Thursday, July 26, 2012

Foreign Film Oscar Prediction 2012-2013, COTE D'IVOIRE to IRELAND


Computer problems have delayed this post, focusing on the second round of 26 countries, including last year's returning champion (Iran) and powerhouses France and Germany.

27. COTE D’IVOIRE
(last submitted 1976) won the Oscar in 1977 (before I was born) for “Black and White in Color”. That film- with a French director and overwhelming French cast and crew- would not even be accepted under today’s rules, and this year the Ivoiriens will be absent for the 36th year in a row. For the sake of completion, their highest-profile film that I know about is “Ultimatum”, billed as the country’s first-ever action flick. Next year, I hope they do finally return with “Run” by young Franco-Ivoirien director Philippe LaCote. It was selected as one of 15 projects to benefit from additional funding at this year’s Cannes Film Workshop.
28. CROATIA
premieres most of its domestic releases annually in July at the Pula Film Festival. Most of these films actually premiere in Croatian cinemas the following Oscar eligibility year (which begins October 1), which is why the two last films I predicted for Croatia weren’t actually eligible. I hate to pick the same film two years in a row, but I think the Croatians will send “Lea and Darija”, a true story about the friendship between two teenage girls (one Jewish, one an ethnic German) who rise to fame in the 1930s while World War II looms. It won some small awards at Pula last year and premiered in Croatian cinemas in January 2012. In second place is the oddly titled “Cannibal Vegetarian”, a very dark thriller which has also gotten good reviews. It’s about an abortionist faced with a VERY serious moral dilemma when one of his patients dies on the operating table. In third place is “Night Boats”, a drama about an elderly couple in their 70s running away from their bleak nursing home. Iceland achieved their only Oscar nod for the similar “Children of Nature”. All three of these films have an excellent chance of representing Croatia and all have premiered already. The Oscar will committee will love “Lea” and “Night Boats" though they may hate “Cannibal”. If the Croatians do choose of the new 2012 premieres from Pula, I think the most likely option would be “Halima’s Path”, about a Bosnian woman searching for her dead son who was killed in the war. They offer her DNA testing but she refuses, since her son was secretly adopted. My prediction (again): “Lea & Darija”.
29. CUBA
sends films about once every two years. This year, they don’t have much. Their two highest-profile films are a cult hit zombie-comedy (“Juan of the Dead”) and a film sure to upset Cuba’s Communist authorities (“Une Noche”, whose two young stars disappeared in Miami on the way to an event to promote the film, mirroring the film’s story of two young Cubans who escape to the U.S. by boat). Interestingly enough, “Juan” was in fact co-produced by the national film studio, showing that the Communists do have a sense of humor. Cuba’s other films this year are a strange lot, including a much-maligned abstract biography of Leonardo da Vinci (“Vinci”), a pair of gay-themed films by previously honored directors (flirty “Verde Verde” and the independently produced mystery “Chamaco”) and a film about a man teaching mentally handicapped children to swim (“The Pool”). A stronger choice would be “Fabula”, a romance set in the slums of Havana which won Third Prize at last year’s Havana Film Festival. However, the Cubans have lately tended to prefer to send children’s films, meaning that “And Yet It Moves” (“Y Sin Embargo”) is my prediction. It's about what happens when a schoolboy’s tall tale blossoms out of control. It stars a local Cuban youth acting troupe.
The
30. CZECH REPUBLIC
has been pretty quiet lately
. Though they used to be very successful, they haven’t been nominated in a decade. Bohdan Slama’s “Four Suns” should be considered the favorite. Slama represented the Czech Republic in 2002 and 2005 and the film has enjoyed touting the fact that it is the first-ever Czech film to compete at the Sundance independent film festival. The story revolves around a number of different characters in and around a dysfunctional family. Reviews have been positive but generally unenthusiastic. The big winner at this year’s “Czech Lions” was “Flower Buds”, a similarly-themed film about a diverse series of characters with moral dilemmas, and how their decisions affect those around them. “Long Live the Family”, a black comedy about a family on the run, didn’t do well at the Lions, but it did win Best Picture of 2011 from the Czech Film Critics Association.  Oscar nominee Jan Hrebejk (“Divided We Fall”) was represented the Czech Republic in 2000, 2004 and 2010. The prolific director makes roughly one film a year, and his latest “The Holy Quartet” (Svata Ctverice) is a romatic comedy which is scheduled to premiere in August. Out of the running: “Polski Film” was the only Czech film to compete in Karlovy Vary, but it’s comedic plot depends in large part on knowing Czech celebrities who are unknown outside the country. “A Night Too Young” got good reviews in Berlin, but it’s 61-minute running time will mark it as too slight. Vladimir Michalek’s “Messenger” (Closing film in Karlovy Vary) would be my top choice, but it’s not scheduled to open in Czech cinemas until October. I half-heartedly predict “Four Suns”, followed by “Flower Buds”, and “Svata Ctverice”.
31. DENMARK
produced fewer films this year (less than twenty) but they still have a very competitive race going, including films by one Oscar winner (Bille August, “Pelle the Conqueror”), two Oscar nominees (Henrik Ruben Ganz and Christian E. Christiansen, Short Film nominees in 1999 and 2007) plus Christoffer Boe (selected by Denmark in 2003). Denmark usually chooses a three-film shortlist to heighten the suspense, and this year I’m fairly certain they will be upcoming historical biography “The Passion of Marie” (Bille August), 18th century costume drama “A Royal Affair” (Berlin) and World War II thriller “This Life” (Karlovy Vary). Two other possibilities: I would be surprised if “A Hijacking”, about a Danish crew being kidnapped by Somali pirates, or “Teddy Bear”, a gentle dramedy about a bodybuilder looking for love in Thailand, made the cut, but they are dark horses.  Thomas Vinterberg’s acclaimed Cannes drama “The Hunt” won’t be eligible until next year. A look at the race: “A Royal Affair” should be considered the favorite. This story of an English princess who marries a crazy Danish price is supposed to be beautiful to look at, and suspenseful to behold. “This Life”, an exciting thriller about a town who join the anti-German resistance, has been a major hit at the box office but has gotten slightly less positive reviews. It will be difficult for Denmark to snub the Oscar-winning August, who is making his first Danish feature in a quarter-century, for “Passion of Marie”, about a famed couple of 19th century artists. I still predict: “A Royal Affair”, followed by “Passion of Marie”, “This Life”, with “Teddy Bear” in first. The new films by Ganz (dramedy “Excuse Me”), Boe (horror-thriller “Beast”) and Christiansen (tepid thriller  “ID:A”) probably won’t factor in.
The
32. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
rejoined the Oscar race for the first time since 1995 and they have had a great film year this year with a few well-reviewed possible films. I predict they will enter the race with “Ana’s Struggle”, the story of a poor flower seller whose beloved teenage son is killed by a drug dealer, and her struggle against a corrupt system to seek justice. They could just as easily send “The King of Najayo”, a gritty drama about a crime lord who continues to run a gangland empire from prison, while the upcoming “Lust”, about a teacher who moves to the countryside, has an outside chance as well.
33. ECUADOR
(last submitted 2004) has the second smallest film industry in South America (whither Paraguay) and they’ve only ever submitted two films, including Sebastian Cordero’s riveting thriller “Cronicas”, starring John Leguizamo. This year, I predict Ecuador will return to the race, as they have released two very well-regarded films. The first is the latest from Sebastian Cordero- “Pescador”- which spent seven months on the film festival circuit before finally opening at home in Ecuador. It’s a black comedy about a rural fisherman who teams up with a female con artist to earn money from cocaine that has mysteriously washed up on the beach. They could also choose the intriguing “In the Name of the Daughter”, about a dedicated Communist who insists on spreading her ideals to her entire family and her neighborhood….and who just happens to be a 9-year girl. Two critical hits in one year is great for Ecuador. I think they’ll send “Pescador”.
34. EGYPT’s
nominee is often difficult to predict, and I wonder if the Egyptian Academy (which often enjoys choosing challenging films featuring controversial subject matter) will be affected by the recent Islamic shift in the country (romance “A Whole One” was recently pulled from theatres to be re-censored). Although Egypt produces the most films in the Arab world, the number of quality films seems to have been overtaken by Morocco. In any case, Egypt has three front-runners this year (less than usual), all of which are connected in one way or another to the recent revolution. The front-runner is clearly “After the Battle”, which competed in Cannes and which is the complex story of a town outside of Cairo which includes those who fought for and against the recent revolution. “Asmaa”, a modestly budgeted drama about an Egyptian woman with HIV and her dilemma about going public with her disease to get a desperately needed operation, has gotten even better reviews as well as praise for tackling a taboo subject and for its brave lead performance. It was directed by a young revolutionary and blogger who was abused in Tahrir Square. The final (and lowest-profile) of the three main contenders is “Cry of an Ant”, a black comedy about a man who returns to Egypt after ten years jailed in Iraq to face problems in Egypt when he tries to join the revolution there. A darker horse is “18 Days”, a series of short films by a diverse group of directors (including the Yousry Nasrallah, director of “After the Battle”) about the Arab Spring in Cairo. It will be a difficult decision for the Egyptians and I hope they enter (they’ve sent films eight of the past ten years) the race and don’t choose a safer, blander choice (like family drama “Palm of the Moon”).  My prediction: the Cannes label will push “Battle” (just barely) to victory over “Asmaa”.
35. ESTONIA
is the smallest of the three Baltic Republics, and the only one to regularly participate in this competition (Estonia has sent seven of the past eight years; Latvia + Lithuania sent three each). This year they have a quartet of eligible films, and I’m not sure which one they’ll choose. Will it be “The Idiot”, a surreal artistic film based on a Dostoevsky novel and oft compared to “The Temptation of St. Tony”? Or “Mushrooming”, a political satire/comedy/horror film about politicians lost in the forest? The one with the best festival credentials is international co-production “Lonely Island” (competing in Moscow) about five intersecting stories, although reviews have been mixed.  “Demon”, a psychological drama about a trio of persons confronting a moral dilemma in a casino, is an unknown quantity since it won’t premiere until August. It’s a wide-open race….I really have no idea…..My prediction: “Mushrooming” is the surprise nominee, with favorite “Lonely Island” in second place.
36. ETHIOPIA
(last submitted 2010) has a small domestic film industry for local consumption, but they very rarely produce anything for the international market (exceptions: “Teza”, “The Athlete”). I can’t see them sending any of their vulgar comedies or amateurish action films to the competition. For the sake of completion, I’ll choose “Across the Atlantic”, a movie filmed in Washington, DC about Ethiopian immigrants and the problems they face in the U.S., but who knows if that would even qualify as an Ethiopian film?
37. FIJI
(last submitted 2005) submitted a film once when they made their first-ever feature film. Although Fiji is well-known as a filming location for Western and Bollywood films, I don’t know that they have any local films this year.


38. FINLAND 
has more films eligible than usual (about 30 features plus a few documentaries) but fewer contenders. No film has “broken out” and this year is a wide-open race. I predict the Finns will send “Naked Harbour”, a popular portmanteau film featuring a number of characters and nationalities living through a cold, Finnish winter. One Finnish Ambassador quipped that the dark film shows “everything about Finland he would not want outsiders to see”, but it has proved popular nonetheless. Finland often chooses these character-driven stories for the Oscars. Close behind will be historical drama “Silence”, a Best Film nominee at last year’s Jussi Awards that tells the story of a brigade of civilians tasked with bringing home Finland’s war dead home to be buried after WWII. Unlike most European countries, Finland rarely sends historical dramas to the competition (they send films set in the past, but that’s not the same thing). “The Road North”, a father-son road movie by Mika Kaurismaki (Aki’s brother), will premiere next month. I’ll place it third. Two years ago, Finland chose a documentary. Since none of the films here are universally praised, they may wish to do that again and choose “Forever Yours”, a well-reviewed doc about the lives of foster children which won Best Doc at the Jussis last year. Very dark horses include black comedy “The Storage” whose dark humor is probably too local to play overseas, “Once Upon A Time in the North”, a historical drama set in the 1860s about a Finnish outlaws known as “hajyt”, and “Stars Above” which got mostly tepid reviews despite its Oscary story of three women living in three different eras of the 20th century.  The biggest film of the year of course is Nazi sci-fi comedy “Iron Sky”, but I don’t think it will come into play here.
39. FRANCE is usually one of the more difficult countries to predict since they have so many options. This year, I see three frontrunners: if they want to choose a critical auteur favorite with big stars, they’ll choose “Rust and Bone”. Directed by Jacques Audiard (“The Prophet”) and starring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenarts (the breakout star of “Bullhead”), “Rust and Bone” received critical acclaim at Cannes 2012 for its peculiar romance of an unemployed and emotionally stunted young man and a recently handicapped whale trainer. If they want to choose a popular audience favorite, they’ll clearly choose “Les Intouchables”, a box-office hit comedy in France and (to a lesser extent) the United States. It’s about another odd couple….this time a quadriplegic millionaire and the petty thief from the projects he hires to be his live-in caretaker. I’ve seen the film and it’s an audience-pleaser with a lot of heart, and one which has gotten universally positive reviews. Though it’s a comedy at its core, It deals with issues serious enough to make it a sentimental contender for Oscar. Their third option is “Polisse”, a crime drama about a journalist working on a story about detectives from the Paris Child Protection Unit, and who becomes a witness to the sad, real-life cases of child abuse in the nation’s capital. “Polisse” was rumored to be France’s first choice last year but it premiered too late. The two dark horses are: “Farewell My Queen” (Berlin 2012), a lavish costume drama and biopic of Marie Antoinette, and “Chicken with Plums”, a live-action drama based on a graphic novel from the creators of “Persepolis”, about the last days of a Persian man’s life. More than any other country, France seeks to get an Oscar nomination each and every year and they’re upset they haven’t made it the past two years (“Declaration of War” probably deserved a nod….the well-meaning ”Of Gods and Men” did not). “Rust” has the reviews, but “Les Intouchables” has the buzz. I think “Les Intouchables” will rep France with “Rust and Bone” in second, “Polisse” a close third, and “Farewell My Queen” a distant fourth. “Renoir” won’t premiere in time.

40. GEORGIA is bragging that their 105-minute “The Forgotten King” is the longest “single take” film in cinematic history. That’s quite impressive if it’s true since the trailer darts back and forth between modern-day times and the 15th century, and including car chases and shootouts. That selling point alone will probably get the film selected for the Oscars. Last year, I predicted “Salt White”, a drama about a series of characters working a seaside hotel but I think it’s actually eligible this year. It’s been representing Georgia at a number of film festivals and it should come in second this year. Beauty contest dramedy “Keep Smiling” actually sounds the most entertaining, but it probably has too much competition.

41. GERMANY- doesn’t have too many good options this year. The two top winners at the Lolas were “Stopped On Track” a grueling film about one man’s battle against a deadly form of cancer, and “Barbara”, about a female doctor in East Germany who is exiled by the authorities to a small town. The two other big contenders include “Lore” (Locarno, Toronto), about German kids (including Hitler Youth members) living through the aftermath of World War II, when their whole ideological education is in shambles. It’s scheduled to be released after the deadline but could get an early release. The other is “Three Quarter Moon”, a comedy about a grumpy middle-aged taxi driver and his emerging relationship with a Turkish-German woman and her daughter. I want to predict “Lore”, but its late release date and its Australian director and international crew means the Germans may not consider it...Then I would want to pick “Stopped on Track”, but that was shortlisted by Germany last year (though it doesn't appear to have opened until later), making it also seem unlikely...That's followed by “Barbara”, “Three Quarter Moon” and dysfunctional family drama “Home for the Weekend” (Berlin) rounding out the Top Five. In a weak year like this one, I suppose Germany could choose an unlikely dark horse like: “Combat Girls” (3rd Place at the Lolas), about a female neo-Nazi and “Cracks in the Shell”, a thriller about an aspiring actress. I'm really unsure on this one. Germany should announce its shortlist in late August. Let's say "Barbara", although I'm pretty sure the Germans will choose some new film that hasn't come out yet. I don't have confidence in anything that's come out so far.

42. GREECE
used to automatically choose the winner of the Thessaloniki Film Festival, but they got rid of that rule a few years ago. Last year, they “recommended” that the winner of Best Film at the Hellenic Film Awards be selected (it was). This means that the two obvious frontrunners are “City of Children” (winner of the two main awards in the Greek Film Section at Thessaloniki) and “Unfair World”, which won Best Picture, Best Director plus two Acting awards at the Hellenic Film Awards (“Children” won Screenplay and one of the other Acting awards). “City of Children” tells four disturbing stories centered on couples and childbirth while “Unfair World (which I skipped at the DC Film Festival), a black comedy about a corrupt cop nearing retirement which is often compared to a lame version of Kaurismaki. High-profile black comedy “Alps” by Yorgos Lanthimos, about a strange little company that earns money by impersonating the dead, should also have a shot at the award since Lanthimos gave Greece its first Oscar nod in three decades with the overrated “Dogtooth”.  There’s also “L” (Sundance), a tragicomedy about a man who’s reduced to living in his car, and one of the losing Best Picture nominees at the Hellenic Film Awards, family drama “Burning Heads”. Despite very poor reviews, I’m going to guess “Unfair World”, followed by “Alps” and “City of Children”.
43. GREENLAND
(last submitted 2010) sent a single film two years ago. With a population of only 57,000, this huge island is the smallest country (by population) ever to enter the Oscar competition. They now produce roughly one film per year. This year, they have a problem. Their biggest film, “Shadow in the Mountains”, a horror film based on local mythology, appears to have been released two months before the release date, making it ineligible. The film I predicted last year, “Inuk” was released in Greenland in 2012, shot in Greenland in the Greenlandic and Danish languages….but it has an American director and a mostly French crew which means it may suffer the same fate as “Maria, Full of Grace” and “Forgiveness of Blood”. For the record, “Inuk” is about a teen who journeys thousands of miles from Greenland’s south to north.
44. GUATEMALA
(last submitted 1994) hasn’t sent a film to the Oscars in 18 years. I think they have two eligible films that I know of are “Capsules”, a low-budget family melodrama about a 12-year old whose mother is dating a drug dealer and whose father returns from years out of the picture. It’s notable for being the first Guatemalan feature directed by a woman. Then there’s “Holy Cow!”, about two women who meet at a funeral and learn they have inherited a cow from their mutual lover. They won’t enter, but I think “Capsulas” has a better chance (although I’d rather see the comedy “Cow”).

45. HONG KONG
’s choice would be easy if the year ended today. It would almost certainly be “Life Without Principle” (Venice), a slow-burn crime thriller directed by Johnnie To who has been nominated to represent Hong Kong three times or, less likely, “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate” (Berlin), an expensive martial arts drama directed by Tsui Hark, starring Jet Li, and set in the Ming Dynasty. Both got nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards but both lost to “A Simple Life”, last year’s HK nominee, which probably came very, very close to reaching the 9-film Oscar shortlist. That said, neither film has gotten great reviews and both will probably be swept aside by one of a number of upcoming much-anticipated new releases. But which one? I’m predicting “Silent War”, a spy thriller starring Tony Leung as a blind spy and directed by the team that brought us “Infernal Affairs”. It premieres in August. Other possibilities that could be chosen if they’re good include the 60-million dollar fantasy movie “The Monkey King” (July), gangster drama “Drug War” (also by Johnnie To; TBD), and all-star police-crime thriller “Cold War” (Aaron Kwok + Tony Leung; TBD).  In the background are “The Grandmasters” by Wong kar-wai, experimenting with the action genre, “The Guillotines” by Andy Lau and, less likely Jackie Chan’s “Chinese Zodiac” . None are scheduled to premiere until December, but Hong Kong has done limited “early releases” three of the past four years to make the Oscar deadline. I pretty confident about “Silent War”.
46. HUNGARY
’s film industry has been going through a crisis lately. Last year’s Hungarian Film Week (their main film festival/national awards) was delayed….This year it was canceled, and then held with virtually a zero budget due to the lack of any state support. Despite all these problems, three Hungarian films have been wowing festival audiences this year (although Istvan Szabo’s English-language “The Door”, starring Helen Mirren, is not eligible for the Foreign Oscar). Hungary’s choice will be between “The Exam” and “Just the Wind”. “Just the Wind” won the Silver Bear and two other smaller awards in Berlin, and tells the story  of a series of murders directed against Hungary’s disenfranchised Roma Gypsy minority (a bit like last year’s submission from next-door Slovakia). “The Exam” is a thriller about a few hours in the lives of two lovers on Christmas Eve in 1957, and the effect of the paranoiac Communist environment on their lives. Hungary can be unpredictable, but I think “The Exam” is a far more likely choice. “Dear Betrayed Friends”, which will premiere shortly in Sarajevo, is a possible dark horse. Like Oscar winner “The Lives of Others”, it looks at the subject of Communist informers, and what happens when a man discovers his best friend of many years reported on him to the Communist authorities for decades. “Istanbul” and “Maiden Danced to Death” may have a few supporters, but they’re out of their league this year.

47. ICELAND
has six eligible films by my count, including three new movies that will premiere this summer. The two front-runners are “Black’s Game”, a slick, gangster drama about the Reykjavik underworld in 1999, and “The Deep”, about the sole survivor of a shipwreck trying to survive on an isolated lava field. Western critics have said “Game” is derivative of dozens of other genre flicks, while “The Deep” seems to be going for something more original than an Icelandic version of “Castaway”. “The Deep” is also directed by Baltasar Kormakur (selected by Iceland in 2001, 2007 and 2008) and is my pick for the award. Dark horses include black comedy “Rock Bottom” and horror-thriller “Frost”, whose trailer reminds me of an Icelandic “Blair Witch Project”. Either one could be really good and get the Icelandic nod.

48. INDIA- TBD

49. INDONESIA’s
film industry is maturing nicely and they have three good films that would represent the country well at the Oscars this year. My prediction is “Soegija”, an expensive period drama set in the 1940s about a Catholic bishop who protested against the Dutch and Japanese occupations.  Director Garin Nugroho is one of Indonesia’s most acclaimed, it’s been fifteen years since he represented Indonesia at the Oscars. “Soegija” has caused a controversy among Islamists who claim it is an attempt to convert Indonesia to Christianity (some people don’t have enough to do in their lives). Almost equally likely is “Postcards from the Zoo”, a rare Indonesian film that competed at a major international festival (Berlin 2012), about an orphan girl raised among zoo animals and street performers at a local zoo; and “Sang Penari” (The Dancer), a critically acclaimed period romance that won Best Picture at the Indonesian Film Festival in 2011, but strongly features Indonesian culture. Dark horses include “Dilemma”, a multi-strand drama that won the most nominations at this year’s Indonesian Move Awards, and “Lovely Man”, the story of a transsexual reunited with his deeply religious daughter, which is acclaimed  largely for its lead performance. Soccer youth dramedy “Garuda di Dadaku 2” won Favorite Film at the Indonesian Movie Awards and action-thriller “The Raid” got a U.S. release, but I don’t think these popular films will be considered.

50. IRAN
is returning champion for the first time ever. Richly deserved. I’m so happy that the Iranian Academy sent “A Separation”, which was no means a certainty at this time last year (“A Separation” lost Best Picture at the National Fajr Film Festival, although it was nominated). Despite Iran’s historic win, Iranian national cinema has been pretty quiet this year, if you exclude films films like Abbas Kiarostami’s  Japanese-language “Like Someone in Love” or films like “Circumstance” made my Iranian exiles. Clearly, these films will not be considered by the authorities in Teheran. Iran often makes strange choices (2003, 2010), although they tend to send quiet family dramas. This year, I predict they send “The Bear”, the winner in Shanghai, one of the few Iranian films to appear on the international festival circuit. It’s about an Iranian man released after ten years as a POW to find that his wife and family has moved on with their lives. If they want to reward “A Separation” they could choose “Snow on the Pines”, the directorial debut of star Peyman Moadi, and which also features a troubled marriage. Neither of these films did very well at Fajr (“The Bear” won Best Actor, “Snow on the Pines” got a single minor nomination) but that shouldn’t hurt their chances. In third place: “Bulletproof” , co-winner of Best Picture at Fajr, featuring a 50-year old man who learns he has two months to live. Rounding out the Top Five: “A Simple Love Story”, about a girl who wishes to put off her long-planned betrothal to a family friend and “Kissing the Face of the Moon”, about two women who have waited two decades for the arrival of news. On paper, “Days of Our Life”, the big winner at Fajr and medieval period drama “Road to Paradise” look good, but “Days” is the sort of patriotic war drama that the Iranians rarely export overseas, and “Paradise” looks pretty but is not the sort of intimate film the Iranians tend to choose.  Even darker horses: “Salute to Angels”, about a little girl trying to help her ill grandmother and “The Last Step”, about a man who returns to his hometown to attend a funeral.

51. IRAQ
(last submitted 2010)’s film industry is centered on its northern Kurdish region, and three of its four submissions were wholly (2005, 2007) or partially (2010) in the Kurdish language, spoken by 20% of the population. As such, the two front-runners to represent Iraq this year are both Kurdish films (both directed by exiles based in Scandinavia) and a lot will depend on whether they are screened in Iraqi cinemas or just on the international circuit. The front-runner is Swedish co-production “Bekas”, a drama about two poor boys who believe that Superman will swoop down and save them by helping them to emigrate to the West. Director Karzan Kader won a student Academy Award for his short film of the same name. The challenger is “Red Heart”, a Norwegian co-production, about a young Kurdish couple on the run from the girl’s impending arranged marriage. “Red Heart” has played internationally, while “Bekas” has yet to premiere. Dark horse: Mohamad al-Daradji, who repped Iraq in 2006 and 2010, has a new documentary- “In My Mother’s Arms”- about a Baghdad orphanage.

52. IRELAND
sent a film last year that was made by an Irish director in Macedonia, about war crimes against women in Bosnia. It won Best Picture at the 2011 Irish Film Awards against more traditional Irish fare. This year, I don’t think they have any Irish-language fiction films. They’re unlikely to send anything but if they decide they want to be creative, I predict they’ll send Romanian-language feature-length documentary “Off the Beaten Track”, directed by Ireland-based, Romanian-born documentarian Dieter Auner. It’s a gentle documentary about shepherds in Transylvania.

POSSIBLE DEBUTS?:
CYPRUS is one of only two EU Member States (along with MALTA) who don't participate in the Oscar race. This year’s “Fish n’ Chips”, a comedy-drama about a Cypriot in London who moves back to his home country, would be an excellent first submission to get the country on the world cinematic map. It got a Best Picture nod at the Greek Academy Awards. HAITI could send “Stories in the Sun”, about the Haitian immigrant experience to the United States. It won an award in Sundance for its Haitian-American filmmaker.   

Next up: ISRAEL to the PHILIPPINES

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Foreign Film Oscar Predictions 2012-2013, AFGHANISTAN-COSTA RICA

It's that time of year again....Soon, each of the countries of the world will select what they believe to be their Best Picture of the year, in order to compete for the Best Foreign Language Film award.

Last year, I saw four of the five nominees (ISRAEL's "Footnote" isn't on DVD yet) plus the submissions from Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, India, Norway, Peru, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, the UK and Uruguay. IRAN and "A Separation" was clearly the best film in the running.

With New Zealand's debut last year, 103 nations have now participated in the Foreign Oscar race, ranging from France (the only country to have a film competing each and every year since 1956) to Pakistan (which hasn't sent a film in four decades).

Here are my predictions for the first 26 countries on the list. Only 11 of them sent films last year but I try to give everyone an equal shot. My computer mysteriously erased my assessment of BRAZIL (where I predict "Xingu").

One big question revolves around one of the frontrunners- Michael Haneke's "Love". Will AMPAS allow it as a majority Austrian production? I think so. Winning the Palme d’Or is nearly a guarantee that your country will send your film to the Oscars. Just ask Apichatpong Weerasethakul ("Uncle Boonmee" repped Thailand two years ago even though Apichatpong Weerasethakul's film was not well-liked...nor should it be). A bit of trivia: since 1979, every non-English language Palme d'Or winner was sent to the Oscars except in 1983 (Japan sent “Antarctica” instead of the remake of “Ballad of Narayama"), 1987 (France sent eventual nominee “Au Revoir, Les Enfants” instead of Gerard Depardieu’s “Under the Sun of Satan”) and 1997 (when co-winners Japan and Iran snubbed “Unagi” and “A Taste of Cherry” for blockbuster anime “Princess Mononoke” and eventual nominee “Children of Heaven” respectively). A bit more trivia...AMPAS bent the rules twice to allow two Palme d’Or winners to be sent by countries that didn’t make them (China’s “Farewell My Concubine” represented Hong Kong...Turkey’s banned “Yol” represented Switzerland) but they disqualified a third when Sweden sent Palme d’Or winner “Best of Intentions” which had aired as a TV miniseries prior to its release in Swedish cinemas.

Let the games begin!


1. AFGHANISTAN (last submitted 2010)- After the international success of “Osama”, some of us had high hopes that AFGHANISTAN would be able to develop an Iranian-style naturalistic film industry. Unfortunately, an unsecure safety environment and funding constraints have meant that the country’s budding film industry has not lived up to its potential. However, filmmaking continues. This year’s most likely submission is “Kabul, I Love You”, an UN-funded anthology of ten short films by ten up-and-coming Afghan directors (including one woman). It has premiered in Afghanistan and plans to travel around the country in mobile cinemas. A quick look at Youtube indicates that the trailers for new Afghan films are looking more professional these days (though admittedly not Oscar worthy!). If the Afghans just want to participate, “Buzkashi Boys”, the story of friendship between a young boy and a street kid, looks particularly interesting and culturally relevant. For some interesting recent articles on the state of cinema, also see the Vancouver Sun and the UK Guardian.
2. ALBANIA used to be the North Korea of Europe (until 1990…not that long ago!) but thankfully those days are over. Last year, they were unfairly forced to chose a different film after the Albanian-language “Forgiveness of Blood” was disqualified due to its American director. The blame for the disqualification falls on rival director Bujar Alimani who complained to the Academy and whose film finished second and was eventually sent in its place. Albania doesn’t have much this year…I count three eligible films- Greece-set emigration drama “Agon”, commercial action-thriller “Out of Touch” and the probable Albanian nominee, “Pharmakon”. “Pharmakon” is an erotic drama about a disturbing love triangle- a young Albanian doctor recently returned from his studies in America, a young nurse, and the young man’s controlling father who lusts after the young woman.
3. ALGERIA (last submitted 2010) has no Rachid Bouchareb films this year, so their pick comes down to a trio of films, including two by Merzak Allouache, who represented Algeria way back in 1996 with comedy “Salut, Cousin!”. “The Repentant” won a minor award at Cannes (Best European Film from the non-jury Europa Cinemas Label), where it premiered at Director’s Fortnight. The film is about the life of a former jihadist who has benefited from a national amnesty, but who still faces hatred and anger when he returns to his home village. Unfortunately for Allouache, his last two controversial films have not pleased Algerian authorities, including “Normal” (which I believe is also eligible this year) which shows young Algerians facing up to cultural censorship, and “Harragas”, which highlighted the problems of illegal immigration. With Allouache very possibly in the bad books of the Algerian Academy, I predict Algeria will go with the less controversial “How Big Is Your Love?”, a baity drama about a young boy sent to live with his grandparents when his parents unexpectedly decide to divorce. “The Repentant” probably deserves the nod, but “Love” sounds more likely.

4. ARGENTINA- has a number of strong contenders and although I with Ivan Coss when he says that the two front-runners are Pablo Trapero’s “White Elephant” (Cannes) and “Everybody Has A Plan” (Toronto), I would argue that “Las Acacias” and “El Ultimo Elvis” are also in with a chance. I’m predicting “Everybody Has a Plan”, a thriller starring Viggo Mortensen (yes, in Spanish!) as an identical twin who seeks to start a new life with his brother’s identity. It has a lot of good buzz going into its Toronto premiere. That said, it would be a mistake to count out Ricardo Darin…He starred in six Argentine submissions in ten years, and could do so again with “White Elephant”, a drama about two priests working in one of Buenos Aires’ slums. It’s directed by Pablo Trapero who has had his last two films chosen as well. The Argentine Academy also likes Daniel Hendler but his latest romantic comedy “All In” (aka “La suerte en tus manos”) hasn’t done well enough with critics to compete this year. Road drama “Las Acacias” won Best Picture winner at the national Silver Condor Awards for its story of a trucker who reluctantly helps a Paraguayan single mother and her baby proceed on a long journey and also the Camera d’Or at Cannes in 2011. “El Ultimo Elvis” marks the directorial debut of “Biutiful” screenwriter Armando Bo, and its story of a down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator shares that films dark, somewhat depressing world view. I’m pretty sure it will be one of those four, but last year Argentina surprised everyone….Potential suprises this year could include “Clandestine Childhood” about the military dictatorship seen through the eyes of children, quirky romantic comedy “Medianeras” or even Swiss-directed sisterhood comedy “Back to Stay” which won the Golden Leopard at Locarno 2011. My predictions: “Everybody Has a Plan” gets to go to the Oscars, while “Las Acacias” goes to the Goyas, with “White Elephant” as the runner-up for both.

5. ARMENIA (last submitted 2009) has only entered the Oscar race three times, with two surreal fiction films and a very boring documentary short. This year, they have a record number of local Armenian features (five) competing at their national Golden Apricot Film Festival. If they submit a film, it’s almost certain to be “If Only Everyone”, a patriotic pro-peace drama about a man and woman whose lives are still being affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh war with Azerbaijan two decades before. The premiere was co-sponsored by the President’s Office, and this issue is an important one for Armenia today. No locally-made fiction feature film has ever won Best Armenian Film (they’ve all been shorts, documentaries or films by the Armenian diaspora) but I think “Everyone” will change that. Runner-up: surreal drama “Joan and the Voices”, which also looks at the post-war landscape, and which has gotten some festival exposure in the U.S.
6. AUSTRALIA (last submitted 2009) has a film industry that obviously works primarily in the English language, so they don’t usually send films to the Oscars but they do when they have one to send. Thus far, they have sent three stories about immigrants to Australia and two about Aboriginal Australian communities. Having seen all five, I’m sad “Home Song Stories” failed to get a nomination in a very strong year. This year, I don’t think they have anything that is more than 50% in a foreign language. Aboriginal girl group musical-comedy “The Sapphires” (Cannes) is in English and “Dead Europe”, about an Australian man uncovering deeply buried family secrets while travelling in Europe may qualify due to Greek, Hungarian and French dialogue. But I doubt it. Their best bet is “33 Postcards”, the first official co-production between Australia and China, about a Chinese teenager who finds her way to Australia to meet her longtime charity sponsor (Guy Pearce; “Adventures of Priscilla”)
7. AUSTRIA will choose 2012 Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Love” by Michael Haneke. “Love” is a touching story about an octogenarian French couple, whose marriage comes under strain when the elderly husband has to take care of his ill and increasingly ill-tempered despondent wife. As noted above, countries will almost always nominate a Palme d’Or winner, “Love” has gotten great reviews and to top it all off, Austria has selected films by Herr Haneke four times (though not “Funny Games”, my favorite Haneke film), including “Cache”, which was disqualified for being in French. Those language rules were rewritten in 2006 meaning that the French-language “Love” is eligible as long as it can prove it has enough Austrian cast and crew. Admittedly, they’re cutting it close. The film has an Austrian director and writer (Haneke) and two of four producers are Austrian, but it was filmed in France with a mostly French cast, with no principal Austrian cast members. My prediction is Oscar doesn’t mess with it, but I’m wary. If “Love” has problems, the leading Austrian film to step into its place is “Paradise” (which competed head-to-head with “Love” in Cannes) about a middle-aged Austrian woman tempted by sex tourism in Kenya. Less likely: Austria has historically liked to send films about foreign immigrant communities (1999, 2000, 2008, 2009) which means that they also may consider two well-regarded films about Kurdish immigrants from Turkey- “Kuma” (Berlin) is about a family smuggling in a second wife for the family patriarch, while “Your Beauty is Worth Nothing” (Karlovy Vary), about a 12-year old trying to adjust to his new life in Austria. There’s also crime-romance “Crossing Boundaries” (which probably will be eligible next year) and intriguing sci-fi drama “The Wand”, but all of this is moot unless “Love” is disqualified.
8. AZERBAIJAN (last submitted 2010) successfully hosted Eurovision this year (without the participation of jealous rival Armenia) and they seem to enjoy the spotlight. Few people realize they are one of the five finalists (and the biggest long-shot) to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. Although they are reportedly pouring money into local filmmaking, they don’t have much to show for it. The only film I know if is Russian-language “There Never Was A Better Brother”, a slow family drama about two brothers in 1970s Soviet Azerbaijan, and the woman who comes between them.
9. BANGLADESH (last submitted 2010) skipped last year for reasons unknown despite having a decent film year. Here’s hoping they return in 2011. The Bangladeshi film industry is not doing so well. Despite a population of 160 million (more than Russia), the number of domestic film releases are falling fast. This year’s two leading contenders are “Runaway” (not to be confused with “Runway”, which Bangladesh should have sent last year) and “Red Point”, both of which have foreign input. “Runway”, the debut film by a young Bangladeshi-American director, is about a man who goes after the runaway husbands and fathers who leave their families in debt and poverty. “Red Point” is billed as the first Bangladesh-French co-production, and it features the lives of Bangladeshi families who emigrated there after the 1971 war of independence. The independent “Runaway” is said to deserve the nomination, but “Red Point” is by Impress Telefilms which has produced the past six Bangladeshi nominees. Everything in Bangladesh is about is about connections. I predict “Red Point”.

10. BELARUS (last submitted 1996) is one of only two European countries that has not submitted in the past three years. Truth be told, they haven’t sent in fifteen years and they almost certainly won’t send a film this year. Belarus spends much of their filmmaking budgets on telefilms and miniseries with little leftover for feature films. The only eligible film I know of is “Above the Sky”, an “issue” drama about a young musician who discovers he has AIDS.

11. BELGIUM makes things difficult every year since this dysfunctional country has two independent film boards- one for French-speaking Wallonie and one for Dutch-speaking Flanders. How they agree on a nominee is beyond me. In the past twelve years, they’ve chosen 8 films from the larger Dutch part and 4 films from the smaller French part. Last year, they shocked the world by choosing the unheralded “Bullhead” over Cannes winner “The Kid With A Bike”. When “Bullhead” got a surprise Oscar nomination, we all realized the Belgians were more clever than we thought. The Belgians usually choose a national three-film shortlist. This year, the top three Walloon films are “The Giants” (Cannes 2011; winner of Best Picture at the 2012 Walloon Film Awards over “Kid With A Bike”), a drama about three teens growing up in a lower-middle-class town in rural Belgium, “Mobile Home” (Locarno), a dramedy about two aimless and unemployed young men on the road, and “Our Children”, about a Belgian woman stressed by life with her Moroccan husband (“The Prophet”’s Tahar Rahim) and based on a real-life infanticide case. Flanders has a competitive race since four previously submitted directors (Nic Balthazar, Patrice Toye, Fien Troch and Felix van Groeningen) have new films this year, although the most hotly tipped- van Groeningen’s “The Broken Circle Breakdown” will probably be eligible next year. The most likely films to come out of Flanders are Troch’s “Kid”, about two small children orphaned when their mother dies, Toye’s “Little Black Spiders”, about a home for young, unwed mothers and Balthazar’s “Until Forever” (Tot Altijd) about a terminally ill man who confides in his closest friends his plans to kill himself. Dark horses include the Flemish-language “Lena”, about the sexuality of an overweight teen girl, and French-language “Le sac de Farine”, about a girl kidnapped to join distant family in Morocco. My predictions for the Belgian shortlist: “The Giants”, “Our Children” and “Until Forever” with “Little Black Spiders” the wild card. Belgian nominee: “Until Forever” beats “Our Children” by the slightest hair.
12. BHUTAN’s (last submitted 1999) leading director Khyentse Norbu (“The Cup”, “Travellers & Magicians”) has a new movie being made, but it’s being made in India. The Bhutanese, with a population of less than a million, actually produced over a dozen films a year for domestic audiences, and the country holds its own National Film Awards every May. They have only submitted once (“The Cup”, which was primarily made for international audiences) so they won’t send anything this year either but if they did, it would probably be “I Am Sonam Kuenga Namgyel”, which won most of the important National Film Awards and is the story of a spoiled rich boy who gets a poor village girl pregnant.
13. BOLIVIA (last submitted 2009) has sent five films over the years and this year they are scheduled to premiere a healthy ten domestic releases. The two first of the two front-runners for the Oscar race is “Insurgentes”, a long-awaited patriotic history film highlighting indigenous rights by acclaimed 75-year old local filmmaker Jorge Sanjines. Its early release (scheduled for summer 2012) was recently announced by President Evo Morales. The second is “Pacha”, a minimalist story of a poor, indigenous shoeshine boy whose shoeshine supplies- the only way he can make a living- are stolen. Either film should represent Bolivia well, although I predict they send “Insurgente”, because of the strong people behind the film. High profile but very unlikely would be “Maleficarum”, a controversial film about lesbianism in the Spanish inquisition, filled with controversial violence and sex scenes. Next year’s candidate will likely be “Kandire, la tierra sin mal”, the latest from Juan Carlos Valdivia who directed three of Bolivia’s five official Oscar submissions.
14. BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA has a very easy choice this year. “Children of Sarajevo” is a topical and well-regarded drama by a previously submitted director (Aida Begic, “Snow”) which won a Jury Prize at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section. It tells the story of two war orphans (a woman in her twenties and her teenage brother) and the problems in their lives twenty years after their parents were killed during the Balkan wars. Not only is it a good choice, but as far as I know, it’s the only eligible film from Bosnia this year.
15. BRAZIL
16. BULGARIA seems to have fallen in love with “Ave”, an independent road movie about a brooding young man and a girl who is a pathological liar, and their journey hitchhiking around Bulgaria. The film won Best Picture at the 2012 Bulgarian National Film Awards and Best Bulgarian Film at the Sofia International Film Festival. The film hasn’t wowed international critics though, who point out that is slow and aimless. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say. Better received abroad has been “Faith, Love & Whisky”, about a runaway bride who flees her wealthy American fiancĂ© for her old life among her n’er do well friends in provincial Bulgaria. I’m hoping for “Whisky”, which is said to be the better film, but “Ave” has been sweeping everything in Bulgaria for the past year so I predict they’ll send it, but “Whisky” will come close. Others with an outside chance include two clever comedies: “Migration of the Belted Bonito” is a comedy by a respected director about two fathers trying to make ends meet in the countryside while “Operation Shmenti Capelli” (aka Operation Taradiddle) is an abstract Kusturica-style political comedy about the power of the haves and the have-nots post-Communism. I haven’t forgotten “The Island”. Although it played at Cannes 2011, reviews are poor and it probably contains too much English to qualify.
17. BURKINA FASO (last submitted 1989) sees itself as a pioneer and creative leader in African cinema but they have only entered the Oscar race once and that was more than twenty years ago. They premiere most of their best films every two years at the FESPACO International Film Festival (held in odd years) so there’s little to report on in even years. The only strong candidate I am aware of is “Espoir Voyage”, a documentary by a respected emergeing director about a Burkinabe searching for his brother who disappeared in the Cote d’Ivoire some years before, looking for work. It appeared in the 2012 Berlin Film Market.
18. CAMBODIA (last submitted 1994) announced in April that it was convening an Oscar selection committee to enter the Foreign Film race for the first time since their debut in 1994. “Lost Loves”, the first Cambodian film about the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s, and the heartwrenching story of one family’s experience, was cited as having been submitted itself for consideration. I picked it last year. Rithy Panh, Cambodia’s most acclaimed international director, also has a film (“The Catch”), about an African-American pilot whose plane goes down in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, but I think Panh will let “Lost Loves” have this one.
19. CAMEROON (last submitted 1980) has failed to enter the competition since their debut more than thirty years ago. Their ailing film industry, divided between French- and English-language productions, receives little support from government and its success pales next to neighboring Nigeria. The only quality film I know about is “Sacred Diamond”, an adventure film in French and Bandjoun, filmed throughout the four regions of Cameroon. There’s also “Asoni”, which got an African Academy Award nomination, although I can’t find a shred of information online about it.
20. CANADA has been doing outstanding in this category- it’s the only country in the world thathas gotten five shortlist spots in the past six years (the one exception was “I Killed My Mother”, the best film among the six). Israel has gotten more nominations (four of the past six years) but Canada’s record is pretty impressive, especially considering that non-English speaking Canada has a relatively small population. This year’s big question mark is “Midnight’s Children” by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta who is adapting Salman Rushdie controversial novel about a group of children born in 1947 as India and Pakistan were gaining independence. The film should be able to qualify as Canadian (Mehta is a Canadian citizen and got an Oscar nomination for the Hindi-language “Water” in 2007, and “Children” has some significant Canadian crew as well). The film is scheduled to be released three weeks after the deadline, although I think Canada may do a one-week early release to qualify for the Oscars (the Canadians often do this) especially since it also plans to be released in the USA in October (meaning it can’t represent Canada next year…long story….read the rules). The film is said to be in “English, Hindi and Urdu”, but will it be more than 50% in a foreign language? I think it will. Another problem is the competition it will face from a strong lineup of Quebecois films, particularly the trio of Xavier Dolan’s “Laurence Always” (Cannes), Rafael Ouellet’s “Camion” (Karlovy Vary) and especially Kim Nguyen’s “War Witch” (Berlin). “Laurence Always” is the nearly three-hour tale of a man who seeks to continue his relationship with a woman after having a sex change, while “Camion” is a man in New Brunswick who turns to his adult sons after becoming clinically depressed after he is involved in an accident in which a woman is inadvertently killed. But it’s “War Witch”, the heart-wrenching tale of a pregnant 14-year Congolese child soldier telling us the story of her sad, violent young life that has the best chance. It’s a credit to the quality of films this year that well-received films like “Nuit 1” (about a man and woman having a one-night stand) or intriguing new films like the Villeneuve brothers’ sci-fi thriller “Mars et Avril” and “Valley of Tears” (too similar to “Incendies”??), a mystery about a historian searching for a young Palestinian in Lebanon, probably won’t factor in the decision at all. My prediction: “Midnight’s Children” is selected by a hair over “War Witch” if it’s eligible. In third place: “Camion”, with “Valley of Tears” in fourth.
21. CHAD (last submitted 2002) has only one film director of international renown and that’s Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. Impoverished Chad had a very strong contender last year (Haroun’s “A Screaming Man”) but didn’t send it in. They won’t send anything this year either.

22. CHILE is likely to choose “No”, directed by Pablo Larrain and starring Gael Garcia Bernal, as an advertising executive plotting the downfall of Chilean dictator General Pinochet. It played out of competition in Cannes where it won an award. Larrain represented Chile in 2008 and was the probably runner-up last year. If the Chilean Academy doesn’t like the film for some reason, Chile can choose one of a number of films from the film festival circuit- “Bonsai” (Cannes 2011/Toronto) is a quirky romance between a girl destined to live and a man destined to die, and one of the few Chilean movies to get a US release, “Night Across the Street” (Cannes 2012, Director’s Fortnight), the final film by Chilean filmmaker Raoul Ruiz (he spent most of his career overseas) features a retiree reminiscing about his life. “Sal” is a modern-day western. “Young and Wild” (Sundance/Berlin) is a youth-oriented drama about the sexual escapades of a girl from a deeply religious family. They also have two upcoming films- the long awaited, expensive fantasy film “Caleuche- Call of the Sea” (I predicted it to rep Chile in 2009) and “The Passion of Michelangelo”, about a priest investigating supernatural phenomena. I’m sure Chile won’t say ‘No’ to “No”, and I think the two other two films on the Chilean shortlist will be selected from among”Bonsai”, “Night Across the Street” and “Caleuche”.
23. CHINA likes their movies big and with big stars. Half of their submissions in the past ten years have cost more than 20 million US dollars- an astronomical sum by local standards- and only one was low-budget (2008’s boring Olympic documentary “Dream Weavers”, which was clearly chosen for other reasons). Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked. China hasn’t been nominated since 2003 and picking brilliant “small” movies about Chinese life (“Getting Home”) over big-budget messes like “The Promise” might work out better. Oh well. This year, the film that best fits the big-budget description is “1942” which is clearly what the PRC would like to send. Directed by Feng Xiaogang (“Aftershock”) and co-starring American Oscar winners Adrian Brody and Tim Robbins, this film about the 1942 famine is the clear front-runner if it can get a qualifying release before September 30, although it is forecast for winter. Also co-starring an American Oscar winner is black comedy “Inseparable”, about a Chinese junior executive who is stopped from committing suicide by his brash American neighbor, played by Kevin Spacey. The director is Chinese-American and this film is definitely not what China usually sends, although they may be tempted to send it due to Spacey’s Oscar pedigree. If they want a pretty costume drama with lots of martial arts kicking, they could choose HK co-production “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate”, although critics have generally only praised the film’s technical aspects, and China hasn’t sent a film like it since 2006. “11 Flowers”, about a boy growing up against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution, has probably got the best reviews of the year but I’m unclear on whether this film toes the government line or not. This is a very controversial subject in China’s modern-day history and the Chinese Academy typically shuns controversy, which would appear to rule out the well-reviewed “Black Blood”, about HIV being spread by peasants selling their blood. Two big local stars- Hong Kong’s Tony Leung and China’s Zhang Ziyi- have new movies that could be selected. Leung has “Great Magician”, about the civil war that broke out after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, while Zhang has a Shanghai-set version of “Dangerous Liasons”. As for the Chinese films at this year’s major international film festivals, they all have significant handicaps “Mystery” (Cannes) by previously banned director Lou Ye did not get great reviews. “People Mountain People Sea” (Venice) , a revenge tale told as a road movie, has done better but not many seem to have noticed it. “White Deer Plain” (Berlin) is said to be visually impressive but this tale of a woman who comes between two families in pre-Communist China is also a difficult and confusing three-hour film to watch. Other “smaller” films with an outside chance include two films from Shanghai- “Beijing Blues” a contemporary urban dramedy which won best director and “Falling Flowers”, about the life of a female intellectual, which has gotten mostly poor reviews from Western critics. Others with an outside shot at the prize: “Design of Death”, a murder mystery, “Floating Shadow”, a women’s prison drama, and “Song of Silence” about a deaf teen in the countryside. My verdict: I wish I knew if “1942” was finished…..I predict Zhang Ziyi’s “Dangerous Liaisons” but not feeling particularly confident. I’ll put a surprise early release for “1942” in second place, with “Inseparable”, “White Deer Plain” and “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate” rounding out the Top Five. I don’t think it will make it, but I’m rooting for “11 Flowers”.

24. COLOMBIA has been sending movies to the Oscar for more than thirty years with no luck so far. Production is up thanks to a new film law and they have a number of well-regarded Oscar contenders, though probably not potential nominees. I predict they will send “Porfirio”, a minimalist film about a wealthy landowner who descends into poverty when he is accidentally shot and crippled by Colombian police and who seeks a unique form of revenge. The film has a great backstory- the man whose life the film is based on plays himself. It debuted at Cannes 2011 and finally premiered in Colombian cinemas in March 2012 after nearly a year on the circuit. “Porfirio” also won Best Colombian Picture at the Cartagena Film Festival against most of the eligible Colombian films. The other chief contender is “Sofia and the Stubborn Man” starring Spanish actress Carmen Maura. It won the Jury Prize in Cartagena and features a woman’s relationship with her elderly father. In third: “La Sirga” (Cannes), about a refugee trying to start a new life in the countryside. In fourth place: “Silence in Paradise”, a drama about young love set against a backdrop of paramilitary killings in the 1990s when innocent victims were often framed as guerillas. In fifth: “La Lectora”, a mystery-thriller which will premiere in August. Unlikely but possible: “La Cara Oculta”, a thriller by the director of “Satanas” (possibly the best-ever Colombian submission?) about a woman trapped in a hidden room, and “Choco” (Cannes) about an abused Afro-Colombian wife. Out of the race: “La Playa DC” (Cannes) may have played at the world’s most prestigious film festival, but it got bad reviews; “El Cartel de los Sapos” is by a previously submitted director but is based on a TV show.

25. CONGO-KINSHASA (last submitted 1997) also had a strong contender last year (“Viva Riva”) that they chose not to submit. Ironically, since it got a U.S. release, it was eligible for the Oscars last year in all categories except Foreign Film! While “Viva Riva” will hopefully represent a harbinger for greater things in Congo’s nascent film industry (and Africa as a whole), there are no Congolese films on the radar this year that would cause me to believe that they’ll enter the race for the first time in 1997. However, there is a possibility Congo and its myriad of problems will be in the race after all, if Canada selects the Congo-set tale “War Witch”.

26. COSTA RICA (last submitted 2010) had a great film year last year but opted out, so not sure if they will enter this year or not. They have three movies on the horizon. The most likely option is “Red Princesses”, the story of a young Costa Rican girl whose imaginary revolutionary games end up being eerily similar to her parent’s clandestine activities. However, I doubt it will be released in time. Then the Tico choice will come down to “The End”, a low-budget comedy about the survivors of an apocalyptic meteorite hitting the earth, and “The Three Marias”, a B&W film about the lives of three women with the same name. They probably won’t send anything at all, but I’ll predict the “The End”.