Wednesday, December 18, 2013

FOREIGN OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2014- Western Europe (19 Films)

I think the final shortlist will be announced later this week so I'm publishing the Western Europeans only half-finished.....I'll do my list of final predictions tomorrow and try to fill in the rest of this chart later on.

If there's any justice, "Borgman" (Netherlands) will be nominated. It's probably the best film I saw this year. I hope the elite committee will "save" it, but I'm pessimistic about its chances. Great filmmaking is simply not enough to win an Oscar with these voters.

19. GREECE- "Boy Eating the Bird's Food"
18. ESTONIA- "Free Range"
Better luck next year for these two countries from the periphery of Western Europe....Both "Boy Eating the Bird's Food" from GREECE and "Free Range" from ESTONIA are surreal, borderline-experimental films...definitely not what Oscar goes for. On top of that, neither film is supposed to be very good. Reviews for "Bird's Food" (which did win Best Greek Film at Thessaloniki and the Hellenic Film Awards), about a 20-year old so hungry from the economic crisis that he resorts to eating both his bird's food and his own semen (sure to disturb the Oscar committee), have been weak outside of Greece. "Free Range", by surrealist (and weird) director Veiko Ounpuu is some kind of nonsense about a man whose life falls apart after he writes a film review of "The Tree of Life". Forget it.

17. SWEDEN- "Eat Sleep Die"
16. NORWAY- "I Am Yours"
15. AUSTRIA- "The Wall"
14. PORTUGAL- "Lines of Wellington"

SWEDEN and NORWAY have both selected debut features by female directors, about Muslim immigrants to Scandinavia. "Eat Sleep Die" won Best Picture at last year's Guldbagge Awards for its story of a Bosniak girl who loses her job. This minimalist, realist, hand-held film has gotten mixed reviews. It's supposed to be an average, yet not particularly involving film. "I Am Yours", about a Pakistani-Norwegian divorcee spurned by her traditional family for her cavalier attitude towards family and relationships. Once again, reviews have simply not been strong enough to compete here.

AUSTRIA's "The Wall" is an adaptation of "unfilmable" novel "Die Wand". It's the story of a 30-something woman in Austria who goes on a weekend vacation with friends to a rural mountain lodge. While her friends are away in town, a mysterious force field descends upon the area, trapping her (along with some animals) in an area perhaps a few square miles (?) with a host of animals. All life outside "the wall" appears to be frozen in time, and (presumably) dead. The problem is that the novel really is "unfilmable". Much of the action is narrated by talented actress Martina Gedrick but her struggle to survive by working the land, while realistic, is not exciting (though the conclusion is riveting). Set in 1810, PORTUGAL's historical drama "Lines of Wellington" is a dusty, overlong historical drama- typical of Portuguese Oscar submissions. "Wellington" may look pretty but its many characters and obscure history (a conflict between France and combined UK-Portugal forces) will doom it to failure, like all of Portugal's previous submissions.

Lots of interesting ideas here, but no chance at an Oscar.

13. SWITZERLAND- "More Than Honey"
12. FRANCE- "Renoir"
11. UNITED KINGDOM- "Metro Manila"
10. TURKEY- "Butterfly's Dream"

All four of these films have their pluses and minuses, but lack the gravitas to make the next round.

FRANCE is usually a front-runner and biopic "Renoir" is a sumptuous period drama about the last days of the acclaimed painter, and his relationship with his son (the soon-to-be great director Jean Renoir) and his artistic muse (a teenaged nude model) in the countryside during WWI. It's all very pretty, but it's also extremely boring. Although it has its admirers, too many people fall asleep for France to get nominated this year. Across the Channel, the UNITED KINGDOM has sent a Tagalog-language film made in the Philippines. An impoverished rural family emigrates to the city to seek a better life, but the family unwittingly becomes involved in crime and official corruption. This gritty, low-budget effort is said to be solid, but "gritty" rarely succeeds here.

SWITZERLAND has selected a documentary, which never bodes well with Oscar. While true that "Waltz with Bashir" and "Pina" did advance to the next round, these were not straightforward documentary films (I disliked both). "More Than Honey" is a technologically impressive documentary- seeing the bees work, dance and fly so close-up is eye-opening. It's about the declining numbers of honeybees, and the potentially devastating impact on global food production if they stop pollinating flowers and crops. However, I think the documentary format will work against it; some may think it should run in the Documentary category instead. And there's the obscure film from TURKEY- "The Butterfly's Dream". It's a period drama about two Turkish poets (both ill with tuberculosis) trying to woo the same girl through poetry (contrary to some reports on the Internet, it is NOT a gay story about two poets in love with each other). Though popular in Turkey, the film has not been widely seen internationally. The trailer looks gorgeous- like a Spanish or Italian festival film, but I imagine that two-hours-plus of subtitled poetry is not likely to translate well.

9. LUXEMBOURG- "Blind Spot"
8. SPAIN- "15 Years And a Day"
7. ICELAND- "Of Horses and Men"

LUXEMBOURG and SPAIN have chosen pretty standard genre pics. The tiny Grand Duchy has entered the race for the first time in four years with local hit "Blind Spot", a police mystery-thriller (aka un policier) about a closeted gay cop (from the country which now has the world's first openly gay male Prime Minister) trying to solve his brother's murder. It's all very good (you can watch it on iTunes) and filled with twists, but in the United States, it would be a standard hit policier  and not an Oscar nominee. The Spaniards have likewise chosen a cookie-cutter "coming-of-age-drama" about a boy sent to live with his grandfather after causing trouble at school. Reviews haven't been great...most say the script is weak and a bit clichéd....But this is the sort of film that the Large Committee has gone before. They love kids + old people....Still, with 76 films, I don't hold out much hope.

As for ICELAND, they've gone more original. It's the story of a small Icelandic town that relies on horse breeding. It's a quirky, tragicomic film, with stories partially told from the point of view of horses. Critics praise the filmmaking (the horse "actors" are particularly praised) but it's definitely an oddball film. It may place well in the rankings, but probably won't net Iceland a shortlist spot for the second year in a row. Still, definitely I will look for at Fests in 2014.

6. GERMANY- "Two Lives"
5. NETHERLANDS- "Borgman"
4. BELGIUM- "The Broken Circle Breakdown"

3. ITALY- "The Great Beauty" 

2. FINLAND- "The Disciple"
1. DENMARK- "The Hunt"

I see these two Scandinavian dramas (both touching on child abuse) as the Western European front-runners. DENMARK's acclaimed child abuse drama "The Hunt" is close to a lock. It's probably the best-reviewed Western European film of the year (certainly the best-reviewed of this mixed lot). Over the past year and a half (it debuted at Cannes 2012), it's gotten a solid reputation on the film festival circuit, and it's exactly the sort of film Oscar goes for (a morality tale). This drama about a lie about child abuse that turns a man's life upside down is (along with "The Past") one of the two front-runners to win the Oscar next year.

FINLAND is much more a gamble. Unlike much-loved Denmark, the Finns have only been nominated once before (for the undeserving "Man Without A Past"). "The Disciple" is a Swedish-language family drama about a domineering father living with his wife, son and young daughter at a remote lighthouse station. He begrudgingly agrees to briefly house an teenage apprentice. The two boys strike up a friendship and the tyrant of a father begins to favor the apprentice over his own son. Although the film hasn't been as strongly reviewed as, say, "The Great Beauty", it is universally said to be a well-photographer, solid story. Some people love it, others like it. It should receive solid scores across the board, making it a big possibility with the big committee. If it can't make The Top Six however, it likely will fail with the elite committee, looking for more arty/acclaimed works.

Now, the statistics:

Number of Foreign Languages Represented: 15. Three films are in German (Austria, Germany and Switzerland), two are in Dutch (Belgium, Netherlands) and two are in Swedish (Finland, Sweden). Theres one each in Danish, Estonian, French, Greek, Icelandic, Italian, Luxembourgish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Tagalog (UK) and Turkish.  The Portuguese submission is an unusual mishmash of languages.

Highest profile film: Denmark's The Hunt which has been doing the film festival circuit since Cannes 2012.  

Number of Western European countries participating this year: 19, including Estonia and Turkey.  

Number of countries that have participated in the past: 21.  

Number of countries opting out: Only Greenland and Ireland, which did not have any foreign-language fiction feature films eligible.

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: A weak field this year...Maybe five.

Number of countries I predicted correctly: I got six......Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and- big surprise- also the UK. I came close with Finland, and probably would have gotten France but I skipped them this year.  

Films I'm most looking forward to seeing: I've seen the films from Austria (B-), France (C), Luxembourg (B), Netherlands (A+) and Switzerland (B+). I'm most excited to frontrunner The Hunt" from Denmark. I have the DVD and will watch before Christmas.

Feature Debuts: 6 films are feature debuts (Austria, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden).  

Number of Comedies: I would say none, although the Netherlands and Sweden are described by some as black comedies.  

Number of Animated Films, Documentaries or Horror Films: One documentary (Switzerland) and one sort-of-horror film (Netherlands).

Oscar History: Markus Imhoof of Switzerland was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar way back in 1982 for "The Boat is Full" while Sean Ellis of the UK was nominated for Best Short Film in 2006 for "Cashback".

In addition to Imhoof (“The Boat is Full”, and also “Der Berg”), four other directors have been selected by their countries before: Veiko Õunpuu  (“The Temptation of St. Tony”, Estonia), Felix Van Groeningen (Belgium, “The Misfortunates”), Alex van Warmerdam (Netherlands, “The Northeners”) and Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark, “The Celebration”).

Every country has been nominated for an Oscar at least once except Estonia, Luxembourg, Portugal and Turkey.

Number of Female Directors: 5 out of 19- namely Ulrika Bengts (Finland), Iram Haq (Norway), Gabriele Pichler (Sweden) and Gracia Querejeta (Spain), plus Chilean-born widow Valeria Sarmiento (Portugal), who completed "Lines of Wellington" after her husband Raoul Ruiz died during pre-production.

Oldest and Youngest Directors: 72-year old Markus Imhoof of Switzerland is the oldest Western European candidate this year, while 33-year old debut director Gabriele Pichler is the youngest.

Familiar Faces: Portugal's all-star "Lines of Wellington" features a huge number of Eurocentric celebrities in supporting roles, including Almodovar muse Marisa Paredes  (Spain), Mathieu Amalric, Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert (France), Chiara Mastroianni and Vincent Perez (sort of France) plus American actor John Malkovich.

The most familiar face in a leading role this year is Danish superstar Mads Mikkelsen ("The Hunt"), known to arthouse audiences for Oscar nominees "A Royal Affair" and "After the Wedding", as well as to mainstream American audiences for "Casino Royale" and the "Hannibal" TV series. Runner-ups include 2-time Norwegian Oscar nominee Liv Ullmann who co-stars in the German submission "Two Lives", and Maribel Verdu, who I think plays the Mom in Spain's "15 Years and a Day".

Also: German actress Martina Gedrick is the one-woman star of "The Wall" and should be familiar to Foreign Oscar watchers due to her lead roles in "The Lives of Others" and "Der Baader Meinhof Komplex". "Two Lives" lead actress Juliane Kohler starred in Oscar winner "Nowhere in Africa". 88-year old Michel Bouquet plays the title role in "Renoir" and has been a prolific stage/screen actor since the 1960s. Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson of Iceland co-stars in his seventh Oscar submission since 1996. American actor John Hurt narrates the English version of "More Than Honey" (though not the foreign-language version)

Controversies and Changes The biggest controversy was probably the decision by the producers of Cannes winner "Blue is the Warmest Color" not to release their film in French cinemas a few days earlier to compete for an Oscar. The producers claimed the release date rules were stupid. So was their decision to prevent "Blue" from repping France. In the past French producers have done a one-cinema qualifying release ("Joyeux Noel").

Omissions: I'd say the highest-profile omission was Francois Ozon's "In the House", from France. Also Austria's entire "Paradise" trilogy by Ulrich Seidl, especially sex tourism frontrunner "Paradise: Love"....Denmark's Indonesian-language documentary "The Act of Killing" (shortlisted for Best Documentary), Estonia's "A Lady in Paris" (starring Jeanne Moreau), Norway's big-budget thriller "Pioneer" (co-starring "American Beauty"'s Wes Bentley), Spain's bizarre love story "Cannibal" and Switzerland's mother-gay-son-dramedy "Rosie".

Last year's race: The Western Europeans hoggedsix of the nine spots on the shortlist last year (Austria, Denmark, France, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland). My favorite was Les Intouchables from France (A-, a fine film, even if it is a mainstream comedy) followed by the hauntingBlancanieves (B+, Spain). I also saw eventual winner Amour (B), nominees A Royal Affair (B+) and Kon-Tiki (B), plus the films from Belgium (B+), Estonia (D), Germany (C+), Greece (B-), Iceland (B-), Sweden (B) and Switzerland (B-).

Next up: Final predictions for the 9-film shortlist


Trond said...

Thank you for a great job with commenting on all the movies!
I really enjoy reading :-)

Could you please post pictures of the European movies, please?

dzong2 said...

Trond....Photos added!

Trond said...

Thank you so much!!
I love your website :-)

I do the same as you, I try to watch most of the movies each year.

Now I'm very curious to see Bosnia, Hungary, Cambodia and Palestine.
Do you know where they can be seen or bought on DVD?