy with the search of a missing child and child prostitution in Africa-set drama “Tirza”.”Housewife” stars Dutch superstar Carice van Houten as a woman whose life is turned upside down by a new baby, and the Netherlands likes choosing comedy-dramas. However, I think the film will come in second place to “Tirza” if that film gets good reviews. (Trivia: they tried to choose an African drama last year, but it had too much English). Five other films with a chance (in order): “A Woman Goes to the Doctor”, about a man cheating on his cancer-stricken wife won Best Picture at the Rembrandt Awards, “Joy” tells the story of a distressed teen looking for her biological mother, “R U There?” is about a competitive gamer and his adventures in Taiwan, “Don’t Touch My Children”, is based on a true story about a woman whose children are abducted by her Syrian ex-husband, and “The Aviatrix of Kazbek” is about a Dutch woman from a conservative village who falls in with a group of wild Georgian soldiers. Unlikely but possible: “The Domino Effect” by Oscar nominee Paula van der Oest about globalization, ice-skating drama “Hell of ‘63”, and “Majesty”, which is scheduled to be released after the cutoff date.
70. NICARAGUA last sent a film in 1988, and for good reason- they haven’t made any. This year’s “La Yuma”, a scrappy film about a young female boxer is the first Nicaraguan feature to be made in 20 years, and it has managed awards on the film festival circuit before premiering in Managua to widespread local interest, beating Iron Man II at the box office. If someone remembers how to fill out the paperwork, “La Yuma” is in.
71. NORWAY has very few realistic choices this year. There are three Best Picture nominees for the Amanda Awards, but the two favorites (“Vegas” and “Upperdog”) were eligible last year, leaving only “A Somewhat Gentle Man”, about a 50-something murderer and habitual criminal released from jail and his interactions with his old gang and his family. The biggest movie coming out later this year is “Shameless”, which will premiere one week after the deadline. So, the “Gentle Man” seems to have an absurdly easy road to the Oscars, facing a challenge from only two upcoming films, namely “Pax”, about seven strangers, and “Nokas”, about a famous bank heist. I predict a dead heart between “Gentle Man” and “Pax”, with “Man” getting the nod.
72. PAKISTAN last submitted a film in 1963. They’re hardly worth including here since no other country has been absent such a long time. If they choose to return, I predict they’ll pick “Channa Sachi Muchi”, a musical love story which has been released abroad (including Australia) amd one of the biggest Pakistani films to be made recently. Doesn’t look like Oscar material though.
73. PALESTINE fought hard to gain recognition by AMPAS, which they finally did in 2003, and they gained their first Oscar nomination two years later. They had their best-ever film year in 2009 but for some obscure reason, they did not participate. This year’s most likely submission is “Zindeeq”, a surreal film about a Palestinian émigré in Europe who returns home to Ramallah in time to witness a murder by a family member. It won the Dubai Film Festival, but is nowhere near as high-profile as the three films they had to choose from last year. Heartbreaking documentary “Port of Memory”, about a family evicted from their home by the Israeli occupation, is a dark horse.
74. PERU became the third South American country (out of nine) to get a nomination. I haven’t seen “The Milk of Sorrow”, but I very much enjoyed Claudia Llosa’s first film (which failed to get a nomination a few years back). Here’s hoping for a speedy US release. “Sorrow” was a big winner at Berlin last year. Minimalist comedy “Octubre”, about a loan shark who finds a baby on his doorstep, won the Jury Prize at Cannes, so it’s pretty certain to be selected. The dark horse is well-received gay ghost story “Undertow”, which won the Audience Award at Sundance. Unfortunately, “Paradise”, about local youth, and “Postcards”, a quirky Peru-US love story won’t have a chance.
75. THE PHILIPPINES The Philippines should be almost impossible to predict. Last year, the Pinoys chose a poorly-made commercial comedy, filled with histrionics and drag queens, over a series of more acclaimed films (like the snubbed favorite, “Lola”). I’m not sure what they were thinking…..Will they learn their lesson? Or pick a similarly mediocre film? I have no idea. If they want a similar film, they will choose “Last Supper #3”, a better-reviewed and more clever satire in the same vein as last year’s silly comedy, making fun of the Filipino legal system which won the Cinemalaya Film Festival. However, I’m going to guess they choose “Bakal Boys:” (a.k.a. “Children Metal Divers”), a well-received docudrama about child laborers that’s played at a lot of film festivals worldwide, and whose Variety review notes a beautiful mix of hard reality, humor and cute kids, with “Last Supper” runner-up. Neither one of these films is a shoo-in. “Buenavista”, a historical drama set in the 1890s (although it looks like a 1970s soap opera) has a powerhouse cast, “Clash” (a.k.a. “Engkwentro”), about extra-judicial killings, got good notices in Venice (although the Filipino Academy doesn’t usually choose any of the country’s many violent, gritty films), and “Manila Skies”, a deceptively simple story about a poor man on the verge of cracking. That’s my top five, although I also wouldn’t count out “Colorum”, about a road trip that turns into a crime spree and “Mountain Thief”, about a father-son team of impoverished scavengers. The winners of Metro Manila used to be selected a lot in this race, but this year’s two winners- critically maligned SFX thriller “Ang Panday” and love triangle melodrama “I Love You Goodbye” probably won’t come into play, and neither will the three-and-a-half-hour art film “Sewer”.
NEXT: A Brief Look at Possible First-Time Countries