Wednesday, November 13, 2013

FOREIGN OSCAR PREDICTIONS- Canada, Latin America, Africa and the Arab World (19 films)

Wow! 76 movies! This beats last year's record by 5 countries! I hope the increase in participation from the smaller countries (which I like) doesn't inspire the exhausted Academy from scrapping the whole system for one based on Film Festivals.....

While it's true everyone is talking about "The Hunt" and "The Past", the race is fairly open this year

With 76 countries in play, I've decided them in to 4 groups of 19

1- Western Europe
2- Eastern Europe
3- Asia/Pacific
4- The Americas, Africa and the Arab World

To make things even out, Estonia and Turkey (which tend to think of themselves as Western) are going into Western Europe, while Israel is going into the fourth "Other" group we're looking at today.


19. PERU- "The Cleaner" (El Limpiador)
18. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC- "¿Quién manda?"
17. URUGUAY- "Anina"
16. LEBANON- "Blind Intersections"
15. COLOMBIA- "La Playa DC"
14. ECUADOR- "Porcelain Horse" (Mejor no hablar (de ciertas cosas))

Congratulations to all six of these countries on entering the Oscar race! Although none of them have any chance at an Oscar nomination this year, their submission has brought them to my attention and that of Film Festival viewers around the world. I'll make a strong effort this year to find the films from Ecuador and Lebanon.

Take a look at the trailers from the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC and URUGUAY and you'll see why they're not contenders this year. "Anina" is a children's animated film about a 10-year old girl (with a somewhat annoying voice) who is given a box that she is not allowed to open. Though it won Best Colombian Film (NOTE: Colombia...not Uruguay) at the Cartagena Film Festival, it's still a kiddie movie. If it wasn't for the Spanish dialogue, "¿Quién manda?" would exactly like a run-of-the-mill American romantic comedy, that might reteam Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz. In the film, a pair of male and female "players" try to seduce each other (and presumably end up falling in love?). "What Happens in Vegas?" did not get any Oscar nominations and neither will this.
 Colombia, Lebanon and Peru have sent obscure films that have gotten decidely mixed reviews, making it impossible that they could make the Top Six in a field of 76 films, or impress the large committee. COLOMBIA's "La Playa DC" (Cannes 2012) is the latest in a series of Afro-Colombian themed dramas in the race. This story of a rural teen searching for his missing brother in the big city, is said to be well-made but relatively slow and uninvolving. Even less likely is PERU's slow-burn plague drama "The Cleaner", about an old man in charge of disposing of bodies after a plague devastates Lima. Despite its "old man takes care of young child" plotline, reviews simply haven't been good enough. LEBANON's "Blind Intersections" originally finished in second place in the race to be the Lebanese submission....out of two films. When the other film ("Ghadi") was delayed, "Blind Intersections" got the nomination by default. It was very popular in Lebanon (and is ironically the highest-rated contender on IMDB), but this "Amores Perros" style drama about a series of intersecting lives in modern-day Beirut has not been well-reviewed overseas and is said to sputter out of gas after a promising beginning.

Last is ECUADOR's indie drama "Porcelain Horse". The trailer is good and it must have some merit to get Ecuador to enter the Oscar race for the first time since 2004. However, I just can't see this low-budget movie about drug-addled privileged youth stealing from the houses of their parents/rich friends making it very far. There's no buzz and it hasn't been widely seen or talked about.

 13. EGYPT- "Winter of Discontent"
12. VENEZUELA- "Breach in the Silence" (Brecha en el silencio)
11. CHAD- "GriGris"
10. ARGENTINA- "Wakolda" (aka "The German Doctor")

These "important" films have the weighty subject matter necessary to make it to the next round....The problem is that not enough people like them.
Impoverished, landlocked CHAD deserves credit for being the first sub-Saharan country to send a film to the Oscars more than once (other than South Africa, though ironically they've still never sent a film by a Black director). Director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is Chad's film industry. This year's "GriGris" (Cannes 2013), about a handicapped dancer who gets involved with a criminal gang, is high on novelty value (a rare look at life in Central Africa) but reviews have been positive but unenthusiastic. For me, the strangest thing is that Chad chose not to enter his two more acclaimed earlier works ("Daratt" and "A Screaming Man") while sending his more obscure "Abouna". With coups, counter-coups and political turmoil, it's amazing EGYPT remembered to send a film at all (they apologized to AMPAS for choosing their committee after the official deadline...AMPAS allowed them to compete). The pro-revolution "A Winter of Discontent", about a political prisoner being tortured in 2009 (pre-revolution, but by associates of those who retook power this year) is considered to be more an "important" film than a "good" one.

From South America come heavyweight ARGENTINA which has submitted "Wakolda" and perpetual also-ran VENEZUELA with "Breach in the Silence". "Wakolda" is about an Argentine family who unknowingly allow escaped Nazi war criminal Joseph Mengele to move into their boarding house (yikes!), where he becomes obsessed with their young daughter. It has a great plot, but only average reviews. "Breach in the Silence" is a gritty drama about a deaf woman who is being abused by her stepfather. Never nominated, Venezuela has been sending good movies the last few years, but "Breach" is unknown and has absolutely zero buzz.

 9. BRAZIL- "Neighbouring Sounds"
8. MEXICO- "Heli"
7. MOROCCO- "God's Horses"
6. SOUTH AFRICA- "Four Corners"

Latin America's two largest countries- BRAZIL and MEXICO- have sent challenging films that will turn off the larger committee and are both praying for one of three wild-card spots. Both of them are likely to be disappointing. MEXICO's "Heli" is without a doubt the most divisive film of the year. While it is universally praised for its brave filmmaking (winning Best Director at Cannes 2013), it is also said to be unlikeable, unpleasant and revolting. Telling the story of Mexico's impoverished poor and their struggle to survive amidst extreme drug violence (shown in graphic detail), this was clearly the director's intention...They're hoping for the "Dogtooth" slot, but I don't think they'll get it.
BRAZIL's "Neighbouring Sounds" is also being mentioned a lot online as a possible Wild Card. However, I've seen "Sounds" and they're likely out of luck. This "slice-of-life" film- about the residents and security guards of an upper-class apartment building in Recife- is very long and not a whole lot of happens. I wasn't bored, but many reviewers were. It skillfully projects an increasingly mood of paranoia, but in the end the payoff is not big enough. It's way behind "Heli".
The two remaining African countries have selected similarly-themed stories, about impoverished youth who become radicalized into violence. In MOROCCO's "God's Horses", this means falling prey to Islamic fundamentalism by way of terrorist groups and fundamentalist mosques. In SOUTH AFRICA's "Four Corners", it's violent local gangs in the slums. "Four Corners" (slang for a prison cell) is a coming-of-age-thriller about a 13-year old chess prodigy from the slums. However, I can't find a single review or even a full-length trailer (just a teaser, which admittedly looks pretty great) so I found it really hard to rank them. AMPAS likes South Africa ("Tsotsi" won, and the forgettable AIDS drama "Yesterday" and "Life Above All" made the shortlist) and the teaser looks stylish but I simply don't know enough about it. "God's Horses" on the other hand has plenty of reviews online- it premiered at Cannes 2012 and has been riding the Film Festival circuit for a full year-and-a -half, winning strong notices for its dramatized story of a group of slum kids who we eventually learn grow up to be responsible for the 2007 Casablanca bombings. Oscar has gone for these themes before (
("Paradise Now") but ultimately, I think "Horses" will place well in the rankings, but fail to make the finals.

 5. CANADA- "Gabrielle"
4. ISRAEL- "Bethlehem"
3. PALESTINE- "Omar"

These three films all seem equally likely and will likely be fighting each other for one of the final spots on the Oscar shortlist.

Least deserving is probably CANADA's Oscar bait "Gabrielle", which seems tailor-made to get an Oscar nomination from the larger committee. Canada seems to be screaming "Mentally handicapped people!!" Music prodigies!! Quebec!!! Nominate us!!" Canada has made the shortlist 6 of the past 7 years and "Gabrielle" is from the same producers as "Monsieur Lazhar" and "Incendies". Reviews haven't been quite as warm for this story of a mentally handicapped music prodigy who finds love with another mentally handicapped person. The larger committee will love it, but enough to make the Top Six? I vote no.

Ironically Israel and Palestine have sent "moral dilemma" thrillers about the relationships between Israeli intelligence agents and Palestinian informants (though not surprisingly with a very different point of view). Both ISRAEL's Ophir winning "Bethlehem" and PALESTINE's Cannes Un Certain Regard winner "Omar" are well-regarded, and have a strong chance at making the next round. I've seen "Omar" but not "Bethlehem" so I'm really not sure which one will get in. "Omar" is stronger on paper. It's directed by an acclaimed former Oscar nominee, has a US distribution deal and has been seen more overseas. In the film, a young Palestinian man is torn between his commitment to the Palestinian cause, his love for a friend's sister and blackmail by the Israeli security forces. The film at first appears to be merely an entertaining political thriller, but towards the end, the audience gets twisted and re-twisted so much it makes your head spin! The anti-Israel politics may turn off some voters, though I hope that won't come into play. "Bethlehem" would be a more obscure choice, but reviews have been very good and AMPAS likes Israeli cinema. In the film, an agent befriends the younger brother of a terrorist and becomes a sort of father figure. However, this is a thriller- not a family drama and is often described as an Israeli version of "The Wire". How ironic that political rivals Israel and Palestine might be fighting each other for the last slot on the shortlist!

2. CHILE- "Gloria"
1. SAUDI ARABIA- "Wadjda"
Two very different stories about "girl power" are the front-runners from these regions. 11-year old Wadjda is a Saudi girl who wants a bicycle. 60-year old Gloria is a Chilean divorcee looking for a second chance at love. It would be no surprise to see both of their eponymous films on the Oscar shortlist come January (possibly with "Omar" and "Gabrielle", making the list look more like a class roster than a list of films).
SAUDI ARABIA's "Wadjda" clearly has the better shot. Not only is the film likely to charm the larger committee with it's gentle, topical and well-made story of a young Saudi girl determined to defy traditional gender roles and buy an expensive bicycle, but if it doesn't make the Top Six, it also has an excellent chance to be "saved" by the elite committee. Reviews have been universally positive and the film's backstory is too charming and important to ignore. Cinemas are banned in Saudi Arabia (men and women could mix in the dark! shocking!) and director Haifa al-Mansour, like all Saudi women, was under severe restrictions as to what she could and could not do (occasionally forced to "direct" by cellular phone when she couldn't be seen with her male actors). Even I believe the elite committee works hard to stay neutral, the story is too good. "Wadjda" is probably in.

CHILE's "Gloria" is a bigger risk but I think she's going to do well. In her favor, I've seen it and it's a great film with a brave Oscar-worthy performance by Paulina Garcia who brilliantly channels vulnerability and sexuality in equal measures. The film is funny, sad and hopeful. By the end of the film, you really are rooting for "Gloria" to achieve her dreams....though like many of us, even she seems somewhat unsure of what those are. Working against her? Well, 90% of critics love "Gloria" like I did, but 10% think it's boring. Oscar often ignores female-driven stories and some feel the film relies too much on a great star performance. And Chile was nominated last year. My prediction: "Gloria" will easily make the Top 15....And she may make the Top 9.....
Now, the statistics:

Number of Foreign Languages Represented: Six......9 of the 19 films are primarily in Spanish, 5 in Arabic and 2 in French.There's also one film each in Afrikaans ("Four Corners" is also in some sort of secret gang language), Hebrew ("Bethlehem" also partly in Arabic) and Portuguese ("Neighbouring Sounds").

Highest profile film: The two films with the most buzz are SAUDI ARABIA's "Wadjda" (but mostly for its female director and inspiring backstory) and MEXICO's "Heli" (though not all positive, and mostly focusing on its extreme violence). In terms of critical notices, Saudi Arabia and CHILE are probably the top ones.

Number of countries participating this year: 19, including first-time entrant Saudi Arabia.

Number of countries that have participated in the past:  8 from North America, 9 from South America, 9 from sub-Saharan Africa and 9 from the Arab World, plus Israel.

Number of countries opting out: Officially 18 but most of the countries that didn't submit movies are countries that have only submitted once or twice. Also absent is PUERTO RICO which AMPAS unfairly decided to uninvite in 2010. Of the rest, only five countries decided not to send movies- former Oscar nominees ALGERIA, CUBA and NICARAGUA, plus BOLIVIA and CUBA. The Nicaraguans probably didn't have anything eligible but the other four did.

Among the Latinos, Cuba last entered in 2011, Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 2010, Bolivia in 2009 and Guatemala way back in 1994. CUBA did organize an Oscar selection committee this year...Not sure why they didn't send a film. BOLIVIA's best modern director, Juan Carlos Valdivia, had his films submitted in 1995, 2006 and 2009, so I expected his latest drama- "Yvy Maraey: Tierra Sin Mal" to be on the list. And GUATEMALA's "Polvo" is said to be possibly the best film ever to come out of the Central American country, so I thought they might come back too.....

As for the Arab countries, Algeria sent a film as recently as last year, but Iraq (2010), Jordan (2008), Tunisia (2002) and Kuwait (1978) have been absent longer. IRAQ has seen a film rennaissance in the Kurdish North where a number of new cinemas have opened up, so I'm a bit surprised to see them missing. As for the Africans, the most conspicuous absence is KENYA, who entered for the first time last year and who had another film ("Something Necessary") produced by German director Tom Tykwer.

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: Five out of 19 films are serious threats, while three are outsiders with one committee or the other. That's a pretty strong lineup.

Number of countries I predicted correctly: I didn't do so well, getting only five right- CANADA, CHAD, CHILE, MOROCCO and PALESTINE, but I did pick the films from Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Egypt as runner-ups.

Films I'm most looking forward to seeing: I've already seen the movies from BRAZIL (B), CHILE (A-) and PALESTINE (A-). But I can't wait to see SAUDI ARABIA's "Wadjda", which looks so interesting on so many levels.

Feature Debuts: 10 out of 19 films are "first films" by their directors!

Number of Comedies: Just one- the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC sent a romantic comedy to the competition.

Number of Animated Films, Documentaries and Horror Films:  One cartoon (URUGUAY's "Anina").

Oscar History: PALESTINIAN director Hany Abu-Assad ("Paradise Now") is the only Oscar nominee among the bunch, though Argentina, Canada and South Africa have previously won the award. Brazil, Chile, Israel, Mexico, Peru and Abu-Assad's native Palestine have been nominated in the past.

In addition to Abu-Assad, three directors have represented their countries before- CHAD's
Mahamat Saleh Haroun ("Abouna", 2002), ARGENTINA's Lucia Puenzo ("XXY", 2007) and MOROCCO's Nabil Ayouch ("Mektoub" and "Ali Zaoua", 1998 and 2000).

Number of Female Directors: Four ladies are gunning for an Oscar- Louise Archambault (Canada), Haifa al-Mansour (Saudi Arabia), Lucía Puenzo (Argentina) and Lara Saba (Lebanon). It's especially impressive that two of the four Arab directors this year are women, including al-Mansour who made her film despite restrictions that sometimes prevented her from being on the set with male members of the cast and crew!

Oldest and Youngest Directors: 62-year old Ian Gabriel (South Africa) is the oldest director from this group, while Peru's 25-year old Adrián Saba (a former Fulbright scholar in New York) is the youngest director worldwide.

Familiar Faces: With so many of these films featuring youthful casts making their film debuts (Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Palestine, South Africa), there aren't really many internationally famous faces in these movies. Some actors are familiar faces in their own parts of the world (like Uruguayan actress Natalie Oreiro who co-stars in "Wakolda") or may be familiar to some arthouse audiences (Canadian actress Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin in "Gabrielle" played the twin sister in "Incendies"). The most visible is probably Egyptian movie star Amr Waked who is well-known in Egypt and has co-starred in Western productions such as "Syriana", "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" and "House of Saddam", as well as this year's Egyptian submission "Winter of Discontent".
Tough Choices: I'd argue that MEXICO had the toughest choice this year, with "Heli" defeating a pair of favored immigration drama (Buzzed about frontrunner "The Precocious & Brief Life of Sabina Rivas" and Goya submission "The Golden Cage") as well as big-budget historical epic "Cinco de Mayo". ARGENTINA's Academy was clearly split between the three front-runners, with "Wakolda" defeating animated football movie "Metegol" (Foosball) and Ricardo Darin thriller "Thesis On A Homicide"

Also ignored: a pair of period dramas starring Oscar-nominated actresses- Catalina Sandrina Moreno's "Roa" (Colombia) and Fernanda Montenegro "Time and the Wind" (Brazil), plus strongman bio "Louis St. Cyr" (Canada), Berlin darling "Tanta Agua" (Uruguay) and briefly banned "Of Good Report" (South Africa), which lobbied for the nod.

Controversies and Changes: LEBANON's Academy originally selected comedy-drama "Ghadi" but they lost the nod when the film's general release date was moved from September to October. Maybe they'll be picked again next year? MEXICO's "Heli" was controversial because it was picked over several other more mainstream films despite its extreme violence.....Some questioned SAUDI ARABIA's eligibility since movie theatres are banned but AMPAS (correctly) determined that "Wadjda" fulfilled the screening requirements through its screenings at the German Embassy and some oil installations.

Last year's race: There were 16 movies from this part of the world last year and I managed to see 50% (8). Two of them (Canada and Chile) made it to the Final Five.

My personal favorite was "Jaque Mate" (B+), the tense and extremely entertaining "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" thriller from the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, but it's clearly a crowd-pleaser and not an Oscary sort of film. CANADA's "Rebelle" (B+) was clearly the superior film. As for CHILE's "No" (B), URUGUAY's "La Demora" (B), PALESTINE's "When I Saw You" (B-) and PERU's "The Bad Intentions" (C+), they were more or less average. I didn't really care for the boring films from ARGENTINA (C) or the really disappointing film from ISRAEL (D), which I had looked so forward to seeing.

Next up: The record number of candidates from Eastern Europe- Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine


Spartak said...

The DVD of "Blind Intersections" should be out in the beginning of 2014, while the Ecudorian submission is already out on DVD (at least by its facebook page), but it's unclear if it has English subtitles and it seems that it's possible to buy it only in Ecuador.

Chad - Yeah, it's intresting, but not-good enough. I suppose the reason that 2 of his previous were not sent is that they were more French production that Chad's...

Each year, I'm holding to see Venezuala's submission, but I'm mostly disappointed to find out that they're out of reach.

Premiere of "Yvy Maraey: Tierra Sin Mal" was on October 17th, so it's eligible for next year.

Since I'm from a Israel... A few words about Palestinian submission (I have seen it at Palestinian theater in East Jerusalem). What is for sure that the film is very professional and Abu-Assad knows very well what he is doing, including filling his film with lies and hate (yeah, I can imagine some of the situations to happen, but most of them are unreliable and doesn't happen in real life over here) and also vowing for violence.

Regarding "Wadjda" (I haven't seen it yet, though I'll be able to do it during next few days/weeks, because it's showing in Israel), so without watching I hope that it won't be nominated, because I don't like the idea of Saudia playing on 2 weddings, with one hand banning films and with the other submitting a film to Oscars, trying to show their "openness" to the world.

dzong2 said...

Hi Spartak,

Thanks for your comments but I'm shocked to hear you are rooting against "Wadjda"! In a perfect world, every country would choose their Best Film fairly. In reality, this does not happen as political (China), corrupt (India) and foolish (Japan) decisions are often made. However, "Wadjda" is clearly the best (maybe only!) Saudi Arabian film of the year and the female filmmaker clearly would like cinema to be legalized, so why root against her? They worked hard to get the film screened so I am hoping they get a fair chance.

I understand your comments about "Omar", even though I don't necessarily agree. Since I do not come from the region, I prefer not to comment on the political slant. I think it will be a very polarizing film for the committee, but so was "Paradise Now". I know I'm in the minority, but I actually preferred "Omar".

Bolivia...Hmm...I guess that explains it! Maybe it was delayed?

If you're interested, the films from Hong Kong and Luxembourg are available on iTunes.

I'm working on the Eastern European nominees now.

Spartak said...

First of all, thanks a lot for information about Luxembourgish film, I'll watch for sure. I wanted to order the dvd, but it's impossible to order it online. :(

Regarding "Wadjda", probably I didn't make myself clear. I have nothing against Haifaa al-Mansour, I adore her courge, however the film wasn't submitted by her, but by the country. I don't think that even if "Wadjda" wins the Oscar, it'll change the situation itself in Saudia. But in the same way, the politicians will use this opportinuty to show a fake democracy.