Well, Oscar accepted 65 of the 66 countries that entered the competition (poor Afghanistan!) and you can see the whole list here:
There are 16 films from Western Europe, 16 films from Asia, 16 films from Africa and the Americas, and 17 films from Eastern Europe.
Here are my predictions:
16. NICARAGUA- "La Yuma"
15. COLOMBIA- "Crab Trap"
14. PUERTO RICO- "Miente"
13. URUGUAY- "A Useful Life"
12. ETHIOPIA- "The Athlete"
By all accounts, these five films were made by filmmakers with a great love of cinema, and who want very much to develop the art in their respective countries. ETHIOPIA's "Athlete", a biographical drama about the often tragic life of Olympic gold medallist marathoner and national hero Abebe Bikila, is the first-ever Ethiopian film to enter the competition. NICARAGUA's "La Yuma", a drama about a scrappy female boxer trying to rise above her situation, is the first Nicaraguan film to be made in twenty years, and the draw of a rare local film has been a big success in the small Central American country. URUGUAY selected a spare 67-minute B&W dramedy starring a local film critic and former Cinematheque director, about the closure of a financially trouble Cinematheque in Montevideo. COLOMBIA's "Crab Trap", about a white visitor to a largely Afro-Latino village community, stars mostly amateur actors, while the trailer for PUERTO RICO's film resembles an MTV music video with bright colors, nighttime locations, and liberal sexual attitude packed together in a psychological thriller.
However, all five are way out of their league at the Oscars....Ethiopia and Nicaragua don't have properly developed film industries, Uruguay and Colombia are felt by some to be "boring" films, and Puerto Rico has gotten mixed reviews.... Constrained by their low-budgets (particularly a problem for Ethiopia) and a lot of competition, they should just feel proud to compete.
11. CHILE- "The Life of Fish"
10. EGYPT- "Messages from the Sea"
9. BRAZIL- "Lula, o Filho do Brasil"
8. COSTA RICA- "Of Love and Other Demons"
BRAZIL's expensive presidential biography, "Lula, Son of Brazil" has superb, high-quality production values but a hackneyed plot and mixed reviews. CHILE chose Matias Bize's talky romance, about a travel writer who returns home to Chile for a brief visit, where he ends up at the party of an ex-girlfriend....I loved "En La Cama", another (very different) talky romance by Bize. COSTA RICA's "Of Love and Other Demons" is a handsome adaptation of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novella, about a noble-born girl who is sent away to a monastery after being bitten by a rabid dog, where she develops a relationship with a priest. EGYPT has been sending films since 1957 with no luck. This year's pick is "Messages from the Sea", about a socially awkward, university graduate who returns home to Alexandria to work as a fisherman, and his relationship with a mysterious local woman who may or may not be a prostitute.
I don't think any of these are well-liked enough to make the next round...BRAZIL has the style but not the substance....CHILE is too small.....EGYPT got good reviews, but it's a tough film to love and if "Yacoubian Building" couldn't get a nomination, neither will "Messages". COSTA RICA may crack the Top 20, but it's highly unlikely to make the 9-film shortlist.
SOMEWHAT MORE LIKELY
7. VENEZUELA- "Hermano"
6. ARGENTINA- "Carancho"
Defending chamption ARGENTINA is the only South American country ever to win in this category...As they often do, they've chosen a noirish thriller starring Ricardo Darin (star of last year's winner, "The Secret in Their Eyes"), about an ambulance chasing lawyer. It's not as good as "Secret", but it has its fans. VENEZUELA traditionally has the weakest films of the eight competing South American nations (Bolivia sat out, so there are only seven this year), but "Hermano" was the surprise winner at this year's Moscow Film Festival and the film has gotten positive notices for its story of two soccer-playing brothers. They're both real long-shots this year, though it's nice to see perennial bridesmaid Venezuela so high up the list this year....
5. ALGERIA- "Hors-la-Loi" (Outside the Law)
4. PERU- "Contracorriente" (Undertow)
Dark horses for that ninth slot include a propaganda drama from ALGERIA directed by two-time Oscar nominee Rachid Bouchareb ("Dust of Life", "Indigenes"), and a daringly original gay-interest drama from last year's surprise nominee, PERU.
"Outside the Law" has caused a lot of controversy in France for its portrayal of Algeria's war of independence. Even those that like the film say its jingoistic story borders on propaganda, and that might not sit well with the Oscar committee, even though they've shown they like Bouchareb. After all, I didn't think "Indigenes" was good enough to make the cut in 2007, but the committee elevated it to the Final Five over "Volver" and "Curse of the Golden Flower"....
"Contracorriente" is great, and I liked the film the more the day after I saw it, because I couldn't get it out of my head. It's an incredibly original film, about a man in a Peruvian seaside village who loves his pregnant wife and is active in his community, but who is also in love with a male painter who has moved there to paint. The love triangle that is created by this forbidden relationship is both easier and more difficult when the painter dies and returns as a ghost. It's a real dark horse. Can Peru make the finals two years in a row? I tend to doubt it, but we'll see...
3. MEXICO- "Biutiful"
2. SOUTH AFRICA- "Life, Above All"
MEXICO's dark drama, "Biutiful", starring Javier Bardem as a man who only has months to live and SOUTH AFRICA village AIDS drama are both considered favorites to make the shortlist.
South Africa's film got a 10-minute standing ovation at Cannes, and is the sort of sentimental drama that the traditional Oscar voters really go for....Another South African AIDS drama, "Yesterday", got an Oscar nomination with weaker reviews. A young girl and her sick mother face prejudice from their traditional community. It's one of the first features made in Sepedi, South Africa's fifth most spoken language. While a lot of people say the film is too dark and dismal, Mexico's "Biutiful" has the benefit of a strong Best Actor campaign for Javier Bardem, and it's famous names may entitle it to a spot on the three-film shortlist from the elite committee even if it's too much of a downer for the big committee.
Both films stand a good chance with both.
1. CANADA- "Incendies"
Two Canadian twins of Lebanese descent- a boy and a girl- learn after their mother's death that they have a long-lost brother who was somehow left behind in Lebanon. This movie, based on an acclaimed play, has great reviews, positive buzz, and comes from a country that the Oscar committee has really liked recently.
Now, the statistics:
Number of countries that have participated in the past: 8 from North America, 9 from South America and 11 from Africa
Number of countries participating this year: 16, including a first-time entrant from Ethiopia.
Number of countries disqualified: None that I know of, although I heard a rumor that JAMAICA lobbied to send a film in Jamaican Creole and was told it counted as English, even though it required subtitles in the US.
Number of countries opting out: 13, but nine of those have only entered films once or twice. The most surprising absentees were BOLIVIA, CUBA and MOROCCO, which have become regular participants in recent years. Cuba had quite a few films this year, and I was looking forward to seeing both of Bolivia’s front-runners, “Red, Yellow, Green” and the claustrophobic thriller “The Elevator”. Also absent: CHAD didn’t send “The Screaming Man” (I’m guessing it never played at home), DOMINICAN REPUBLIC , which had Michelle Rodriguez's well-made historical drama "Tropic of Blood" and PANAMA chose not to debut in the Oscar competition with clever local comedy “Chance”.
Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: Three with a realistic shot, three with an outside chance.
Number of Foreign Languages Represented: Six. Ten films are in Spanish, two films are in a combination of French and Arabic, plus one each in Amharic (Ethiopia), Arabic (Egypt), Portuguese (Brazil) and the obscure Sepedi (South Africa)
Highest profile films: MEXICO's “Biutiful”, directed by Oscar nominee Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu and starring Oscar winner Javier Bardem takes first prize, followed by the much buzzed-about film from Canada, “Incendies”.
Country with the Best Shot at a Nomination: CANADA for “Incendies”
Longest Shot for a Nomination: NICARAGUA for their earnest boxing drama “La Yuma”.
Number of Comedies: Only URUGUAY, one of the only countries in the world that usually sends comedies to this competition.
Oscar History: Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu was nominated for Best Foreign Film (Amores Perros), as well as Best Picture and Best Director (Babel). Rachid Bouchareb is only 51, but he has represented Algeria four times, garnering an impressive two Foreign Oscar nominations for Dust of Life and Indigenes. Brazil’s Fabio Barreto (now sadly comatose as a result of a car accident) got a nomination in 1997 for O Quatrilho. Argentina’s Pablo Trapero (2008), Chile’s Matias Bize (2006), Canada’s Denis Villeneuve (1997, 1998, 2000), Egypt’s Daoud Abdel Sayed (1994) and South Africa’s Oliver Schmitz (1989) have all represented their countries in the Oscar race before.
Four of the sixteen countries have won a Foreign Oscar (Algeria, Argentina, Canada and South Africa), while five others have been nominated (Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Puerto Rico).
Number of Female Directors: Two directors, both making their feature debuts, and both representing Central American countries- Hilda Hidalgo (COSTA RICA) and Florence Jaugey (a French-born director representing NICARAGUA).
Familiar Faces: The most familiar face is obviously Javier Bardem, as a dying man in Mexico’s “Biutiful”, followed by Ricardo Darin in Argentina’s “Carancho”. Less recognizable are Santiago Cabrera (Heroes) in Chile’s “The Life of Fish”, Remy Girard (Remy in Canada’s sole Oscar winner, “Barbarian Invasions”) in Canada’s “Incendies” and excellent Mexican character actor Damián Alcázar in Costa Rica’s “Of Love and Other Demons”. If you remember “Indigenes”, you’ll recognize French actors Roschdy Zem, Jamel Debbouze and Sami Bouajila who reunite in Algeria’s “Hors-la-Loi”.
Tough Choices: MEXICO apparently had the toughest decision. They first announced a seven-film shortlist, which was later expanded to ten and then twelve, including Diego Luna’s “Abel”, which many predicted would win the nomination. PERU was expected to choose foundling drama “Octubre”, but wisely went with “Undertow” instead. URUGUAY dithered until the late minute, with gay drama “Leo’s Room” unfortunately finishing as runner-up. Most Oscar prognosticators felt Xavier Dolan’s “Heartbeats” was a shoo-in to represent CANADA...until “Incendies” took Toronto by storm a few weeks before the deadline. EGYPT surprised when none of the frontrunners appeared on a four-film shortlist, including “The Traveller”, starring Omar Sharif and funded by the Ministry of Culture. PUERTO RICO's Fernando Allende was noticeably perturbed when his period drama “Maria” was passed up for edgy thriller “Miente”.
Controversies and Changes: BRAZIL caused the only minor controversy when they selected an expensive biography of their popular President a few weeks before his designated successor ran for election. The film, though well made, was a critical and box-office disappointment. An official poll noted that more than 70% of Brazilians thought the country should choose state-of-the-art sci-fi film “Nosso Lar”. Some felt the decision was politically motivated, while others said the jury may have felt sympathy for acclaimed director Fabio Barreto who has been unconscious for nearly a year since a terrible car accident. No other major controversies, although COSTA RICA's film is a majority Colombian production….
Number of countries I predicted correctly: Five: Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela, although I also predicted “Of Love and Other Demons” for Colombia.
Films I'm most looking forward to seeing: I’ve seen the nominees from Peru (A-) and Colombia (C-). I’m intrigued by the trailer of PUERTO RICO's trippy psychological thriller “Miente”, so I’d have to say that’s my first choice, followed by Canada’s “Incendies”.
Last year's race: I saw ten of last year’s 14 films- The best was Argentina's Oscar winner “The Secret in Their Eyes” (A), followed closely by Canada’s “I Killed My Mother” (A-), South Africa’s “White Wedding” (B+), Uruguay’s “Bad Day to Go Fishing” (B+), Bolivia’s “Zona Sur” (B), Mexico's "Backyard" (B), Morocco’s “Casanegra” (B-), Colombia's "The Wind Journeys" (C+), Chile’s “Dawson, Isla 10” (C) and “Fallen Gods”, the lackluster entry from Cuba (D+). I hope to see "Milk of Sorrow", the Oscar-nominated entry from Peru soon.