Monday, July 1, 2013

Predictions for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film- ASIA

It's that time of year again.....

In April, GREECE became the first country to elect their "Best Picture" of the year to enter in the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film.

Over the years, 104 different countries have entered the race for an Oscar (92 have entered in the past ten years) and on this blog, we give them all equal treatment whether they sent a single film in the 1970s (like Cote d'Ivoire....they won....) or whether they've entered every year since the category was created in 1956 (like France, who has 12 wins but none since "Indochine" won twenty years ago).

Last year, I saw 34 of the record 71 submissions and I thought the five nominees were all "good". However, I was disappointed that more daring films like "The Patience Stone" (Afghanistan) and "Pieta" (Korea) didn't make the finals. My personal favorites were "Les Intouchables" (France) and "Jaque Mate" (Dominican Republic) though I will confess that both of these were "guilty pleasures" and not necessarily Oscar-worthy films.

This year, I'm dividing the world up into four regions-
I- Asia and the Pacific (26 countries),
II- The Americas + Sub-Saharan Africa (26 countries),
III- Western, Central and Northern Europe (26 countries)
IV- the Middle East (including North Africa) and Eastern Europe (including the Balkans)

I've nearly completed my research this year, but feel free to write and tell me what you think your country will send to the Oscars. Most countries won't select their films until September but I'm moving to Seoul this summer, so I've gotten an early start....There will definitely be films coming out this summer that I've surely missed.

Let's start with the region that Oscar completely ignored last year- Asia. 16 of these countries sent films last year to compete, and I think we'll see 17 this year, with New Zealand and Sri Lanka probably rejoining the competition, and Kyrgyzstan likely bowing out.

COUNTRY MOST LIKELY TO ENTER: Japan and Taiwan haven't missed a competition in more than thirty years.
LEAST LIKELY TO ENTER: Probably Fiji, which I think has nothing eligible.
MOST LIKELY TO GET AN OSCAR NOMINATION: It's a bit early to tell, but I'm betting on Hong Kong!

1. AFGHANISTAN- "Wajma: An Afghan Love Story" Despite continuing violence and instability, Afghanistan has become a semi-regular participant in the Foreign Oscar competition since their 2002 debut. Last year, an Afghan filmmaker received an Oscar nomination for the first time (for “Bukhashi Boys” in the Best Live-Action Short category) and they probably also deserved a Foreign Film nod for the riveting “The Patience Stone”, whose sexual themes would have merited the director a death sentence a decade ago. Despite (or perhaps due to) the country’s misogynistic recent history, the Afghan Academy usually submits stories highlighting the lives of women and girls. This year is no exception. The front-runner is “Wajma: An Afghan Love Story”, which won a Screenwriting Prize at Sundance for its story of a woman who is ostracized by family when she becomes pregnant during a secret engagement. The challenger is “A Man’s Desire for a Fifth Wife”, about the plight of Afghan women suffering under abusive marriages. Marina Golbahari, the 10-year old star of “Osama”, now a beautiful 23-year old woman, has a new movie but I don’t think it will be released in time.

2. AUSTRALIA- "The Rocket" Australia is likely to submit the exotic Lao-language “The Rocket” about a little boy who is believed to be cursed since he was born as a twin. When his extended family learns his secret (the other twin died at birth), he is forced out since they fear he will bring the family misfortune. The boy then is forced to try and find a new home on his own. “The Rocket” won three awards in Berlin (including a Crystal Bear) and three awards at Tribeca (including Best Narrative Feature), and it’s already set to have a 2013 U.S. release (through Kino Lorber). It's a shoo-in to represent the Aussies.

3. BANGLADESH- "Television" Bangladesh rarely has movies that compete at the international level , which is why it was a point of pride that Mostafa Farooki’s comic satire “Television” was selected as the Closing Film at the Pusan International Film Festival, and was cited by many critics as one of the festival's most charming surprises. Farooki’s film is about a remote Bangladeshi hamlet whose headman rules the village as an omnipotent dictator, banning television and other “sinful” influences. Eventually, his worldview is changed by a series of mishaps revolving around his upcoming pilgrimage to Mecca. The film is said to be charming and delightful and has been selected for fests in Dubai and Gotheborg. The only obstacle I foresee is that the film seems to have been produced independently of Bangladesh’s cliquey filmmaking system (almost all Bangladeshi Oscar submissions have been made by the dominant studio, Impress Telefilms). However, Farooki has worked with Impress Telefilms before, so I still think this will be their pick. If the Bangladeshis look elsewhere, I could see them choosing “Pita” (from Impress Telefilms), a more traditional production about the 1971 Liberation War seen from the perspective of a father living in a mixed Muslim-Hindu village during the massacres by Pakistani soldiers. Less likely: “Runaway” (which I predicted last year as runner-up), another well-reviewed independent film which finally premiered in Dhaka in March after a year on the film festival circuit. It’s about a rickshaw driver who helps to reunite street children with their families. My prediction: “Television”
 4. BHUTAN- "Thank You, Sir!!" The Bhutanese entered the race once in 1999 with the delightful, Oscar-worthy “The Cup”. Tiny Bhutan does have a domestic film industry and runs its own National Film Awards. This year’s awards (announced in May) split the main awards between three films. “Thank You Sir” won most of the most awards (11), but “Jarim Sarim Yeshey Tshogyel”, about a woman from a dysfunctional family who dreams of becoming Miss Bhutan, won Best Picture while “Poenlop Agay Haap” won the all-important cultural awards. I know that Bhutan won’t send anything, but for the sake of completion I’ll choose the expensive “Thank You Sir”. Also of note, Bhutan’s first and only international director, (monk Khyentse Norbu, "The Cup", "Travellers & Magicians") has a new film out this year (“Vara: The Blessing”) but it’s in English.

5. CAMBODIA- "The Missing Picture" Cambodia returned to the Oscar race last year with labor of love “Lost Loves” and they could very well return this year with documentary “The Missing Picture”. Though documentaries rarely score here, director Rithy Panh won the Un Certain Regard Prize at Cannes 2013- probably the highest honor ever received by a Cambodian film. The France-based Panh, Cambodia’s  most internationally well-known filmmaker and director of Cambodia’s 1994 Oscar submission, narrates this unusual, autobiographical documentary about the death of his family during the 1975-1979 genocide, using clay figures.
6. CHINA- "Back to 1942" China's Academy has a dilemma. Their three most critically acclaimed films of the year are all by directors who have annoyed the Communist regime by speaking out against the government’s censorship policies. Jia Zhangke’s “A Touch of Sin” was warmly received at Cannes 2013 (with a Best Screenplay Award) but Zhang started his career as an underground filmmaker. In fact, Zhang has said publicly that he has stopped production on several past films rather than conform to the whims of the government censors. “A Touch of Sin” was approved for release in China, but it’s indictment of social problems in modern-day China  (prostitution, the wealth gap, government cover-ups) would make it an odd choice. Lou Ye’s “Mystery” played at Cannes 2012 and won Best Picture at the Asian Film Awards, but the film has divided the critics and Lou was banned from making films twice by the Chinese authorities for making movies (“Suzhou River” and “Summer Palace”) without government approval. His latest ban has expired but “Mystery” still hasn’t been released domestically. Feng Xiaogang is China’s biggest box-office draw, he represented China at the Oscars once before (“Aftershock”) and his hit WWII drama “Back to 1942”, about the outbreak of a wartime famine while fighting Japan, has two Oscar-winning actors in supporting roles (Adrian Brody and Tim Robbins). However, Feng also royally pissed off the Chinese authorities in April by making a speech during a televised award ceremony, noting that “censorship is torment” (it was bleeped out) in China today. Feng also famously said in 2010 that he doesn't care about Oscars and that he made his films for Chinese audiences, not Western ones. And Chuan Lu hasn’t pissed anyone off personally, but his movie has…”The Last Supper” is set in 200BC, but some have claimed it is an allegory for Mao Zedong's gradual seizure of power. That delayed its release from summer to fall, making it eligible this year. Reviews were better overseas than home in China.  What will China do? Well, they could choose an up-and-coming director (though they usually don’t) with a festival favorite like “A Useless Man” (Shanghai Film Festival; set in the 1930s) or either of a pair of films about women trying to make it in the 1990s- box-office hit “So Young” and the more serious “Feng Shui” (Tokyo). They could also (foolishly) select a nationalist dramedy set in the US, namely “American Dreams in China”, though I don’t think they’re dumb enough to do that....Of note, they had the biggest box-office hit in Mainland China history (“Lost in Thailand”) but that won’t matter at Oscar time. My prediction: it’s “Last Supper” vs. “Back to 1942”…it depends how angry they are at Feng Xiaogang. I predict he’ll get it. 

7. FIJI- Nothing eligible??? Tiny Fiji submitted just one film (the first-ever Fijian feature film) in 2005, but most of their involvement in international cinema is as a shooting location. They do have a local film in production called “Unlimited Tamasa”  (in Hindi, the language of 40% of Fijians) which is scheduled to be completed in July but this slapstick comedy-cum-Bollywood-musical about a magic whitening cream is an unlikely Oscar candidate! Anyway, it probably won't premiere until the next Oscar cycle.

8. HONG KONG- "The Grandmaster" Hong Kong is nearly certain to choose Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster”, which seems to check all the Oscar boxes- it has been praised for deftly balancing artistic and commercial elements, it was made by a renowned auteur director (Wong Kar-wai)  who has made his first box-office hit, it has big international stars (Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung) and it opened the Berlin Film Festival where it was warmly received. This martial-arts historical drama focuses on Cantonese martial arts master and hero Ip Man (subject of a series of five HK films recently) in China in the 1930s after the first Sino-Japanese War. On top of all that, “The Grandmaster” will have the Weinstein Brothers behind it, since they’ve bought the US rights. I say “The Grandmaster” is in. Hong Kong typically likes to choose genre action films so I suppose “Cold War” (Opening Film in Busan and Best Picture Winner at the HK Film Awards), about a group of renegade cops, or “Drug War” (by four-time selectee Johnnie To, and Best Picture nominee at the Asian Film Awards), about a drug lord forced to work with police to avoid the death penalty, are both going to be considered…but they’ll find it hard to bring down Wong who has, quite unbelievably, only represented Hong Kong in the race once before.  Rounding out the Top Five possibilities in a fairly weak year for Hong Kong cinema overall: melodrama “Bends” (Cannes 2013, Un Certain Regard) and Chow Yun-fat’s big-budget action movie “Monkey King”, which could benefit from an early Oscar qualifying release before its November premiere. Out of luck: “Journey to the West” may be the biggest hit in Hong Kong history, but it won’t be picked here. Prediction: The Grandmaster

9. INDIA- "The Lunchbox"

10. INDONESIA- "Sang Kiai" Indonesia is the third-largest country in the competition (behind India and China) and film output has climbed to about 80 films per year. As usual, the Indonesians don’t have any obvious Oscar nominees but they do have some well-received films so they’ll probably submit something as they have eight of the past ten years. The Indonesians tend to choose pretty historical dramas over arthouse film festival favorites. As I see it, they have five realistic possibilities: “Atambua 39 Degrees Celsius”,a drama about pro-Indonesia refugees escaping from the East Timorese conflict, “Habibie & Ainun”, a unexpected box-office success about the romance of former President Habibie and his wife, “Nine Summers, Ten Autumns”, an autobiographical rags-to-riches drama about a boy who rises above his station, “Sang Kiai”, a religiously tinged drama starring Indonesian grande dame Christine Hakim, about peaceful opposition to Japanese occupation during WWII, and “What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love”, a festival favorite about blind adolescents. “Atambua” and “9 Summers” are by previously submitted directors (the director of “9 Summers” was selected last year”), “Atambua”, “Habibie”and “Sang Kiai” are the sort of historical dramas the Indonesian Academy traditionally fawns over, while “Love” has been seen most widely overseas (including Sundance and Rotterdam). “Sang Kiai” has starpower, while “Habibie”won Favorite Film at this year’s Film Festival Indonesia. It’s a very tight race but I predict the winner will be “Sang Kiai”, which combines patriotism with high production values. Runner-up: Riri Riza’s emotional “Atambua”. Dark horses include “Dream Obama” about a child going to the same school where President Obama studied many years before, “Mursala”, which overcame a lawsuit barring its release and which tells a cultural story about the nation's Batak minority, “Rectoverso”, an omnibus film that represented Indonesia at Cannes Film Market but has gotten middling reviews and “Something In the Way”, which though it competed in Berlin Panorama and Hong Kong, was mostly poorly received for its sexually explicit story of a frustrated taxi driver. Having said all that, Indonesia often has some of its strongest releases in August, so perhaps they’ll choose something I haven’t heard of yet.

11. JAPAN- "Shonen H" Japan always chooses a film out of left-field that nobody expects. They ignore their own Film Awards….except when they don’t (their 2008 and 2010 submissions- which incidentally both made the Oscar shortlist- dominated the Japanese Academy Awards, whereas their films in 2009, 2011 and 2012 netted a grand total of two minor Japanese Academy Award nominations and no wins). Sometimes they choose a commercial film that has no chance at Oscar (“Hula Girls”) and sometimes a film that no one seems to like at all (“Our Homeland”). And when they figure out what Oscar likes, they make sure never to send that kind of film again- they haven’t sent a single costume drama since getting nominated for “The Twilight Samurai” and haven’t sent a single gentle, comedy-drama since winning an Oscar for “Departures”. So, I’m about to give up on trying to predict the Japanese. Though I lived there five years, their Academy is bizarre. Three of their top contenders by three of Japan’s top directors won’t premiere until the fall, meaning they’ll be strong contenders next year (Hirokazu Koreeda’s  Cannes drama “Like Father, Like Son”, Takashi Koizumi’s war movie “Eternal Zero” and Koki Mitani’s all-star period piece “Kiyosu Kaigi”) but they'll all be eligible next year. I see seven contenders  (in alphabetical order): “Chorus of Angels”, a mystery-drama about a widowed music teacher (played by Japan’s Meryl Streep) who returns to her small Hokkaido town to meet with six ex-students, Shion Sono’s “Land of Hope”, the best-received of a slew of post-tsunami dramas,  Ryoichi Kimizuka’s “Reunion”, a tender story about a coroner dealing with the bodies of tsunami victims in a makeshift morgue, Yasuo Furuhata’s “Shonen H”, a coming-of-age story about a young boy growing up against the outbreak of World War II, Masayuki Suo’s “Terminal Trust”, about a woman dealing with terminally ill people who choose to end their lives, “Under the Nagasaki Sky”, a drama about modern-day Japanese dealing with death and religion, and “Unforgiven”, starring Oscar-nominee Ken Watanabe in a samurai-era remake of Clint Eastwood’s Best Picture winner. Four of the seven (“Reunion”, “Shonen H”, “Trust” and “Unforgiven”) are by previously submitted directors and Sono is an up-and-coming horror director who may be rewarded for a foray into more serious territory. As I’ve said the Japanese Academy is notoriously bizarre, so I’ll thrown in a few second-tier dark horses, namely: “Beyond the Vigil”, about a man who wreaks havoc when he contacts his comatose wife’s lovers,  “Millennial Rapture”, an overlong, overwrought film that probably wouldn’t be considered if it weren’t the final film made by the late Koji Wakamatsu, hilarious, super-fun comedy “Tug of War” about a misfit women’s team trying to save their factory jobs and “The Wind Rises”, the latest anime from Hayao Miyazaki. I wouldn’t hold much hope out for Takeshi Kitano’s “Outrage Beyond”….Though the film has been the most widely seen Japanese film at festivals this year, it’s a violent sequel and the Academy has never liked Kitano much. The same may go for Yoji Yamada’s “Tokyo Family”….Though Yamada is a beloved Japanese director and Oscar nominee, this remake of the classic “Tokyo Story” has gotten poisonous reviews overseas. Will the fact that “Unforgiven” is a remake of a US classic help or hurt it? Will 79-year old Furuhata’s age help him to be selected? (It didn’t last year when I predicted “Anata e”) I’m predicting that it will, and that Japan will want a more authentically Japanese story than “Unforgiven”. My prediction: “Shonen H”, with “Chorus of Angels” in second, “Reunion” in third, “Unforgiven” in a very close fourth, and “Nagasaki Sky” rounding out the Top Five. I’d love it if “Tug-of-War” makes it, but that’s asking a bit much.

12. KAZAKHSTAN- "Student" Kazakhstan has about 10 eligible films this year, and the front-runners are a pair of dramas that have quietly been building up a reputation for themselves on the international film festival circuit, namely “The Student” (Cannes  Un Certain Regard 2012) and “Harmony Lessons” (Berlin 2013). “The Student” is a re-telling of Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” set in modern-day Almaty, while “Harmony Lessons” focuses on the increasingly global problem of high-school bullying and, more specifically, the victim's subsequent desire for revenge. The Kazakhs usually like to send flashier films to the Oscars but this year the bigger-budget movies like “Sword of Victory” (about a modern-day kid who helps a medieval army win a war with the help of a magical sword) or all-star romantic musical “When A Dream Comes True” look either too silly (“Sword”) or too lightweight (“Dream”). These two festival favorites will compete alongside “The Old Man and the Steppe”, which hasn’t been seen much outside of Kazakhstan but which is a companion piece to the remarkable “Kelin” which impressed Oscar voters enough to make it to the shortlist (and a probable 8th place) in 2009-2010. The filmmaking in “The Old Man” looks rather old-fashioned with its tale of an old man and his young apprentice lost in the wild steppes of Kazakhstan, based loosely on Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”. My prediction: the tight three-way race finds “The Student” in first place, “The Old Man” in second, and “Harmony Lessons” in third, but all are roughly equally likely. Unlikely but possible: boxing drama “Zhol” and time-travel fantasy “Realtor”.

13. KOREA- "The Face Reader" Poor Korea has tried everything. Every year, they choose a brilliant film and every year they inexplicably fail to make the shortlist. They’ve tried auteurs and festival winners (“Pieta”), they’ve tried commercial successes (“Mother”), they’ve gone funny (“Welcome to Dongmakgol”), cerebral (“Secret Sunshine”), schmaltzy (“A Barefoot Dream”) and pretty (“King and the Clown”). They’ve emulated themes from every Best Foreign Film winner in the past ten years (three movies were about relationships during wartime like “The Counterfeiters”, two were mystery-thrillers like “Secret of their Eyes”, three explored ethics under Communism like “Lives of Others”) and NOTHING EVER WORKS. I am deeply greatly to the Korean Film Council for consistently bringing some of the best films in the world to my attention year after year. Keep trying! Now to this year’s race….Korea usually announces a shortlist of six films or so before electing their final nominee. This year’s I predict the six most likely films on the list will be “The Face Reader”, “Jiseul”, “Miracle in Cell No. 7”, “Moebius”, “My Paparotti” and “Nobody’s Daughter Hae-won”. Depending on the size of the list, you might also see a torture drama by a previously submitted director (“National Security”), a gay-themed festival favorite (“White Night”), a fantasy-melodrama about the friends of a girl killed in n accident (“Dear Dolphin”), a crime thriller (“New World”), a drama about the daughter of a prostitute (“Holly”) or a popular fantasy drama (“A Werewolf Boy”), but I think these are all destined to be also-rans. As for the six top contenders, Korea is one of those countries that really tries (unsuccessfully) to get into the head of the Academy voters. That means that the bizarre box-office hit “Miracle in Cell No. 7”, about a mentally challenged man falsely convicted of rape and murder and his daughter’s efforts to set him free, will be out first. If you think it sounds Oscary, you should know it’s actually a raucous comedy. Next to fall will be “Jiseul”, a low-budget B&W drama about the real-life massacre of innocent civilians in the 1950s who were suspected of being North Korean sympathizers. If selected, “Moebius” would be auteur Kim Ki-duk’s third try at an Oscar. He just cut 80 seconds (under extreme protest) to get the Korean censors to approve the film (they objected to scenes of graphic incest) for its September (Oscar qualifying?) release. But Oscar is unlikely to enjoy incest either, and the Korean Film Council is clearly wary of the film, plus Kim was selected last year. “My Paparotti”, sounds like it was made for Oscar- a music teacher whose opera career was cut short due to illness helps reform a violent gang member and grooms him to explore his God-given talent for music. Oscar would give it heaps of awards were it to star Sandra Bullock, but I just don’t think it’s a “big” enough film to succeed here. That leaves us with period piece “The Face Reader” and “Nobody’s Daughter Hae-won”, which competed in Berlin. In the end, I think the beautiful Chosun Dynasty-era sets and costumes and palace intrigue of “The Face Reader” will win out against the more subtle charms of the quiet festival drama about a woman involved in an affair with a married man. I’m feeling confident about “The Face Reader”.

14. KYRGYZSTAN- "Salam, New York" Kyrgyzstan's small film industry held its first National Film Awards in May, with “Princess Nasik”, a drama about a little girl with an active fantasy life beating out last year’s Oscar submission “Empty Home”. I would predict “Princess” for this year except that it appears it was released a few weeks before the deadline, sadly making it ineligible. Kyrgyzstan has been seeing a film renaissance in the past year, although most of this has been in short film production. The biggest film ever made in Kyrgyzstan is going to be “Kurmanjan Datka: Queen of the Mountains”, a biopic of a Kyrgyz noblewoman who helped unite Kyrgyz tribes to fight the Russian Empire in the 19th century. It has the support of the Ministry f Culture. However, with “Princess” released too early and with “Kurmanjan” coming out too late (early 2014...count on it representing Kyrgyzstan next year....), Kyrgyzstan doesn’t have much left to choose from. Out of the possible contenders, I think “Salam, New York”, a comedy about a Kyrgyz immigrant trying to make it big in New York City, has the edge over “Mystery of Inheritance”, about a rich man who forces his six children to solve a series of puzzles and riddles in order to collect their inheritance. 

 15. MALAYSIA- "Kil" Malaysia rejoined the Oscar race with Shakespearean family drama “Bunohan” last year after a seven-year absence. All the Best Picture nominees at the Malaysian Film Festival film awards this year (including the Best Picture winner, “Bunohan”) were eligible last year.  The Malaysians don’t have an obvious candidate and may sit out again, but they do have a few options: “Juvana” is the feature film sequel to a television series about a group of older teens serving jail time in juvenile hall. The sequel follows one of the boys after his release, and it was a critical and financial success.  “Kil” is a black comedy-thriller about a suicidal man who makes a deal with a mysterious secret organization to help him end his life....His desperate attempts to undo the deal when he falls in love and changes his mind make up the action of the film. “The New Village” is a Chinese-language historical drama about the relocation of suspected Communists to so-called “new villages” in the 1950s, although I’m very skeptical the race-conscious Malaysians will choose a Chinese film to represent the country, no matter how good it is. The biggest Malaysian movie of the year, “Vikingdom”, is in English and thus not eligible. My prediction: “Kil” or nothing.

16. MONGOLIA- "Queen Anu" Mongolia recently held its third annual Film Awards on May 16. Though they don’t award a “Best Picture” award, historical drama “Aravt: The Ten Soldiers of Genghis Khan” won the most awards. The film, which was screened in the UK, was released too early in Ulaanbaatar to rep Mongolia at this year’s Oscars, which is a shame. The other two Mongolian films that split most of the major awards are eligible (“Queen Anu” and Korean co-production “Soar Up”) and the trailers for both films are really gorgeous…they look like something from China or Japan rather than from a developing country. If they want to go quirky, they could also send the most popular Mongolian film on the international circuit this year, namely “Mongolian Bling”, about the country’s up-and-coming hip-hop music industry. Less likely: “Scent of Water”, about a stranded Westerner rescued by some adorable children. Mongolia rarely enters the race but there’s a slight chance they’ll send box-office hit 17th-century costume drama “Queen Anu”. Check out the trailer here. Looks pretty cool....

17. NEPAL- "Uma" Nepal hasn’t sent a movie since 2006 and they reportedly don’t have an official Oscar selection committee due to internal bureaucratic squabbles. That’s a shame because they had a wonderful movie to send last year (“Highway”) which was one of my favorite movies from last year’s DC International Film Festival. If the Nepalis can get their act together, I think they’ll send “Uma”, a thriller-cum-family-drama about a family torn apart by the Maoist insurgency and civil war in the 1990s, with different family members taking opposing sides. Director Tsering Rhitar Sherpa repped Nepal in the 2000 Oscar race, so he may know how to get the authorities to fill out the paperwork. Two of the Best Picture nominees from Nepal’s 2013 Film Awards are eligible- “Ke Ma Timro Sathi Banna Sakchhu” and “Rhythm”- but these both look like ordinary Bollywood musicals. “Rhythm” screened in Australia, so I suppose it has a better shot than “Ke Ma”. Prediction: “Uma”.

 18. NEW ZEALAND- "White Lies" New Zealand sent a Samoan-language film as their first-ever Oscar entry in 2011 and they are almost certain to enter for the second time with “White Lies”, one of the first-ever feature films filmed primarily in the indigenous Maori language of New Zealand (80%). The film, made by the producer of the Oscar-nominated “Whale Rider” is a beautiful period drama about a Maori medicine woman whose traditional medicine is banned by the white authorities, and what happens when she is asked to use her skills to help hide the secret of an upper-class white woman. Count on it to rep New Zealand on the Oscar longlist, unless the Kiwis object to the director being of Mexican nationality (she lives in Auckland). I'm pretty confident they'll send it in.  

19. PAKISTAN- "Ishq Khuda". Pakistan last submitted a film a few weeks before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. The beleaguered “Lollywood” film industry has been hurt by domestic  security concerns, a lack of quality filmmaking as well as competition from Bollywood (a few Indian releases are allowed in Pakistani cinemas each year, and the rest are available via pirated DVDs), not to mention Hollywood. Last year was a particular bad year for Pakistani releases, although Pakistan is planning a big blitz of domestic releases in July for the Eid holiday. If they choose to return after a 50-year absence, they are most likely to enter the much-hyped Punjabi-language “romantic, spiritual” musical “Ishq Khuda”, which premiered at the Toronto Punjabi Film Festival in May and has some Indian input. It should beat out the competition from political drama “Chambaili: Fragrance of Freedom”. 
20. THE PHILIPPINES- "On the Job" The Philippines probably came their closest ever to an Oscar nomination last year, though Toronto fave “Bwakaw” did not end up making the cut. The Pinoys have quite a lot of festival films to choose from this year (they had three films at Cannes) though I’m not sure many of these gritty, low-budget and often divisive efforts have the gravitas to make it to the Final Nine. Confusing things further is that it’s hard to find the release dates for Filipino independent films (which is what they’ve sent five of the past six years) and the fact that they Pinoys tend to release many of their contenders in late summer so as I write this entry (in late June) it’s possible there are films that will come out of nowhere (like last year’s “Bwakaw”). Here are my Top Five predictions: (1)- “Breakaway” (Pusan) is a thriller-drama about the abduction of a child, (2)- “El Presidente” is not an independent film but it an expensive historical one about the Philippines’ first President….it swept most of the Philippines’ countless end-of-year Film Awards (the FAP Awards, the FAMAS Awards, the Star Awards and finished in 2nd place in the Metro Manila Film Festival) and was praised by the government, (3)-Gil Portes’ “The Liars”, about a baseball team for impoverished youth, (4)-“On the Job” (Cannes) is a gritty crime thriller about two hit men (including a juvenile) that played in Cannes Director’s Fortnight and (5)- Brillante Mendoza’s “Thy Womb” (Berlin) has played at more than a dozen festivals including Venice and Toronto for its story of an infertile woman trying to find a surrogate for she and her husband to have a child. But there are plenty of other possibilities, including “Apparition”, about cloistered nuns living under the Marcos regime, “Dance of the Steel Bars”, a based-on-a-true-story prison dance drama, “Love and Death”, a 16th century historical drama about Spanish colonization, or any of prolific Adolfo Alix Jr.’s four new films this year (“Mater Dolorosa, “Death March”, “Wildlife” or “Porno”…Alix repped the Philippines in 2007). My prediction:  the Philippine Academy has never cared much for Brillante Mendoza films, so I’m debating between “Breakaway” and “On the Job”….Let’s say “On the Job” for now. The winners at Cinemalaya 2013 may offer more of a clue. For more on Philippines advances into global independent cinema see here.
21. SINGAPORE- "Ilo Ilo" Singapore‘s local films have done great at the box-office this past year, with “Ah Boys to Men” (released in November) and “Ah Boys to Men 2” (released in January) beating all box-office records for local films in Singapore history. These two English-language comedies about army life won’t compete for an Oscar, but they do show the popularity of local stories in multi-lingual Singapore. This year, Singapore also won its first feature-film award at Cannes for “Ilo Ilo” (Camera d’Or for Best First Feature), a film about the relationship between a Filipina nanny, her 10-year old Chinese-Singaporean charge, and the boy’s jealous mother, envious of their warming relationship, all set against the background of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. 23-year old director Anthony Chen is a shoo-in to represent Singapore….if the movie qualifies. That's a big if....Like the streets of Singapore, “Ilo Ilo” is in a combination of English and Chinese and is not certain to hit the 50% mark to qualify as a Foreign Language Film. It also has no local release date yet. If “Ilo Ilo” doesn’t qualify, Singapore will likely go with “That Girl in Pinafore (A Singapore Love Story)”, a charming musical teen romance focused on the local Chinese folk music industry in 1992. I believe three other films are eligible- local comedy “Taxi Taxi!”, local horror film “Ghost Child” and violent sexual thriller “Hotel de Sade”- but they won’t figure in the equation. For now, I’m predicting “Ilo Ilo”.

22. SRI LANKA- "Sri Siddhartha Gautama" Sri Lanka's most likely submission this year is clearly Chandran Rutnam’s lavish biography of Lord Buddha, “Sri Siddartha Gautama”, an expensive biopic of the founder of Buddhism. Although reviews have been mixed, the Sri Lankans generally seem proud of the film, and Rutnam was the director of Sri Lanka’s most recent submission in 2009. “Thanha Rathi Ranga”, about the journey of three friends to a region devastated by the recently ended civil war, has gotten somewhat better reviews, but doesn’t have the scale or hype of Buddha’s life story. The arthouse “August Drizzle”, about a female mortician, has gotten film festival play (the others have not), but reviews have been poor since it finally opened domestically in Spring 2013. Prediction: “Siddharta”

23. TAIWAN- "Ripples of Desire" Taiwan has a pretty modest record at the Oscars once you subtract three-time Oscar winner Ang Lee from the equation. The two most hotly anticipated Taiwanese films- Hou Hsien-hou’s martial arts epic “The Assassin” and Wei Te-sheng’s expensive baseball drama “Kano” won’t be released until next year’s race (when Taiwan will have a hard decision!) so there aren’t many strong possibilities. Taiwan is really unclear this year as they have a half-dozen middle-of-the-road titles with no standouts.  My prediction is expensive period drama “Ripples of Desire” just because it’s “big” (their surprise shortlist spot in 2012 was for a big-budget period film) and I can’t figure out which of their other quiet dramas and dramedies they’d otherwise choose. Directed by Zero Chou, famous for her lesbian-themed films, “Ripples of Desire” is about two twin sisters living amidst 17th century pirates, leprosy and political intrigue. In second place, I’ll guess drama “Together” about a 17-year old boy from a dysfunctional family and his efforts to  fix the problems around him. In third: “Forever Love”, a nostalgic romantic comedy set primarily in the 1960s about a boy visiting his 70-year grandfather who used to work in the Taiwan film industry. Finishing out the Top Five: “Soul”, a thriller (set to open the Taipei Film Festival) about a man who may be a victim of demonic possession, and “To My Dear Granny”, an auto-biographical film about a boy’s relationship with his grandmother. Less likely but still possible in a weak year: youth drama “Triangle Land”, baseball flick “Faithland”, omnibus film “Taipei Factory”, comedy “Will You Still Love Me?” (Tribeca) and kung-fu musical “The Rooftop”.

24. TAJIKISTAN- "Waiting for the Sea" Tajikistan's impoverished film industry hasn’t sent a film to the Oscars since 2005’s delightfully quirky “Sex & Philosophy”. This year, the Tajiks have been represented at several film festivals by “Telegram”, a drama about an actor who returns to his village for his mother’s funeral. At Tajikistan’s local Didor Film Festival, there was also one other Tajik feature- “The Wheel”.  However, I’m going to predict a possible Tajik return with “Waiting for the Sea”, a surreal drama by Bakhtiar Khodoijnazarov who directed Tajikistan’s initial Oscar submission “Luna Papa” in 1999. “Waiting for the Sea” is about a fishing village that is relocated to the desert by a freak storm, and although Tajik input was minimal (The director is Tajik, but the film was co-produced by production companies from six other countries), Khodoijnazarov is arguably the country’s most prominent director so they may try sending it in. For an interesting interview on the current state of Tajikistan’s beleaguered film industry (with “Telegram”’s director), see here.

25. THAILAND- "King Naresuan Part 5" The Kingdom of Thailand has had the biggest-ever box-office hit in their national history (horror-comedy-fairytale “Pee Mak”, which has actually gotten surprisingly positive reviews) but they have been pretty weak when it comes to films that could potentially compete for an Oscar. The Thai Academy typically likes to choose films that positively showcase Thai culture. This year the national censors have been pretty uppity meaning that two long-awaited contenders have been banned (“Fatherland” about the Muslim-Buddhist conflict in Southern Thailand starring Ananda Everingham and “Shakespeare Must Die”, a drama about political intrigues amidst the Thai government, unofficially based on exiled PM Thaksin). Others that feature controversial subjects likely won’t be picked either (political history documentary “Paradoxocracy” by four-time Oscar director Pen-ek Ratanaruang, and indie darling “Karaoke Girl”, about prostitution). The biggest film of the year- the fifth and concluding chapter in the big-budget historical epic "King Naresuan" series-has no release date, while the biggest box-office hit is a horror-comedy about ghosts. Every contender seems somewhat unlikely: “Grean Fictions” is by a previously submitted director but it’s a lighthearted teen comedy; two eligible Best Picture nominees from this year’s Thai Oscars (the Suphannahongsa Awards) seem unlikely- “Yak: The Giant King”, a computer animated film, and “Countdown”, a NYC-set horror film whose trailer features a Jesus Christ figure/pot dealer breaking a Thai girl's finger- both seem limited by their genre. “Koo Kam” sounds perfect- it’s a WWII romance set during the Japanese occupation about a love triangle between a Thai man and woman, and an influential Japanese captain- but reviews were positively poisonous. So, with so many contenders disqualifying themselves, the Thai may have to look beyond the obvious choices- “Tamruad Peun Hode” (literally translated "Tough Gun Cops") is a social drama by the son of Thailand’s most acclaimed director, though there’s little info about it on line, “Tang Wong” is a youth-themed comedy that was warmly received in Berlin’s youth section, and “Together” was an also-ran at the Thai Oscars, but stars the daughter of His Majesty the King of Thailand. My prediction: “Naresuan 5” gets the Thai nod if they release it before September 30 (the Thai are reportedly choosing an auspicious date and may wait until the King's birthday in December), with the Top Four runner-ups in the following order: “Tamruad Peun Hode”, “Together”, “Koo Kam” and “Tang Wong”.

26. VIETNAM- "Losing Way" Vietnam has one of the most difficult races to predict this year. Communist Vietnam prefers to send conservative, patriotic and/or historical films that showcase Vietnam’s rich history and especially their valiant efforts to fight off foreign aggressors, whether that be during medieval times (2011), the French Colonial era (2005 and 2007) or the Vietnam War (2009 and 2012). They had an excellent candidate last year- the privately funded, action-packed hit historical drama “Blood Letter”, winner of this year’s Golden Kite Award for Best Picture- but they selected a poorly received jingoistic Vietnam War film from the National Film Studio instead. This year, film violence and government censorship has become a major issue ever since a hotly awaited film by one of the country’s most popular directors (Vietnam-born, US-raised Charlie Nguyen and his “Gangs of Chinatown”) was banned by the censors for excessive violence. The two biggest films from the National Film Studio this year- “Hot Sand” (Cat Nong) and “Passion” (Dam Me) represented Vietnam at the Hanoi International Film Festival, but they were both panned by critics and won nothing at the Golden Kite Awards despite their official seal of approval. Two other Vietnamese films have seen a fair bit of international play but both of them are privately funded and deal with controversial issues that may make the Vietnamese authorities squeaming about selecting them. “In the Name of Love” played in Toronto and is made by a previously-submitted director, but this story of a woman who secretly has an extramarital affair to have a child with her infertile husband is said to start off well but descend into maudlin melodrama. “Scandal” has gotten better reviews (it won the Critics Award at the Golden Kites over “Blood Letter”, which won nearly everything else) but it focuses on the scandals and backstage dramas of Vietnam’s film industry and media- once again, not something the Vietnamese seem comfortable with. Nor are the two Vietnamese films from the Cannes Film Market very promising- “Once Upon A Time in Vietnam” (the directorial debut of 21 Jump Street alum Dustin Nguyen) and “Race Tracks” (which was also banned for violence before making extensive cuts) are unlikely to be chosen since they are really just action films, while slick thriller “Cold Summer” which may also be seen as too “genre”. One final contender- “Losing Way” (a.k.a. “Lost” or Lac Loi) was produced by a national film studio and did well at the Golden Kites (finishing second place) but it hasn’t been released yet. A premiere is scheduled for September, just before the Oscar cut-off date but Vietnamese films often have trouble meeting the screening criteria so that’s cutting it close. This is one race I’m really curious about. However, I'm predicting the Vietnamese send this family drama ("Losing Way") about the life of a woman from a rural area (and directed by a rare female director), with “Scandal” in second. Or they may choose to avoid controversy entirely and not submit anything at all.  

The most likely debut from Asia is "A Guerra da Beatriz" the first-ever feature film from tiny, impoverished TIMOR-LESTE. "Beatriz" is a retelling of Martin Guerre about a woman's loyalty to her lover during the Indonesian occupation that killed one-third of the tiny enclave's population. Also making their first-ever film is the tiny oil-rich Islamic kingdom of BRUNEI, which produced romantic comedy "Ada Apa Dengan Rina". While it's not an Oscary sort of film, one of the advantages of being a small country is that they can send it in anyway. The MARSHALL ISLANDS (pop: 70,000) have also just produced their first-feature film, "The Sound of Crickets at Night", but unfortunately it was released right before the deadline leaving them out of the race.

Other unlikely possibities: BURMA is opening up to the world and could send human trafficking drama "Kayan Beauty", while NORTH KOREA is closing itself up to the world even more but still found time to make a co-production with their Southern neighbors- "The Other Side of the Mountain" is about the forbidden love between a North Korean nurse and a South Korean soldier during wartime. LAOS' "Red Scarf" got both a domestic release and a release in neighboring Thailand for its eerie ghost story set in the country's rural heartland.


Spartak said...

First of all, I'm glad that you continue with your traditional posts!

I haven't heard about Greek submission, which film did they choose (can you give a link or something)? If so they're doing in 2nd time in a three years (2 years ago they chose, Attenberg in March or April) and I'd say that it's very strange behaviour... I mean if any Greek film gets into official competition Cannes or Venice (or even Karlovy Vary or Locarno) film festivals? Never mind...

Regarding the last year... I have seen 49 of 71 films (I hope to make it to 53-54 in 2-3 weeks), I thought it to be a very weak year (I had only 3 films that I rated 10/10, while 2 years ago for example there were 9 of those), my personal favourite was Canadian "War Witch".
"Pieta" is very strong film, but I think it was clear from the start that the film is not for Oscar (though the special committee could easily put it through instead of Icelandic boredom)... For me "The Patience Stone" was only intresting, because of its theme, but technically the film is too far from to be perfect.
BTW, where did you see "Jaque Mate" (it's not included in my "49 films")?

I'll be able to watch a few films mentioned in your post at Jerusalem Film Festival that started today, than I'll be able to be "more wiser".

Afghanistan - Are you sure that "Wajma" is Afghan enough (it's French co-production)?

Bangladesh - Also don't forget that previous Farooki's film, Third Person Singular Number (the film is avaliable on youtube with English subs), was choosen 3 years ago and surprised me with magnificent cinematography.

Cambodia - If they submit it, I'm going to die, it's showing at JFF and I didn't buy tickets... Though, the same question like with "Wajma"...

Japan - Their films is also among my favourites, unfortunatelly I was not able to see "Our Homeland" due to the lack of English subs on the official dvd. :(

Singapore - IMDB has a release date of August 29th...

Taiwan - Don't forget that "Warriors..." participated in Venice Film Festival and btw, if you still haven't seen it, just run to the local dvd shop to find it, despite the 4 hours long, it totally worth watching!

dzong2 said...

Thanks for your comments!

AFGHANISTAN/CAMBODIA- Both "Wajma" and "The Missing Picture" should be fine to represent their countries. Almost all Afghan Oscar submissions have been European co-productions, and "Wajma" is definitely more "Afghan" than "Firedancer" or "Black Tulip", which were made by Afghan-Americans. And Rithy Panh repped Cambodia once before.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC- I saw "Jaque Mate" here in DC. It's been shown at two international festivals that took place here. It's a very fun film.

GREECE- Yes, I never understand why Greece makes their selection so early...Surely they will one day have a great film late in the year...But remember, they used to choose in November of the previous year!


TAIWAN- I have the DVD of "Seediq Bale", but can never find 4 hours to watch it!

I'll post Part Two tomorrow, covering Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Spartak said...

And I thought that you wanted to make it the 4th part... I was going to send you a letter about the possible Israeli submissions (believe, you'll probably never guess it alone :)...
I just wanted to wait till the Jerusalem Film Festival finishes to be sure that my thoughts are right...

pitviper_sg said...

Hey dzong2, having trouble with figuring out India's selection again eh? I'm letting you know that this year there has been absolutely nothing interesting coming out of Bollywood. The only remotely worthwhile film may be Abhishek Kapoor's "Kai Po Che", but even that is heavily flawed and loosely written.

There are two movies which are receiving astonishing acclaim and notoriety throughout India and they both have been given a release in the country:

First is Jayan Cherian's Malayalam film "Papilio Buddha", a very stark and emotionally churning story about the plight of Dalits during Gandhi's independence movement and how the Untouchables turned towards Buddhism as an escape from the fundamentalist Hindu caste-system which treats them worse than pigs. It has gained incredible notoriety because of its steadfast questioning of the Hindu faith and also its criticisms of Gandhi and how his non-violence movement, behind the scenes ended up slaughtering thousands of Indians. Director Cherian is a student of the great master Abbas Kiarostami and his style is eminent in the minimalist, but vividly picturized and devastating "Papilio Buddha". Here's the trailer:

The second film, already hailed as a masterpiece by everyone who saw it is Anand Gandhi's surrealist drama "Ship of Theseus" which blends the Greek paradox and Hindu mythology into a tale of organ donation and the role that science has to play in the spiritual realm. The movie is non-linear and many are comparing it to "The Tree of Life" as well as Shane Carruth's latest "Upstream Color". The movie features stunning cinematography and was called by master Indian director Shyam Benegal as the "most unique vision of Indian cinema since Satyajit Ray's Pathar Panchali". However, I don't know whether the film will be eligible because I'm not sure about the English to Hindi language ratio of the movie.

The only other films I can imagine being considered are Bala's "Paradesi" or Vikramaditya Motwane's "Lootera". That's about it.

dzong2 said...


Thanks for the review of India! You've saved me some time! I actually wasn't having trouble with India...As the biggest film industry in Asia, I just saved it for last and haven't gotten to it yet. (it's one of only nine countries I haven't finished yet!)

India doesn't usually mind going a little bit "arthouse" ("Peepli Live" is kind of "arthouse lite"), but these movies seem a bit much for them.

I've seen 10 of the past 11 Indian submissions (I missed "Shwaas" though I have the DVD somewhere), and the Indians make some strange choices....

pitviper_sg said...

Hey dzong2,

I'm starting to see "Ship of Theseus" as an almost DEFINITE submission. The film just released 2 weeks ago and the feedback and reception was just staggering. Even the mainstream industry big-wigs like Karan Johar, Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and others have called the film an absolute masterpiece, and the it got unanimously favorable reviews from pretty much every major news outlet in India. There has already been huge speculation in the industry and the media that this film is India's greatest chance at Oscar glory in YEARS (well, since "Lagaan"). So, I'm starting to think that nothing else can really top it. It will surely be a surprise and moreso a major disappointment if the IFF doesn't choose it.