Saturday, July 31, 2010

FOREIGN OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2011- POLAND to VIETNAM

Here's the last tranche of my predictions. I'd like to call special attention to the section on my former home country of THAILAND. I'm predicting "Uncle Boonmee" like everyone else, but this is one of the predictions I am LEAST confident about. Deep inside, I think Thailand will ignore the Palme d'Or winner and go with royal epic "King Naresuan III". I may yet change my mind, but I'm leaving Boonmee for now.

76. POLAND has a strong slate this year, and a lot of quality films to choose from, mostly set during the “bad old days” of Communism. My guess is “Dark House”, on the basis of its strong reviews from audiences and critics alike. It’s a thriller/murder mystery telling two related stories (one in the 70s, one in the 80s) at a remote farm in the mountains of Poland. Two other films are going to be tough to beat; namely, “All That I Love”, an acclaimed youth drama about a teen punk band set against the background of the Solidarity Movement and “Little Rose”, about the uneducated moll of a high-ranking secret policeman who is sent to spy on a Jewish dissident writer. “Little Rose” should come second since it won the Gdynia Film Festival. Rounding out the top five films are “Mother Teresa of Cats”, about a gruesome case of matricide, and “Venice”, about a boy whose family trip to Venice gets derailed to the Polish countryside as a result of WWII. That said, Poland often likes to choose a film released right before the cutoff date, which means they could select a new film (“Teresa” is one of these) that I don’t know about. Other dark horses: “General Nil”, a bio-drama about an acclaimed general who fought against the Nazis and Communists (but which is supposed to be really boring), “Father, Son and Holy Cow”, a comedy about a farm animal with a taste for classical music and human trafficking drama “Between Two Fires”.

77. PORTUGAL, unlikely ALL of their fellow Western European nations (bar little Luxembourg, who has only been entering the competition since 1997) has never gotten an Oscar nomination, mostly because they send abstract, arty films that nobody likes, including Portuguese domestic audiences. Perhaps it’s because they were neutral during WWII and they don’t have any Holocaust movies. That will change this year with “The Consul of Bordeaux”- a Schindler's List-esque true story about the moral dilemma of a consul in neutral Portugal faced with Jewish refugees trying to escape to the New World. Unfortunately for Portugal, I think it won’t premiere in time...Maybe next year. This year, Portugal has the usual crop of obscure, abstract films. The highest-profile one is “The Strange Case of Angelica”, a surreal tale about a photographer hired to snap the final photos of a dead girl, directed by prolific 101-year old Manoel de Oliveira. He was selected five times in the 1990s, but only twice since then. Other Portuguese films with a chance: “Civil War”, about a shy boy at the beach in the 1980s, “How to Draw a Perfect Circle”, about incest among two rich siblings, “The Last Flight of the Flamingo”, about UN peacekeepers in Mozambique, “The Portuguese Nun”, about a French actress obsessed with a nun, “To Die Like A Man”, about the life and death of a transsexual, and “Twist of Fate”, about a cuckolded husband. My picks: the surprise selection of “To Die Like A Man”, which has gotten the best reviews, followed by “Angelica” and “The Portuguese Nun”.

78. PUERTO RICO is almost certain to choose “Maria”, an epic love story and a remake of a classic film. Set in the year 1800 amid lush plantations and Spanish colonial rule, it’s directed by the star of the 1970 version. Most Puerto Rican films this year seem to involve doomsday scenarios caused by zombies (“Barricada”, “Cannabis 2”) or disease (“Caos”). Dark horses: “The Orphanage Cafra”, which tells interlocking stories and “America”, a woman-in-jeopardy drama set in NYC and co-starring Edward James Olmos (though neither one may premiere before the deadline), as well as the aforementioned thriller “Caos”, which is probably the biggest film of the year.

79. ROMANIA, unlike almost all of its Eastern European cohorts, has never advanced to the next round. That said, the “Romanian New Wave” is hot on the festival circuit, and they have lots of good films. Their most likely choice this year is “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle”, the Silver Bear winner at Berlinale. It’s about a juvenile delinquent about to be released from jail, who confronts the mother who he believes ruined his life. Reviews have been positive but divisive- I’m not sure it’s the best decision, but Romania usually picks the obvious choice. Also very likely: black comedy, “Medal of Honor”, about a senior citizen whose life changes in the post-Communist era when he wins a medal for service in WWII that he doesn’t remember earning. It’s opening on the last possible day in Romania. In third place: “Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Man”, a big-scale war drama about the resistance movement to the Communists. In fourth place: “Tuesday After Christmas”, about a man trying to choose between his long-time wife and his passionate mistress. In fifth: “Europolis”, about a woman and her son going to France to pick up an inheritance. Among the other possibilities: “Morgen” (Locarno), about a security guard who discovers an illegal Kurdish immigrant, “Aurora” (Cannes), a 3-hour film about a family living in a neighborhood with a serial killer, “Francesca” (Venice), about a woman emigrating to Italy, and the one I personally most want to see- “Hello! How Are You?”, Romania’s first romantic comedy in nearly twenty years, about two unhappily married people who unknowingly “meet each other” online. As for French-language “The Concert”, and “Katalin Varga”, directed by an Englishman, I think they’d prefer having a 100% Romanian effort.

80. RUSSIA - Russia’s nominee was long thought to be a shoo-in. “Burnt by the Sun 2” was a long-awaited, massively expensive production by Nikita Mikhalkov- one of Russia’s favorite directors (submitted four times) and one of Oscar’s favorite foreign directors (an astonishing two nominations and one win in this category) and it was the sequel to Russia’s last winning film in this category. Unfortunately, the film was a flop and nobody inside or outside Russia has many positive things to say about it. There’s a slight chance Russia may send it anyway, but odds are against it. The most popular movie of the year is probably “What Women Want”, a warmly received comedy about four buddies on a road trip, but the dour Russians usually want something with more pathos. I think the two top contenders are “How I Ended This Summer”,a psychological thriller about two men stationed alone on a remote island outpost in the remote Arctic region of Chukotka (and probably the biggest Russian hit on the festival circuit this year), and last year’s costume drama, “Tsar”, the epic story of Ivan the Terrible that I predicted last year, but which premiered too late in Russia to qualify. I hate making the same prediction twice...I’ll go for “Summer” this year.

SERBIA has no big films this year, but they have a good selection of smaller ones. I think they’ll choose “Woman with a Broken Nose”, a black comedy (the Serbs do these so well!) with pretty great reviews and an intriguing plot- it’s about how a woman’s attempted suicide affects three lives, and it stars two of the stars of the superb “The Trap”. Renowned director Goran Paskaljevic and his son, first-time director Vladimir- will compete with each other with two new films. Goran has been entered in the Oscar competition four times and now has “Honeymoons”, a topical story about an ethnic Serbian and ethnic Albanian couple who are both trying to emigrate to Italy. Son Vladimir has dramedy “Devil’s Town”, about intersecting lives in the capital Belgrade, which has been compared to Dad’s “Powder Keg”. In fact, many of the Serbian candidates feature a number of interlocking stories of strangers; that must say something psychological about the war-weary Serbians. This includes “White White World”, set in a decaying industrial town, and "Tilva Ros”, about life in a copper mining town (winner at Sarajevo). Two other films with a strong chance: “Besa”, about a Serb man with a Slovene wife and her forbidden romance with an Albanian friend of the family, and anti-war drama “The Enemy”, about a group of shell-shocked veterans. Top Five: “Nose”, followed by “Besa”, "Tilva Ros", “Honeymoon” and “Enemy”. Less likely but possible: “Early Frost”, the poetic story of life in the multi-ethnic province of Vojvodina (the only region in Yugoslavia that remains united with Serbia), “Motel Nana”, about a teacher whose life is turned upside down when he is accused of beating a student, “Montevideo, We Love You”, a World Cup drama set in 1930, and “Ordinary People”, an acclaimed war drama which would be a key contender but I think it was released last year. Real dark horses: a family wins the Green Card lottery in “Mamarosh” and two women switch roles in identity theft thriller “Marked”. Impossible: torture porn “Serbian Film”, referred to as Serbia’s answer to “Saw”.

82. SINGAPORE took last year off, but will probably return this year with “Sandcastle”, which played in a special section at Cannes. Though the film, about a young man questioning authority after learning about skeletons in the family closet, will likely court controversy, it was partially funded by the State film board and will get a domestic release in August, so its Cannes pedigree should get it an official nod. If it’s too controversial, you can expect them to choose jet-black comedy “Forever”, about the fine line between love and obsession. In third place: Tamil-language thriller “Gurushetram”. They have a good number of non-English language films this year, but violent action movies (“Kidnapper”) and silly comedies (“Happy Go Lucky”, “Old Cow, Bitter Grass”) need not apply.

83. SLOVAKIA held their bi-annual National Film Awards this year, but all the major nominees were eligible last year. This year, their most likely (only?) choice is “Flying Cyprian”, a big-budget (by local standards) film about an 18th century monk who develops a flying machine. Interestingly, Slovakia’s past two big-budget dramas (“Bathory” and “Janosik”) were passed up by the Slovak commtitee, but there was more competition those years. This year, the Slovaks have little to choose from- “Cyprian” opens July 29th and it’s the first domestic production released this year. Other upcoming possibilities (if they open): “English is Easy, Csaba is Dead”, a dark comedy about a mafia family trying to learn English from a kidnapped teacher, “Naty, or You Can’t Cheat Your Fate“, about an eccentric high-IQ teen, and “Former People”, about a famed 1960s murderess. Less likely: Gypsy drama “Indian Summer”, guardian angel fantasy “Angel Against His Own Will”.

84. SLOVENIA had a good film last year, that (somewhat surprisingly) got a well-deserved U.S. release. This year’s most likely nominee is “9:06”, a spare (71 minutes) psychological thriller about a Slovenian police inspector delving into the life of a mysterious suicide. It swept the Slovenian Film Awards last year winning almost every award. The directors of their 2003, 2005 and 2007 submissions all have new films out- “Circus Fantasticus” is a drama with no dialogue about a man whose wife is killed during the Yugoslav wars, “Personal Baggage” is a drama about a middle-class family, and “Slovenian Girl” (which was just picked up for a US release through Film Movement), is about a young, educated student who moonlights as a hooker. “9:06” handily defeated its main competitor ("Slovenian Girl") at the Film Awards, and probably will do the same with the Oscar committee.

85. SOUTH AFRICA's choice is almost certain to be mother-daughter AIDS tearjerker “Life, Above All”. Filmed in the obscure Northern Sotho language (also known as Sepedi), it was one of the most talked about films in Cannes (it got a 10-minute standing ovation and better reviews than Palme d’Or winner “Uncle Boonmee”) and is a very likely Oscar nominee. “Tembra” (in Xhosa), a football drama about a young village boy, should get the nod if “Life” doesn’t open in time. Unlikely: “Shirley Adams”, a heartbreaking drama about a mother taking care of her newly paralyzed 20-year old son, probably has too much English to qualify, and romantic comedy “I Now Pronounce You Black and White“ is out of its league.

86. SPAIN has less contenders this year than most of the other large European countries. Spain’s format is to choose their submission out of three finalists. My predictions for this shortlist are “Amador”, “Even the Rain” and “Lope”. “Amador”’s director was chosen once (for “Mondays in the Sun”) over Almodovar, and is a story of a young woman (the star of “Milk of Sorrow”) working as caregiver for an old man. “Even the Rain” is a movie about the voyages of Christopher Columbus, starring Gael Garcia Bernal. “Lope” is the biography of a famed Spanish playwright, which co-stars Brazilian actress Sonia Braga. Challengers for the shortlist include “Julia’s Eyes”, a much-awaited horror film that would be a strong contender except that (a)- “The Orphanage” was ignored by Oscar and (b)- it’s currently scheduled to be released after the deadline, and “Cell 911”, a box-office smash hit and Best Picture winner at last year’s Goya Awards. It appears eligible as it was released after October 1, 2009 in Spain. “Mosquito Net”, winner at Karlovy Vary in 2010, about a woman with Alzheimers, is also a potential threat. Bottom line: The cliquey Spanish Academy likes experienced directors that they know and like; they’ve only chosen a debut director once in the past 25 years, making things difficult for “Rain”, and I don’t believe they’ve ever chosen a foreign director, making things tricky for “Lope”’s Andrucha Waddington. That leaves “Amador” getting the nod.

87. SRI LANKA sent a film for the second time last year and it was about the recently ended civil war. In that vein, I predict they’ll send “Under the Sun and Moon”, about a soldier haunted by memories of an incident in which he was unable to save his commanding officer. Other choices: “Whirlwind”, the life story of a coffin-maker from a dysfunctional family, “Solitude in a Valley” about an artist whose paintings are somehow related to his dreams, and “Thank You, Come Again”, about a veteran soldier looking after his sick father.

88. SWEDEN has had a weak year. The Swedish nominee is chosen by the Guldbagge Awards jury, and “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” and its two fellow Best Picture nominees are not eligible due to early release dates. (The Swedes are probably kicking themselves for not choosing the Guldbagge winner “Tattoo”, which has turned into a major international hit, when it was eligible last year). This year, a trio of films have an equal shot to represent the Swedes. Although they look interesting, none of them look good enough to compete for an Oscar. Two of the films co-star Tuva Novotny- “The Wedding Photographer”, a comedy-drama about an unemployed photographer who is hired to shoot a high-society wedding; it got decent reviews and was a box-office success , and “Dear Alice”, a movie about racial tensions in modern-day Stockholm, co-starring Danny Glover as a Gambian immigrant. There’s also the upcoming “Trust Me”, a comedy about a group of people working at a theatre. My prediction: “Trust Me” gets a surprise nod, with “Alice” in second and the “Photographer” in third. In fourth: “Nasty Old People” a dramedy about a neo-Nazi nurse working in an old folk’s home (!). Dark horses: “Sebbe”, a harrowing drama about an impoverished youth with special powers, “Simple Simon”, about a kid with Asperger’s Syndrome and “Easy Money”, a youth-oriented thriller. Less likely: “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”, the third part in the series, arthouse murder drama “The Ape”, and upcoming supernatural thriller “Psalm 21”. Trivia: Sweden (along with Spain) is the only Western European country never to choose a film directed by a woman.

89. SWITZERLAND has no high-profile films in the spotlight this year, which is not to say that they don’t have any good ones. “Bright on Black”, an intriguing “suicide romance” starring Bruno Ganz, would be my pick, but I don’t expect it will be released in time. That leaves two dysfunctional family dramas set amidst the Swiss Alps as their front-runners: “Animal Heart” (in French), the surprise winner at this year’s Swiss Film Awards, about an abusive husband and his wife, and the soon to be released “Songs of Love and Hate” (in German) about a precocious teen girl whose sexual awakening raises hell amidst the family, and which will compete for the Grand Prize in Locarno. In third place: “Hugo Koblet” (in French), a biopic about a celebrated Swiss cyclist. In fourth: “Accomplices”, a murder mystery about the death of a teen boy and the disappearance of his girlfriend (it lost to “Heart” at the Swiss Oscars). In fifth: “La Petite Chambre”, about the relationship between an elderly man and his nurse. Less likely: “Murder Farm” (another murder mystery), “Little Paradise”, about a mentally challenged woman who falls for an older man and “Taxiphone”, about a Swiss couple submersed in Moroccan culture when their car breaks down in the desert. Out of the running: after three failed submissions, Switzerland has rightfully fallen out of love with Jean-Luc Godard, but his latest exercise in self-indulgent faux-art, “Socialism”, didn’t open in Swiss cinemas anyway. My prediction: “Animal Heart” by a snout.

90. TAIWAN's biggest film “Seediq Bale” isn’t finished yet, but they still have a good field of potential submissions this year. In fact, their local film industry is doing quite well. The two big contenders this year are “Au Revoir, Taipei”, a fun romantic comedy cum crime caper that leaves its audience smiling, and box-office smash “Monga”, about juvenile gangs in 1980s Taiwan. Both of these films were shocked to be beaten by upstart documentary “Let the Wind Carry Me” at the 2010 Taipei Film Festival, but I don’t think this analysis of a local cinematographer will repeat here. The Audience Award at the Festival went to dark horse “Taipei Exchanges”, (which one reviewer calls a Taiwanese "Amelie”), about a young coffee addict working in a café. Other dark horse contenders: “Hear Me”, about the romance between a young man and a deaf girl, “Seven Days in Heaven”, a black comedy about a number of characters at a funeral, and four movies by previously submitted directors- “Tears”, about a detective seeking redemption, “How are You, Dad?”, ten short films about father-child relationships, “Uma 2010”, which has no information online, and “Face” the latest art film from Tsai Ming-liang, set in Paris and with mostly poor reviews. My predictions: “Au Revoir” gets the nod, followed by “Monga” and “Tears”, with “Taipei Exchanges” and “Hear Me” rounding out the Top Five.

91. TAJIKISTAN's latest film, “True Noon” was released last year (I’ve heard very good things about it), and their next-known film “Waiting for the Sea”, by the director of the delightful “Luna Papa”, is in pre-production. Also, I’ve heard that the last cinema in the capital was closed. So all-in-all, it’s unlikely Tajikistan can participate this year.

92. TANZANIA submitted a film once in 2001. This year, they have two movies produced by expatriate filmmakers- “Memories of a Burning Tree”, a drama in Swahili made by a Singaporean director about a man on a quest to find his mother’s grave, and “Lovely Gamble”, a super low-budget film made by Tanzanian-Britons. Tanzania will almost certainly skip this year, but “Burning Tree” could be chosen.



93. THAILAND's National Film Board does not like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and they now face a dilemma. Should they choose the first-ever Thai winner of the Palme d’Or- “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”- to represent them at the Oscars? On one hand, the always pragmatic Thais may see this as their best-ever chance of winning a nomination in a competition that they’ve been entering without success since 1984. Unlike many of his other films, “Boonmee” had no trouble with the Thai censors and it received a theatrical release at home where it has been more or less well-received. On the other hand, Thailand usually prefers commercial films rather than arthouse, and red-eyed monkey ghosts aren’t necessarily going to bring Thailand an Oscar nomination even with a Palme d’Or in hand. Apichatpong has previously won two major awards at Cannes (for “Blissfully Yours” and “Tropical Malady”), but Thailand’s Academy ignored them, and there’s a fair bit of internal competition coming from the two big films at this year’s Thai Oscars (Best Picture winner “October Sonata” and Best Director winner, the serial killer thriller “Slice”) , as well as three expensive period epics that each took years to make (8th century “Edge of the Empire”, 18th century “Bangrajan 2”, and the 800-pound gorilla, 16th century “King Naresuan III”). In the end, I think the race will come down to three films- (A) “Uncle Boonmee”, (B) “October Sonata”, a sad romantic drama about star-crossed lovers set in the turbulent 1970s, and (C) “King Naresuan III, directed by Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol who has represented Thailand a record four times (Thailand nominated Part II in 2007) and reportedly the most expensive Thai film ever made. I’m torn...I’m predicting “Boonmee”, but I have a feeling I’m wrong.

94. TUNISIA has sent two films since 1995. They have two promising films this year- "Buried Secrets" and "The String"- but I'm not sure either will inspire them to send it in. "Secrets", by the director of "Satin Rouge", about three female squatters in a long-abandoned house, is the more likely of the two. "String", a drama about a middle aged gay son returning home from abroad to live with his fabulous mother (60s film star Claudia Cardinale) would probably be received better than the quiet artiness of "Secrets" but I doubt that even a liberal Arab country like Tunisia would want a gay-themed film to represent them!

95. TURKEY 's film industry is doing well, although their biggest hits are comedies and horror movies made purely for entertainment and not awards. No less than nine films are potential Oscar submissions this year, although the two most likely are “Breath”, an anti-war film about the psychological terror experienced by an outpost of 40 Turkish soldiers defending against a Kurdish attack, and “Honey”, the winner of Berlinale 2010 about a young boy whose father is a beekeeper. The two biggest possible spoilers are “Two-Way Switch”, a black comedy about a man trying to murder his wife (winner of the Istanbul Film Festival and oft compared to the Coen Brothers), and “Kosmos”, a dreamy, arthouse film (winner of Anatolia and Yerevan Film Festivals). Rounding out the Top Five is “Children of Diyarbakir”, a movie about two Kurdish orphans who meet the man who murdered their parents. The other four- “Envy” (family intrigue), “Men on the Bridge” (experimental), “On the Way to School” (Turkish teacher teaching cute Kurdish kids) and cross-cultural pseudo-romance “The Wrong Rosary”- probably won’t be able to make it, but the Turks can be unpredictable. My prediction: “Honey” won a major award, but “Breath” is a bigger film...I’m really not sure, but will choose box-office hit “Breath”

96. UKRAINE is not accustomed to being seen on the film festival circuit, so their Cannes competitor “My Joy”, a nihilistic, depressing road movie set in provincial Russia, should be enough to spur Ukraine’s return to the competition after a one-year hiatus. The only other films on the radar are Kira Muratova’s “Melody for a Barrel Organ”, a three-hour allegorical tale featuring a pair of lost children and “Day of the Defeated”, about Communist authorities intervening in a woman’s funeral. Ukraine has never gone for one of Muratova’s films before, so I think “Joy” is safe.

The 97. UNITED KINGDOM is going to have the same predictions as last year, since the two films I predicted didn’t premiere in time. Most of their Oscar submissions have been in Welsh, as is my prediction- “Patagonia”- a wide-scale movie about a real-life Welsh community that emigrated to the wilds of Argentina. I’m pretty sure that it will be the nominee, but there’s also “She A Chinese” about illegal Chinese immigrants in England, and “Pusher”, a Hindi-language crime drama set in London.


98. URUGUAY has a small film industry, yet they always seem to have a difficult decision at Oscar time. This year’s race (like last year) boils down to two films- “Hiroshima”, another of the minimalist wry dramas that Uruguay is famous for, and “Leo’s Room”, a gay coming-out story. It will be a hard decision- “Hiroshima” is directed by Pablo Stoll, one of Uruguay’s most accomplished young directors, and this is his first film since the suicide of his longtime co-director Juan Pablo Rebella. The movie, about an aspiring singer, has gotten mixed reviews...definitely not as good as “Leo’s Room”, which co-stars Cesar Troncoso, who has co-starred in almost every Uruguayan submission ever. Single-take horror flick “The Silent House” has its admirers, but won’t factor in. I’m not sure what they’ll do. Both directors are thirty-something and will have a chance to be selected again in the future. Gay rights in Uruguay are moving forward pretty quickly. I’m guessing the Uruguayans go with the superior “Leo”.

99. VENEZUELA‘s films rarely ever win awards, and a recent trend of making films that conform to Chavista political dogma has not helped the quality of national filmmaking. They should choose “Hermano”, the winner of the Grand Prize at the Moscow Film Festival, and the most acclaimed Venezuelan film in years, but I’m not sure if this football/family revenge drama of two “brothers” from the slums has the appropriate revolutionary credentials to rep Venezuela. Most of the films I predicted last year did not open until late 2009/2010, including big-scale historical dramas “Zamora” and “ Taita Boves”. Both of these films are definitely Chavez-friendly (both are true stories about revolting against the wealthy upper-class), as is “Habana Eve”, a romantic comedy set in Cuba, and are all by previously submitted directors, as is “Unauthorized”, an arty drama by Elia Schneider. I’m predicting “Hermano”, but think that one of the expensive historical movies could easily slip in, especially “Taita Boves”.

100. VIETNAM has had a strong year, and I predict they choose lavish period drama “Heroes of the Tay Son Dynasty”, an 18th century dramatization about a peasant rebellion that defeated the Chinese. It will be a good opportunity to show that the Vietnamese can make the same sort of big period battle movies that the big guys (i.e. China, Japan, Korea and Thailand) can do. Two arthouse movies will provide stiff competition, especially “Bi, Don’t Be Afraid”, about a boy and his grandfather (Cannes 2010), but also from erotic drama “Adrift” (FIPRESCI Winner; Venice 2009), although it didn’t impress too many people at the National Film Awards. Upcoming releases “Inferno” (a very stylish-looking thriller) and “Endless Field” (about rural life) could make it if they’re really, really good, but probably face too much competition. FYI: The winner of the 2010 Golden Kite Awards is not eligible (“Don’t Burn”, which represented the Vietnamese last year).

SIX POSSIBLE DEBUTS:
Last year, for the first time since 1988, no new countries entered the competition. Most sizeable countries (outside of Africa) have already sent a film at least once, although there are a few more that could send their first film this year. The oil-rich Gulf states have begun sponsoring film production, film festivals and television series in a region where little or none existed before. Aside from two Kuwaiti films in the 1970s, the countries of the Arabian Peninsula have never entered. Most likely to enter a film this year is the most visible country in the region- the UNITED ARAB EMIRATES- which could send “City of Life”, which tells three stories (one in Arabic, one in English, one in Hindi) about the underside of glitzy Dubai. The trailer looks very interesting and it was a box-office hit at home, although some Emiratis have criticized it for showing an unfavorable picture of the image-conscious city. 24 of the EU's 27 members submit films on a more-or-less regular basis, and Ireland has submitted a single film. That leaves tiny CYPRUS and MALTA as the typical truants from EU Film Festivals the world over. The South Cyprus government (which controls the EU seat) has devoted money to film, and will almost certainly send a movie sooner or later.....This year, they have "Guilt, about the nightmares of a Cypriot arms dealer. It was co-sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, the premiere was attended by the Cypriot President, and it got a Best Pic nomination at the Greek Film Awards. MALTA has a potential candidate in " Kont Diga' ", billed as Malta's first-ever independent film, about an emigre who returns to his home country after many years abroad. The most likely new country to submit from the Americas is not a “nation” at all...The vast, autonomous province of GREENLAND may try to send “Nuumioq”, set amid the island's beautiful fjords, about a terminally ill man falling in love. Greenland may try and take this step as one of many to gradually assert independence from Denmark. PANAMA could submit for the first time with comedy “Chance”, about two maids who decide to wage war against the stuck-up aristocratic family they work for. Supposedly based on a true story, it looks quite funny (although not Oscary). From Eastern Europe, newly-independent MONTENEGRO is this year's most likely debutante for the government co-sponored "Little Love God", about a Macedonian living in the Montenegrin capital, whose life turns upside down when his wife disappears, his bank goes bankrupt and the police confiscate his passport.

Less likely: Earthquake-scarred HAITI has “Moloch Tropical”, about political intrigue and misrule in the country but the Haitian premiere was delayed (canceled?) due to the earthquake. KOSOVO may challenge the Academy to define a country once again (it's not a UN member due to protests from Russia, Serbia and others), with "Beyond the Road", one of the first feature films since the region gained de facto independence in 2008. It's a digital film about a man in some sort of a purgatory. BAHRAIN has “Longing” (Haneen), the country’s eighth feature film (how funny to come from a country where you can count on two hands!)- a meditation of the relationship between two families- one Sunni, one Shi’ite. QATAR’s first-ever feature film, “Clockwise” (Aqaribabzah) is a horror-thriller about djinns (aka genies). ANGOLA, whose oil-based economy is booming, has “Bullets and Guns”, a parody of the popular local gangsta' films, which apparently began being churned out after the local success of “City of God”. MOZAMBIQUE has Portuguese co-production "The Last Flight of the Flamingo (See PORTUGAL). From Asia, there's UZBEKISTAN, which produces a few dozen films each year, including “Narigi Sohilda Qolgan Bolalik”, about life in a village over a 70-year period. NORTH KOREA sent a rare film to the Moscow film festival- “Notes of a Woman Soldier”, a propaganda film about a woman who realizes the value of serving her country while in a remote outpost, and MACAU has a rare film in “Roulette City”, about a man who comes to the city-state to raise money for his mother’s operation.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

FOREIGN OSCAR PREDICTIONS, ISRAEL-PHILIPPINES

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