Happy New Year....
The Western Europeans have traditionally hogged the five nominations as a bloc....Nowadays, it seems to be just FRANCE and GERMANY that have the Oscar love....The Germans have been nominated five of the past six years....Despite being one of their strongest films, "Edge of Heaven", a drama about Turkish-Germans, was the one film that missed the cut....Will this year's similarly-themed Turkish-German film suffer the same fate?
Here is the line-up from Western Europe, including the autonomous Danish province of Greenland, competing separately for the very first time.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH:
16. PORTUGAL- "To Die Like A Man"
15. NORWAY- "Angel"
14. FINLAND- "Steam of Life"
This year's biggest Western European long-shot is more often than not the entry from PORTUGAL....This year's "To Die Like A Man" is a melodramatic film about an aging transsexual who discovers that she is dying....It's filled with Almodovar-esque melodrama and histrionics, drag musical numbers and a number of bizarre occurences. The film has its admirers, but almost everyone complains about its lengthy 2hr20m running time, overall reception has been mixed and the subject matter (drag queens, outdoor sex, breast implants) just doesn't seem like it will appeal to the committee. These two Scandinavians films are also sure to be ignored too....NORWAY has chosen a gritty, off-putting drama about a heroin addict whose child is (quite rightfully) taken away. A lot of people dislike the film and even its fans admit its a difficult film to watch. FINLAND's submission is a well-liked documentary about the Finnish tradition of saunas. The Finns are well-known throughout Europe for being a quiet and unemotional people, but the film tries to dispel these stereotypes by watching Finnish men (in saunas) to talk about their lives. The film was a major success in its home country and some of the themes are universal, but documentaries have a natural disadvantage in this category, and the film is too filled with naked bodies and naked honesty to compete here.
13. GREECE- "Dogtooth"
12. GREENLAND- "Nuummioq"
11. AUSTRIA- "La Pivellina"
10. SWEDEN- "Simple Simon"
First of all, there is no chance in hell that the larger committee will choose's GREECE's bloody black comedy, "Dogtooth", but I'm putting Greece in this category on the tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny chance that the elite committee will select it. But I doubt it.
None of these films really have much of a chance....GREECE, as mentioned above, is simply not everyone's cup of tea. "Dogtooth" may have won a lot of awards AND attracted interest at every festival it appeared at, but this gory fairy tale of what happens when two modern-day parents seal off their children from the rest of the world in a palatial mansion is simply not the kind of film that gets nominated. I can't wait to see it though and it comes out on DVD in the USA in January.
AUSTRIA and GREENLAND have chosen films that aren't likely to stand out in the crowd. "La Pivellina" is an Italian-language drama about a middle-aged circus performer who finds a 2-year old infant abandoned in a park, with a note saying that the mother will one day return. She and her family proceed to try and take care of the child. Many people like the film, but no one loves it. GREENLAND's "Nuummioq" is a beautiful film featuring the beautiful landscapes and fjords of this remote island territory....The film has a great backstory (one of the first feature films made by Greenlandic filmmakers....first director dropped out halfway after being depressed, but film was completed by another crew member) but this tale of a dying man looking for love has gotten better reviews for its cinematography than for its story. SWEDEN has once again chosen a youth-oriented comedy, this time about a socially awkward young man with Asperger's Syndrome who goes on a quest to find his brother a girlfriend. The trailer looks quite funny, and there is always a chance of an "Everybody Famous"-style upset, but I think this film is a little too silly to contend for the Top Nine.
9. ICELAND- "Mamma Gógó"
8. BELGIUM- "Illegal"
7. SWITZERLAND- "La Petite Chambre"
6. SPAIN- "Even the Rain"
BELGIUM has selected a film about an illegal Russian immigrant trying to game the immigration system and stay in touch with her son after being detained in a detention center to await deportation, in the French-language drama, "Illegal". Pros: film boasts strong acting and a topical issue. Based-on-a-true story. Cons: "Illegal" is overtly political, occasionally preachy and maddeningly one-sided. Weak ending. Its "cinema-verite" style will appeal to some, but not to others.
ICELAND chose an autobiographical story of a filmmaker in dire financial straits who also has to deal with the worsening Alzheimers of his beloved mother in the gentle drama "Mamma Gógó". Pros: plot will appeal to filmmakers, and the committee may be charmed by a subplot in which the filmmaker awaits the Best Foreign Film Oscar nominations. Cons: critics say the movie is good but not great- it even lost Best Picture at the Icelandic Oscars to another film.
SPAIN chose "Even the Rain", a drama about a Spanish film crew trying to make a historical movie in Bolivia. The film, starring Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, takes a cerebral look at capitalism, indigenous people and exploitation. Pros: good reviews, international cast and high production values. Cons: The film may be too smart for its own good.
SWITZERLAND chose French-language drama "La Petite Chambre", a quiet film about the budding friendship between a young nurse and her elderly patient. Pros: Screenplay and story are likely to appeal to the committee, which tends to like these inter-generational dramas. CONS: The film is a small and intimate relationship drama- the opposite of the splashy, dramatic films that have dominated the category in the last few years, and has generated little buzz.
Bottom Line: It's an uphill battle, but SPAIN's pedigree has the best chance of breaking through.
DARK HORSES FROM AFRICA:
5. NETHERLANDS- "Tirza"
4. FRANCE- "Of Gods and Men"
Two films set in different regions of Africa are both dark horses for the shortlist. FRANCE has chosen a true-story film set in Algeria, about a group of dedicated French monks who refuse to abandon their beloved monastery when threatened by Islamic fundamentalists. Despite excellent relations with the local community, the monks are held hostage and killed by their captors. THE NETHERLANDS film is set in Namibia, and is based on a famous Dutch novel, about a man searching for his missing daughter (with the help of a child prostitute, no less!) in Southern Africa.
France is perenially on the shortlist, and "Of Gods and Men" won Best Foreign Film at the National Board of Review and appeared at Cannes, but not every one loves the film, which most say is inspiring and contemplative but which some say is slow and overlong...."Tirza" has gotten somewhat better reviews and has the baity plot and beautiful vistas of a nominee. I'm ranking France higher based on their long Oscar track record
3. ITALY- "The First Beautiful Thing"
2. GERMANY- "When We Leave"
GERMANY is golden with the Academy, winning nominations five of the past six years. This year's film is a drama about a young Turkish-German woman who goes back to Turkey to get married. After several years, she leaves the abusive relationship and returns to Germany, only to face ostracism and anger from her family for breaking with tradition. This film has gotten stronger reviews from American critics than foreign critics and the committee tends to like "issue-based" films, and German films in general, so this should have a good shot at making it through....Unlike Germany, ITALY's strong Oscar record is very much in the past. Since they won in 1999 (for "Life is Beautiful"), they've only been nominated once, and that was for the mediocre "Don't Tell", one of the most unmemorable Foreign Film nominees in recent history. They could have won this year with "The Man Who Comes", but chose a tearjerker comedy-drama about the relationship between a vivacious (but dying) mother, and her adult son instead...."The First Beautiful Thing" presses a lot of Oscar's favorite buttons, and seems to be the sort of movie that got Italy a lot of its nominations in its 60s and 70s heyday.
Germany and Italy face a lot of competition from their WWII opponents in France and Holland, and aren't guaranteed of a slot....but I imagine at least one of them will make it through.
1. DENMARK- "In A Better World" This epic drama has everything that Oscar looks for, and will be a real threat to take the Oscar home in February. The plot is difficult to summarize, but concerns the friendship between two boys from troubled homes in Denmark; one is a shy boy whose father works as an aid worker in Africa, the other the violent son of a recently widowed father. The film has universally positive reviews, a thought-provoking plot, issues of morality and revenge, and was one of three films on this list to net a Golden Globe nomination (alongside Russia and Mexico). Director Susanne Bier has been shown some Oscar love before ("After the Wedding") and has also made some Hollywood films. I think "World" is safe.
Now, the statistics:
Number of countries that have participated in the past: 18
Number of countries participating this year: 16, including first-timer GREENLAND
Number of countries disqualified: None.
Number of countries opting out: 3, namely IRELAND,
LUXEMBOURGand UNITED KINGDOM. Ireland didn't have any eligible films, but I'm a bit surprised by the absence of the other two.
Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: About seven.
Number of Foreign Languages Represented: 13. Three films are mostly in French (Belgium, France and Switzerland), two are in Italian (Austria and Italy), with one each in Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Greek, Greenlandic, Icelandic, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. There's a little bit of Arabic (France) and Turkish (Germany) in there as well.
Highest profile films: The most well-known is probably GREECE's bizarre "Dogtooth", which won Un Certain Regard at Cannes last year.
Country with the Best Shot at a Nomination: Ooh...This is always difficult in Western Europe, but I'm putting my money on DENMARK's "In a Better World".
Longest Shot for a Nomination: More often than not, the biggest long shot is PORTUGAL, and this year is no exception with campy melodrama "To Die Like A Man"
Number of Comedies: Three- GREECE, ITALY and SWEDEN
Number of Documentaries: One. FINLAND
Number of Horror Films: Well...one, sort of...GREECE again.
Oscar History: DENMARK's Susanne Bier and ICELAND's Friðrik Þór Friðriksson have gotten Oscar nominations before....Bier was nominated in 2007 for "After the Wedding", and Fridriksson was nominated in 1992 for "Children of Nature". This is the sixth time Fridriksson is representing Iceland, and his semi-autobiographical film, "Mamma Gogo", follows the aftermath of "Nature"'s surprise Oscar nomination.
Also, the NETHERLANDS' Rudolf Van Der Berg previously repped his country twenty years ago, in 1990.
Every country has been nominated at least once before, except PORTUGAL, and debutante GREENLAND.
Number of Female Directors: Seven women representing six countries.....DENMARK (Susanne Bier), GERMANY (Feo Aladag), NORWAY (Margreth Olin), and for the first time ever, SPAIN (Iciar Bollain) have female directors. Also both directors of the film from SWITZERLAND are women, as is one of the two co-directors (husband and wife) of the film from AUSTRIA.
Now that Spain's Bollain has broken the glass ceiling, the only Western European country never to send a woman-helmed film is, shockingly, liberal SWEDEN.
Familiar Faces: The only major international star is Gael Garcia Bernal in SPAIN's "Even the Rain", but you might also recognize- Ulrich Thomsen (Denmark), Hilmir Snaer Gudnason (Iceland), Lambert Wilson (France) and Sibel Kekilli (Germany) in their respective national submissions.
Tough Choices: NORWAY seems to have had the hardest time deciding. Their selection committee had to meet several times, dithering between heroin addict drama "Angel", and critically acclaimed comedy "A Somewhat Gentle Man". I found ITALY to be the biggest surprise, turning down the film that I thought would win the 2011 Oscar, namely critically-acclaimed WWII drama, "The Man Who Will Come". Even more people were surprised by the loss of Goya-winning prison drama "Cell 311", from SPAIN. Also, FRANCE ignored whimsical Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Amelie") comedy "The Micmacs" and Holocaust music drama (Oscar loves them all!) "The Concert", ICELAND opted not to choose their 2010 Best Picture winner, comedy "Mr. Bjarnfredarson" and FINLAND did the same with expensive patriotic war drama "Under the North Star". Happily, SWITZERLAND chose another film over "Film Socialisme", Godard's latest self-indulgent folly.
Controversies and Changes: Belgian immigration cadres have rightfully complained about the one-sided "Illegal", but that hardly counts as a controversy.
Number of countries I predicted correctly: Six: DENMARK, GREECE, GREENLAND, ICELAND, NETHERLANDS, PORTUGAL, and I had the films from BELGIUM, FRANCE, ITALY and SPAIN as runners-up (all difficult!). I had ever heard of the Finnish film.
Films I'm most looking forward to seeing: I've already seen the overtly politicized and borderline offensive "Illegal" from BELGIUM. Honestly, I'm extremely intrigued by the love-it-or-hate-it buzz surrounding "Dogtooth" (GREECE) and also by the funny trailer of SWEDEN's "Simple Simon".
Last year's race: I did well, seeing 10 of the 17 Western European films, although I wasn't very impressed by most of them....My personal favorite was BRITAIN's lively, moving documentary "Afghan Star", which follows real-life contestants on Afghanistan's version of "American Idol".
1. UNITED KINGDOM- "Afghan Star" A-
2. DENMARK- "Terribly Happy" B+, Original and clever
3. LUXEMBOURG- "Refractaire" B+, Solid and enlightening history tale4. ICELAND- Reykjavik-Rotterdam" B, Good but unmemorable
5. FRANCE- "Un Prophete" B, Very well-made...but OH SO LONG!
6. GERMANY- "The White Ribbon" B-, Not my favorite Haneke, but good ending.
7. NORWAY- "Max Manus:" B-, Well-made war drama
8. SWITZERLAND- "Home" B-, Original and starts off strong but loses steam in second act.
9. FINLAND- "Letters to Father Jacob" C, Slight, 75-minute drama
10. BELGIUM- "The Misfortunates" C, Well-acted but with unpleasant characters and slightly boring.
The shortlist should come out around January 15th....
Next will be the 16 nominees from Asia....