Monday, December 3, 2012


Here are my predictions for the 17 films from Western Europe (including Turkey)

17. GREECE- “Unfair World”
16. PORTUGAL- “Blood of My Blood”
15. TURKEY- “Where the Fire Burns”
14. NORWAY- “Kon-Tiki”
13. GREENLAND- “Inuk”

There are actually no embarrassingly bad films this year to make fun of...I just don’t think any of these five mostly well-received films will have the gravitas to advance to the next round.

GREECE has selected a black comedy about an aging police detective going through a series of moral dilemmas involving murder, innocence and romantic love for a young, mysterious neighbor. I’ve seen “Unfair World” and it’s an interesting yet forgettable film that goes on a bit too long, and peters out in the second half. Despite winning the Best Picture award at the Greek Oscars, it’s a 6/10 at best.

PORTUGAL chose box-office hit “Blood of my Blood” over the more favored, arty “Tabu”. It’s a sprawling family soap opera set in the slums of Lisbon and I liked it quite a lot. Unfortunately, the projector broke during its DC screening after one hour and I’m dying to find out what happened! In any case, it is what it is….a big soap opera and I can’t see it advancing any further.

TURKEY’s “Where the Fire Burns” is a drama about so-called “honor killings”, based on the 2003 murder of a pregnant, unmarried woman by her remorseless father. Though it won the Grand Prize in Montreal, I’ve heard from Turks that it didn’t deserve to represent Turkey (who had a fairly strong year), and while the film is said to highlight a fascinating and topical issue, both the Hollywood Reporter and Variety note sadly that it does so very, very slowly.

GREENLAND and NORWAY (along with ICELAND) are both channeling their Viking pasts with films about men making great journeys. In Norway’s big-budget “Kon-Tiki”, it is the journey of acclaimed explorer Thor Heyerdahl and his crew, making their way across the Pacific Ocean in 1947 in a small, traditional raft. The story was already made into a film in 1951 (by Heyerdahl himself) which ironically won an Oscar for Best Documentary. Technically solid, the film- reportedly the most expensive in Norwegian history- is praised as a rollicking adventure with solid tech credits but a bit formulaic and lacking in character development. Huge but underpopulated GREENLAND (population: 57,000) is the smallest country to compete in this category (stealing this honor from neighboring Iceland in 2010) and their film “Inuk” has gotten the most solid reviews among these five. Everyone says it’s a really interesting film about a Greenlandic teenager from a dysfunctional family making a journey from the capital city (pop: 15.000) to a foster family in the far North. It’s a coming-of-age film and a journey into Greenland’s resurgent indigenous culture, but most of the praise comments on the cultural aspects and the beauty of the landscape. The audience will sit back and enjoy it but not rate it highly enough to compete with the big boys. Thanks to Greenland for sending. I can’t wait to see it.


12. NETHERLANDS- “Kauwboy”
11. ICELAND- “The Deep”
10. ITALY- "Caesar Must Die"
9. SWEDEN- “The Hypnotist”

All four of these films face an uphill battle to the shortlist due to one or more problems. The NETHERLANDS’ “Kauwboy” is about a 10-year boy who lives with his single father, and his efforts to care for a small bird. It’s gotten very strong reviews for managing to stay on the right side of sentimental but it’s first and foremost a children’s film. The Dutch probably do these better than everyone, but they’re not likely to be honored here. (Has a children’s movie ever been nominated in this category? I don’t think so).

SWEDEN’s “The Hypnotist” has it all on paper...It’s a mainstream thriller by an Oscar-nominated director and starring an Oscar-nominated actress. The film, Lasse Halstrom’s first Swedish film in 25 years, concerns a detective trying to solve the murder of an entire family by hypnotizing the only surviving witness. It sounds like it could be another “Secret in Their Eyes”. The only problem? Well, it’s not supposed to be very good. Reviews by critics have been the weakest of the Western European films (and also the lowest rating on IMDB- a 5.7) and that should be enough to send the Swedes packing. Neighboring ICELAND’s “The Deep” is said to be a better film, but it’s a difficult one to watch. Based on the true story of the sole survivor of a shipwreck in frigid Icelandic waters, much of the movie is spent watching a man battle alone against the elements.

As for ITALY’s “Caesar Must Die”, this 75-minute winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin is just too oddball to make the cut. As you probably know, it’s a filmed version of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (in several Italian dialects) made starring real inmates at a maximum-security Italian prison. Not everyone likes the movie and winning Berlinale is not a guarantee of making the shortlist (Turkey’s boring “Honey” didn’t make it two years ago). I think it’s much too weird to advance but I’m placing it above films like “Kauwboy” and “Kon-Tiki” on the off chance that the Elite Committee saves it. But I doubt it.


8. FINLAND- “Purge”
7. GERMANY- “Barbara”
6. BELGIUM- “Our Children”
5. SWITZERLAND- “Sister”
Here we have a quartet of grim dramas about Communism, infanticide and family dysfunction. I don’t think any of them will make the Final Nine, but it’s possible one of them may slip through if either of the two Committees really likes them.

The strongest buzz is coming from “L’Enfant en Haut” (aka “Sister”) from SWITZERLAND. Having seen the movie, I’m a bit surprised by this- I thought it was well-made but was somewhat turned off by the unlikable lead characters- but it’s definitely in with a chance. In the film, a 12-year old boy lives with his pretty but aimless and irresponsible older sister near a ski resort in Switzerland. The sister disappears for days at a time with a random series of men. The boy steals everything from food to skis and wallets to support them.

Also from the French-speaking world is BELGIUM’s “A perdre la raison” (aka “Our Children”), based on a real-life series of brutal murders committed by a young mother (Genevieve Lhermitte) against her five young children (reduced to four in the film). I thought the film was a tad too sympathetic to the obviously troubled young mother, but the director does a good job at presenting a story which (in the director’s words) is a different film for everyone who sees it.

FINLAND has chosen “Purge”, based on a bestselling novel. It’s a female-driven film set in neighboring Estonia (but was filmed in the Finnish language) contrasting the lives of two women thrown together by fate. The young woman has just escaped an instance of human trafficking while the older woman was brutalized during the Communist era by Soviets. The film is said to be violent and difficult to watch, but with brilliant acting performances. Though Oscar likes WWII, this may be a bit much for them to take.

This brings us to GERMANY. In the past ten years, the Germans have racked up two wins, four nominations (that lost) plus one additional shortlist spot. The three German films that did not advance included the two best ones the Germans sent (“Goodbye Lenin!” and “Edge of Heaven”). Statistically, that means that this year’s nominee- the cold, forgettable Cold War drama of “Barbara”- should do great. Many people are hailing the film as one of the favorites (it got a Best Pic nomination at the European Film Awards?!) but I found it to be so “average” in every way that I simply can’t believe it will advance. I forgot most of this story of an East German female doctor exiled to small town within hours of seeing the film in Paris (where it was a box-office success).

Switzerland might squeeze through, but I think the others are out.

4. FRANCE- “Les Intouchables”
3. SPAIN- “Blancanieves”
2. DENMARK- “A Royal Affair”

A costume drama, a silent fairy tale and a box-office hit comedy from three of the European powers all stand a decent shot at making this year's shortlist.

FRANCE's "Les Intouchables" was a major box-office hit in the USA by foreign-language standards (it made 10 million Stateside). It's a broadly played comedy about the friendship between a wealthy quadriplegic and his African caretaker. While not a typical Oscar contender, it has won over audiences worldwide. It's a funny and charming film. However, ever since the film beat the most artistic "Rust & Bone" to represent France at the Oscars, there has been an unfortunate backlash against the film which is a shame, because it really is a goof movie. Not every movie at the Oscars has to be about children dying, marital angst or the horrors of World War II! Well-done comedies should have a shot. When all is said and done, "Les Intouchables" is a bit light for the Oscars. It will have to fight hard for that sixth-place slot in the Large Committee because the small one ain't choosing it.

DENMARK's 18th century costume drama "A Royal Affair" has gotten universally positive reviews for it's story of a young queen married to an insane king who falls into the arms of another man. Critics laud it as both a beautiful film and for its exciting screenplay detailing a true story of palace intrigue in a decidedly unstuffy way. It is also said to be a Dark Horse contender for some tech awards like Costume Design. I'm planning on seeing it this week. It's nearly a lock.

I don't think SPAIN's silent, B&W film adaptation of the fairy tale Snow White ("Blancanieves") will impress the large committee. I think the film, set in the 1920s amidst bullfighting, will be too weird for them and it won't appeal to this older, mainstream group. However, I feel pretty strongly that "Blancanieves" stands a strong chance at getting one of the three Elite spots in the way "Kelin" did a few years ago. (They never publicly announce which three films were "saved" by the elite committee, but it's sometimes easy to figure out). Nostalgia for silent films and the recent popularity of "The Artist" will help, not hurt.

1. AUSTRIA- “Amour”
Even if the larger committee hates “Amour” (and they’ll probably love it...), the small, elite committee was specifically created to make sure films like this get saved. Therefore, Michael Haneke’s “Amour” , the story of a man trying to care for his aging wife, and the winner at the European Film Awards and at Cannes 2012 is an absolute lock for the shortlist and is the favorite to win (though I’m probably predicting Australia).

Now, the statistics:

Number of countries that have participated in the past: 20

Number of countries participating this year: 17

Number of countries opting out: LUXEMBOURG, which decided that they didn’t have  any Oscar-calibre films for the third year in a row, plus IRELAND and the UK, who obviously make mostly English-language films. The Brits should be well-represented in the other categories and are the front-runner for Best Actor (again) thanks to Daniel Day-Lewis.  

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: Quite a few are in a chance….I’d say seven.

Number of Foreign Languages Represented: Four of the front-runner films are in French (Austria, Belgium, France and Switzerland) + one each in Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Greek, Greenlandic, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish and Turkish. The Spanish film is silent with Spanish intertitles. In Italy’s “Caesar Must Die”, the actors each speak  in their own native Italian dialects.

Highest profile film: Michael Haneke’s “Amour”  (Austria) certainly has all the buzz thanks to near-universal love and its win at Cannes, while “Les Intouchables” (France) has all the box-office success. “A Royal Affair” (Denmark) and Berlin winner “Caesar Must Die” (Italy) are also pretty high-profile.

Country with the Best Shot at a Nomination: Of course, it’s Austria.  

Longest Shot for a Nomination: Greece’s “Unfair World” is not a bad film, but among this very strong field, reviews have been decidedly mixed.

Number of Comedies: France’s “Les Intouchables” is a mainstream comedy while Greece’s “Unfair World” is a black comedy-drama

Number of Animated Films, Horror Films or Documentaries: None, although “Caesar Must Die” has elements of a documentary.

Oscar History:  We have two former Oscar nominees in the running. Sweden’s Lasse Halstrom has never been in the running for a Foreign Language Oscar, although he does three Oscar nominations for Best Director (“My Life as a Dog”, “Cider House Rules”) and Best Screenplay (“My Life as a Dog”). Though “My Life as a Dog” was a critical success in the US, Sweden elected to send “Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter” to the Oscars instead of “Dog” way back in 1985

Also, Michael Haneke was nominated for “The White Ribbon” in 2010 but for Germany, not Austria (which has unsuccessfully submitted Haneke films four times previously).

Iceland’s Baltasar Kormakur has represented Iceland three times before (“The Sea”, “White Night Wedding” and “Jar City”) without luck. Italy’s Taviani Brothers (“The Night of the Shooting Stars, 1982), Portugal’s Joao Canijo (“Noite Escura”), Switzerland’s Ursula Meier (“Home”, 2009) and Norway’s Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg (“Max Manus, 2009) are also trying their luck with Oscar for the second time.

Nine of the seventeen countries have won an Oscar, while five others have been nominated and one (Turkey) has been shortlisted. Only hapless Portugal (which holds the world record for the most submissions without a nomination) and debutante Greenland (who has only ever entered the race once before) have never made the Final Nine.

Number of Female Directors: Just one. Switzerland’s Ursula Meier.

Oldest and Youngest Directors: The youngest director in the group is Belgium’s 37-year old Joachim Lafosse. 83-year old Vittorio Taziani and his 81-year old brother Paolo are the oldest directors in the competition worldwide.

Familiar Faces:      Experienced cineastes will certainly recognize the octogenarian leads of Austria’s Amour (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) who have been mainstays of the French cinematic scene for more than half a century. However, more familiar to contemporary audiences are a trio of French actors crossing the border- French actress Lea Seydoux (“Mission Impossible III”, “Inglourious Basterds”) plays the title role in Switzerland’s “Sister”, grande dame Isabelle Huppert co-stars in Austria’s “Amour” while Tahar Rahim (“Un Prophete”) plays the father in Belgium’s “Our Children”.

You’ll likely also recognize American actress Gillian Anderson (“X-Files”) who plays a small role in Switzerland’s “Sister” as well as Mads Mikkelsen in Denmark’s “Royal Affair”, Maribel Verdu in Spain’s “Blancanieves” and Oscar nominee Lena Olin in Sweden’s “The Hypnotist”.

Tough Choices: The toughest decision (as usual) belonged to France, who probably agonized over their decision to dump the acclaimed “Rust & Bone” (starring Best Actress contender Marion Cotillard) for “Les Intouchables”.

Denmark, Spain and Switzerland found themselves in the unusual position of having to eliminate four prior Oscar winners, including two returning to their home countries for the first time in decades. Bille August (“Pelle the Conqueror”) and Xavier Koller (“Journey of Hope”) won the Oscar in 1989 and 1991 respectively and had hoped for a second chance with period dramas “Marie Kroyer”  and “Someone Like Me”. The producers of “Kroyer” apparently opened their film their film early to qualify for the Oscars. Up against “A Royal Affair”, that was a dumb move. The third film on the Danish shortlist was Susanne Bier’s romantic comedy “Love Is All You Need”. Bier won the Oscar in 2011 for “In A Better World”. Fernando Trueba of Spain won the Oscar for “Belle Epoque” in 1994 and his French-language “The Artist and the Model” is widely expected to have come in second place to “Blancanieves” in this year’s Spanish race. 

A few other tough choices of note:  abstract B&W drama “Tabu” was widely expected to represent Portugal. Assisted suicide drama “Time of My Life” dominated the Flemish Film Awards but lost to the French-language “Our Children” (Contrary to popular belief, the Belgians do not automatically take turns between the two halves). I was not a big fan of Mateo Garrone’s horribly overrated “Gomorra” but many predicted he would rep Italy this year with “Reality”.

Also out of the running: “Paradise: Love” (Austria), “Naked Harbor” (Finland), “Alps” (Greece), “Suskind” (Netherlands), “Play” (Sweden) and “Araf” (Turkey).

Films I'm most looking forward to seeing: I’ve already seen the films from Belgium (B+), France (A-), Germany (C+), Greece (C+) and Switzerland (B) plus half the film from Portugal (the projector broke. L). My first priority would be to finish that film (which I liked quite a lot), but of course I’m also dying to see “Amour”, as well as “Inuk”.

Last year's race: I saw nine of last year’s eighteen films. Two of them were worthy of Oscar nominations (Ireland’s “As If I Am Not There” (A) + France’s “Declaration of War” A-) and it’s rather shocking that they failed to make the cut over mediocrities like “Bullhead” (C-), and “Superclasico”  (C). Worst film of 2011: Greece’s “Attenberg” (F).

NEXT: The candidates from Eastern Europe

1 comment:

Spartak said...

This year I'm running out of time (probably I try to watch not only the subsmission itself, but also acclaimed films of that year before it) and I have "watched" only 23 films (while I'm able to make it to 30+, I hope that I'll catch up)...
Greece - +1

Portugal - +1, though I'm less much simpatic then you do, maybe because watched it all (and it's really TOO long).

Netherlands - In 2006, "Vitus" made it to January's list...

Italy - I'm with those, who think that it's exellent (though it didn't deserve the Bear).
Switzerland - I actually liked it, but I don't think that it has good chances.

Germany - Totally disagree, an exellent film with quite good chances for Oscar (can be picked by both of the committees).

France - Actually, I thought it's considered as one of the favourites for winning (though it's a simpatic film and I don't understand the whole buzz about it)?!

High profile films - "Barbara" (best director at Berlin) and "Sister" (also from Berlin)...

Tough choices:
France - I think that "Rust and Bone" is a way better thab "The Intouchbles", though it was a right choice, becuase it has better chances.

Portugal - And it was a huge mistake not to send "Tabu" (it seems that Portugal insists to be the only West Eurpoan country that was never nominated)

Belgium - Are you sure that they're not automatically taking turns between the two halves?

Netherlands - Another strange choice, how good they neglect a Holoucaust drama (which also was qutie good)?

Greece - They really think that "Unfair world" has better chances than "Alpeis"?