Tuesday, July 26, 2011


52. IRELAND submitted an Irish Gaelic-language film once in 2007. As far as I know, that film (“Kings”) was the last Irish-language feature produced, although there continue to be a lot of Irish soap operas and television programs being made in Ireland. Normally they’d sit out, but this year’s Best Picture winner at the Irish Film and Television Awards was “As If I’m Not There”, a film with all of its rather minimal dialogue in Serbo-Croatian. It's directed by Juanita Wilson who was an Oscar nominee for Best Short Film in 2010. The film, about the trauma of Bosnian rape victims, could be Ireland’s surprise second entry.

53. ISRAEL automatically chooses the winner of the Ophir Awards, which take place annually in September. This year is essentially a two-film race, namely between: “Footnote”, which is directed by two-time Ophir winner and Oscar nominee (for the dreary, boring “Beaufort”) Joseph Cedar, and which also won Best Screenplay at Cannes; and “Restoration”, which impressively won the top Prizes in both Karlovy Vary and Jerusalem. “Restoration” is a drama about the family dynamics at a restoration workshop, between a man, his apprentice and his estranged son. “Footnote” is another father-son drama, this time starring Lior Ashkenazi (“Late Marriage”, “Walk on Water”) about two Talmudic (Jewish studies) professors. Both of these will be sure to be nominated for the top Ophir, probably joined by “Beautiful Valley”, about an elderly woman pushed aside by the privatization of her kibbutz, “My Australia”, set in Poland, about a Holocaust survivor concealing her Jewish heritage from her teenage kids, and the amusingly titled “The Slut”, about a promiscuous 30-something woman. “Obsession”, about a woman desperately trying to keep her husband, as seen by her silent young son, may also slip in to the Top Five, but I doubt anything but “Footnote” or “Restoration” can win. My prediction: Ophir voters care less about Cannes than people expect, and “Restoration” reps Israel.

54. ITALY has won this award more than any other country (even France!) although their heyday is far in the past; they won 5 of their 13 Oscars in the 40s and 50s, 2 in the 1960s and 3 more in the 1970s. My prediction is Nanni Moretti’s Cannes comedy-drama “We Have A Pope”, about the election of a new pontiff. Reviews haven’t been perfect, but it’s said to be a solid, mainstream effort. The other top contender is “We Believed”, a 19th century historical drama about the unification of Italy, which is positively NOT mainstream....It’s more than three hours long, and has been savaged by Western critics (so was Italy’s 2002 submission, “Pinocchio”, which I actually liked) but it won Best Picture at the national David Donatello Awards, so it shouldn't be counted out. Three other films by top directors could be selected IF they premiere in Italy before September 30. The long-awaited “Big House” by “Gomorrah” director Matteo Garrone, is an indictment of Italian media and reality television and “Terraferma”, by Emanuele Crialese (“Golden Door”), which will premiere in Venice, tells the story of an African woman trying to reach EU soil, via Sicily. “The Cardboard Village” tells the story of a number of illegal immigrants who seek sanctuary in a church which is scheduled for destruction. Some of those three will likely have to compete next year. Rounding out the Top Six is “The Salt of Life” an understated comedy of the sort that Italy use to send regularly. Less likely but possible: crime drama “A Quiet Life” and hit comedy “Welcome to the South”; both got Best Pic nominations at this year’s Italian Oscars, but “Quite Life” has been “Quiet” and “South” depends on some very local humor. Two dramas about the lives of Italian women- “First Assignment” and “Corpo Celeste” have gotten great reviews, but haven’t been seeing very much play internationally. I think Italy will elect "Pope", but I’m not confident at all. I get the feeling Italy will send some new film I’ve never hearD of yet- perhaps one which WILL premiere in Venice?

55. JAPAN has no obvious candidates. I predict the race will be between two outsiders who have already been in the Oscar race- “I Wish”, is by one of my favorite Japanese directors, Hirokazu Koreeda, and tells the story of two boys trying to get their divorced parents back together. Koreeda is an independent director outside the Japanese mainstream, but he was nominated by Japan in a similar weak year in 2004 for the excellent “Nobody Knows”. “Norwegian Wood” is by Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung (“Scent of Green Papaya”), it stars Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi and it's based on the famous Murakami Haruki novel, but I'm skeptical that Japan would be comfortable selecting a foreign director to represent them (Sang-il Lee, a South Korean citizen, was selected in 2006, but he was born and raised in Japan). The other four main contenders this year are: “Oba the Last Samurai”, a bilingual war drama set in Okinawa in 1944 and co-starring Daniel Baldwin (it will have an excellent chance if it's more than 50% in Japanese), “Ogawa no hotori”, a period samurai drama co-starring Rinko Kikuchi, “Patisserie, Coin de la Rue”, a romantic comedy, and “Shin-San, Tanko Machi no Serenade”, set in 1963, about a woman returning to her hometown, directed by twice-selected Hideyuki Hirayama. Other obscure possibilities rounding out the Top Ten include “Hospitalite”, a low-key farcical comedy, ”Heaven’s Story”, an arty 4+ hour drama about two homicides (God...I hope they don’t choose it! I’ll never get through it!), “My Back Page”, a comedy set in the 1960s starring heart-throb Satoshi Tsumabuki, “Princess Toyotomi”, a crowd-pleasing conspiracy thriller referred as a Japanese DaVinci code, and two pretty period dramas- “Lady Shogun and Her Men” and “Sakuradamon Gate”- which ultimately failed to get any major nominations at last year’s Japanese Oscars. Unlikely: Naomi Kawase thrilled Cannes with “A Mourning Forest” but bored Japan with “Hanezu” and “Harakiri: Death of a Samurai” which will probably premiere too late. Top Three: "I Wish", "Oba the Last Samurai" and "Norwegian Wood".

56. JORDAN made one of the best Foreign Films of 2008 (“Captain Abu Raed”) and send it to the Oscars but it was pipped by inferior films from Austria, France and neighboring Israel (I didn’t see the German nominee). What a shame. They have at least two movies this year- “Transit Cities” is an ultra-low budget film about a woman returning home to Jordan after divorcing her husband in the United States, and “Fish Above Sea Level” is about a man whose inheritance falls through. They’re both possibilities, but I’m prediciting “Fish”.

57. KAZAKHSTAN has become a regular fixture here, racking up two shortlist spots in five years. Last year’s film, “Strayed” got very mixed reviews although I personally would recommend it. This year’s two main appearances on the film festival circuit are “Gakku” (Moscow), about two young men whose university education is thrown into jeopardy by the fall of the USSR in 1991, and “Mother’s Paradise” (Karlovy Vary), about a single mother, abandoned by her husband, forced to do terrible things to take care of her children. Two other movies have been highly publicized due to their international stars. “The Liquidator” (by the director of “Strayed”) is an action movie starring Vinnie Jones as a mute enforcer, while “Late Love” is a romantic drama about a number of older men looking for wives, including French actor Gerard Depardieu. Other possibilities include: “Sword of Victory” (which may not premiere in time), an epic historical action movie, “The Wanderer”, a low-budget drama, and “Fairytale Forest”, which incorporates animation and live-action into a modern-day fairy tale. Unlikely but possible: “Zheruik”, about the country’s multi-ethnic patchwork of peoples, and “Unreal Love” a romantic comedy about Internet dating. My prediction: “Late Love” reps the Kazakhs, followed by “Gakku”, “Mother’s Paradise” and “Sword of Victory”.

58. KOREA sends wonderful films to the Academy almost every year (although last year’s “Barefoot Dream” was mediocre) but still hasn't managed its first Oscar nod. The Korean films are one of the reasons I try to see all the films on the Oscar list instead of seeing just the nominees- it’s hard to justify how “Mother”, ”Crossing”, “Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring”, or “King and the Clown” could be ignored by the Academy. The Koreans will have a tough choice this year, sifting through high-octane thrillers, quiet art films, Korean War epics, engaging mysteries and entertaining romantic comedies. Last year, they veered towards a commercial crowd-pleaser over a slew of Film Festival winners, and I don’t know if this will represent a trend or not. I think it was probably a desperate attempt to throw something more commercial at the Americans, in the hopes of getting a nomination. Last year, Korea shortlisted six films (See http://www.screendaily.com/news/asia-pacific/a-barefoot-dream-is-koreas-surprise-oscar-submission/5018003.article for a look at their decision-making process) . In alphabetical order, I see the six front-runners this year as: “Children”, a true-life murder-mystery about the disappearance of five boys in a rural region of Korea, “The Front Line”, a big-budget Korean War summer blockbuster, about the last days of the war, when both sides were trying to seize territory, in anticipation of a cease-fire , “Glove”, a box-office hit baseball drama about a washed-up coach who takes over for a team of hearing-impaired kids, “Hanji”, a cultural drama by acclaimed director Im Kwon-taek, about the cultural processes of Korean traditional paper, “Poongsan”, a low-budget drama written by Kim Ki-duk, about a man tasked with delivering messages across the heavily militarized North-South Korean border and “The Yellow Sea”, an action-crime drama about a man from a Korean-speaking region of China who is sent to Korea to carry out a hit. Dark horses for the shortlist also include: “In Love and the War”, about an isolated, neutral village trying to please both sides during the Korean War, “Late Blossom”, about a romance between two elderly people, and “Sector 7”, a much-anticipated 3D monster movie (Hit monster movie “The Host” was shortlisted in 2006). Less likely: period comedy-mystery “Detective K” (too comic), family drama “The Last Blossom” (too small), and mystery-thriller “No Doubt” (too obscure). Whatever happens, the Koreans are bound to pick a great film, so make sure to go and seek it out! My prediction: none of the films are perfect, but the Koreans will choose “The Yellow Sea”, which has American backers over #2- “Poongsan” and #3- The Front Line”, with “Hanji” and “Children” rounding out the Top Five.

59. KUWAIT last sent a film in 1978. They do have a potential contender in “Tora Bora”, about a Kuwaiti husband and wife looking for their lost son in Afghanistan. It’s unclear whether this will screen in cinemas or, as seems more likely, as an episodic miniseries on Kuwaiti TV.

60. KYRGYZSTAN sends films every other year or so...This year, the only features I know about are an obscure duo: “Talas-Bishkek” is about a taxi driver who falls for a pretty lady passenger, and “Adep Akhlak” is an absurdist film about three friends, including one who keeps trying to commit suicide. Dark horse is “Mother’s Paradise”, a new Kazakh film directed by Kyrgyzstan’s top director, Aktan Arym Kubat (who directed three of the country’s five submissions thus far). I’ll predict “Talas-Bishkek”.

61. LATVIA has six or seven eligible releases (depending on the autumn release of comedy "Monsieur Taurins"), which is quite a lot for them! This year is basically a two-film race between “The Return of Sergeant Lapins” a wry comedy about the difficulties faced by a Latvian soldier trying to readjust to normal life after serving in a war zone in Iraq, and “Threesome Dance”, a WWII drama about a Latvian soldier sentenced to death for deserting from the Nazi army, and the Latvian woman who becomes involved in a love triangle with him and a German commandant. It’s going to be really close, but I predict Latvia asks for a “Threesome”. “Gulf Stream Under Iceberg” looks impressive, but I doubt the Latvians would choose a Russian-language movie.

62. LEBANON always sends interesting, thought-provoking films to this competition (OK...”Bosta” wasn’t very thought-provoking...) and it’s unfortunate that they stopped sending films in 2008. I hope they rejoin. This year, they have no less than four films that have a chance. Two of them won awards in Abu Dhabi: “Here Comes the Rain” (Best Arab Film) is about a man who had to readjust to normal life with his family after being held captive by kidnappers for twenty years, while “OK, Enough, Goodbye” (Best New Director) is a droll, low-budget comedy about a 40-year old mama’s boy whose elderly mother leaves him without telling him where she is going. The other two star “Caramel” actress/director Nadine Labaki. “Stray Bullet” (Best Film in Dubai) is a drama about a strong-willed woman (Labaki) who decides to cancel her upcoming wedding, while “Where Do We Go Now?” (Un Certain Regard at Cannes) is a comedy based on the Lysistrata about sectarian tensions in a small town. Labaki stars and directs, just like her charming “Caramel” three years ago. Unfortunately, Oscar ignored it to nominate five inferior films (including a dull war drama about Lebanon, made by archenemy Israel...Ouch!) If they decide to return, I predict they send “Where do We Go Now”, followed by “Bullet” and “Rain”. 3D prostitute drama (?!) “Last Valentine in Beirut”, controversial protest drama “Rue Huvelin” and gay-interest comedy “Out Loud” need not apply.

63. LITHUANIA has a two-way race between its past two Best Picture winners at the national Silver Crane Awards. The 2011 winner, “Back in Your Arms”, a drama about a father and daughter separated for decades by the Iron Curtain, swept this year’s Awards. The 2010 winner, “Eastern Drift”, about a man on the run from the Russian mafia, is also eligible and it got more worldwide play including Berlin & a nomination at the Russian Oscars. Lithuania didn’t send anything last year, but I predict they send “Back in Your Arms”.

64. LUXEMBOURG doesn’t seem to have any eligible films this year, since most of their movies are minority co-productions, or films in English. The only majority Luxembourg film I know of is sauna comedy “Hot Hot Hot”, which is in English. I’ll guess thriller “Avant l’aube” (The Night Clerk) but that’s really a majority-French film with a French director and co-starring French actress Sylvie Testud.

65. MACEDONIA always sends a film if they have one, and this year they’ll end up with three or four before the September 30 deadline. The front-runner is politically incorrect comedy “Punk is Not Dead”, about a group of over-the-hill musicians who reunite their old band when an NGO asks them to do a gig in an ethnic Albanian town. It got a boost by its win in the East of the West Section at Karlovy Vary this year. Two other films- Tarantino-esque gangster comedy “This Is Not An American Movie” and short film omnibus “Skopje Remixed” are also possibilities. Unknown: “The Woman Who Brushed Off Her Tears” is in post-production and will be a major contender if it premieres (doubtful) in time. It’s by a previously selected Macedonian director, and co-stars famed Spanish actress Victoria Abril with a multi-language, multi-national cast and crew.

66. MALAYSIA is a regional economic power, and they produce several dozen films each year, but they seem to have little interest in an Oscar as they have only sent a film once, back in 2004. That year, they sent an expensive 14th century period drama which exemplified style over substance...The film looked great but it was not a great film. This year, they have a similar expensive film entitled “The Malay Chronicles”, which is set in the 16th century, and which has clear, international ambitions. Reviews have been decidedly mixed for this multi-lingual action flick featuring palace intrigue and lavish battles between Chinese, Roman and Malay empires, but it has secured a release in the UK and elsewhere. If the film passes the 50% foreign-language requirement (much of it is in English) they could potentially use the Oscars as a promotional platform. Well-reviewed local Malay-language films this year include “Estet” (a comedy about a football match between rival rubber plantations) and “Cun”, a romantic-comedy, but both are surely too silly and local to coax the Malaysians back to the Oscar race.

67. MEXICO announced an eleven-film shortlist in August, so I cheated and waited for that to come out. Mexican eligibility dates are bizarre, which is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that one of their eleven finalists (“Seven Moments”) was made in 2004. Of the eleven films, I think it’s a two-way race between the favorite- gritty thriller “Miss Bala” (Cannes, Un Certain Regard)- and the challenger, sumptuous period drama “El baile de San Juan”. Most people in the blogosphere are saying that “Miss Bala”, a thriller about an aspiring beauty queen living amidst gangs and violence, is a shoo-in, considering its festival raves and its better reviews. However, I think it’s more likely the Mexicans will choose the costumes and sets of “San Juan”, which helped the Mexicans get their last shortlist spot two years ago, for “Arrancame la Vida” (which also had benefited from good, but not perfect, reviews). “San Juan” is a historical drama set in colonial Mexico, and will likely do better with Oscar voters, even if it isn’t a better film. There’s a small chance they could also choose “Bitten Bullet” (Bala Mordida), a well-reviewed thriller about police corruption and an even smaller chance they’ll choose comedy-drama “Middle of the World (La mitad del mundo), about a young mentally handicapped man’s sexual awakening. I don’t think the other seven films have too much of a chance, including cannibal horror-drama “We Are What We Are” (which I am dying to see). The other contenders are fiction features “180 Degrees”, “Dias de gracia”, “Viaje Redondo” and “Una pared para Cecilia”, and two documentaries- “Seven Moments” and “Flowers in the Desert”. My prediction that one of the top contenders to the Oscars and the other to the Goyas. I predict “El Baile de San Juan” for the Oscars.

68. MONGOLIA has a small domestic film industry which, like many countries, is divided between festival films made for foreign audiences (e.g. the films of Mongolia’s only Oscar nominee, Germany-based Byambasuren Davaa) and low-budget films made for domestic consumption. The only film I know of this year is “Passion”, an award-winning documentary about a filmmaker who travels throughout Mongolia desperately trying to get his film into local Mongolian cinemas. It won an award in Taipei, screened in Pusan and Dubai, and premiered in Mongolia in February, though it may not have met Oscar screening requirements. For a very interesting new article see here: http://film.culture360.org/magazine/in-focus/mongolian-film-the-power-of-passion.

69. MOROCCO has sent films three of the last five years (they skipped last year) and has the fourth-highest rate of Oscar participation from Africa (after Egypt, Algeria and South Africa). Morocco’s two main Film Festivals are an international one in Marrakech and a national competition in Tangier. The only Moroccan film in competition in Marrakech this year was “Mirages”, an interesting thriller about five men who apply for an executive position at a new company. The men are then abandoned in the desert (with four bottles of water) to decide who gets the job. The past two winners in Tangier both appear to be eligible: “Pegasus” (which also won the Grand Prize at FESPACO in Ouagadougou) is a controversial family drama about a pregnant young rape victim and “Fragments” is a feature documentary about a famous filmmaker. Among the other prominent films that have a chance from Morocco this year: “The End”, about a group of disaffected youth, “Love in the Medina” a romantic drama, “Majid”, a drama about street children, “The Mosque” a droll comedy about religion, which focuses on a village that refuses to allow a landowner to tear down a fake mosque that had been built for a movie, and “On the Plank”, a reverse of their 2009 submission, about two underemployed young women. Probably not eligible: “The Source” played at Cannes, but with its Romanian director, French money and international crew, it probably can’t rep Morocco. My prediction: “Pegasus” represents Morocco, followed closely by “The Mosque” and “Majid”.

70. NEPAL last sent a film nearly five years ago. Film production is up, but most films are flopping and made purely for local audiences. For a good article, see here: http://www.cinesansar.com/2011/04/flashback-2067-a-quick-recap-of-movies-released-in-2067.html. The Nepalis tried sending local films in 2003 and 2006 but quickly gave up on the competition. This year’s best bet is “Bato Muni Ko Phool”, a Bollywood-style musical about love and caste that was one of the only films that did well with critics and audiences. Unfortunately, it also failed financially due to the appearance of pirated copies immediately following its release. An Oscar submission might be a nice consolation, but I doubt they’ll send it. There’s also “Who Stole My Heart”, a rich-meets-poor love story in a similar vein.

71. THE NETHERLANDS usually does well at the Oscars, but they don’t have any really well-received movies so far this year- just a few average ones and a few out-there art films. Which will they pick? I’ll predict Ben Sombogaart’s upcoming “Isabelle”, which sounds very weird, but which could be really great (it hasn’t premiered anywhere yet). Sombogaart got the last Dutch Oscar nod (for “Twin Sisters”) and his latest film is a psychological thriller about an unattractive female artist who kidnaps a famous model for nefarious purposes. In second place, I’m picking “Always”, about the relationship between two adult siblings (including a gay older brother), and in third I’ll choose B&W film noir black comedy, “The Nobel Prize Winner” about a starving writer. If they want to go controversial, they could select “Majesty”, a fictional drama about the royal family, and if they want to go arty, they could choose “Code Blue”, a Cannes drama about an insane nurse. Aside from those five, there are plenty of other middle-of-the-road films- “Dusk” is an intriguing film based on a true-life murder that shocked the Netherlands, and “Sonny Boy” is the story about an interracial romance in the 1920s, but neither got positive reviews. “Penny’s Shadows” got better reviews, but it’s primarily a children’s film. Another unknown quantity: “Lotus”, which could possibly premiere before the deadline.

72. NICARAGUA made their first film in twenty years and duly sent it to the Oscars. That smart move got the film seen by a lot of people and put it on the filmmaking map again. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have any new feature films this year but hopefully they’ll be back soon. I'll predict "Karla's Arrival", a documentary about an impoverished single mother, trying to raise her newborn baby on the streets of Managua. It will represent Nicaragua at the AFI Latin American Film Festival. Another dark-horse possibility is “'El Último Comandante”, a Costa Rican film about Nicaragua which has a Nicaraguan co-director, Isabel Martinez (which is representing Costa Rica at the AFI Festival). Maybe one is worth a shot??

73. NORWAY has had a very strong year, with more than two-dozen eligible films. All three of their Best Picture nominees at the Amanda Awards are eligible (covering only six months of the current year) as are a number of exciting new releases coming out later this summer. The Film Experience, my favorite Oscar site, does a good look at the Norwegian race here: http://thefilmexperience.net/blog/2011/6/23/norway-and-oscar-which-amanda-nominee-will-they-submit.html This year’s Amanda nominees are: “The King of Devil’s Island”, a well-made, big-budget drama about a reform school for delinquents (Variety indicates it’s too clichéd), “Nokas” (Amanda, Best Pic nominee), a thriller about a true-life robbery, and surprise nominee, “Tears of Gaza”, an acclaimed documentary about the victims of Israeli repression in the Gaza Strip. Few people probably think of it as a local film, but it's the best-reviewed Norwegian film of the year. The most fun choice would be “The Troll Hunter”, a mockumentary that has found quite a few fans in the USA and elsewhere, while “Oslo, August 31st”, about writer’s angst, got good reviews at Cannes. These five films will be challenged by soon-to-be released “Sons of Norway”, a punk-rock drama. There’s probably too much competition for dark horses like tragicomedy “Happy, Happy” or well-received youth films like comedy “Turn Me On, Goddamit!” or drama “Totally True Love” (which beat “Devil’s Island” for a Director nod at the Amandas). Noomi Rapace’s psychological thriller “Babycall” will probably be released too late (depends which website you trust). It will be a tough race. “Oslo, August 31st” is the clear favorite, but “Tears of Gaza” will provide some intense competition. I predict “Tears”, with “Oslo” second, “Devil’s Island” in third, and “Troll Hunter” and “Sons of Norway” rounding out the Top Five.

74. PAKISTAN is one of two countries (out of a total of 102) that have never submitted a film in my lifetime. I was going to remove them from the survey this year, since they haven’t sent a film since 1963’s musical-drama “The Veil” and since seem to spend most of their time destabilizing their region, while blaming their neighbors to the North, East and West. However, after a disastrous cinematic year last year (only 7 films were released; six flopped), this year has a significant number of interesting films, the highest-profile of which is “Bol”, a drama about the relationship between Sunni and Shi’a. With no profile on the film festival circuit, I somehow doubt it will coax Pakistan back into the competition, but one never knows....

75. PALESTINE sat out the competition for the past two years, and it’s so difficult to figure out what’s eligible since they don’t fully control their territory. As I see it, they have three films this year. Two of them have definitely screened in the Territories....”Port of Memory” is a docudrama about the Israeli evictions of Palestinian residents in the thriving port city of Jaffa in 1948 (sounds like a prequel to their 2008 submission, “Salt of this Sea”) while ”Man Without A Cell Phone” is a rare Arab slacker comedy, about the life of an Arab Israeli guy failing school and interested primarily in flirting with local girls. The third- “Habibie”, a starcrossed love story set in the Gaza Strip, has not premiered yet, but is billing itself as the only Palestinian feature of 2011. My prediction: “Port of Memory” gets the nod and “Habibie” gets selected next year.

76. PERU shows the schizophrenia of the Oscar voters. They got a nomination for “Milk of Sorrow” when their submissions in 2006 and 2010 were much better. I hate to predict the same movie two years in a row, but I’m guessing they choose minimalist comedy “Octubre” about a cruel money lender who finds an abandoned baby. It played at Cannes 2010 in Un Certain Regard, but didn’t premiere in Lima until two days after last year’s Oscar deadline. It faces stiff competition from: “Bolero Night” an all-star drama about a musician who barters with his soul and has to choose between love and success, and “Bad Intentions” (Berlin), a black comedy about a creepy, morbid little girl growing up amidst the political turmoil of the 1980s. Dark horse: “La Vigilia”, by a previously submitted director about a hostage who turns the tables on a female burglar. Unlikely: martial arts fantasty “El Ultimo Guerrero-Chanka”. Winner: "Octubre". Runner-up: "Bad Intentions".

77. THE PHILIPPINES began rating its films in 2003 with “A-Grade”, “B-Grade” and “Other” to encourage the production of quality films. A- and B-grade films get large and small tax breaks respectively. Every year since the ratings were created, they have selected an “A” film to send to Hollywood. This year, the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAM) has rated six “A” films and sixteen “B” films which will theoretically all be considered. The six A-grade films are “Ikaw Ang Pag-ibig”, a family drama, “Paglipad ng anghel”, about a young man who begins to grow wings after doing a good deed, “Rosario”, a melodrama about a woman’s descent from middle-class to poverty, “RPG Metanoia”, the Philippines’ first CGI animated film, “Senior Year”, a docudrama about a group of Catholic high-school students, and “Sigwa”, about a group of leftist friends during the chaotic political turmoil in the 1970s. Among the “B” films are a bunch of unspectacular horror movies, comedies and romances, and the only one I could see them choosing would be box-office hit romance “In the Name of Love”. Absent from the list is the FAM Best Picture/Director winner “Emir”, a super-size musical that was released too early. I see the two front-runners as “Ikaw Ang Pag-ibig”, by Marilou Diaz-Abaya, a respected director who has been selected twice to represent the Philippines and who is now battling breast cancer and “Sigwa”, by the prolific Joel Lamangan which has won the most awards. “Ikaw Ang Pag-ibig” won’t premiere until September, but it’s my prediction with “Sigwa” in second, and “Senior Year” in third.

MONTENEGRO, with only 600,000 people, is likely to send their first submission this year, and I predict it will be “Love Scars”, an omnibus film telling four love stories. It opened in May 2011, but there's also “Ascent”, a strange film about a writer who encounters a bizarre isolated and illiterate family in the countryside (sounds like the "Dogtooth" family) which will play out of competition in Sarajevo.

KOSOVO may wish to thumb their nose at Serbia and secure AMPAS recognition by submitting “Heroi”, a drama about a war hero trying to readjust to normal civilian life. The mountain kingdom of LESOTHO released its first-ever feature film, “Tears of Flood”, about the country’s water crisis, although they’re unlikely to enter this amateurish effort to Oscar...MALAWI has low-budget romance, “Thokozani”...The tiny island nation of MALDIVES, the smallest country to hold an annual Film Awards ceremony, chose “Happy Birthday” as this year’s winner. MALI could very well enter the race for the first time with “Da Monzon- The Conquest of Samayana”, a government-funded, battle-rich period drama about the most famous Bambara King in pre-colonial Mali...MOZAMBIQUE's film industry has produced their most acclaimed film, “The Last Flight of the Flamingo”, about UN peacekeepers in the country...PANAMA has “Following the Stars” a low-budget drama about the indigenous Kuna people. And PARAGUAY , the only South American film never to enter the Oscar race, has “Felipe Canasto”, a period drama set in 1800, in the aftermath of a war in which most of the male population was killed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Here's the next batch of countries....

26. COSTA RICA seems to be leading a Central American film renaissance. They submitted last year for only the second time, but they’ve released a number of films this year. The frontrunner is clearly the film I picked last year- “Cold Water of the Sea”- which was finally released in Costa Rica in March after winning half a dozen awards of the international circuit over the past year. It’s about a little girl whose tall tale of abuse has a major impact on her family. It faces competition from “El Ultimo Comandante” a film about post-war Nicaragua starring Damien Alcazar as an ex-general.

27. COTE D’IVOIRE has the only perfect record in this competition. They sent a film in 1976, won the Oscar and never sent a film again….They’re unlikely to enter this year as they’ve wasted most of the last six months in a ridiculous civil war trying to boot out the losing presidential candidate, who refused to step down and accept defeat. Their presumed choice would be “The Perfect Guy” (Le Mec Ideal), a romantic comedy which won Third Prize at the prestigious FESPACO African Film Festival in Ouagadougou. There’s also “Aya de Yopougon”, animated film based on a popular comic strip.

28. CROATIA’s Pula Film Festival is the source of all the Croatian nominees….This year’s awards will be given out on July 23, but many films have trouble getting released for months, like the film I predicted would represent Croatia last year- “72 Days”, a black comedy about a family trying to hide the death of a family member so that they can continue receiving her pension. It was released October 14, making it eligible this year, as is “The Show Must Go On”, a low-budget sci-fi drama about television after a nuclear bomb, which got quite positive reviews despite my dismissal of the film last year. In addition to these two, there are ten films at Pula (not sure which will be released in cinemas prior to the 9/30 deadline). The most prominent of these is “Spots” which booked spots in Karlovy Vary and Sarajevo, and is described as youthful thriller, but other contenders include “Lea & Darija” (which sounds most Oscary) about two rival dancers during WWII- a Croatia and a German Jew and two war dramas: “Josef” (World War I) and “Step By Step” (the Yugoslav Wars). Other contenders include “7sex7”, an erotic anthology, “The Little Gypsy Witch”, a musical-comedy about a Gypsy girl and Dalibor Matanic’ (Fine Dead Girls) “Daddy”, a psychological thriller. We’ll know more once the Pula Awards come out, but I predict “Lea & Darija”, followed by “72 Days” and “Spots”.

29. CUBA was the only major country not to enter the race last year, although I’m not sure why. They scored a single nomination in the 1990s with a gay-themed film and they could choose another this year with hit drama “Casa Vieja “, about a gay man who returns home and his father dies. In second place is a film by the same director- “Fabula”, a drama about two young people trying to make it in Havana. In third, “Ticket to Paradise” (Sundance), the most visible Cuban film on the circuit this year, an AIDS drama about disaffected youth in 1990s Cuba but the subject matter maybe too controversial? Two other films have a strong pedrigree- “Affinities”, an erotic drama about two couples on vacation, stars Jorge Perugorria and Vladimir Cruz, the two stars of Oscar nominee “Strawberry & Chocolate”, and “Chamaco”, a gritty urban drama shot in ten days, and directed by a two-time selected director. Another dark horse: “Long Distance” , about a woman trying to reunite old friends. Unlikely: erotic Little Red Riding Hood tale, “Ferrozz”.

30. CZECH REPUBLIC has a lot of good films this year, including new works by their last two Oscar nominees, Ondrej Trojan (“Zelary”) and Jan Hrebejk (“Divided We Fall”) plus surrealist Jan Svankmajer and a former President! Together, these three men have contributed more than one-third of Czech submissions since they became a separate country. Hrebejk has “Innocence”, a thriller about a respected family man who is jailed for a serious crime that he may not have committed. Svankmajer has “Surviving Life”, a surreal film (but not animated) about a man living both a real and a fictional life. Trojan has “Identity Card”, a bittersweet comedy about teenagers growing up in 1970s Czechoslovakia. However, all three of them are likely to beaten by “Lidice”, an acclaimed drama featuring three stories set against the backdrop of a Nazi burning of the Czech village of the same name. It’s supposed to be a great film and it’s a fitting representative, considering Czech history and Oscar’s WWII tastes. In second place will probably be “Identity Card”, followed by “Habermann”, a pre-WWII drama by a Slovak director about German-speaking Sudetenland, in third. Rounding out the Top Five: “Leaving”, written and directed by former Czech President and democracy hero Vaclav Havel, and “Surviving Life”. Unlikely but possible: the aforementioned “Innocence”, faerie tale costume drama “The Devil’s Bride” and a pair of wry comedies “Czech-Made Man” and “Nothing Against Nothing”.

31. DENMARK is the returning champion this year, after winning the Oscar for Susanne Bier’s “In A Better World”. Last year, they had so many films to choose from that “In A Better World” did not even get a nomination for Best Picture at the National Film Awards (The Bodils)! This year is just the opposite, and they’ll struggle to get a shortlist together. I predict that their traditional three-film shortlist will be “A Funny Man”, the biography of a famous Danish comic, unconventional romantic-comedy “The Truth About Men”, and the eventual Danish nominee- “A Family”, about a family dealing with the illness of their patriarch. It’s possible that one of the unreleased films, i.e. “Miss Julie”, a modern-day retelling of a Strindberg novel, slow-moving Cannes drama “Labrador” or animated film “Ronal the Barbarian” will displace “Truth About Men”, but I think “A Family” has this in the bag.

32. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC sent three films between 1983 and 1995 but nothing since. They had a good film year last year but didn’t send anything, so they won’t send anything this year either. Their highest-profile film is “Jean-Gentil” a film about a Haitian immigrant who loses his job teaching French in the DR, which has played at a few film festivals, but they also have Puerto Rican co-production “Love Child”.

33. ECUADOR has a half-dozen films coming out in 2011 which is pretty good for them. Their most likely submission is “Pescador”, by Ecuador’s leading director, Sebastian Cordero, in which a 30-year old fisherman’s life turns upside down when he tries to make some money off bags of cocaine that wash up on the beach. Runner-up: “A Monkey Among the Hens”, a historical drama about a 1941 dispute with Peru.

34. EGYPT will be difficult to predict. Last year, they had a strong lineup of well-known films but they shortlisted an obscure group I had mostly never even heard of. A lot has changed in Egypt in the past year…Some directors (e.g. “Yacoubian Building”’s Marwan Hamed) have fallen out of favor, and moves effectively banned by Mubarak appear to have secure the domestic distribution necessary to enter the Oscar race. A sextet of films have been playing on the Film Festival circuit this year, winning quite a few regional Arab awards. I think it will come down to “6,7,8”, a controversial film and arguably the best-reviewed one of the year, about women from different social classes who face sexual harassment in Egypt, or “Cairo Exit”, banned by the previous government for its depiction of interfaith romance but now awaiting release, about the lower-class residents of a Cairo suburb, which would be a symbol of a new Egypt. I predict “6, 7, 8”. In third place is “Microphone”, the most-awarded Egyptian film of the year, but I’m not sure its look at Cairo underground subcultures will have the same appeal. Less likely: “Hawi”, a minimalist look at life in Alexandria, “Lust”, about a upper-class woman living in the slums with her husband, and thriller “The Ring Road”.

35. ESTONIA has deserved nominations several times so I’ll forgive them the boring abstract mess they sent last year. This year, I count five eligible films- “A Friend of Mine”, about an old man trying to adjust to life after his wife’s death, “Gravedigger’s Daughter”, a drama about an 8-year girl growing up in dysfunctional family, “Idiot”, based on a Dostoyevsky novel, “Letters to Angel”, about an Estonian who returns from the war of Afghanistan after having converted to Islam, “Rat-Trap”, a political thriller and the oddly titled “Farts of Fury”, a rock comedy about a talentless band. I’m not sure any of these films has been screened. It will be a close race but the Estonians tend to like films with an edge, so I’ll predict topical “Letters to Angel” to beat “A Friend of Mine” by a hair.

36. ETHIOPIA sent a film last year for the first time. Ethiopia has a growing film industry, most of which are commercial comedies, romances and thrillers with low production values that cater to the domestic market. A shortage of cinemas means that films often have to wait a long time to just to get released. The only film I know of that has been shown outside Ethiopia is “Abay vs. Vegas”, about an Ethiopian-American in Las Vegas who wants to get married to have a wife to take care of him, and an Ethiopian woman who wants to get married to get a US Green Card. Neither person believes in love. Of their local features, the most promising looks like “Tizitah”, about a man educated abroad who moves to the impoverished Sidamo region.

37. FIJI could submit for the second time with “Pump Up the Mandali” a Bollywood-style Hindi-language musical set in Fiji and New Zealand. The film is about four poor Indo-Fijian boys who win a chance to compete in a talent contest in faraway New Zealand. Although Fiji tends to favor indigenous Melanesian cultural projects, Fiji submitted the film as their representative to the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards (the first time Fiji has participated) so they could send it to the Oscars as well.

38. FINLAND doesn’t have any easy choice this year. They have twenty eligible features this year plus some documentaries (they chose one last year) and none of them have made much of a mark. The best-reviewed is clearly “Le Havre” by Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki, a dreary drama about a man helping smuggled immigrants which won the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes. Finland selected Aki Kaurismaki films in 1996, 2002 and 2006, achieving their only Oscar nomination ever for 2002’s “Man Without A Past”. However, the other two films (“Drifting Clouds” and “Lights in the Dusk”) were withdrawn from consideration by the cranky Kaurismaki, leaving Finland without a nominee that could have gone to an up-and-coming director. The Finns may agree “Le Havre” is the best Finnish film of the year, but they’d have to be crazy to choose it. They could go with a different Kaurismaki…His brother Mika has “Brothers”, about a reunion of three half-brothers who have different mothers but the same father. Absurd comedy “Lapland Odyssey” won Best Picture at last year’s Finnish Jussi Awards in a weak year while popular Christmas action-fantasy-comedy “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” won most of the technical awards. Two upcoming films also have a chance at the nomination: “Iris” is a period drama set in 1890 about an 8-year old girl in the Swedish-speaking Finnish territory of Åland, while “Journey to Eden” is about two non-Finns (a Basque and a Swiss) travelling through Northern Spain. And if they want a documentary like last year, they could send “Selling the Silence”, about a family of entrepreneurs in frigid Northern Finland. The last contender is “The Good Son”, about a narcissistic mother who flees with her two teenaged sons to the family villa. Finland’s Top Five: I bet they choose “Iris”, followed by “Le Havre”, “Lapland Odyssey”, “Rare Exports” and “Journey to Eden”. UPDATE (9/6/2011)- The cranky Aki Kaurismaki has reportedly granted his permission for Finland to consider his film for the Oscars, saying that with a Democrat in the White House, he is ending his "cultural boycott" of the USA. What an ass. It appears likely they'll choose "Le Havre", but I'm hoping they snub him. "The Good Son" has got some good buzz going.

39. FRANCE is the country I've decided not to research this year. Every year I give myself one country off, and France is the country that has the most bloggers following the process, so I'll just predict "Polisse" and be done with it. "Polisse"'s big handicap is that it's not scheduled to premiere until after the deadline, but France has been known to do an Oscar-qualifying run in September to get around the rules.

40. GEORGIA deserved a nomination last year for the fantastic “Street Days” far more than it did in 1996 for “A Chef in Love”. Their film industry is starting to re-emerge from post-Soviet bloom, as they pursue European and American co-productions and try to turn Georgia into a prime shooting location. Lots of good films are around this year but it’s definitely to find Georgian release date, so I’m not sure what’s eligible. History-fantasy-thriller “Forgotten King”, the longest one-take film in history, would seem a natural choice, but it’s not scheduled to premiere in Tbilisi until November, but it’s well-positioned for next year. I predict they send “Salt White” (Karlovy Vary), which tells the stories of a middle-aged waitress, a refugee from Abkazia and a homeless girl whose paths cross at a seaside resort town. Runner-up: “Chantrapas”, an ode to filmmaking about Soviet-era censorship, premiered at Cannes 2010 and may be eligible this year (not sure) but it represented France at the Tbilisi Film Festival, so the Georgians may not consider it a “local” film. In third place: “The Watchmaker”, about a documentary being made about an ongoing murder investigation. Less likely: “I’ll Die Without You” about two young strangers who are destined to meet, “Rene Goes to Hollywood”, a surreal comedy by a previously submitted director, and “Born in Georgia”

41. GERMANY has selected one of their Best Picture nominees at the Lola Awards fifteen out of sixteen times since 1995 (the one exception was acclaimed Hitler biography “Downfall”, which got three nominations for acting, but was snubbed for a Best Pic nomination). This year, five of the six Lola nominees are eligible….the winner and the most Oscar-friendly- comedy-drama“Vincent Wants to Sea”- was eligible last year, but didn’t even get shortlisted. The others were comedy-drama “Almanya- Welcome to Deutschland!” , a comedy-drama about a Turkish immigrant family in the 1960s which won the Silver Prize, “If Not Us, Who?” (Berlin), a drama about 1960s left-wing terrorists, co-starring the amazing Susanne Lothar, which won the Bronze Prize, “Young Goethe in Love”, a biography of the renowned poet as romantic comedy-drama, Tom Tykwer’s “Three”, about a three-way love triangle, plus “Der Ganz Grosse Traum”, a 19th century soccer drama which won the first-ever write-in nomination for Best Picture at the Lolas. In addition to those, we must consider the films from this year likely to be nominated at next year’s Lolas….”Cracks in the Shell”- a German “Black Swan” is one possibility, as are yet-to-released films like Franka Potente’s new “Small Lights” and “My Life in Orange”, a comedy about an Indian-inspired cult. Or they a big film that stayed under the radar like “Baader Meinhof Komplex”. My prediction: “Alamanya” won Second Prize at the Lolas and got the best reviews, but Turkish-themed films like “When We Leave” and “Edge of Heaven” are among the only recent Germany films that failed to be nominated…..I predict “Three”, followed by crowd-pleaser “Der Ganz Grosse Traum”, with “Alamanya” in third, “If Not Us” in fourth, “Goethe” in fifth and “My Life in Orange” in sixth.

42. GREECE made this easy by choosing their Oscar nominee in early May. I’m not sure how that works, since there must be a dozen Greek films that are released between May and the September 30 deadline, but Greece rarely makes sense to me. They were nominated for the first time in more than thirty years for “Dogtooth”, which I thought was very original, but not very good….This year they chose “Attenberg”, another odd film, this time an erotic film about love and death, revolving around two girls living in a dead-end town. It beat out grim drama “Knifer”, which actually won Best Picture at the Hellenic Film Awards over “Attenberg”, and “Homeland” which played in Venice, about a dysfunctional family coming to blows over an in-family adoption.

43. GREENLAND has less than 60,000 people, making this huge island the “smallest” country in the competition. They sent a film last year for the first time- “Nuummioq”- which I managed to see in April. It was interesting, but a little out of its league here. I’m so happy to report that they do surprisingly have a new film this year, namely “The Voyage of Inuk”, a French co-production about a Greenlandic teen from a dysfunctional family.

44. GUATEMALA used to have trouble completing one feature each year, but 2011 has seen a surprising spurt in film production with a half-dozen films this year (probably a record!), including dramas, comedies, documentary features and even a zombie horror movie ! The Government is also beginning to pay more attention to film financing. The most-accomplished looking films are “Faith”, about a young priest and his forbidden affair with a 13-year old, and “Dust”, about a pair of documentary filmmakers making a movie about indigenous people after the civil war, but those probably won’t make the cut-off date, so I’ll predict “Capsulas”, about a young boy growing up with a violent upbringing with “El Regreso de Lencho”, a drama about a graffiti artist that was postponed from last year, in second place. Comic , musical docudrama “Marimbas From Hell”, touted as a “100% Guatemalan film” looks too weird….. Indigenous drama “Distance” looks too slight (only 70 minutes)…..Hit comedy ”Puro Mula” looks too silly….Zombie film “Curfew” looks cool, but unlikely to inspire an Oscar bid….And a new documentary from Luis Argueta (who directed Guatemala’s 1994 submission) “Abused”, seems to be making the odd statement that Guatemalan workers have the God-given right to ignore America’s immigration laws because…well…just because! I’ll predict they send nothing, but “Capsulas” would be their best choice for a return.

45. HONG KONG returned to their traditional Cantonese roots last year with intimate drama “Echoes of the Rainbow” and this unassuming film was, in my opinion, one of their best submissions ever.....This year, I think they’ll be more inclined to edge to their big-budget inclinations. I predict they send Jackie Chan’s “1911”, a Mandarin-language blockbuster about the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty by Sun Yat-sen (played by Winston Chao, a good actor who has unfortunately made a career of playing only Sun Yat-Sen). It’s got starpower (Jackie Chan, Zhang Ziyi, Joan Chen) and is premiering right before the deadline, which Hong Kong generally likes. Also premiering the day before the deadline is Jet Li's "The Sorcerer and the White Snake", a 3D fantasy martial arts fairy tale based on Chinese mythology. Not very Oscary, but it will premiere in Venice. If neither film is any good, then it will be down to one of a pair of big, splashy martial arts period epics, set (like 1911) in the early 20th century. I’d argue that Peter Chan’s “Dragon” (starring Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro), has the edge over Benny Chan’s “Shaolin” (starring Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse). “Dragon” has slightly better reviews, received a midnight screening at Cannes, and Peter has repped Hong Kong once before. If they truly want a local Cantonese-language film like last year, I think it will be “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, by Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai, a romantic drama unlike many of their previous gangster film collaborations. Unlikely but possible: “Reign of Assassins” (starring Michelle Yeoh) is set in ancient China and was released in October 2010 and so will likely be forgotten among the other more recent martial-arts epics; “Lover’s Discourse”, a romantic omnibus. I would predict popular mystery “Detective Dee” might have a chance, but according to IMDB, it was released on the last day of last year’s eligibility cutoff, and “My Kingdom”, a Shanghai opera-martial arts combo, will be hurt by its Mainland director's drunk driving arrest (see CHINA).

46. HUNGARY almost had to cancel their annual Hungarian Film Week due to budget problems, but they pulled it together at the last minute, and the Best Film winner was “Adrien Pall” which played at Cannes 2010. The big film of the year however is “The Turn Horse”, a B & W by Bela Tarr which competed in Berlin and represented Hungary in both major Eastern European fests- Karlovy Vary and Sarajevo. “Adrien Pall” is about an obese nurse searching for her childhood friend. “Turin” is apparently about a man who beats his horse. Difficult as it may believe to be, both of these films are over two hours long! Variety calls “Horse” “an apocalyptically bleak statement about the futility of it all” while the Hollywood Reporter says of Pall, “this is the kind of film, despite its many qualities, that one has trouble envisioning people actually buying tickets to see.” Though either choice will assure Oscar voters to quickly cross Hungary off their list, the Hungarian Academy often sends these sorts of unlikable films. I predict that the horse weighs more than the lady- “Turin Horse” for me . Dark horses: “Retrace” (mostly in Romanian) about a Holocaust survivor visiting her homeland in Ceaucescu-era Romania, and comic anthology “East Side Stories”.

47. ICELAND will have nearly a dozen films eligible by year’s end….not bad for a bankrupt nation of 300,000! It’s interesting that almost all the films this year are directed by relatively new talent, including front-runner from Cannes, “Volcano” the feature debut from Oscar-nominated short film director Runar Runarsson. The film is a slice-of-life film featuring many of Iceland’s top actors, about a bitter old man, despised by his children, who has to deal with his wife’s stroke. Doesn’t sound exciting, but reviews have been good and it presumably takes advantage of Iceland’s spectacular volcano scenery. The chief competition is this year’s Best Picture Edda winner, “Undercurrent”, about a woman who takes a job on all-male fishing boat in response to a tragedy that gradually is revealed in the film. If it premieres in time, Baltasar Kormakur, who has repped Iceland three times since 2002, has a new film called “The Deep”, about the sole survivor of a shipwreck trying to survive amidst frozen landscape. Iceland has gone for dark comedies in the past, but “Polite People” (about a scam artist), “Rock Bottom” (about relationships and alcohol), “Either Way” (a 1980s road movie) and gay teen drama “Jitters” appear to be out of their league here. I very much want to see “Polite People” though.

48. INDIA goes with Aamir Khan films more often than not- five of the past eleven films had his involvement including five of the seven Hindi-language films (the other two starred megstar Shahrukh Khan). For this reason, I’m predicting “Mumbai Diaries” (aka Dhobi Ghat), a well-received arthouse drama (Toronto 2010) about Mumbai (home of Bollywood) that stars Khan and was directed by his wife Jiran Rao. “Diaries” has not been universally loved however and giant India produces nearly a thousand films each year, so they obviously have plenty to choose from. I wouldn’t count out “Adaminte Makan Abu”, a drama which won Best Picture at the National Film Awards over much more expensive fare, about an elderly Muslim couple seeking to go on the Hajj. This small regional film is in Malayalam, a language spoken by the Keralans of Southwest India. Three other strong contenders for the nomination include: “The Quest” (in Bengali), a large-scale drama about a renowned folk singer and poet, “Guzaarish”, a sort of Indian version of Spain’s “The Sea Inside”, which stars Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai, and “Seven Sins Forgiven” (Berlin), a thriller about a mysterious woman, which may get a boost due to some American involvement. Other possibilities include “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey”, another sports-themed drama (this time about freedom fighters) by the director India’s last Oscar nominee “Lagaan”, slice-of-life artfilm “Autumn” (Toronto, Moscow), although India rarely chooses these, “Deiva Thirumagal” (in Tamil), about a mentally disabled man seeking custody of his child, “Stanley Ka Dabba”, a film about the lives of children at school, and “Shor in the City”, a crime drama. Unlikely but possible: “No One Killed Jessica” based on a real-life murder, “Traffic” (in Malayalam) and “Shaitan, both action-thrillers, and popular romantic comedy “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”, about a dream vacation. “Delhi Belly” is too gross for Oscar and anyway is mostly in English.

49. INDONESIA’s big film news this year is that most Western film distributors are boycotting the country over a tax law, which means no Harry Potter, Kung Fu Panda or other blockbusters in Jakarta multiplexes. The Indonesians rarely have any films that stand out internationally, but they do make some good films admidst a glut of horror films and teen dramas. This year’s most prominent film is the bizarre “Madame X”, an action-comedy about a transgender superhero who fights off intolerance. It looks delightfully transhy and fun, and it’s doubtful it will be represent the increasingly conservative Indonesians, but it’s produced by Nia diNata whose films were chosen three times, and it got surprisingly good reviews. Other films in the Top Five: “Batas”, by a well-known director, is about a woman volunteering in rural Borneo, “Hearts of Freedom” (Hati Merdeka) is a large scale war-drama about the war for independence, “The Mirror Never Lies”, about a young girl growing up in a Sumatran village has played overseas, “Under the Protection of the Kabbah” (Di Bawah Lindungan Ka'bah) is a lush period drama set in the 1920s, about a rich-poor romance. With no front-runner, other films that could slip through include cancer tearjerker “Little Letters to God”, melodrama “7 Women, 7 Hearts, 7 Loves”, and a few interchangeable dramas with cute kids (like they sent in 1998, 2007 and 2010) like “House Without a Window”, “Village Kid” or “Rindu Pernama”. My prediction: “Under the Protection of the Kabbah”, followed by “Hati Merdeka”, “Mirror Never Lies” and a surprise for “Madame X”.

50. IRAN is a fairly unpredictable country and their decision last year to change their national selection committee to include more government bureaucrats and less film professionals means we may expect more political choices. I’m always amazed that they choose to participate despite political issues with the US, and they have sent some fine films over the years, of which my favorite is “Colours of Paradise”. This will be their fifteenth year in a row. I see four main possibilities, although last year I should note that they picked a film I’d never even heard of. The obvious choice is “Nader and Simin: A Separation”, which won the Golden Bear in Berlin this year and also did fairly well at the National Fajr Film Festival, winning for Best Director, Screenplay and the Audience Award. It’s about an Iranian couple going through marital difficulties and covers a lot of topical issues, including emigration. It’s also currently in the IMDB Top 250 of all time. Its main competition is “The Maritime Silk Road”, a rare expensive period piece, about the first sea journey across the Indian Ocean, from Iran to India and China. “Silk Road” has the advantage of being more technically impressive and politically neutral. The other two dark horse possibilities are both religious films: “Crime”, a black & white drama with strong Islamic credentials about a man with a moral dilemma, which beat both of the front-runners for Best Film at Fajr, and “Kingdom of Solomon” another big-budget epic , this time set in Biblical times, which got mixed reviews but boasts strong production values. Movies by Iranian exiles or dissidents like “Au Revoir”, “This Is Not A Film”, “Dog Sweat” and “The Hunter” clearly won’t be considered. My prediction: even the mullahs don’t want to waste an actual shot at an Oscar- “Nader & Simin”.

51. IRAQ has seen a resurgence of cinema in its autonomous Kurdish region, and a few films get made among its Arab majority as well. So far, Iraq has sent two films by Kurdish director Jamil Rostami and two films by Arab director Mohamed al-Daradji. Neither man has a film this year, so some new blood may get a chance. I predict the Iraqis choose Arab-language “Qarantina”, a claustrophobic drama about a family living in abandoned house, over a series of smaller Kurdish dramas. In second place, I predict: “The Qandil Mountains”, a dark horse about the relationships between four ethnic groups in a mountainous region of the country. In third place, “The Singer”, about a man who is late to perform for a violent despot. Rounding out the Top Five are two Kurdish dramas “Red Heart”, a co-production with Norway, about two young lovers on the run, and “Mandoo” about Iranian Kurdish refugees. Although some of them may be disqualified for not meeting screening requirements in Iraq, it’s great that they have so much to choose from when I used to struggle to find one eligible film each year!


CYPRUS could send the winner of the Greek Academy Awards, “Knifer”, which was snubbed by Greece, but which has a Cypriot director…..It’s a about a angry young slacker who moves in with his uncle...GHANA's multi-lingual “Destiny of Lesser Animals” (in English, Fante, Twi and Ga) is a police drama about an illegal immigrant deported back to Ghana...