Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Predictions for the 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign Film- Northern, Central and Western Europe

Here is the last batch of predictions....I'm moving out of the country this weekend, so they aren't quite finished (I'm missing France and Spain), but I wanted to get them online since some countries (i.e. Greece, Romania) have announced early.

These 26 countries from the heart of Europe have contributed most Oscar nominees since the category was created. Though they've lost their dominance a bit, they still contributed six of the nine films on last year's shortlist and three of the five nominees, including the winner from Austria.

MOST LIKELY TO SEND A FILM: It's clearly FRANCE, which is the only country in the world to compete ever year since the creating of the category in 1956, though it should be noted that 23 of out of 26 sent films last year and 17 out of 26 have designated films every year for the past ten years (though Austria, Finland, Netherlands and Slovenia all had one film disqualified for one reason or another).
LEAST LIKELY TO SEND A FILM: English-speaking IRELAND, which may not have anything eligible.
MOST LIKELY TO BE NOMINATED: It's a tough call....It's always difficult to count out Denmark and France, but I'm going to say WWII drama from HUNGARY, "Le Grand Cahier".

1. AUSTRIA- "Paradise: Love" Austria will return to the Oscars this year as defending champion. No country has won two years in a row since 1989 when Denmark managed it (France, Italy and Sweden have also managed it in the less competitive earlier days of the award), and Austria is unlikely to win again. The front-runner is “Paradise: Love”, the first in a trilogy of films by Ulrich Seidl, an accomplished Austrian director who has never represented Austria. All three films in the trilogy were released in Austrian cinemas in the past Oscar eligible year- “Paradise: Love” (Cannes 2012) in November, “Paradise: Faith” (Venice 2012) in January and “Paradise: Hope” (Berlin 2013) in March. “Paradise: Love”, about a 50-something woman engaging in sex tourism with beautiful young African men on a Kenyan holiday, is said to be a difficult film to watch, but the fact that it is the first of the three loosely connected films, it arguably got the best reviews and it also won Best Picture at the Austrian Oscars (the other two films in the trilogy will be eligible next year) make it the front-runner to represent Austria. Speaking of the Austrian Film Awards, it is interesting considering the debate over whether “Amour” should have been eligible to represent Austria at the Oscars, that it was not eligible for Best Picture at the Austrian Film Awards (it was eligible for Best Director but Haneke declined to participate). If Austria doesn’t like erotic movies about sex tourism, they have a few other choices. Several previously submitted directors have new films including Barbara Albert (“The Dead and the Living”, about a young woman uncovering family secrets from WWII), Rainer Frimmel (“The Shine of Day”, a docudrama about some residents of Vienna) and Antonin Svoboda (“The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich”, a psychological study of a Nazi-era psychiatrist). There are also the two films that lost to “Paradise: Love” at the Austrian Film Awards, namely “Crossing Boundaries”, a minimalist drama about human trafficking set in 2001 on the Slovak border, and “The Wall”, a sci-fi drama and German co-production that sounds like a solo version of Stephen King’s “Under the Dome”. The Austrians have sent several immigrant tales in the past meaning “Your Beauty is Worth Nothing” about Turkish immigration from the perspective of a 12-year old immigrant boy is a definite contender, as is “Talea”, another coming-of-age story, this one about a girl bonding with her mother who has just been released from prison. Out of the running: “Museum Hours” is a word-of-mouth hit but has too much English, as probably does period drama “Silent Mountain”.  I’m feeling pretty confident about “Paradise: Love”, with runner-ups “Your Beauty is Worth Nothing”, “Paradise: Hope” and “Crossing Boundaries”, in that order.

2. BELGIUM- "The Broken Circle Breakdown" Belgium is a complicated country. The small country of 11 million has two official Film Boards and recently split its National Film Awards into Flemish and Walloon branches. Contrary to popular belief, the Belgians do not alternate annually between French- and Dutch-speaking films (between 2000-2004, they chose Dutch films four out of five years), although this probably does play a role in decision-making (last year’s film was French). From the Dutch side this year, three films stand out, namely “The Broken Circle Breakdown” (Berlin; it’s not in English, despite what IMDB says), “Kid” (Rotterdam) and “Offline”. From the French side, the three front-runners are “Dead Man Talking”, “Henri” (Cannes) and “Tenderness” (Karlovy Vary). I think this will be an easy win for “The Broken Circle Breakdown”, probably the most-talked about Belgian film of the year, and one that has gotten critical praise and lots of festival play. It’s about a man who falls in love with a single mother, and what happens when her daughter becomes deathly ill. I’m feeling pretty confident about this one. A lot of critics say “Breakdown” breaks down (!) near the end (I haven’t seen it) and the Belgians can often make some surprising (but savvy) choices (witness Oscar nominee “Bullhead” which beat out the favorite “The Kid With a Bike"). I don’t see that happening this year (all the other contenders this year are ‘small’ slow-moving, introspective films), If it does, the most likely upstart is “La Tendresse” a French-language dramedy about a happily divorced couple on a road trip to see their hospitalized son. It’s played at a lot of festivals, but “Breakdown” has simply gotten better reviews, and as I noted, a French film was selected last year…In bronze medal position is “Offline”, a film that was well-liked locally in Belgium for its atmospheric story of a man recently released from prison in Ghent. Barely clinging on to hope is Fien Troch’s Flemish downer “Kid”, about a small child who witnesses his mother sinking deeper and deeper into debt. As for the others, Yolande Moreau’s character study of an Italian widower (“Henri”) played at Cannes but got middling reviews while “Dead Man Talking”, about a journalist’s encounter with a condemned man, got great reviews but was barely seen outside Belgium. A dark horse if released in time: “Le Gout des Myrtilles”, about an elderly couple visiting a long-dead child’s grave has a slight chance too. 

3. CZECH REPUBLIC- "Skirt Chasers" Despite a fairly lean year overall,  the Czech Republic has three really strong contenders. On paper things don't look good: Most of the films in the Czech Films section of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival were documentaries and ineligible television movies- not very promising fodder for a country whose directors got five nominations and one win between 1986 and 2003....And only one of the Best Picture nominees from this year’s Czech Lions is eligible (Jan Hrebejk’s “Waste, the City and Death”, which went home with a single award for Best Actress). But this year is actually a strong three-way race. The prolific Hrebejk (Oscar nominated for “Divided We Fall”) has a second eligible film, namely "Honeymoon"- about a couple whose happy newly-married life is interrupted by the arrival of a friend (or is he a stranger??) of the husband- which was the only Czech film in competition at Karlovy Vary. Comedy “Revival”, about the reunion of a 1970s rock band, has charmed audiences and really gotten great reviews despite its light subject matter. And “Skirt Chasers”, a tragicomedy about a number of characters involved with the Czech opera, is directed by one of the two living Oscar-winning directors, Jiri Menzel and will premiere right before the deadline (the Czechs have chosen late releases three of the last four years). I can't decide between these three! Dark horse: “Seven Days of Sin” is a historical drama that sounds really Oscary due to its post-WWII plotline (revolving around the disappearance of the German wife of a Czech man in Sudetenland), but it wasn’t noticed very much during its late 2012 release. Final predictions: it's going to be really close! I'm really unsure but I'm predicting Menzel's seniority should get "Skirt Chasers" to Hollywood, with "Revival" a super-close second and "Honeymoon" an even closer third.

4. DENMARK- "The Hunt" Denmark usually chooses a three-film shortlist  in mid-summer but ultimately their Oscar submission is nearly certain to be Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt”, which is also an early favorite to be one of the five Oscar nominees. “The Hunt” has had an odd journey…it competed at Cannes 2012 and slowly unrolled at a number of festivals before opening in much of Europe (France, Italy, UK) in November but not in its native Denmark. It finally premiered at home on January 10th. Over all this time, “The Hunt” has developed quite a strong critical reputation ahead of its limited release in the United States in July. Starring Mads Mikkelsen (“A Royal Affair”), it concerns  a man involved in a custody dispute and the one little lie that gets out of hand. It sounds like “A Separation” and hopefully Vinterberg (ignored for the brilliant “Celebration”) will get his first Oscar nod. The competition, thus, is on for the other two slots on Denmark’s shortlist. I predict they will be: teenaged crime drama “Northwest” and drama “Sorrow & Joy”, a drama premiering in September by renowned director Nils Malmros which he calls “autobiographical”. Alternates: “A Miracle”, a drama starring Ulrich Thomsen about a man resuming a love affair with his now-married childhood sweetheart, and “House of the Lynx”, a drama about a woman dealing with an institutionalized juvenile killer. Last year’s shortlist was so competitive that movies like “A Hijacking” didn’t even make it. This year “The Hunt” should romp to victory and easily get on the Oscar shortlist for the fourth year in a row.

5. ESTONIA- "An Estonian Lady in Paris" Estonia would have an easy choice if the Oscar race finished in August instead of September. The Estonian nominee would definitely be “An Estonian Lady in Paris”, a drama directed by Ilmar Raag (who was denied a much-deserved Oscar nom for “Klass”) and starring 85-year old French grande dame Jeanne Moreau. As the title indicates, the movie is about an Estonian woman who travels to France to act as caretaker for an elderly woman who fled Estonian during Communist times. The “Lady” is not a shoo-in however because of Veiko Õunpuu’s (who directed the boring, poorly made and overrated “Temptation of St. Tony”) latest arty weirdfest “Free Range”, described as an "anti-Western". Estonia has a third dark horse, namely “Living Images”, a historical drama about the life of a servant girl in the 1910s, immediately before Estonian independence (sounds like “Downtown Abbey”, Estonian style). I’m still predicting “An Estonian Lady”, Incidentally, Raag has already established himself as the top contender for next year as well! “Kertu”, about a 30-something woman who falls for the village drunk, will be released in October.

6. FINLAND- "My Stuff" Finland is finishing up a record year for local films at the box office (28% of market share in 2012) and they have two-dozen odd eligible films this year for the Oscars. Unfortunately, they've been absent from major festivals this year, and half of those releases haven't a prayer at getting the Finnish nod. The two front-runners are a pair of intense family dramas that won’t be released until September- “Above Dark Waters” is the directorial debut of one of Finland's hottest actors (Peter Franzen) and features the disintegration of a marriage from the point of view of their young son; "Disciple” (Montreal 2013) is a Swedish-language drama set in the 1930s about a 13-year old boy-apprentice who becomes a rival to the family's son (who is also his best friend). Both movies sound promising (although it should be noted that "Disciple” director Ulrika Bengt’s first film was a critical disappointment) and the Oscar nod could be a great way to promote either film around the time of their release. Having said that, I’m predicting an upset in Finland this year. I’m predicting the Finns send quirky documentary “My Stuff”, a sort of gimmicky “Super Size Me” about our addiction to our material possessions. Cute 26-year old director Petri Luukkainen packs the entire contents of his apartment into a storage unit, strips naked and allows himself to retrieve just one item per day for a year to live his life (unsurprisingly, the first item he takes is a winter coat). Finland picked a documentary in 2010. I’m probably wrong (I know it will probably be “Above Dark Waters”) but that’s my guess for now. Rounding out the Top Five of possibilities is popular romantic comedy “21 Ways to Ruin A Marriage” (the only Finnish fiction feature they presented at the Cannes Film Market), about a sexually liberated female researcher who doesn’t believe in love, and “Open Up to Me”, a critically acclaimed drama about transgender issues. Unlikely but possible: nature documentary “Tale of a Forest” (looks like it has the potential to be a sort of “March of the Penguins”), thriller “Princess of Egypt”, about a foreign father stalking his young daughter’s Finnish mother, and youth drama “8-Ball” about a woman who gets out of prison to take care of her 8-month old daughter.

7. FRANCE- Sorry! Didn't get to research France this year! I figure the world's greatest film-making nation has enough people talking about them online. :)

8. GERMANY- "Hannah Arendt"- Every year, I give myself a break and choose one country that I don't have to research. The smart money says that the German nominee is a two-way race between biographical drama "Hannah Arendt" (which has already been released in the United States) and black-and-white slacker comedy "Oh Boy!". "Oh Boy!" won Best Picture at the 2013 Lola Awards over "Hannah" (which won the "Silver" Award for 2nd place), but Germany knows by now that their historical dramas almost always get nominated if they even mention WWII, while their more contemporary stories get shut out. Despite a negative review from Variety, I'm predicting "Hannah", a look at a Holocaust survivor who moved to New York where she became a college professor and journalist covering war crimes trials. I don't think it will get an Oscar nod, but I think it will represent Germany. 

9. GREENLAND- "Village at the End of the World"  Greenland (population 60,000) is the smallest “country” invited to the Oscar competition. They’ve submitted films two of the past three years. This year, the autonomous Danish province held its first film prize, which went to horror film “'Qaqqat Alanngui”, released two years ago. This year, Greenland has one possibility- “Village at the End of the World”- a charming documentary about the residents of a tiny, remote village (population: 59, including a single teenager). It was filmed in the Greenlandic language but directed by a British woman. Last year’s submission was directed by a France-based American, and the film is quite culturally “Greenlandic”, so I hope they try to send it in.

10. HUNGARY- "The Notebook" Hungary is having a bad year, but an Oscar nod in February could fix that. Hungarian Film Week (and its accompanying awards ceremony) were canceled for the first time since 1965. Filmmaker Bela Tarr and the Hungarian Film Union have gotten into a war of words about the decline of the Hungarian film industry. While Hungary is still an attractive filming location for international productions, local film output is way down…I count barely ten eligible films- about the same as smaller and poorer neighbors like Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia.  That’s not normal for the only country (other than France) which has competed in this category every year since 1965. Hungary has only one major contender but it's a big one, making this an easy decision. The frontrunner is “The Notebook” (aka “Le grand cahier”), which won the Crystal Globe in Karlovy Vary and features Oscar’s favorite theme- children during World War II, in this case twin boys growing up on the German-Hungarian border (they say the story is loosely based on "Hansel & Gretel" as well as an Agatha Christie story). It’s difficult to see the Hungarian choosing anything else, though the Hungarians also have "Aglaja”, a quiet drama about a family of circus performers, which has played at nearly a dozen festivals. The film focusing especially on the relationship between a mother and daughter during a time of family turmoil, when the daughter is about to take over for her aging mother in a dangerous sideshow act. I'm very much intrigued by gay football drama and the bizarre black horror-comedy “Liza the Fox Fairy”, about a shy nurse who finds herself accused of murder when a mythical Japanese fox demon starts killing off her friends and neighbors, but they'll certainly be out of luck here! For more on Hungary’s efforts to revitalize their film industry, see here

11. ICELAND- "XL" Iceland (population 300,000) was oddly shortlisted for the first time in twenty years for the mediocre “The Deep”, one of their weaker Oscar submissions in recent years. Despite a tiny population, they’ve released six features since October 1st, with a half-dozen more in post-production. The Icelandic submission is probably going to be “XL”, a drama starring Olafur Darri Olafsson (star of “The Deep”), about an alcoholic trying to piece together what happened to him in the past 24 hours. It’s said to be more “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” rather than “The Hangover”, but it is the highest profile Icelandic film of the year so far and it competed at Karlovy Vary.  The two biggest competitors- Ragnar Bragason’s “Metalhead” and “Rocketman” (directed by Dagur Kari and produced by Baltasar Kormakur, director of four Icelandic submissions) will be released in October and January respectively, setting a high bar for next year's race. Runner-up: “Ferox”, an independent adolescent drama about a youth trying to take revenge against the teacher who caused his brother's suicide. The other comedies, art films and even one zombie film, won’t be in the running.

12. IRELAND- "Men at Lunch" Of course, Ireland makes most of its films in English, but I’m always surprised how few films are actually made in Irish Gaelic, considering the support the language gets (mostly for television, I believe) for arts and education. At this year’s Irish Film and Television Awards, the four nominees for Irish Language productions included two TV programs, a made-for-TV documentary (all ineligible) and documentary “Men at Lunch”, which appears to be have screened in both English and Irish versions. According to IMDB, there is another in production-  “Feinmharu”, about a woman contemplating suicide, but it won’t premiere until December. They probably won’t enter.

13. ITALY- "The Great Beauty" Having just returned from four nights in the beautiful city of Rome, it's hard for me not to predict "The Great Beauty" for Italy, and my final prediction before I move to Seoul on Saturday. "The Great Beauty" (also the prediction of my favorite Oscar website, The Film Experience) seems tailor-made to represent Italy. It's about an aging author, and his life in Rome. In fact, the city of Rome is reportedly more the main character than the author.  Variety compares it (favorably) to Fellini's classic "La Dolce Vita" (which was not submitted in this category....Italy chose a Holocaust film starring Emmanuelle Riva that year instead). This is something many national film academies forget....the Foreign Film committee seem to really like to see the country represented in the film, and they usually also like films that are beautiful to watch (though this has really changed in recent years....three of last year's nominees were pretty bleak and gritty). "The Great Beauty" was a critical success at Cannes (though it admittedly failed to win anything) and the Academy may feel they owe director Paolo Sorrentino for ignoring "Il Divo" (for "Gomorrah") and I'm feeling good about this prediction. In second place: Gianni Amelio's "L'intrepido" (Venice, Toronto), a light-hearted look at Italian workers during the present-day economic crisis. Amelio has been chosen to represent Italy four times (more than any living Italian director except Giuseppe Tornatore) and this upcoming film has a chance. In third place: sentimentality will push up wheelchair-board auteur Bernardo Bertolucci who made his first Italian-language film in thirty years- "You And Me"- about a reclusive teenage boy who lies to his parents about a ski trip to spend a week alone in his basement. This may well be Bertolucci's final film and he has never represented Italy before (though he won two Oscars for "The Last Emperor"). Not eligible: Oscar winner Giuseppe Tornatore's latest film "The Best Offer" won Best Picture at the Donatello Awards...but this Geoffrey Rush starrer is in English.....And while I expect Daniele Luchetti's "Those Happy Years" to do well at Toronto, it will open domestically three days too late (and Italy doesn't usually do Oscar qualifying releases like its neighbors). You'll probably see movies like Valeria Golino's "Honey" (Cannes), Sardinian Passion play "Su Re" and minimalist Mafia drama "Salvo" on Italy's typically long "shortlist", but I'm feeling good about the three movies above. 

14. LATVIA- "Dream Team 1935" Latvia is likely to send the patriotic hit basketball movie “Dream Team 1935”, which tells the Cinderella story of newly independent Latvia’s victory in the inaugural European Basketball championships, during the happy days in-between gaining independence in 1918 and Russian annexation during World War II. The film, which took two years to make, is directed by Aigars Grauba (“Defenders of Riga”), the director who coaxed Latvia back to the Oscar race in 2008 after a 16-year absence. It’s said to be a crowd-pleaser and it’s being prepped for an English version release. The “Dream Team”’s chief competition is from coming-of-age film “Mother, I Love You”, about an adolescent acting out against his mother and running away from home.

15. LITHUANIA- "Vanishing Waves" Lithuania has the least-developed film industry in the Baltics but they’ve had a relatively strong year. The front-runner is clearly the odd erotic, sci-fi drama “Vanishing Waves” (also known as “Aurora”), which recently swept the National Film Awards and also became the first Lithuanian film to secure an arthouse release in American cinemas. The film concerns a scientist involved in an experiment to "virtually" enter the mind and thoughts of a comatose young woman. However, the Lithuanian Academy often makes strange choices. Last year, they ignored the biggest budget, biggest box-office hit in Lithuanian history (“Tadas Blinda”), the critical darling of the Lithuanian Film Awards (“Citadel of Sleeping Butterflies”) and a popular documentary feature that got a brief US release (“The Other Dream Team”) for an obscure (and extremely boring) 50-minute documentary short (“Ramin”) that wasn't even in the Lithuanian language. So if the Lithuanian Academy doesn’t see the charm of the decidedly odd “Waves”, they could choose a documentary (like they did in 2006 and 2012) like “Dreaming the Path”, about a former alcoholic doing a pilgrimage on foot from Lithuania to Spain, or “Igrushki”, about an impoverished town in neighboring Belarus. Less likely would be one of their fiction features, such as romantic drama “Santa” or biopic “Letters to Sofia”, about an early 20th century musician and artist. Detective story “Name in the Dark” should premiere mere days after the deadline in October, so it will be a strong contender for next year.

16. LUXEMBOURG- "Blind Spot" Luxembourg's Academy selected films for the Oscars all but one year between 2002 and 2009 (though they were disqualified in 2006), but they’ve been absent three years in a row, even though (by my count) they had four eligible films last year. This year, I predict they return to the competition with “Blind Spot” (aka “Angle Mort”, in French or “Doudege Wénkel” in the local language, Lëtzebuergesch), a tense police thriller made mostly in the local dialect of Luxembourg, about a man investigating his brother’s murder.  I think the film is good enough and "local" enough to bring the Grand Duchy back to the Oscars (now, if we can only get them back to Eurovision!) Unlikely but possible: “Naked Opera" a documentary (or is it a drama?) about a terminally ill Luxembourg man living a life of champagne, call boys and opera around Europe. “Les Brigands”, a thriller starring Tcheky Karyo is unlikely to debut in time, but should be penciled in for next year’s race.

17. NETHERLANDS- "The New World" The Dutch have been quiet on the film festival circuit this year. The only Dutch film to make it to a major fest this year is their bizarre black-comedy-cum-thriller “Borgman” (more on that later). However, I’m going to predict they choose “The New World”, a gentle drama about a grumpy middle-aged Dutch woman whose life is changed by an encounter with an African asylum seeker at the detention center where she works as a cleaner. Besides sounding Oscary in a year with lots of contenders but few standouts, “The New World” has gotten strong reviews and showcases the multi-cultural Netherlands in a way that will likely suit the Dutch Academy. I see the key challenger as “Daylight”, a thriller that looks quite good. It’s about a lawyer who learns that she has an adult autistic brother who has been imprisoned for murder,  and who uncovers a conspiracy to frame him for the crime. “Borgman” is a bizarre black comedy about a vagrant who begins impinging on the life of an upper-class family and who may or may not be some sort of a vengeful demon (!). Despite being the first Dutch film to compete in Cannes in 38 years, "Borgman" is pretty out there, and the Dutch haven’t gone “weird” at the Oscars in a very long time (since "The Northerners"). Also divisive is “Only Decent People” a satire about race relations. The Dutch got a surprise nomination once for a similar comedy (“Zus & Zo”) but the subject matter (a Dutch man obsesses over finding a “hot black chick with a big behind”) is a bit too light, and some have misunderstood the satire and called the film racist. “Family Way”, a romantic comedy, won Best Picture at the Rembrandt Awards while “The Girl and the Death”, an abstract drama in Russian and Dutch, won Best Picture at the Golden Calf Awards, the two main Dutch precursors. However, “Family” is too light and commercial while “Girl” is too abstract and arty. I  think more highly of “Domino Effect”, a multi-lingual story by “Zus & Zo” director Paula van der Oest, about a number of intersecting lives on five continents.  There’s also a quartet of dark horses: “&me” is a pan-European, pan-sexual sex farce about two men and a woman fumbling through a three-way relationship, “Die Welt” is a Dutch production set amidst newly democratic Tunisia, will compete against two LGBT dramas- “It’s All So Quiet” (a slow-burn gay-themed rural drama) and “Nude Area” (lesbians). As for new films by blockbuster director Paul Verhoeven (experimental film “Tricked”) and other previously submitted directors Eddy Terstall (“Deal”), Mijke de Jong (“Brittle”) and Oscar nominee Ben Sombogaart (“To Be King”), I don’t see much hope. My predictions for the Top Five:  “The New World”, followed by “Daylight”, “Domino Effect", "Borgman” and “&me”.

18. NORWAY- "Pioneer" Norway made it to the finals last year for the first time in over a decade with “Kon-Tiki”, although audiences outside Scandinavia will likely see the English-language version that was filmed simultaneously alongside the Norwegian-language one. Unfortunately, that’s the one I saw. Norway typically chooses a three-film shortlist before announcing their official Oscar nominee. The big question is whether they count “Before Snowfall”, a Kurdish-language drama by a Norwegian born in Iraqi Kurdistan, as a “Norwegian” film. The film was nominated for six Amanda Awards (the final will be held on August 16th), so I think they will (or it could also potentially be selected by Iraq. See IRAQ). I believe the three-film shortlist will include: “Before Snowfall”, “It’s Only Make Believe”, and dark horse “Pioneer”. I was sure that “A Thousand Times Good Night” (starring Juliette Binoche) would also make the list, but it turns out this film about an acclaimed war photographer is in English. The Kurdish-language “Before Snowfall” is about a young man who tries to regain his family’s honor by pursuing his sister to Europe, after she flees an arranged marriage. Amanda Best Pic nominee “It’s Only Make Believe” is about a woman who is released from prison after sorta-kinda-accidentally killing her husband. “Pioneer” is the question mark- it’s a Hollywood-style thriller by the director of “Headhunters”...not typical Scandinavian fare. I think last year’s success with action-adventure will make the Norwegians consider sending something more commercial  than usual. Challenging for a spot on the shortlist (though likely not the Oscar nod) is quiet family drama “Chasing the Wind”, about a prodigal daughter’s return home, and “I Am Yours”, about a Pakistani-Norwegian woman looking for love. In the end, this should be a tight race. “Before Snowfall” would have the edge if it looked more like a Norwegian production….I’m predicting dark horse “Pioneer”.

19. POLAND- "Walesa" Poland is likely to choose biopic “Walesa”, directed by 87-year old four-time Foreign Oscar nominee (and Honorary Academy Award winner) Andrzej Wajda. As the title suggests, “Walesa” is a biopic of Lech Walesa, the much beloved labor activist and human rights dissident, Nobel Peace Laureate and former President of Poland. The Polish Academy likes historical dramas and the American Academy likes “big” movies (Poland’s two recent Oscar nominations- “In Darkness” and Wajda’s “Katyn” both fit these two criteria). “Walesa” will have its Polish premiere in late September and will open on October 4th. I’m feeling confident Poland will give it an Oscar qualifying run (they did the same with “In Darkness”) for it to qualify this year. Still, it’s always risky choosing a movie that nobody has seen. If “Walesa” doesn’t do a September qualifying run (possible), or if the movie sucks (doubtful), I see five other strong possibilities. The most likely on paper is “Manhunt”, another historical drama and one which won Best Picture at the 2013 Polish Film Awards. It’s a brutal war film about a resistance fighter in 1943 Poland, but reviews have been mixed outside of Poland, making it a weak choice. “In the Name Of” won some small awards in Berlin for its controversial story of a gay priest discovering his sexuality. It sounds much more interesting than picking yet another Polish war drama, but the Polish Academy’s Oscar submissions are rarely daring. “Traffic Department” is a box-office hit crime drama about corruption within a local police department which critics says rises above the usual crime-drama genre. “Loving” has won awards at numerous small festivals and it’s directed by Oscar nominee Slawomir Fabicki (Best Short Film, 2002). It's about a couple whose life is turned down upside down after the woman is raped by the town’s powerful mayor. Last and most controversial is “Aftermath”, which the Economist called the most controversial Polish film ever made. It’s about an incident during WWII in which Polish Jews were burned alive by their Catholic neighbors under German occupation, and the film has started a national debate about Polish complicity in anti-Jewish pogroms, with many Polish nationalists essentially condemning the film for telling the truth. I actually think this would be the best choice for Poland, since the Academy tends to like Jewish-interest films. “Walesa” ismore  risky. Bio-pics of famous Americans and Brits (“Lincoln”, “Milk”, “The Queen”, “The King’s Speech”) do well with Oscar, but bio-pics of acclaimed foreigners rarely resonate with American audiences who may not know who they are! That probably doesn’t apply to the extremely well-known “Walesa” (especially since the Foreign committee skews older) but “Aftermath” sounds like a stronger choice. Two other dark horses: “My Father’s Bike”, a small family drama about kids trying to find a new mate for their grandfather, and “Siberian Exile”, about the Soviet deportations of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews to frigid Eastern Russia in the 1940s and 1950s. My prediction for the Top Five: “Walesa” should get this easily if it gets a qualifying release, with “Loving”, “Manhunt”, “Aftermath” and “Traffic Department” in that order.  

20. PORTUGAL- "Lines of Wellington" Portugal  has the worst record in the world. With 29 tries, they have failed to make the shortlist more than any other country in the world (they were tied, but Egypt’s absence last year makes Portugal #1). That record is unlikely to change this year, although they’ll surely enter with one of their creaky historical dramas. Domestic releases in Portugal actually reached 5% of market share last year which is quite good for them, but still anemic by European standards. I actually really liked their submission last year (“Blood of My Blood”) even though I didn’t see the ending due to a broken projector in the cinema. For this year, eligibility concerns will dog three of the main contenders- 19th century war drama “Lines of Wellington” co-starring Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich (will the French-Portuguese-English dialogue be more than 50% in a foreign language? Will it matter that a made-for-television version was produced simultaneously?) and 103-year old Manoel deOliveira’s claustrophobic, French-language 19th century family drama “Gebo & the Shadow” co-starring Jeanne Moreau and Claudia Cardinale (sources differ on the official Portuguese release date between either September 27th or October 11th, 2012….it has to be October 1st or later to be eligible) and box-office hit comedy "The Gilded Cage" is a majority French production about Portuguese emigres living in France, with a dual citizen director. “The Consul of Bordeaux” was the biggest Portuguese-language local film in 2012 (though with a paltry 55,000 admissions). It sounds baity (a Portuguese officer saves Jews during World War II) but it said to have the production values of a TV movie. A pair of docudramas sound interesting- “É o Amor” (by the director of last year’s hit “Blood of My Blood”) is about women living in an isolated fishing community, while “The Last Time I Saw Macao” features a pair of Portuguese directors looking at life in Macau after the 1999 handover of the 400-year old colony to China. "O Bairro”, an ambitious film about crime and gangs in a Lisbon slum was first released as a film and then (as originally planned) as a television miniseries. The Portuguese often make bizarre decisions, ignoring movies like “Tabu” and “Mysteries of Lisbon” for less-acclaimed fare. I predict they try to send “Lines of Wellington” this year, followed by “The Consul of Bordeaux”, "The Gilded Cage", "Gebo", and “The Last Time I Saw Macao". But Portugal is so weird, I’m really unsure. And it really doesn't matter!

21. SLOVAKIA- "Miracle" As I see it, the Slovak Republic has nine eligible films including a horror film, a feature documentary and an omnibus of stories. The front-runner is clearly “Miracle” the fiction debut of previously submitted documentary director Juraj Lehotsky, which is representing Slovakia at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. All but two of independent Slovakia’s Oscar submissions have been shown at Karlovy Vary and this drama about a teenaged girl sent to a juvenile facility to keep her away from her 30-year old lover sounds like the sort of character-driven drama the Slovaks typically send. Fighting an uphill battle are “The Candidate”, a political thriller about a shadowy race to get an unknown candidate elected president of Slovakia over the course of two months, and “My Dog, Killer” (Rotterdam), a rural drama about a low-class family living near the Czech border. Slovakia has chosen documentaries twice in the past five years, so we also shouldn’t count out “Exhibits or Stories from the Castle”, about the residents of a retirement home. I think “Miracle” should win this easily, with “Candidate” and “Exhibits” the chief challengers.

22. SLOVENIA- "Good to Go" Slovenia has quite a few films to choose from – no outstanding successes but quite a few contenders to fly the Slovenian colors. Since 2003, the Slovenian Oscar nominee has either been the Best Picture winner or the Audience Award winner at the Slovenian Film Festival. That means the two main contenders are “Thanks for Sutherland”, a black comedy about a man whose family life goes to hell after he experiments with a life of crime to earn some extra cash (Winner, Best Picture and three others) and “Good to Go”, a dramedy about a 70-year old man who moves into a retirement home to await death, but instead finds a new lease on life (Winner, Audience Award and five others). A third dark horse competitor may not even be eligible- “Dual” is a comedy about a flight that gets stuck at Ljubljana Airport, bringing together two young women- one Danish, one Slovenian- who would not have met otherwise. The girls speak to each other in English (more than 50%?) and director Nejc Gazvoda was picked last year (they’ll want to spread the wealth) so I really think Slovenia will choose of the two big award winners. Rounding out the top five possibilities: “Shanghai Gypsy” a Romany-language drama by  Marko Nabersnik (who directed "Rooster's Breakfast", the most successful Slovenian film of all time) about a Gypsy king who gets involved in gun-running during the Yugoslav wars, and “Adria Blues”, about a depressed, aging rock star whose frustrated wife tries to get him to do one last gig. Prediction: "Good to Go" is good to go, with "Sutherland" in second. 

23. SPAIN- Okay....I cheated a bit on this one by holding off on writing Spain until they announced their shortlist on Monday, September 9. Spain traditionally announces a three-film shortlist but a tie in the voting this year meant that four films advanced to the next round. "Scorpion in Love" (Alacrán enamorado) stars Javier Bardem but it was the surprise film on the list. Reviews were mixed and more than one reviewer has called the film "derivative", copying dozens of other boxing/crime films. So, I think we can forget that one. Having eliminated "Scorpion" though, we still have a very competitive three-way race between cannibal-thriller-romance (?!) "Cannibal" (Caníbal), coming-of-age drama "15 Years and A Day" (15 años y un día), and family comedy "Family United" (La gran familia española). "Family United", about a big family wedding that coincides with Spain's appearance in the World Cup final, is the popular favorite and the one that most people are predicting, but it's quite a bit lighter than the films the Spanish Academy tends to choose. They haven't chosen a comedy since Almodovar's "All About My Mother" in 1999 (when they won!) and I don't think they will this year either. The race therefore comes down to a battle between the traditional and the daring. Look at the trailer of "15 Years and A Day" and it looks like the quintessential Oscar nominee. A teenager goes to live with his grandfather in the countryside? Oscar loves old people bonding with young people! Reviews have been very solid though not always enthusiastic, but voters on the larger committee will probably like it. "Cannibal" is not so traditional. A much-buzzed about psychological thriller about a quiet, unassuming serial killer (and yes! He's a cannibal too!) who falls in love with his next victim, word-of-mouth is positive. The Spanish Academy doesn't usually like comedy, but they do like the macabre....(horror in "The Orphanage", brutal violence in "Black Bread", the decor and ending of "Blancanieves"). AMPAS might not respond to "Cannibal", there's always a chance the small committee could bite. I think the Spanish will judge "Cannibal" as their best film of the year.

24. SWEDEN- "Echoes From the Dead" Sweden has been awfully quiet this year so they’ll have a tough decision choosing between their solid-but-commercial thrillers and some old-school stiff Scandinavian arthouse dramas. Since this year hasn’t produced one universally praised Swedish film, I’m going out on a limb to predict a film that nobody has seen yet, namely “Echoes from the Dead”, a mystery-thriller by Daniel Alfredson who repped Sweden way back in 1997 and who has since become more famous for directing two-thirds of the “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” trilogy. Filmed in Cuba, “Echoes from the Dead” will be released right before the September 30 deadline (like two of Sweden’s last three submissions) and the story concerns a woman and her elderly father faced with the mystery of her murdered son. Like last year’s entry, it’s based on a Swedish bestseller. I'm feeling strangely confident about "Echoes", although there are a quintet of worthy challengers: (1)- “Call Girl” is a pulled-from-the-headlines political drama about Stockholm’s “Hollywood Madam”, who arranged underaged prostitutes for Sweden’s political class in the 1980s, (2)- "Eat Sleep Die", which won Best Picture at the Swedish Guldbagge Awards for its story of a struggling Eastern European immigrant,  (3)- “The Last Sentence”, a baity B&W bio-drama of journalist who stood up to Hitler....It's directed by 82-year old five-time Oscar nominee Jan Troell and it's  the baitiest Swedish film of the year, though reviews haven’t been kind, and (4)- “Monica Z.”, a biographical drama about a Swedish jazz singer who made it big in New York and (5)- "Studentfesten", a raucuous, bawdy comedy if they want something in the "Simple Simon" mold. Less likely: “Faro” concerns a man accused of murder who tries to flee with his young daughter to Portugal, “Once A Year” is a quiet drama about a 50-something couple who has met for an extramarital affair every year for thirty years. Not eligible: Alicia Vikander's (the young queen in "A Royal Affair") new drama "Hotell" will premiere four days too late. My prediction for Top Five in Sweden: “Echoes”, "Call Girl", "Monica Z", "Eat Sleep Die" and "The Last Sentence". 

25. SWITZERLAND- "Rosie" The Swiss almost made it to the finals last year, making the shortlist for the first time since 2006. This year's four front-runners include two films  in Swiss German about mother-son relationships- "Rosie" (Moscow) is a drama about a gay man who is forced to leave Germany and return to provincial Switzerland to take care of his fiercely independent, fun-loving mother, while "Lovely Louise" is a comedy about a shy taxi driver who lives with his mother, an 80-year old former actress. The other two front-runners are French films that will premiere in Locarno, namely "Mary, Queen of Scots" (also announced for Toronto), an historical drama in French and English (will it have enough French to qualify?) and comedy "Longwave", about a woman travelling to Portugal in the 1970s to check-up on Swiss foreign aid projects. Other than "Rosie", none of the others have premiered in Swiss cinemas, which is one of the reasons I'm predicting "Rosie" goes to Hollywood. Also possible: German-language "Annelie" is a drama about the habitually unemployed in cosmopolitan Switzerland, who struggle to succeed in one of Europe's most bling-bling socities. The top Italian-language contender is "The Commander and the Stork", about a man who falls in love with a struggling artist. I predict "Rosie" represents Switzerland, though "Mary" (if there's enough French) and "Longwave" (if it gets a Swiss domestic release by September 30) are strong threats. 

26. UNITED KINGDOM- "Metro Manila" The UK clearly makes most of its films in English, and they have stated that they only send films to the Oscars when they feel it's competitive (i.e. not to promote British film in minority languages). As far as I know, they don’t have any of the Welsh-language movies they usually send, but there are a few British directors who could be considered. The Oscar-nominated Michael Radford (“Il Postino”) made the Spanish-language “La mula”, a political satire about two men trying to rescue a mule during the Spanish Civil War, although it’s become more famous for behind-the-scenes infighting among its producers than for the filmmaking itself. “Metro Manila” is a Tagalog-language drama made by a British director in the Philippines, and it won the Audience Award at Sundance 2013. Both seem to have sufficiently British crew to qualify to represent the United Kingdom. There’s also Lucy Molloy’s Spanish-language “La Noche” which has little British input except for its UK-born director, but it’s an acclaimed film about teens trying to flee Cuba, which would never ever be selected by its native Cuba. My prediction: “Metro Manila” is more likely to lobby BAFTA for the nod.

CYPRUS is one of only two EU nations never to compete in the Oscar race (the other is Malta). They probably won’t enter, but they could submit “Joy and Sorrow of the Body”, about a lonely man released from prison after refusing to betray a friend. It stars one of Greece’s most famous actors (Georges Corraface) and directed by a Cypriot director who represented Greece in 1997.


Spartak said...

Just wanted to let you know that Israeli Academy published yesterday the list of nominations... Probably it was the year with one of the closest results ever...
First of all, "A Place in Heaven" is not nominated for Best Film, though it has 10 nominations from 15 possible (besides the Best Film nomination, it also misses Best Director, Best Editing, Best Sup. Actor and Casting)... Also "Big Bad Wolves" is not nominated for Best Picture, in spite of it has 11 noms from 14 possibles (actually, it's even 13, it doesn't have real female characters, though it has sup. actress, who has a role for more or less 2 minutes, anyway the other nom. that it misses is Costume Desighn), I'll just quote, one of the Israeli cinema blogs (who thougt that "Big Bad Wolves" is the Best Israeli film of the year), "probably everything is great about the film, except the film itself"...
Never mind...
So who is nominated for the Best Picture:

"Bethlehem" - It has 12 nominations from 14 (like "Big Bad Wolves" it has only 1 sup. actress, though her role is a bit bigger. It also misses Costume Design).
Right now it seems to be a favourite for winning. A film about a relationship between a Shin Bet agent and a Palestinian informer, 17-year old boy, whose brother is a leader of a terrorist group.

"Six Acts" - 10 nominations from 13 possibles (it doesn't have supporting actress and music at all, it also lacks noms for Best Actor, Sup. Actor and Make-up).
A dark horse, right now, it's the most acclaimed film from other competitors. A drama about a girl, who moves to a new town and to make friends, she begins sexual relantionships with several boys at once (they're friends).

"Sweets" (Sukaryot) - 8 nominations from 14 (its Cinematographer is German, so he can't be nominated, it lacks Best Actor, Actress, Sup. Actress, Screenplay, Make-Up and Casting).
The only film out of 5 that I haven't seen. It was the last film to have an academy screening and unlike the other contenders that had at least 2 screenings, had only one....

"Hunting Elephants" - 7 noms (besides Best Film, it HAS Best Actor, Sup. Actor, Sup. Actress, Screenplay, Make-up and Casting).
The only film from the 5 that already came out on screens and it sold the most tickets for Israeli movie this year... It had bad reviews (the best review gives it 3.5 stars). There also was a scandal around the film, when the director of the film wrote a few nasty things about one of the critics (actually, the same one who had an argument with Joseph Cedar 2 years ago)...
Another dark horse, I suppose if the winner was not sent automatically for Oscar, "Hunting Elephants"'d become a favourite for winning. It's the only real comedy out of 5, it appeals both for older and younger voters... But it's the only film out 5 that I can say the has zero chances for Oscar, so I can hardly imagine the Academy chooses this film as a winner.
It's about a teenager, who decides to rob a bank with his grandpa to revenge the bank (and its director), which he blaims for his father's death (he worked as a guard at this bank).

"Magic Men" - 4 nominations (Best Film, Best Actor, Sup. Actor and Music).
Father-son relationship dramedy.

patvdh said...

Hi there. Just wanted to let you know that The New World was made for TV and was never theatrically released in the Netherlands. (I was lucky enough to catch it on an IMAX-screen on a film festival and it looked absolutely stunning.)

I'd say Borgman has the biggest chance of being selected, since the selection committee always goes for movies that have international recognition (see the White Light-debacle a couple years ago).

The other major contender I'd say is The Marathon which is beloved by both critics and audiences. It's All So Quiet has lots of goodwill because of the lead role by beloved actor Jeroen Willems, who died shortly after filming.
I'm quite certain it will be one of these three.

The Domino Effect is mostly in English IIRC, &Me might also have too much English. Daylight is probably too lightweight.

dzong2 said...

Hello from South Korea!

Thanks for the comments on Israel and the Netherlands....

As we can see, I'm not doing too well so far....My predictions for Israel and Netherlands (as well as Germany and Nepal) aren't being considered!

"The New World" represented the Netherlands at a lot of feature film festivals, including Washington, DC so I am surprised to hear that it was only shown on TV....The Netherlands often seems to have this kind of problem.

As for Israel, I was pretty sure it would be "A Place in Heaven" or "Hunting Elephants", but now the first is out and the second (according to Spartak) is very unlikely!

I don't change my "predictions" after the shortlists (that wouldn't be fair...) but it looks to be "Bethlehem" and "It's All So Quiet" now! I still think "Borgman" is too weird....

Thanks for the feedback!

Trond said...


Norway has now shortlisted their three movies fighting for the Academy award possibility:

Eventyrland http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2664080/?ref_=sr_1

Jeg er din

It will be exciting to see who will get the chance to represent my country.
I had kind of wished for "Før snøen faller" (Before snowfall) by the Norwegian-Kurdish director.

Best wishes
(from Norway)