It's that time of year again....Over the next few months, the film industries of the world will be choosing their favorite films of the year to compete for a place at the Oscars. Over the years, exactly 102 countries have participated in the competition, and here are my predictions for all of them. I know of course that only about 65 countries will enter, but ...Here are the predictions for the first twenty-five. Feel free to let me know if you agree, disagree or have more information from your country!
Last year, I saw 35 of the 66 submissions, and I've got a few more lying around here on DVD....A lot of last year's films were quite lackluster including the very original, very violent and surprisingly boring "Dogtooth".
Best of the 35: JAPAN's brilliant "Confessions"
Worst of the 35: THAILAND's over-rated "Uncle Boonmee"
1. AFGHANISTAN’s film industry is still in shambles, recovering from years at war including several when films (along with music and television) were banned. Despite that, they’ve sent films five of the past nine years. They’ll probably skip this year, but for completion’s sake, I’ll predict one of two low-budget action dramas- “Paiwand” or “Emaan”. Bollywood-style action movie “Emaan” is more likely since it’s been subtitled for a showing in Australia.
2. ALBANIA has a tough choice this year...Their two major films are made by foreign directors-“The Albanian”, the story of an illegal Albanian immigrant in Germany, opened in October and has won Best Actor in several festivals for heartthrob Nik Xhelilaj, who starred in two of the past three Albanian submissions. The director is German. “Forgiveness of Blood”, a drama about blood feuds, won the Silver Bear in Berlin (probably the highest-ever honor for an Albanian film) but has an American director and mostly American crew. Ironically director Joshua Marston was chosen to represent Colombia for “Maria, Full of Grace” in 2004 but disqualified for this very reason. With fully local credentials are “Amnesty” (Berlin), an arty drama with lots of sex but little dialogue, urban absurdist graverobbing comedy “Balkan Bazaar” (Sofia) and “Maya” (Shanghai) about a man who returns from abroad and falls in love with a local girl. The Albanians clearly want to send “Forgiveness of Blood”, but I predict they send “Amnesty”. For an interesting new article on Albania’s beleaguered film industry, see here: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/cash-crisis-keeps-albanian-movies-off-screen
3. ALGERIA has been very quiet this year….I don’t see that they have a really good option, so they may sit out this year. “A Few Days of Respite” is probably the best reviewed Algerian film of the year, but it’s story of two gay men fleeing Iran probably will keep it from being screened at home. “Taxiphone”, co-starring Bruno Ganz, about Swiss travelers stuck in Algeria got middling reviews, while “La Place” is a silly local musical-comedy which I hope can make this war-scarred nation laugh, but which doesn’t look very good. “Voyage to Algeria”, about a widow trying to care for her six children, looks great but hasn’t screened at home, nor has “The Last Safari”, about a cinema-owner who refuses to be put out to pasture. My prediction is they don’t enter this year, but I’ll choose “Last Safari”.
4. ARGENTINA , strangely enough, has no stand-outs this year. Six of the past seven years they’ve chosen a movie starring Ricardo Darin (2005, 2007, 2009, 2010) or Daniel Hendler (2004, 2006). They could easily continue that tradition with apocalyptic virus thriller “Phase 7” (Hendler) or inter-racial romantic comedy “Chinese Takeaway” (Darin), although neither has played at any major festivals…The Argentinians usually go to Cannes or Berlin for their films, making it more likely they’ll select “Las Acacias” (Camera d’Or and two other minor awards at Cannes), about a lonely truck driver, or “Medianeras” (Berlin), about two lovers who may or may not ever meet each other, and which stars Spanish star Pilar Lopez de Ayala. Other possibilities include violent Western “Aballay”, history drama “San Martin: El Cruce de los Andes”, “Argentina’s answer to Sideways- “Ways of Wine”, dull arthouse drama “Mysterious World” and a surreal comedy about a disembodied finger, aptly named “The Finger”. None of these are giving me confidence, so perhaps they’ll choose something released late in the year? Many of their top films tend to be released in the late summer (winter for them). My prediction for now: “Las Acacias”, followed by “Medianeras” and “Phase 7”.
5. ARMENIA has sent only one film in the past seven years, making them (along with Belarus) the cinematic laggard of Europe. I’m predicting the only Armenian feature in competition at the Golden Apricot Film Festival, which is “Sunrise Over Lake Van”, about an octogenarian who irritates his family by clinging to anti-Turkish sentiment in the modern world. Armenia’s submission was a documentary and I’m predicting the runner-up will be “The Last Tightrope Dancer in Armenia”, an award-winning feature documentary that won Best Armenian Film at last year’s Golden Apricot Film Festival. It’s about a 70-something couple who are among the last of the country’s renowned tightrope performers. I’m not sure when it was released theatrically in Armenia. Many of their other big projects are stalled due to financing. Other possibility: surreal drama “Don’t Look Into the Mirror” which I predicted last year, but which premiered in 2011; Unlikely: romantic comedy “Wanted Millionaire”, horror film “Rage”.
6. AUSTRALIA is becoming a more diverse society, and there’s been an uptick in ethnic cinema this year, with lots of films about the Aboriginal communities, as well as immigrant communities from China, India, Korea and elsewhere. Almost all of these films are in English with the possible exception of “Citizen Jia Li”, a story about a down-on-her-luck Chinese immigrant. One to test the rules: “Toomelah”, a dark and violent drama about a 10-year aborigine who aspires to be a gangster. It played in Cannes and requires English subtitles because the accents are so incredibly thick…but it is technically in English, so I bet it’s not eligible.
7. AUSTRIA has a quartet of contenders, including no less than four that played at the Berlin Film Festival. “Breathing” and “Michael” both debuted at Cannes, where “Breathing” won the Director’s Fortnight award for Best European Film. “Breathing” sounds like a cross between “Six Feet Under” and “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle”, as a young teen in a juvie facility gets a part-time down at a morgue. It’s gotten excellent reviews, but not as much publicity as the controversial “Michael”, a creepy drama about a seemingly average, normal man….who has kidnapped a 10-year old boy who he keeps captive in his basement. The winner of Best Film at last year’s Austrian Film Awards was not favorite “The Robber”, but local comedy “The Unintentional Kidnapping of Elfriede Ott”, about the abduction of an 85-year old star actress, which opened the day of the deadline. Last, it wouldn’t be Oscar without a German-language WWII movie, and “My Best Enemy” fills the niche, starring Moritz Bleibtreu in a Hollywood-style thriller about Jewish art dealers and nasty Nazis. Also possible but unlikely: family drama “The Fatherless”. Last year, Austria chose an arty film (in Italian!) over more commercial fare (“The Robber”) showing that they choose what they like. I’m predicting “Michael”, which sounds like a Haneke film, will represent Austria, although I know it’s more likely “My Best Enemy” (2nd) or “Breathing” (3rd). If they don’t select “My Best Enemy”, minority producer Luxembourg may try to send it.
8. AZERBAIJAN is flush with oil money and has been enjoying a growing international presence in “fun” competitions worldwide. In 2007, they submitted their first film to the Oscars, and launched a bid to host the 2016 Olympics. In 2008, they joined Eurovision, which they won on their fourth try in 2011. Their three Oscar submissions so far- “Fortress”, “Precinct” and “Caucasia”- have been among the most obscure entries each year, barely registering on the film festival circuit. This year, they have three possibilities set in the recent past. The frontrunner is “Through the Eyes of a Ghost”, about a Frenchman who falls in love with a young Azerbaijan woman in 1990, circa the fall of the USSR. It was the first Azeri film to win Best CIS/Baltic Film at the Russian Nika Awards, it has French backers and is directed by Rustam Ibrahimbekov who wrote three foreign Oscar nominees- “Burnt by the Sun” (winner), “Close to Eden” and “East-West”. In second place is “There Was Never a Better Brother” (Karlovy Vary), a drama about two dissimilar brothers in 1970s Baku. In third place, controversial drama “The Dolls”, also set circa 1991, about a group of aimless young adults growing up around the time of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which finally opened at home in December.
9. BANGLADESH has become a regular fixture in this competition in recent years, and it’s always nice to see that their emerging film industry is willing to compete against the world’s best. Good luck as always to the Bangladeshis! They have two main contenders this year. In initially selected bloody, patriotic war drama “Guerrilla”, about the Liberation War of 1971 against Pakistan. Although production values could be better, the 2-hour and 20-minute film is considered in Bangladesh to be one of the best (of many) films about ’71. However, I now believe it's much more likely they'll choose Tareque Masud's "Runway", about an unemployed young man living with his impoverished family near a new airport runway. Masud, one of Bangladesh's most acclaimed directors, was tragically killed this week in a traffic accident while scouting locations for his next movie. Indian co-production “The Quest” was critically acclaimed, but probably has too much Indian input, “My Friend Rashed” (also about 1971) got mixed reviews, and much-anticipated “Meherjaan” (also about 1971!) was savaged by critics and pulled from theatres for its storyline of a local girl’s romance with an enemy soldier. Count on "Runway".
10. BELARUS hasn’t sent a film since President Lukashenka consolidated power in 1996. Coincidence, or do they just not care? I hate to pick the same film two years in a row, but nationalist war drama “Brest Fortress” is a big-budget WWII movie that has gotten good reviews AND been shown outside of the CIS (rare for a Belarussian film) and is about a patriotic battle of nationalist importance. It also got a Best Picture nomination at the Russian Film Awards. The film’s premiere was at the actual Brest Fortress in June, but appears to have had its mainstream release in November, after the Oscar deadline…So it appears to be eligible this year, if Oscar forgives the fact that the director is actually Russian…Will this baity war drama coax Belarus back into the competition? (They’re the only major European country to quit entirely) Second place: Belarus is famous for making children’s films and Harry Potter rip-off “Ryzhik in Wonderland” looks pretty and has been sold in Italy.
11. BELGIUM may have no functioning government, but it does have a lot of films this year from both linguistic halves of the country. They’re pretty certain to choose the French-language “The Kid With a Bike” by the brothers Dardennes, who have represented Belgium three times with previous slow and boring Cannes entries. “The Kid” is supposed to be one of their best, and it won the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes. Their nearest competitor (disease drama “Oxygen”) was released slightly too early to be eligible, so it’s pretty certain to be selected. In order, the other possibilities would include: “Bullhead”, (Flemish) a crime drama set in rural eastern Flanders and a trio of French-language films: “Les Geants”, a Bouli Lanners Cammes drama about two bored teenagers, “She’s Not Crying, She’s Singing”, about a woman plotting vengeance against her comatose father, and “The Fairy”, a quirky local comedy. Highly doubtful but possible: Kazakhstan-set Soviet drama “Beyond the Steppes” (French), bombing drama thriller “22nd of May” (Flemish), “Marieke, Marieke” (French), about a 20-year with an older man complex, and “Little Baby Jesus of Flandr” (Flemish), an odd drama starring acvtors with Down’s Syndrome. Out of the running: WWII drama “Rondo”, body-switch drama “Quartier Lointain”, romantic comedy “Madly in Love”.
12. BHUTAN sent a film only once, in 1999 with happy comedy “The Cup”. Their biggest blip on the circuit this year is short film “The Container”, which was shown at Cannes. They’re certain not to enter this year, but their biggest feature film of the year is “Bardo”, a supernatural drama about life after death, which won 14 National Film Awards in May.
13. BOLIVIA skipped last year, but digital cinema has meant that film production is up- about half the films are arty dramas and half are commercial features. The front-runner this year is definitely “Los Viejos”, produced by Juan Carlos Valdivia who directed three of the four films that have screened for a Foreign Oscar. It’s a drama by an up-and-coming director that looks at the years of military dictatorship. Two other dark horses are around: “The Game of the Spider & the Butterfly” focuses on a young girl from a family of sexual abuse, and “Sleeping Beauties”, which will premiere right before the deadline, is a crime drama.
14. BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA has one of the easiest decisions of the year. There’s little doubt at all that they’ll choose “Belvedere”, a black & white film about a war widow living in a refugee camp with other women who are living their lives while mourning their husbands, sons and brothers years after they were murdered by rival Serbs in the 1995 Srebenica massacre. The director, Ahmed Imamovic, directed by favorite Balkan film of all time, “Go West” which inexplicably failed to rep Bosnia in 2005. Only competition is “Orkestar” by Pjer Zalica, which was reportedly going to premiere at Sarajevo, but which isn’t on the schedule.
15. BRAZIL is virtually without serious Oscar contenders this year...I don’t know if it was a mistake or not, but they didn’t even rate a chapter in this year’s Variety International Film Guide (despite chapters on Cambodia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Rwanda). They don’t have any widely seen critical hits on the film festival circuit, and most of their most acclaimed directors have been quiet. The biggest Brazilian film of the year is “Tropa de Elite 2”. It was a box-office smash, a critical success in Brazil, swept the National Film Awards, and played at Berlin & Sundance. However, it’s a sequel (Oscar voters likely didn’t see the first one….) to an action movie and reviews haven’t been quite as strong outside of Brazil. Still, it’s their highest-profile film right now. Well-reviewed opponents include “The VIPs”, a light drama about a fraudster which swept the Rio de Janeiro Film Festival, “The Craft”, about an aging actress “Bollywood Dream”, about three Brazilian actress trying to break into Bollywood, “Me and My Umbrella”, a children’s film and “So Hard to Forget”, about a depressed teacher, will likely make Brazilian LONG shortlist (last year they selected 23!) but none of them have stuck out. “Central Bank Heist”, an bank robbery film, will come out in August. More commercial features like 1970s gangster film “Boca”and heist movie “Federal” got less than stellar reviews. My prediction: “The VIPs” beats out “Tropa de Elite 2” by just a bit.
16. BULGARIA had two films at Cannes and three films in Sarajevo (the Cannes duo + “Shelter”) but I’m worried they may not even be able to enter the race due to severe budget cuts at the National Film Centre that have wreaked havoc on films this year. I predict they send “The Shelter”, about a teen who falls in with a bad crowd due to his parent’s unintended neglect. It won Best Picture at this year’s Bulgarian Film Awards (the Golden Roses). Most people might predict one of the Cannes entries- “Ave” is a grim road movie about a man who meets a pathological liar (Ave) and falls in love with her and “The Island” is a grim thriller about a French girl with a Bulgarian boyfriend who reluctantly returns to his country for a romantic holiday . Neither one got great reviews, and “The Island” may premiere in Sofia too late AND contain too much English. “Footsteps in the Sand”, which was the likely runner-up to “The Shelter” at the Golden Roses should pip “Ave” and “Tilt”, a box-office hit featuring starcrossed lovers in 1989 Bulgaria, for second place. Rounding out the Top Five: “Ave” in third, “Tilt” in fourth, and “Sneakers”, about young adults on holiday, in fifth.
17. BURKINA FASO, one of Africa’s cinematic capitals, seems to be satisfied with running Africa’s most famous film festival, because they have only entered the Oscar race once- back in 1989. This year’s FESPACO Film Festival in Ouagadougou featured three local features in competition. “The Place In-Between”- about a bi-racial young woman from France returning to find her roots in Burkina Faso-is the most likely to bring them back to the Oscar race, since it has French backers. If they want a more “local” feature, they’d probably opt for “Awaiting the Vote”, a long-awaited film with significant local starpower, or alternately “The Weight of an Oath”, about the detrimental effect of Christianity on local religious traditions.
18. CAMBODIA submitted one Rithy Panh film back in 1994, but nothing since. Their film industry has never recovered since most of their actors and filmmakers were murdered by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. This year, I’m hoping very much they return with “Lost Loves”, a drama about a mother who watches much of her family die during the Khmer Rouge genocide. While many foreign-based filmmakers (including France-based Panh) have made films about the Khmer Rouge era, this is the first time a Cambodia-based filmmakers has done so. Also in the mix: “Kiles”, a colonial drama supported by the Ministry of Culture and Rithy Panh’s latest documentary, “Master of the Forge of Hell”, an extended interview with one of Cambodia’s most evil war criminals, who was sentenced to a paltry 35 years in jail (not life) for helping to execute thousands of men, women and children.
19. CAMEROON submitted one film way back in 1980. The only film I know about this year is “Strike Force” (Frappe de Force) an action drama about a juvenile delinquent who becomes a boxing star with the help of a woman he tried to sexually assault. Sounds appalling.
20. CANADA has a remarkable record recently- four spots on the shortlist in the past six years! It also show how frustrating this category is….The two films that failed to make the cut were the two best- “C.R.A.Z.Y.” and “I Killed My Mother”, although I admit that nominees “Incendies” and “Water” were fine films. (“Necessities of Life” and “Days of Darkness” were average but undeserving). I predict they give Jean-Marc Vallee a second chance (“CRAZY” was so great!) for Venice premiere “Café de Flore”, whose trailer looks like a surreal ghostly funny, scary, dramatic romance. Can’t wait! I think I’m right, but their runner-ups will include (in order): “For the Love of God”, a sensual religious drama about a nun, a novice priest and a young girl, “10 ½”, about a 10-year old juvenile delinquent, which lost Best Picture at the Canadian Genies (and the Quebecois Jutras) to “Incendies”, wry comedy “Le Vendeur”, about a widower who refuses to retire, “Gerry”, a biopic of a Canadian rock singer, and “Familiar Ground”, a drama about two siblings that played in Berlin. No Native American or Indian-language contenders this year!
21. CHAD, one of the Africa’s most desperately poor countries, doesn’t often have a film in competition at Cannes, but they did last year with “A Screaming Man”, about a 60-year old man in the capital who is angry and despondent when he is laid off from his job at a posh hotel in the capital. The film finally had a domestic release in a renovated cinema in the capital in January 2011, making it appear eligible this year. The same director’s “Abouna” was submitted back in 2002. There’s a good chance this will be entered this year.
22. CHILE’s films are flooding international film festivals and entertaining the French, but most are sadly not making any money at home. All the more reason to keep entering the Oscar race, for which they have sent a lot of thought-provoking films worth seeing. The four front-runners are by directors trying to live up to their acclaimed prior films: Cristian Jimenez (“Optical Illusions”) has “Bonsai”, a quirky drama about a writer, a woman and their doomed romance. It debuted at Cannes but has not yet premiered in Chile. Pablo Larrain (“Tony Manero”) has “Post-Mortem” (Venice), a thriller with a 1970s Pinochet backdrop, about a morgue attendant who falls for a stripper who later disappears. Sebastian Silva (dissed by the Chilean Academy for “The Maid”) has “Old Cats”, an intimate dramedy about an elderly couple, headlined by 90-year old grand dame Belgica Castro. And Andres Wood (“Machuca”) has “Violeta Went to Heaven”, the autobiography of a famed folk singer who committed suicide in 1967. Rounding out the Top Five is disaster drama “03:34: Earthquake in Chile”, about the 2010 earthquake. Other festival films (the pansexual threesome of “Drama”, intimate Pinochet drama in “Lucia”, immigration drama in “Ulysses”) and more commercial efforts need not apply. These five films have no front-runner and lobbying/popularity could come into play….I’m going to predict “Violeta”, with “Post-Mortem” and then “Earthquake” a vote or two behind.
23. CHINA, very surprisingly, doesn’t appear to have any major contenders this year. They usually like to send lavish costume dramas about Chinese history, but this year’s costume dramas, including Oscar nominee Chen Kaige’s box office hit “Sacrifice” and Chen Jin’s “The Warring States”, have gotten disappointing reviews, and “Beginning of the Great Revival” is such a propaganda piece that even China wouldn’t think of sending it to America ( “Founding of a Republic” was reportedly not considered, and that was supposed to be a better film). “Let the Bullets Fly”, a commercial action movie starring Chow Yun-fat, has gotten very good reviews, but many not be serious enough for the dour Chinese Academy. “Love for Life”, an AIDS movie starring Ziyi Zhang and Aaron Kwok, has starpower but China shies away from controversial issues. “The Piano in a Factory”, a drama about a laborer who builds a piano for his daughter” is simply not big enough to compete here (though if I were on the council, I think China should start sending “smaller” quality films instead of historical epics year after year…they make so many good ones). Ultimately, I’m going to predict they send “My Kingdom”, a period film about the Shanghai opera, or “Apart Together”, about the romance of two elderly lovers separated by the Taiwan-China divide. Ironically, these sound like offshoots of their 2009 and 2007 submissions. “My Kingdom”’s director was in a nasty (and well-publicized) drunk driving accident this year, so I vote for “Apart Together”. But really, I think the Chinese will have a hard time finding a film this year...
24. COLOMBIA’s film industry has rebounded due to clever co-productions and a number of box-office hits after several years of mostly domestic failures. It’s rare that Colombian films win awards overseas, and even rarer when those films are commercial successes at home, so I find it difficult to believe they’ll choose anything other than “Colors of the Mountain”, which hit a nerve with local audiences. It’s about a family growing up in FARC-held territory, where the kids lose their soccer balls in minefields and parents are kidnapped. “Porfirio”, a bizarre story about a handicapped plane hijacker, played at Cannes but reviews haven’t been quite as strong. Two unreleased films yet to be released sound promising: “Say Hi To the Devil for Me” is about a former guerilla drawn into a revenge plot, and “The Dark Side” is about a man whose girlfriend goes missing. The latter is directed by the director of the best Colombian submission of the past decade, “Satanas”. Hit office comedy “The Boss”, “Karen Cries on A Bus”, about a woman who is penniless after leaving her husband and violent Tarintinoesque “All Your Dead Ones” won’t come into play.
25. CONGO-KINSHASA is one of the world’s biggest basket cases, but they did manage to qualify one film back in 1997. This year, they have one of the biggest sleepers on the Film Festival circuit, namely crime drama “Viva Riva”, about the crazy world of crime in Kinshasa’s underworld. Impressively, the film has appeared at festivals worldwide and securing a limited US and UK release. Other than South Africa, no sub-Saharan African country has ever submitted more than a single film to the Oscars….”Riva” may break that streak.
BENIN's anti-corruption drama “One Step Ahead” won Best Actor at FESPACO, but has no scheduled screenings at home...BURMA's Best Picture winner this year was a film oddly called “Wings Flapping Sound of Flamingo”, but I doubt that will inspire their Western-phobic government to go to Oscar for the first time...CAPE VERDE has “The Girl with Big Eyes”, described as a Creole-language Cape Verdean fairy tale…..