Saturday, July 27, 2013

Predictions for the 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film- Canada, Latin America and Africa

Here's Part Three-

These are my predictions for the 26 countries from North America, South America and Sub-Saharan Africa....Only 12 of these countries entered films last year (Canada, nine Latin countries and two African ones), mostly because eight of the nine sub-Saharan African countries have submitted a film just one time in history.

Most likely to enter- CANADA, which has made the shortlist seven out of the past ten years (one win, four nominations and two shortlist spots) and entered a film every year without fail since 1979. That's better than any of other countries on this list (Argentina is #2)
Least likely to enter- Puerto Rico was disinvited from the competition in 2010 (though they picked a film in protest in 2011) but I'd say the least likely contender this year is CAMEROON, which last entered in 1980.
Most likely to get an Oscar Nomination- It's always silly to count out CANADA. They're most likely this year too.

1. ARGENTINA- "Thesis on a Homicide" (Tesis sobre un homicidio)- There are three things that get the Argentine Academy excited- actor Ricardo Darin (he starred in their 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010 films), director Daniel Hendler (he directed their 2004 and 2006 films, with very stiff competition), and film noir (2005, 2008, 2009, 2010). They also like watching 8- to 12-year boys growing up (2003), especially if they are growing up during the military dictatorship (2002, 2012). “Thesis of a Homicide” may not be as good a movie as the Oscar-winning“The Secret in Their Eyes”, but it’s probably going to end up representing Argentina. Starring Ricardo Darin, produced by Daniel Hendler and undeniably“noir”, this box-office hit crime thriller about a murdered woman has gotten very strong (though not outstanding) reviews and in a year with few possibilities, it should win handily. In the film, a criminology professor (Darin) suspects one of his students of committing a brutal, unsolved murder. If only it had an 11-year old boy, it would be a shoo-in! In second place, I’ll guess Lucia Puenzo’s disturbing Cannes drama “Wakolda”, about Nazi war criminal Joseph Mengele stalking a young girl in 1960s Argentina. I’m not quite sure what else they would pick- the Argentinians had two low-key dramas in Berlin (“Habi the Foreigner”, about a woman experimenting with Islam, and “Belated”, about a young man causing sexual tension between a married couple in rural Argentina) and one more from Cannes (“Los Duenos”, about maids in the countryside) but none of them seems particularly likely.“The Wild Ones”, a drama about disaffected youth, was well-received at Cannes last year, but it couldn’t even manage a Best Picture nominee at the Silver Condor Awards. Two of the films that did- “Gone Fishing” and “My German Friend”, also seem a bit too low-key. “Gone Fishing” is a droll character study (looks like a Uruguayan film) while “My German Friend” admittedly could be a dark horse- it’s about the adult children of German refugees who fall in love- one set of refugees were Jews, the others were Nazis. Both films lost to last year’s Oscar submission, “Clandestine Childhood”. Oscar winner Juan Jose Campanella (“The Secret in Their Eyes”) works mostly in American television these days, but he made his first feature film since his Oscar win this year. Unfortunately, it's a strange-looking animated comedy (“Metegol”). Argentina chose a children’s animated film once, but I hope they won’t make that mistake again. Top three: “Thesis of A Homicide”, “Wakolda” and“My German Friend”.

 2. BOLIVIA- "Yvy Maraey: Tierra Sin Mal" Bolivia has had five official submissions to the Oscars, and three of them were directed by Juan Carlos Valdivia. Although it hasn't premiered yet, it would thus be foolish to bet against Valdivia’s latest “Yvy Maraey: Tierra Sin Mal” (previously titled “Kandire”), a road movie about an explorer delving deep into indigenous Guarani lands in modern-day Bolivia. The Bolivian government is very interested in promoting indigenous cultures, and this film fits well with that image. Valdivia also stars in the film and wrote the screenplay. The runner-up will likely be “Pacha”, the story of an impoverished shoeshine boy, determined to get back the tools stolen from him. Without them, he will have no way to do his job and earn money to eat. I also predicted it as runner-up last year, but it didn’t premiere on Bolivian screens until Spring 2013. Local comedies like “Sleeping Beauties” and“The Orchard” won’t come into play. Assuming it opens, bet on Valdivia getting a fourth Bolivian nod.

3. BRAZIL- "Time and the Wind" I was pretty stumped by Brazil this year but I finally opted for historical drama "Time and the Wind", based on a popular series of novels set amidst two centuries of Brazilian history. Co-starring Oscar nominee Fernanda Montenegro, ("Central Station"),  "Time and the Wind" begins in the 18th century Portuguese colonial era and is said to look at history through the eyes of two families. It's scheduled to premiere on September 20, its director has found favor with the Brazilian Academy before (Jayme Monjardim was selected in 2005 for another historical drama, "Olga") and it's my pick for Brazil. In second place, I'm going to guess "My Father's Chair", an arty thriller produced by another Brazilian Oscar nominee (Fernando Meirelles, "City of God") about a man desperately searching for his missing son. But with Brazil absent from the film festival circuit this year, it's almost anybody's game. Also in my top five: Odd little thriller "Neighboring Sounds" has probably been seen the most internationally, "Faroeste caboclo" is a western set in the 1980s and "Once Upon A Time, I, Veronica", a Bridget Jones-esque dramedy character study of a sensual Brazilian woman. That last one is the dark horse, having won quite a few awards at Brazil's seemingly endless number of local film festivals. Brazil usually releases the world's longest shortlist (generally more than a dozen films) so you can also expect to see titles like "Between Valleys" (two identical men with different lives), "My Sweet Orange Tree" (a family drama), "Eden" (a religiously themed drama about faith) and "Good Luck Sweetheart" (a restless artist), but not Bruno Barreto ("Four Days in September", also an Oscar nominee!)'s  lesbian dramedy "Reaching for the Moon". Too much English.

4. BURKINA FASO- "Moi Zaphira" Burkina Faso, despite its remote location, has been the site of Africa’s most prestigious festival for African cinema (FESPACO) since 1969. After winning two awards at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989, the Burkinabes sent their first film to the Oscar competition (Yaaba ). Despite a great filmmaking tradition and a small domestic film industry, they have yet to send a second film. This year they have two interesting choices, though they are unlikely to enter. “Moi Zaphira” is a sort of African take on ”Gypsy”, about a mother in a small village who wants her young daughter to become a fashion model, though the career itself is unknown in her community. It  was the only Burkinabe feature in competition at the biannual FESPACO Film Festival in Ouaga and director Apolline Traore used to work in Los Angeles, signalling she may be savvy enough to get a new Oscar selection committee formed. The other choice would be "Soleils", a road movie about an old man who journeys with a young amnesiac girl (sounds like The World is Big and Salvation Lies Around the Corner ) around Europe and Africa. Some have grumbled about Zaphira"'s modest tech creds, but "Soleils" hasn't premiered yet so I'll go with "Zaphira".

5. CAMEROON- "Nina's Dowry" Cameroon hasn’t sent a film in over 30 years....more precisely since 1980, when Daniel Kamwa became the world’s first Black African director to compete here. Of course they won’t enter, but they do have two well-reviewed possibilities. "Nina’s Dowry" won the Jury Prize at the 2013 African Academy Awards (I believe this is the highest honor Cameroon has ever received there) and it tells a socially relevant story of a woman trying to flee an abusive marriage in the village of her late father. The politically sensitive "Le President", about an African dictator, is by one of Africa’s most senior directors (Jean-Pierre Bekolo) but it is having difficulty getting permission to screen at home, so "Dowry" would be much more likely to get the nod.

6. CANADA- "Gabrielle" Canada has an exemplary record in this category- seven spots on the shortlist in ten years (the twitchy Academy ignored their two outstanding gay-themed entries).  Considering the small size of Canada’s French (7 million) and Inuktikut (30,000) populations- smaller than Belgium or Sweden- that is quite an impressive record. Quebec is outperforming English-speaking Canada too….Eight of the past ten winners of the Canadian Screen Awards (the Genies) were French-language films and all three of Canada’s new Berlin/Cannes entries this year were from Quebec. So, what will Canada pick this year? I’m feeling confident it will be "Gabrielle", a drama about a mentally challenged musical prodigy, and her efforts to build an independent life for herself. The Foreign Oscar committee loves musicians ("Beyond Silence", "The Chorus", "Departures", "Farinelli", "As If It Is Heaven", just to name a few) and Oscar in general loves people with mental problems. As if that weren't enough, "Gabrielle" comes from the production house that delivered critically acclaimed Oscar nominees "Incendies" and "Monsieur Lazhar". We'll see how "Gabrielle" is received in Locarno, but I'm feeling pretty good about it to represent my Northern neighbors. I’m also getting good vibes from biopic “Louis Cyr: The Strongest Man in the World”, about the 19th century Canadian strongman who performed feats of amazing strength. The film has been successful with critics and audiences, and could also potentially pique the interest of the Oscar voters and their biopic fetish (though they don't often go for biopics of foreign people they've never heard of!). Two of the other strong contenders have a monkey on their back. As I mentioned before, the mostly conservative Oscar committee has ignored outstanding LGBT films (are you really telling me that the dull, forgettable “Don’t Tell” was somehow better than the brilliant “C.R.A.Z.Y.” ? Or that “Milk of Sorrow” could fairly defeat “I Killed My Mother”? I think not!) So, I’m not sure that bodes well for Cannes lesbian thriller “Vic & Flo Saw A Bear” (compared to Tarantino and the Coen Bros.), about a pair of lesbian ex-cons locking horns with a parole officer or “Tom At the Farm”, the latest from hot, 24-year old wunderkind Xavier Dolan, about a gay man who attends the funeral of his lover, only to discover the parents were ignorant of their son’s sexuality. It’s only fair that I also mention a trio of films showing that Canada is not just divided between white English- and French-speaking halves. “Les meneges humains” looks at racism and Islamophobia in modern Canadian society, while “Maina” (Shanghai) is an epic historical thriller about an Inuit woman negotiating tribal intrigues prior to the arrival of the Europeans. And then there’s Oscar nominee Deepa Mehta’s “Midnight’s Children”. I predicted it last year despite good-but-not-great reviews, but this film about the birth of independent India didn’t actually premiere in Canadian cinemas until November 2012. Others might predict “Sarah Prefers to Run” (Berlin 2013), a dramedy about a teenaged girl, or “Le Demantelement”, a version of “King Lear” set amidst Quebec’s sheep farms, but reviews have been lukewarm. Others might (foolishly) predict French-language Inuit-themed animated hit “The Legend of Sarila”, the biggest Quebecois hit of the year, but Canada is serious about the Oscars and is unlikely to pick a cartoon. And honestly, they could pick something new from September’s Toronto Film Festival. Prediction for now: "Gabrielle" defeats “Louis Cyr”, followed by “Vic & Flo” and “Midnight’s Children".

7. CHAD- "Gris Gris" Chad is the most likely of all the sub-Saharan African countries to submit a film this year (bar South Africa) because of "Gris Gris" (aka "Grigris"), a drama about a disabled, aspiring dancer (?!) who gets involved with a gang of petrol smugglers. Impoverished, isolated Chad competed for the Palme d’Or for the second time this year, both times thanks to Mahamet Saleh Haroun. Haroun won the Cannes Jury Prize in 2010 for "A Screaming Man" and the Venice Jury Prize in 2006 for "Daratt". But for him, Chadian cinema would not exist. Chad didn’t send either of these films to the Oscars (though they did send one of Haroun’s unheralded earlier works in 2002), but the Chadian government has recently reopened a cinema in the capital, and has started to invest in both a film academy and in films ("Grisgris" received some government support) I’m predicting Chad becomes the first sub-Saharan African country ever to send a film to the Oscars twice (bar South Africa). For an interesting article on the current state of cinema in Chad, see here.

8. CHILE- "Gloria" Chile will be looking to make it two in a row after getting their first-ever Oscar nomination last year (on their 17th try) for “No”. I thought “No” was well-made but mostly forgettable and that Chile should have already had two Oscar nominations (for “Los Debutantes” and “En la Cama”)….but I’m not an Oscar voter! This year’s best-reviewed Chilean film is hands-down “Gloria”, a drama about a free-spirited (and maybe a little lonely?) 50-something woman that received raves and a few awards at Berlin 2013. “Gloria” would make a fitting submission for the up-and-coming Chilean movie industry.  Also, the rest of Chile’s contenders seem a bit weird (including the long-awaited fantasy drama “Caleuche”, whose reviews have been lukewarm), making “Gloria” look even more attractive. Two potential challengers by two previously submitted directors are “Il Futuro”, a drama in Italian, Spanish and English about two siblings who get involved with a plot to seduce and rob a handicapped man (played by Dutch actor Rutger Hauer), and political drama “Allende, tu nombre me sabe a hierba”, by two-time Oscar nominee Miguel Littin. Having said that, “Allende” probably won’t be released until Christmas and “Il Futuro” hasn’t had the same buzz as “Gloria". Dark horse: “Thursday Through Saturday”, about a tense family road trip.  Possibly on the shortlist but far too weird for Oscar: “Dance of Reality”, “Dog Flesh”, “The Passion of Michelangelo”, “Summer of Flying Fish” and “The Zoo”. I think Chile has an easy choice and “Gloria” should win this easily.

9. COLOMBIA- "Roa" Colombia may not have any Oscar nominations yet, but they are one of the most successful countries in the world at getting their films distributed in the United States. All but one of their submissions since 2001 got either a DVD, Netflix streaming or theatrical release in the United States (the exception was the well-meaning but dull “Crab Trap”). This year I predict los Colombianos will send “Roa”, a historical drama about the assassination of the mayor of Bogota in the 1940s, directed by Andres Baiz who directed my personal favorite of Colombia’s Oscar submissions (the tragic “Satanas”) and co-starring Colombia’s first and only Oscar nominee, Catalina Sandrina Moreno ("Maria, Full of Grace"). “Roa” has been well-received (though not by everyone) and it opened the 2013 Cartagena Film Festival. “Roa” will face stiff competition from “La Playa DC”, which was Colombia’s submission to the Goya Awards last year, but which (according to my sources) premiered in October 2012 making it eligible for the Oscars this year. “La Playa DC”, whose director the Hollywood Reporter said was “Colombia's most notable cinematic export since Oscar-nominated actress Catalina Sandino Moreno is about Afro-Colombian youth in the capital. It was also featured in Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2012. Reviews seem better than “Roa”, though the film is less Oscary and I’m not 100% certain its eligible. The controversial “Operation E” has also gotten warm reviews for its story of the infant child born of the union between a FARC guerilla and a female hostage, whose real-life equivalent sued (but failed) to prevent the film’s release. Rounding out the Top Five possibilities: “The Lighthouse”, an arty film about the lonely keeper of a lighthouse who meets a down-on-her-luck woman (sounds very much like the films Colombia usually submits) and black comedy “Edificio Royal”, about the quirky inhabitants of a large apartment building. Less likely: romance “Sin Palabras”, about a Colombian courting a Chinese woman (who speaks no Spanish) trying to illegally emigrate to the United States, “Anina”, a well-reviewed animated film which won Best Colombian Film in Cartagena (though “Roa”, “Operation E” and “Playa DC” weren’t competing), and retro-comedy “Quien tiene el control”.

10. CONGO-KINSHASA- "Kinshasa Kids" Congo was represented at the Oscars last year by Canadian drama “War Witch”, a drama filmed in Congo with a Congolese cast but with a Canadian director and mostly Canadian crew. Congo sent an obscure film to the competition in 1997, but didn’t send hit drama “Viva Riva” in 2011 when it was an actual contender. This year, they’re sure to be absent, but I’d like to make a push for them to send “Kinshasa Kids”, a well-received drama about Congolese street children who start a band. It has been seen a lot on the Film Festival circuit (including Toronto, New York and Thessaloniki) and has a good Oscar pedigree, including the breakout star of “War Witch” (Rachel Mwanza) and director Marc-Henri Wajnberg who represented his native Belgium in the Foreign Oscar race for his first film in 1993. The cast is all Congolese but the crew is all European. It might be disqualified for this, but Oscar seems to be more liberal on this point lately, i.e. when they accepted Greenland’s “Inuk” last year, which had a similar situation.

11. COSTA RICA- "Princesas Rojas" Costa Rica last year chose to submit a film for the Spanish Goyas (“Three Marias”) against a dozen other Spanish/Portuguese films, but declined to enter the more competitive (71 countries!) Oscar race. With only two films likely to be eligible this year, they may make the same decision. If they send a film, it’s almost certain to be “Princesas Rojas”, about the 9-year old daughter of Communist revolutionaries living an unstable life between Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Miami (it sounds an awful lot like last year’s “Clandestine Childhood” from Argentina). “Princesas” premiered at Berlinale in the Generation 14+ Section, and is much more likely than Mexican co-production “Puerto Padre”.

12. COTE D'IVOIRE- "Burn It Up Djassa!" Cote d'Ivoire entered the Oscar contest once in 1976 and they won! But “Black and White in Color” was not really an Ivorian, or even an African film….the cast, crew and director were all French. It’s unlikely the Cote d’Ivoire will enter the race after 37 years away, but they do have a contender in “Burn It Up Djassa”, a low-budget drama about street life in an Abidjan slum. Racking up festival bookings in Berlin, Carthage and Toronto, it’s one of the first films ever from Cote d’Ivoire to play internationally.

13. CUBA- "Si vas a comer, espera por Virgilo" Cuba has submitted a film roughly every other year since 1987. Though they’ve skipped two of the past three years, they were a shock nominee for the Spanish Goyas for subversive zombie comedy “Juan of the Dead” (Juan de los muertos), even more so when they eventually won the award, beating the boring, sentimental favorite “Clandestine Childhood”. It was the first time Cuba won since 1999. If los Cubanos submit a film this year, I predict it will be either “If you’re going to eat, then wait for Virgilio”, a talky drama set in the 1970s about two friends with different views on life, or “A Movie About Ana”, a topical comedy about an actress who pretends to be a prostitute. "Ana" won the Critics Award for Best Cuban Film of 2012, despite its controversial subject matter. “Ana” looks like a better film, but “Virgilio” looks like the government will prefer it. It's based on a famous stage play, and will be released to coincide with the anniversary of the Cuban Film Institute. In third place: “Verde Verde” is a gay-themed thriller (gay-themed “Strawberry & Chocolate” brought Cuba its only Oscar nomination) that premiered last year but only got a regular cinematic release in 2013….Is it eligible? Probably out:  “Molasses”, about a family living in a town where the local factory has closed down, has represented Cuba at a number of film festivals, but I’ve heard the government originally tried to get it pulled from the national film festival; “Esther Somewhere” has an all-star cast but production values look quite old-fashioned. 

14. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC- "Color of the Night" (El color de la noche) The Dominican Republic has submitted films by four Dominican directors between 1983 and 2012 (a fifth submission was directed by a Cuban-American) and all four of them have new films this year, making the Dominican race unusually competitive. The front-runner is probably going to be “Color of the Night”, whose director Agliberto Menendez is widely credited with making the first wholly Dominican feature film in 1988. “Color of the Night”, which took a couple of years to make in part due to financing difficulties, is the biopic of a renowned Afro-Dominican politician of Haitian descent, who overcame adversity to become the mayor of Santo Domingo. The respected director and his desire to make this film as a labor of love will make this the front-runner. Not far behind is another historical drama, “Lieutenant Amado” (aka “The Hell and the Glory") about one of the military officers who carried out the assassination of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961. In third place is “Ritmo de Fe”, some sort of dance drama, à la “Pina”, with a Christian slant (sounds weird). “Cristoy Rey”, a Romeo & Juliet-style love story set in the slums of Santo Domingo and “Night Circus”, a domestic-violence-drama-cum-murder-mystery are both by previously submitted directors, probably won’t be released in time, but could be competitive if they are.  

15. ECUADOR- "Monkeys and Chickens" (Mono con Gallinas) Ecuador has traditionally been the laggard of South American cinema, but growing investment by the government has meant that production is up to about five features a year and growing (in contrast, there were roughly five Ecuadorian features total made in the 1990s). Ecuador has only entered the Oscar race twice but recent increased visibility may coax them back. If they decide to enter, I predict they’ll send either “Porcelain Horse”, a gritty adolescent drama about two spoiled wealthy teens who pawn their parent’s possessions to get drugs, or “Monkeys and Chickens”, a historical drama about a teenage conscript captured as a prisoner-of-war in 1941 during a war with Peru, while his country believes him to have been killed in battle. “Porcelain Horse” has represented Ecuador at numerous film festivals this year (along with another adolescent drama, “No Autumn, No Spring”) while “Monkeys” will premiere in September right before the deadline. They could also opt for “La llamada”, a comedy-drama about a mother having one hell of a bad day, or “Quito 2023”, Ecuador’s first sci-fi thriller. It’s 50-50 that they send a film….I’m predicting “Monkeys”.

16. ETHIOPIA- "Medal of Honor" Ethiopia sent a single film in 2010. Their most likely submission this year is “Medal of Honor” (aka “Nishan”), a thriller revolving about a woman, her family and a priceless antique pistol. Director Yidnekachew Shumete was the recipient of a grant during the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and the film has played at FESPACO (Ouagadougou) and Seattle- that's pretty good exposure for an Ethiopian film.

17. GUATEMALA- "Dust" (Polvo)- Guatemala hasn’t sent a film since their 1994 debut (“The Silence of Neto”) but I’m predicting they enter the race this year with “Polvo” (Dust), a drama about the aftermath of the Guatemalan civil war. The film played at Locarno (a major achievement in itself for Guatemalan cinema) and concerns a troubled adolescent who has grown up with his mother. The mother and son were the sole survivors of a brutal village massacre by the Guatemalan military in the 1980s, in which his father died. It’s said to be a difficult film to watch but with the former Guatemalan military ruler in court for genocide, the film would be a topical and important submission.  Film production is up in Guatemala but it’s difficult to see anything else coaxing Guatemala back to the Oscars.

18. KENYA- "Something Necessary" Kenya entered the race for the first time last year with “Nairobi Half Life”, and though it wasn’t nominated it has developed a devoted core of fans and admirers...It may even have come close to the Final Nine. "Half Life" was co-produced by German director Tom Tykwer (“Run, Lola, Run”) and he has stayed involved in Kenya. Tykwer's production company is working with “Nairobi” director Tosh Gitonga on his second feature for a 2014 release, and they also co-produced this year’s Swahili-language  “Something Necessary”, about a woman and her family who become the victims of the post-election ethnic violence that devastated the country in 2007. That's pretty sensitive subject matter in Kenyan society, but it's clearly their most likely submission if they decide to become a regular participant in the Oscar race.

19. MEXICO- "The Golden Cage" (La jaula de Oro)- Full disclosure. I'm writing the Mexican entry several months after making my predictions for the rest of the countries on this list. Mexico has announced a 15-film shortlist and will announce their Oscar nominee in three days.
In my opinion, eight of these films can be eliminated right away- documentary “Miradas Multiples”, dark comedy “The Zebra”, historical dramas “Talking Walls” and “Tlalteco: Spring of 1968” and sad family dramas “Amazing Catfish”, “Lu’s Dream” and “She Doesn’t Want to Sleep Alone”, plus the film I most want to see on the list- morality play “A Tooth for A Tooth”. These eight films simply don’t have enough buzz. The other seven really do have a chance. The two most buzzed about films are Cannes Director winner “Heli”, a brutally violent and realistic film about drug cartels, and popular hit comedy “Instructions Not Included” (Las paredes hablan) about a single father threatened with the loss of his daughter. Simply put, neither of these films has a chance to get Mexico to the shortlist. Everyone agrees “Heli” is a brilliant film, but even its fans agree it is not “likable” and the brutality on screen is hard to stomach. “Instructions” is a popular hit in Mexico, but reviews in the States have found it silly (in the first half) and maudlin (in the second half). If Mexico picks them, they’re out of the race. The other contenders including two dramas about Central American immigrants trying to make it to the United States via Mexico: “The Golden Cage” (La jaula de oro) and “The Precocious and Brief Life of Sabina Rivas” (La vida precoz y breve de Sabina Rivas), plus lavish period drama “Cinco de Mayo”, arthouse favorite “The Prize” (El premio) and a new yet-to-premiere about four lovers of Pancho Villa who meet at his funeral, “Apasionado Pancho Villa”. “The Prize” won the Silver Bear in Berlin in 2011….Movies in Mexico sometimes take ages to hit the screen. Buzz is gone and a lot of people didn’t like the film anyway. The two immigration dramas have a better shot and are both very relevant, but will they cancel each other out due to their identical plots? Mexico has chosen immigration dramas in the past. “The Golden Cage” has better reviews, but more people are talking about “Sabina Rivas” in the chat rooms, and the director of “Sabina” is the only one on the list who has represented Mexico before (and he deserved the Oscar for “Innocent Voices”, a shock snub in 2005. The last contender is big-budget “Cinco de Mayo”, a Hollywood-style look at Mexican history. Reviews have been good but not great, but its tech credits are the best on the list. Mexico went with “Arrancame la Vida”, another little-heralded historical drama, and made the shortlist. So, in the end….I’m stumped. I’m predicting “The Golden Cage”, followed by “Cinco de Mayo”, “Sabina Rivas” and the uber-violent “Heli” in fourth.

20. NICARAGUA- "Magic Words- Breaking A Spell" (Palabras mágicas (Para romper un encantamiento)) Nicaragua's 2010 submission “La Yuma” was not only the first Nicaraguan feature film in two decades, but also a local success and a darling of Latin American Film Festivals. French-born director Florence Jaugey is working on her second Nicaraguan feature, but it won’t be released until January 2014, meaning it’s a sure thing for next year. This year, Nicaragua will likely be absent, although I suppose they could choose to send documentary " Magic Words- Breaking A Spell", a critical film about life before and after the country's current Sandinista government came to power through elections.

21. PERU- "Chicama" Peru has close to a dozen eligible releases this year, including the new all-time Peruvian box-office champ- “Asu Mare”. “Asu Mare” is a broad comedy reuniting the cast of a popular sitcom, so it won’t be a contender for the Peruvian Oscar nominee. The favorite is “Chicama”, which dominated the inaugural Peruvian Film awards (winning Best Peruvian Film from both the audience and the Ministry of Culture) at the 2012 Lima International Film Festival, before being released in cinemas this year. It’s the story of a young teacher who decides to accept an assignment to a remote school high in the mountains, far from Lima. “Chicama” should easily fend off the main challenger, namely “Casadentro”, about an 80-year old woman whose quiet household is disrupted by the sudden arrival of her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. “Casadentro” is directed by the daughter of one of Peru’s most famous directors, Francisco Lombardi. Unlikely but possible: “Ana de Los Angeles”, the biography of a Peruvian sainted nun, and “Lima 13”, an inter-generational dramedy by a previously submitted director about a teen and two elderly people at New Year’s. I think horror-tinged “The Cleaner” (which has won some awards for its story of a mysterious plague) and “General Cemetery” will be frozen out of the running.

22. PUERTO RICO- "I Am A Director" Puerto Rico was unceremoniously disinvited from the Foreign Oscar competition in 2010, even though they had been participating since the 1980s, garnering one Oscar nomination (better than Egypt, Korea or Romania have ever done). Puerto Rico protested and appealed the decision, so I still include them in my predictions. They’ve had a fairly weak this year, but if they were allowed to send a movie, I predict it would be “I Am A Director”, an independent film/satire about a Puerto Rican filmmaker in Hollywood who moves back home to make his first movie. It looks better than faith-based drama “The Last Minute” and bank-heist comedy “Espera Desespera”.

23. SOUTH AFRICA- "Elelwani" South Africa has eleven official languages, but their local films are approximately 50-60% in English and 30% in Afrikaans, with the rest in local African languages, particularly Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho. This year’s front-runner however is “Elelwani”, the first-ever film in the Venda language, spoken by 2% of South Africans, mostly in the country’s Limpopo Province (formerly the semi-independent bantustan also known as Venda) . “Elelwani”, which opened Durban 2012 and played in Berlin 2013, is the story of one woman’s attempt to live a modern life and escape the conservative traditions of her Venda family.  If chosen, director Ntshaveni Wa Luruli will be the first Black director to represent South Africa at the Oscars. In second place, I’ll predict “Black South-easter” (in Xhosa and English), a gritty crime drama about a cop who uncovers evidence of police corruption when investigating a gang war. In third place, I’ll predict Afrikaans-language “The Windmill”, a drama about a teen who moves in with his grandfather. “Windmill” looks like an excellent film, but South Africa usually shies away from choosing stories about White South Africa in the contest (they only did that twice, in 1997 and 2011...both years there were few other contenders...). As good as these three films probably are, I’m personally rooting for raucous inter-racial romantic comedy “Fanie Fourie’s Lobola”, about a Zulu girl and an Afrikaner boy (they speak English together) who decide to get married despite mutual familial objections. The South Africans chose the delightful “White Wedding” in 2009 over heavier fare, so you never know. Dark horse: the as-yet-unreleased “The Story of Rachel de Beer” (filmed simultaneously in Afrikaans and English versions), a famed South African story of a white South African girl who died to save her little brother when lost in the wilderness. Unlikely: “Forgotten Kingdom” (in Sesotho), about a Johannesburg man who returns to his native village in the Kingdom of Lesotho and “Traitors” (in Afrikaans), about the 19th century Anglo-Boer war. I’m ruling out Oscar nominee Darrel Roodt’s drama “Stilte” (in Afrikaans) due to poor reviews and HIV drama “Accession” (in Zulu), about an amoral sex addict, which supposedly has polarized audiences so much that half the theatre has been known to walk out.

24. TANZANIA- "Mdundiko" Tanzania submitted a film once in 2001 and is unlikely to send a film this year. The most likely nominee is “Mdundiko”, a Swahili-language feature about the traditional folk art of ngoma drumming. I may change my mind after hearing the winner of the African Film Development Foundation Awards on August 31.

25. URUGUAY- "Mr. Kaplan" Uruguay has a few films to choose from this year and, as usual, most of them are droll comedies. The clear favorite for the Uruguayan submission is “Tanta Agua” (So Much Water), a coming-of-age dramedy about a lower-middle-class family which competed in the main competition in Berlin. However, in 2009, Uruguay ignored a Berlin favorite (“Gigante”) for an unheralded, quirky comedy by director Alvaro Brechner. I predict the same thing will happen this year and that the Uruguayans will go with Brechner’s latest comedy, “Mr. Kaplan”, about a 70-year old Uruguayan Jew who decides to capture a local restauranteur he is convinced is secretly a Nazi. If it premieres after September 30, then “Tanta Agua” will likely get the nod. Unlikely but possible: two other dramedies, “Solo” (Best First Film in Miami 2013), about an army musician forced to make an agonizing decision, and “Darwin’s Corner”, a male-bonding road movie (Uruguay chose one of these in 2002-2003).


26. VENEZUELA- "Azul no tan rosa" I expected the Venezuelans would submit “Libertador” the lavish $2 million biopic of national hero Simon Bolivar, but since the release date was moved to January 2014, I now expect it will be submitted next year. It was initially announced for July 24 (Bolivar's birthday) but was delayed for unknown reasons. The Venezuelan National Film Festival featured fourteen eligible films this year, but the big winner was last year's Oscar submission, "Rock, Paper, Scissors" (Best Film, Director). Venezuela often prefers gritty urban dramas but I think they'll go more upscale this year. “Azul y no tan rosa”, a controversial but well-received drama about homophobia in Venezuela, came in second place, netting the Special Jury Prize, Screenplay and two others. "Azul" is my prediction to represent Venezuela, with its story of a gay Caracas man who moves in with partner at the same time his young son moves back home from Spain. “Azul” will probably compete with Fina Torres’ “Liz in September”, about the friendships between a group of seven women. Venezuelan domestic cinema is pretty obscure but other contenders could include "Azu”, a historical drama about slaves in colonial Venezuela, "La Casa del Fin de los Tiempos", a Venezuelan ghost story that won the Audience Award at the Film Festival, "The Law", about a judge who returns from Spain to claim an inheritance, and "The Longest Distance", a road movie. There's also another Bolivar biopic ("Bolivar, el hombre de lasdificultades") which may open before September, but I think they'll wait for "Libertador".  Prediction: "Azul y no tan rosa" benefits from the absence of "Libertador", with "Liz en septiembre" the runner-up.

PARAGUAY is the only country in South America that has never shown an interest in the Oscars. However, they sent an inquiry to AMPAS last year about joining (presumably for thriller “7 Cajas”, one of the best films I’ve seen in the past year) but they were told they had asked too late. This year, they could send “Lectura Segun Justino”, about a rural area in 1955 where Germans fleeing WWII co-existed with native Paraguayans.  HAITI could submit for the first time with “Twa Timoun” (Three Kids), a story about three 12-year olds who run away from their group home the day before the disastrous 2010 earthquake. It’s directed by a Belgian. And HONDURAS could become the fourth Central American nation to enter the race if they choose to send the intriguing low-budget sci-fi drama “El Xendra”, about four scientists who become involved in a mission rooted in Mayan mythology.  

From the African continent, the most likely debut of 2013 is SENEGAL whose popular human trafficking drama “La Pirogue” (Cannes 2012) belatedly premiered in Dakar this year. Though I doubt MOZAMBIQUE will fill out the paperwork, “Virgin Margarida”, a touching film about girls forcibly sent to re-education camps after the 1975 revolution would be a fitting debut for the Southern African country. Less likely:

ANGOLA could conceivably enter the Oscar race for the first time with “All is Well”, a drama about two sisters who emigrate to Lisbon, Portugal after fleeing war at home. It was one of two Angolan films competing in FESPACO in Burkina Faso, and also competed in Carthage. Strangely enough, one of the world’s poorest and least developed countries- GUINEA-BISSAU- has two films on the international film festival circuit this year and the Mandingo-language “Battle of Tabato”, a dark, whimsical drama about a émigré who returns from Europe for his daughter’s wedding, would be a great addition to the race on the off chance it could get a qualifying run in Guinea-Bissau (which I believe has no cinemas). NIGERIA has one of the world’s largest film industries but most films are trashy straight-to-video releases in English , but they have a French-language feature this year called “One Man Show” about a Cameroonian living in Paris. UGANDA has “Kampala Story”, about a 14-year old village girl forced to travel to the big city to discover what happened to her father after he stops sending remittance money. Tiny MAURITIUS, made their second feature film ever with “Children of Tourmaron”, based on a famous novel that focuses on four youngsters including a teenage prostitute, living on the island. Finally, war-torn MALI made “Spider Webs”, about a political prisoner in the 1970s. It won two prizes at FESPACO but probably was never screened at home.

Next: Coming in August (after my vacation), the 26 countries of Western and Central Europe, including returning champion Austria and superpowers France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Predictions for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film- EASTERN EUROPE + THE MIDDLE EAST

Here are my predictions for the 26 countries of Eastern Europe (including Russia, the Balkans and the surrounding neighborhood) plus the Middle East and North Africa.

Last year, 18 of these countries sent films....This year, we may actually see up to 20, since I think we may see a debut from Eastern Europe (Montenegro?) and the return of one of the Middle Eastern countries (Iraq?). Sadly, I don't see Iran returning this year, although I hope they do.

MOST LIKELY TO ENTER: Lots of these countries submit every year....ISRAEL is most likely since they automatically send their Ophir winner, although Croatia, Russia and Serbia have submitted every year since at least 1994.
LEAST LIKELY TO ENTER: Grumpy BELARUS, which last sent a film in 1996.
MOST LIKELY TO GET AN OSCAR NOMINATION: There are some definite contenders (Palestine, Romania) but I'm going to predict the Dark Horse from SERBIA.

1. ALBANIA- "Agon" Albania's most likely submission is “Agon”, a controversial, violent film about two Albanian brothers trying to adjust to life as migrants in Greece. One brother attempts to assimilate, while the other gravitates towards a life of crime. As far as I know, it’s Albania’s only fiction feature this year, although they also have “Anija- The Boat”, a documentary about Albanians fleeing the collapsing Communist regime in the early 1990s on treacherous boats to Italy. It recently won Best Documentary at Italy’s David di Donatello Awards. Albania has entered five years in a row and will probably enter. I predict “Agon”.

2. ALGERIA- "Yema" Algeria, in a fair world, would submit Merzak Allouache's “The Repentant” (Cannes 2012), a critically acclaimed drama about a former jihadist who faces anger and resentment when he returns to his village after accepting a government amnesty. However, the controversial subject matter and Allouache’s censorship problems with Algerian authorities will probably prevent that from ever happening. I don’t think “Repentant” has even been able to screen in Algeria. The Algerian nominee is thus probably going to be “Yema” (Best Director at Dubai 2012, also played at FESPACO), a film revolving around intrigues and conflicts within a Kabyle (Berber) family led by a grim matriarch, immediately after the death of one of her sons. Reviewers compare it to a Berber version of a Greek tragedy. Other possibilities include a pair of European co-productions about Algerian homecomings: “Perfumes of Algiers” (with Italy), a drama about a sister who returns from France after her brother is arrested for terrorist activity, and “Born Somewhere”, a French comedy co-starring Jamel Debbouze ("Amelie", "Days of Glory") about a French-Algerian (not Jebbouze) who goes to Algeria for the first time after the death of his father. I’m hoping for “The Repentant” or “Born Somewhere”, but I have a feeling this will go to “Yema”.

3. ARMENIA- "I'm Going to Change My Name" Armenia submits infrequently (four obscure films since their 2001 debut) but they just celebrated the the 10th anniversary of their National Film Festival, and they inaugurated their first annual National Film Awards in 2012 so I think we'll begin seeing them more regularly. This year, I predict they send "I'm Going To Change My Name" (aka "It's Not Me"), the winner of the local Armenian Oscars (the Hayak Awards) and one of two Armenian films competing in the Main Section of the Golden Apricot Film Festival. It's a thriller about virtual dating, about a lonely young woman who meets a potentially dangerous man on the Internet. I was originally going to choose "Voice of Silence", an abstract drama about a recently returned émigré from America on a road trip with a very unattractive woman. It was made by a well-regarded previously submitted director (Vigen Chaldranyan) who keeps company with the Armenian President, but the trailer consists mostly of the two of them beating on drums. It really looks bad. Armenia sent a documentary once, so I wouldn’t count out “The Endless Return”, a feature-length documentary about the Armenian diaspora and their connection to the motherland. Less likely: Historical biopic “Garegin Nzhdeh” looks stunning but reviews weren’t as strong as the other films, “Paradjanov” is the biopic of a renowned Armenian film director but it's a Ukrainian co-production, "Wandering", an odd little rock opera, played at the Golden Apricots but it wasn't selected for the Main Competition. My prediction: “It’s Not Me", followed by "Voice of Silence" and “Endless Return”.

4. AZERBAIJAN- "Ambassador Sübhün" Azerbaijan has become a semi-regular participant recently, submitting four films since their 2007 debut. They’ve also been pouring a lot of their oil money into the arts (film, theatre, sports, and of course Eurovision!) and you can now watch some of their recent films for free online. This year, I predict they send “Ambassador Sübhün”, a 19th century biopic of a renowned writer and statesman. In second place should be “Steppe Man” (aka Çölçü ), a languorous look at the life of a shepherd living in a remote rural area, and his quest to find a bride after his father’s death. It has represented Azerbaijan at a number of international film festivals (including Georgia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan).

5. BELARUS- "To Steal Belmondo" Belarus sent two Jewish-themed films in the mid-1990s shortly after independence (although neither was directed by a Belarusian), but they’ve been absent since 1996. “In the Fog”, a drama about a man suspected of Nazi collaboration by the Communist resistance in 1942 Nazi-occupied Belarus, competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2012. It is set in Belarus and directed by a Belarus-born (but Russian-based) filmmaker, but it is clearly a Russian-majority production. Belarus also had two features showing at the Listopad Film Festival in Minsk, namely spy thriller “Saltpeter No. 7” and intriguing comedy “To Steal Belmondo” (aka "Stealing Belmondo"), about a man whose trip to Paris, France accidentally lands him in the tiny rural village of Paris, Belarus. They won’t enter of course, but for the sake of completion, I’ll predict “Belmondo”.

6. BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA- "An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker" Bosnia is almost certain to choose the awkwardly titled “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker”. Though it sounds like a Soviet documentary from the 1970s, it’s actually the latest drama from Danis Tanovic who won the Foreign Oscar for “No Man’s Land” in 2002. It’s the grim tale of a laborer from a Roma (Gypsy) village who can’t afford appropriate medical treatment for his ailing, pregnant wife. It won two awards in Berlin which, combined with his previous Oscar win, makes it a certainty to represent Bosnia. The chief competition is “The Stranger”, a Croatian co-production about a Bosnian Croat conflicted over whether to attend the funeral of a dear Bosniak Muslim friend years after the war (the Bosnians may not consider it to be a true "Bosnian" film). Dark horses:  “Krivina”, by a Canadian-Bosnian émigré who left Bosnia during the war as a child, and “For Those Who Can Tell No Tales” by Bosnia’s second-most acclaimed director (after Tanovic), Jasmila Zbanic, which may run into language issues (the lead is Australian) and may not premiere before the September 30 deadline. We may also see an unknown new contender debut at the Sarajevo Film Festival in August, (perhaps upcoming family drama "Berina's Chakras")

7. BULGARIA- "Colour of the Chameleon" Bulgaria‘s two usual precursors are the Best Bulgarian Feature at the Sofia International Film Festival (SIFF) and Best Picture Award at the Bulgarian Film Awards. This year’s biggest film at international film festivals has been the peculiar “Colour of the Chameleon”, a somewhat abstract comedy-thriller about a Bulgarian spy and his antics making life difficult for people before and after Communism. It’s supposed to be very weird, but it won Best Picture at the Bulgarian Oscars and its fans say it’s a lot of fun. “Colour of the Chameleon” lost the SIFF award to “Alienation”, a drama about a Greek family who cross the border to Bulgaria in order to buy a baby but who end up sitting out a storm with the family, waiting for it to be born.  I’m predicting “Colour of the Chameleon”, which has gotten more play internationally. Although Bulgaria has traditionally chosen the SIFF winner, they haven’t done so the past three years. If they opt for something else, it’s most likely to be either “July” (Moscow 2012), about three women (including a trafficking victim) who encounter violence and corruption at a seemingly idyllic resort, or “Sunny Side”, a Bulgarian "Brigadoon" about a church that periodically re-emerges from a flooded plain. Unlikely but possible:  the other main nominee from this year’s Bulgarian Oscars, “I Am You”, about the life of a 90-year old woman, and Russian co-production, “Incognita” about life at the opera. Not eligible: I’ve heard warmly received comedy “Migration of the Belted Bonito” appeared on television before cinemas. Fun but impossible: the Bulgarian “Pistol, Briefcase and 3 Stinking Barrels”, a parody (copy?) of the British film “Lock Stock”. Not finished: “The Judgement, directed by Stephen Komandrev who got Bulgaria its first-ever slot on the Oscar shortlist, will probably represent Bulgaria next year for its story of a border guard haunted by memories of killing an East German couple fleeing Communism.

8. CROATIA- "Halima's Path" Croatia’s national cinema is traditionally one of the weakest in Eastern Europe (and former Yugoslavia). Since independence, Croatia has produced a modest number of arthouse pieces, most of which were barely seen inside or outside Croatia. Things are turning around. In the past six months, Croatia has seen the Top 2 domestic box-office hits since independence, namely comedies “Sonja and the Bull” and “The Priest’s Children”. The Pula Film Festival this month is showing a record 14 new local films. And, a few weeks ago, Croatia joined the European Union, meaning they will now be invited to EU Film Festivals and more doors will be open to co-productions with the richer countries of Western Europe. This year, I predict the Croatians will elect drama “Halima’s Path” to the Oscars. It's about a Bosniak woman desperate to identify the remains of her son killed during the war but who refuses to submit to a DNA test in order to conceal the fact that she is not his biological mother. Director Arsen Ostojic has repped Croatia twice before, and “Halima” has been well-received by critics abroad. The only downside is that the film is a Bosnian co-production (like another contender “The Stranger”) and the Croatians may not consider it as a genuinely local film…but I think Ostojic's credentials will be enough to qualify for the Croatian nod. If not, I think they’ll choose hit comedy “The Priest’s Children” about a priest furious at lax attitudes towards Catholic dogma on contraception and who then gleefully sabotages a town’s condom supply, resulting in a huge baby boom. Director Vinko Bresan has also repped Croatia twice and the film is more "Croatian" than "Halima". Two other dark horses: if the Croatians go sentimental, they may want to choose “Flower Square”, about a family targeted by the local mafia. It was the final film of Krsto Papic who just died this past spring....Or there's “A Stranger” (another Bosnian co-production, this time made by a Croatia-based Bosnian Croat), about a Croat unsure of whether to attend the funeral of a dear old Muslim friend. We also may see some new contenders among the winners of this month's Pula Film Festival which concludes July 27, although many winners won't premiere in Croatian cinemas until after the deadline. The most promising look to be village comedy "Handymen" and thriller “Not All About the Money” about a couple who will be killed if they don’t pay a debt in seven days. Unlikely to premiere in time: “Bridge at the End of the World” (war refugees). I don’t particularly expect last year’s abstract Pula Best Picture winner (“Letter to My Dad”) or popular rom-com “Sonja and the Bull” to figure in.

9. EGYPT- "Chaos Disorder" Egypt began submitting films to the Oscars in 1958 but they haven't had any luck so far. Since the Arab Spring, their film industry has been in a state of flux- secular nationalist censorship by the Mubarak government was replaced by pseudo-religious censorship by the Morsi government and after last week's "people power overthrow/military coup d'etat", who knows what will happen? Last year Egypt didn't send a film at all, despite a number of possibilities. Variety speculated that the reason was that the front-runner, “After the Battle” (released 9/28/2012), presented a controversial version of the Arab Spring. I’m unsure if Egypt will return this year but if they do, I’m predicting “Chaos Disorder” which won the Arab Special Jury Prize in Dubai 2012 and which is not overtly political or offensive to anyone. It’s also one of a number of strong new Egyptian films directed by women. “Chaos Disorder” is a love triangle set in a lower-class Egyptian neighborhood, where two local boys fight for the hand of a neighborhood “princess”. Two other films have been prominent on the international circuit this year, though both have received mixed reviews. “Winter of Discontent” (Venice, Cairo, Dubai) takes place in the years leading up to the Arab Spring and has secured domestic and some international distribution but most critics say the film is already outdated. “Coming Forth by Day” (Abu Dhabi, Carthage, FESPACO) is a slow, slice-of-life film (directed by another woman) about 24 hours in the life of a young Cairo woman. If they want something more “mainstream”, the Egyptians may choose “Mosawer Qateel” (“Blood On My Hands”), a commercial mystery-fantasy-thriller about a man trying to solve the murder of his wife with the help of a mysterious camera, or “Asham”, an arty film (by another woman) about the intersecting lives of a number of young adults in Cairo. My prediction for the Top Five: “Chaos Disorder”, “Winter of Discontent”, “Mosawer Qateel”, “Asham” and “Coming Forth by Day”.  

10. GEORGIA- "In Bloom" Georgia has two movies this year that have gotten some international critics talking about a possible “Georgia New Wave”. I think “In Bloom”, winner of several of the main prizes in Hong Kong (and featured in Berlin Forum) is easily the front-runner. “In Bloom” has gotten warmer reviews than the main competition (“A Fold in My Blanket”) for its story of two adolescent girls living a normal life of boyhood crushes and schoolyard dilemmas, juxtaposed against a background of abnormal historical events, namely Georgian independence and the civil war in Abkhazia. “A Fold in My Blanket” was prominently featured in Berlin but most reviews for this “Twin Peaks" redux of strange events in a small town have not been kind. A few upcoming releases could compete if they turn out to be good- “Dzma" is the story of 12- and 16-year old brothers growing up in the troubled 1990s and it has a better chance than sci-fi drama “The Parts” or intriguing Estonian co-production  “Tangerines” about an ethnic Estonian village forced to take sides when ethnic conflict breaks out between rival Abkhaz and Georgian belligerents.

11. GREECE- Official Academy Award Submission- "Boy Eating the Bird's Food" Greece became the first country to announce their Oscar submission in April when they predictably chose “Boy Eating the Bird’s Food”, an independent drama about an impoverished young man living in modern-day Athens. It won Best Picture at the Hellenic Film Awards and the main award for Greek films at the Thessaloniki Film Festival (winning this award used to automatically qualify the film as the Greek Oscar nominee). This surreal, arty film- which features the boy eating his own semen- won’t have much luck in Hollywood. The chief films disappointed by the pick are the probable runner-up “The Daughter” (Berlin 2013, Best Director/Screenplay at the Hellenic Film Awards), about a teenaged girl in who kidnaps a neighbor child for revenge, as well as “What If”, a surreal hit romantic drama about a series of coincidences that lead to the fateful meeting of a man and woman in Athens. They also could have selected “JACE”, a stylish thriller about a 7-year old whose foster family was massacred, or “ACAB”, about a young anarchist woman. “JACE” won many of the tech awards at the Hellenic Film Awards and (though I haven’t seen it) sounds like the best film of the five. Unsurprisingly, all of these films deal to some extent with modern life amidst Greece’s current economic crisis.

12. IRAN- "Restitution" Iran boycotted the Oscars last year, marking the first time ever that I know of in which a country didn’t send a film for exclusively political reasons. The Iranians were clearly divided last year. They issued statements to the press in quick succession indicating first that (1)- they were considering a boycott, (2)- then confirmed that they would send a movie anyway (“A Cube of Sugar”), and then finally (3)- that they would boycott unless AMPAS issued an apology for a Youtube video made by an Egyptian in the United States maligning Islam. The big question is now whether the Iranians will continue their silly boycott, or rejoin the Oscar family. Despite poisonous relations with the US, Iran participated in the Oscars every year between 1997 and 2012, making them one of only seven non-European nations to do so (friendly Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Mexico and Taiwan are the others). So, this year the Iranian nominee will depend on two things: (1)- will they participate at all?, (2)- if they do, will they choose a festival favourite like “A Separation”, or a domestic protection that better conforms to Iranian government-sponsored values? With Iran still bitter about "Argo" winning Best Picture and probably also annoyed at dissident director Jafar Panahi’s invitation to AMPAS membership this year, I think Iranian participation is iffy at best, and that the chances of them selecting a popular festival movie is pretty low. If they chose fairly, it would probably be “The Last Step”, a quiet domestic drama starring Leila Hatami (the wife in “A Separation”) as a middle-aged, widowed actress whose deceased husband plays the other lead role. Should they rejoin, I think the Iranians will choose a more blatantly nationalist film, instead of their usual small, intimate family dramas.  The two big winners at the Fajr International Film Festival (the closest Iran has to a national film awards) were “Restitution” (aka “Refund” or "Give Back"), about the Allied occupation of Iran during World War II, and “Rule of Accident”, a family drama about a theatrical troupe of actors. “Rule of Accident” won the International Competition, though it was mostly ignored in the domestic Iranian Competititon (it won Screenplay). The winner there was “Restitution”, which was nominated in nearly every category. “Berlin 7”, an anti-Western film about an Iranian refugee facing anti-Islamic sentiment in Germany may be the sort of anti-Western film they're looking for (though maybe the refugee angle will annoy them?). A few other options including “Painting Pool” (co-winner of the Audience Award in Fajr), about a pair of handicapped parents trying to raise a family, “Darband”, which won Best Director for its social drama of a single woman living in a boarding house, “Parviz”, about a lazy Iranian slacker, and “Sinners”, a film noir murder mystery about a woman murdered after returning from the United States. You can forget Asghar Farhadi’s latest French-language film and any film that has a controversial plotline like “Scandal” (clerics) or “Hush, Girls Don’t Scream” (child sexual abuse) or anything by a director who has pissed off the mullahs (previously selected artistes like Bahman Ghobadi and Jafar Panahi ). I’m going to be surprised if Iran enters (the theme of cinematic seminars at Fajr were "combating negative Western and Zionist influence!), but if they do I predict “Restitution”. My alternates are “Painting Pool” and “The Last Step”.

13. IRAQ- "Bekas" Iraq has little in common with the peaceful Kingdom of Belgium except that both have two distinct, ethnic-based and very separate film industries. In Iraq, it’s clearly the minority Kurdish region that has been producing the best films, with Iraq represented this year at “Arab” film festivals solely through Kurdish-language works. They even got their own sidebar at Karlovy Vary this year! Although both the Arab and Kurdish halves of Iraq have begun dedicating increasing government resources to producing new films, it is the Kurds who have harnessed the input of the large Iraqi Kurdish diaspora and partnerships with the international co-production market. This year, the Iraqi Kurds have been well-received at Tribeca (Norwegian co-production  “Before Snowfall”, about honor killings), Dubai (French co-production “Shirin”, about a pair of star-crossed lovers, which was the opening film in the Iraqi Kurdish capital's newly re-opened cinema in January) and even Cannes (French co-production “My Sweet Pepperland”, about a glum former peshmerga warrior adjusting to civilian life). However, the Iraqi front-runner is  probably Swedish co-production “Bekas”, the feature-length version of short film “Bekas” which won a Student Academy Award in 2011. The film follows two orphaned boys who decide to emigrate to America (which they presume is a “a few miles away”) and who go in search of the comic-book hero to help them. More of a children’s film than an Oscar contender, I’m hopeful they pick the probable runner-up, “Pepperland”, by Hiner Saleem (who represented Armenia once when Iraq was still under Saddam) and starring exiled Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. Dark horse: “111 Girls”, a darkly comic drama about a petition by Iranian Kurdish girls to the Iranian leadership (directed by an Iraqi Kurdish couple) to supply them with prospective husbands. Of note: "Before Snowfall" is also one of the chief contenders for Norway.

14. ISRAEL- "A Place in Heaven" Israel automatically sends their Best Picture winner at the Ophirs in September (assuming it meets language requirements) as their representative to the Oscars. I predict the five nominees will be “Big Bad Wolves”, a revenge thriller with a dark sense of humor, starring Lior Ashkenazi turning the tables on a child killer, "Fragile", a family drama set in the 1960s, “Hunting Elephants”, co-starring Patrick Stewart as one of a group of elderly jewel thieves planning a big heist,““Inheritance”, the directorial debut of Hiam Abbass, about a Palestinian student who returns to her hometown in the West Bank, “A Place in Heaven” (Karlovy Vary), a complicated and intriguing drama about a race against time to nullify a Faustian bargain, covering forty years of Israeli history. A UK co-production “Zaytoun” starring Stephen Dorff as a marooned Israeli pilot forced to work with a Palestinian refugee to get home will probably nab an Ophir nod if it’s eligible, but it won’t be eligible for the Oscars due to English. I wouldn't be at all surprised if “Not in Tel Aviv”(Locarno 2012), a jet black comedy about a high-school teacher who goes berserk, "Youth" (Berlin), about two brothers from a dysfunctional family, or “She’s Coming Home”, the story of a shy 30-something living at home who becomes involved with a married man, get an Ophir nomination either, but I would be very surprised if they make it to the Oscars. It's a competitive years. A final dark horse is "Mivtza Hamaniya", a historical drama about the Israeli nuclear program (will it be released??) It’s a competitive year!
Sadly, a trio of gay-themed films are probably out of luck;  the Israeli Academy seems open to Arab-themed cinema, but not gay cinema (“The Bubble” got three minor Ophir nominations, while “Yossi” got none). “Out in the Dark”, a well-reviewed Israeli “Brokeback Mountain” about a steamy love affair between an Israeli lawyer and a Palestinian student, co-won Best Israeli Film in Haifa, “Snails in the Rain” is about a straight man disturbed by anonymous gay love letters and gay director Eytan Fox has a new musical-comedy “Cupcakes", but none will do well at the Ophirs. Lastly, I don’t think “Dawn”, a drama by a Swiss director, a Scottish screenwriter and an English lead actor, based on an Elie Wiesel story about the creation of Israel, will be eligible. We should get a better idea of what’s going on after the Jerusalem Film Festival concludes this weekend (seven Israeli films are playing), but for now my prediction is victory for “A Place in Heaven".

15. JORDAN- "Line of Sight" Jordan submitted an excellent film just once in 2008 but they seem to have given up on Hollywood despite a slowly growing local industry. This year’s most likely submission is “Line of Sight” about the armed standoff between a housewife and a car thief, told through flashbacks that slowly tell what brought each of them to this particularly dangerous moment in time. The film has the backing of the Royal Film Commission, but if Jordan ignored Berlinale drama “Last Friday” and popular rom-com “When Mona Lisa Smiled” last year, I'm just not sure they'll enter.

16. KUWAIT- "Scenario" Kuwait has not sent a film to the Oscars since 1978 and they’re not likely to send anything this year. “Tora Bora” won the top prize at the Gulf Film Fest in Kuwait in May 2012, but it was released domestically in 2011. The only other Kuwaiti film I know about this year is “Scenario”, a thriller about an independent film director who assembles a cast of friends to make a low-budget film which results in a unexpected death.

17. LEBANON- "Asfouri" Lebanon's biggest film of the year is the amazing drama “The Attack” by Ziad Doueiri, a protégé of Quentin Tarantino. I saw the film at its DC premiere in May, and it’s a fascinating movie about moral dilemmas and secrets, focusing on a successful Israeli-Arab doctor traumatized by the death of his beloved wife in a suicide bombing- only to learn that she was in fact the bomber. Unfortunately “The Attack” was banned in Lebanon because it was filmed partially in Israel with a partially Israeli cast. This renders the film ineligible (and also violates Lebanese laws regarding treason, which have thankfully not been enforced against M. Doueiri). Lebanon has also called on all Arab countries to ban the film (not everyone has signed on….Morocco, which doesn’t recognize Israel, awarded the film the Grand Prize at the Marrakech Film Festival, and it also played in Dubai). I don’t think Lebanon will enter the contest this year (they didn’t last year, even though they had the popular “Heels of War”) although they do have a few eligible films. The front-runner is “Asfouri”, a drama in Arabic and Armenian, about an apartment building which witnesses numerous stories over the course of Lebanon's 15-year civil war. It got better reviews than “Blind Intersections”, a drama about a series of interlocking stories and characters. If they want to do something more unusual they could send feature-length documentary “The Lebanese Rocket Society” by a pair of previously submitted directors, but I think it’s “Asfouri” or nothing.

18. MACEDONIA- "Balkan Is Not Dead" Macedonia's clear front-runner is “Balkan Is Not Dead”, a period drama set in 1905 about life in Macedonia just before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Photos from the movie look quite lavish and Macedonia chose a similarly-themed historical drama last year. Ironically, its key competition comes from another historical drama set circa 1905, and focusing on a love “quadrangle” between a Balkan rebel, a local gentleman and a Turkish soldier with a cosmopolitan European woman. This one, “To the Hilt” is directed by one of Macedonia’s most respected directors (Stole Popov) and seems a bit more coarse than "Balkan" (the English-language tagline for the movie is “Fuck lifeif you are not ready to die for it”). It’s also unclear whether it will premiere in time. I give the edge to “Balkan” even if they are both released (Macedonia tends to premiere their nominees in September). Unlikely: “The Piano Room”, a modern-day abstract drama about the various people who visit a particular hotel room. 

19. MOROCCO- "God's Horses" Morocco has had a strong film year, and their Oscar submission will be the winner of a two-way race between two films that have been jointly doing Morocco proud on the film festival circuit (often competing against each other). “God’s Horses” premiered at Cannes 2012 and played at international festivals for over a year before opening in Moroccan and French cinemas in February 2013. “Horses” is a critically acclaimed and very topical drama about how impoverished youth from the slums of Casablanca were recruited and convinced to take part in the terrorist bombings that hit the city in 2003. “Zero” is a stylish (and violent) film noir about an alcoholic cop trying to bust a child prostitution ring.  “God’s Horses” has wowed the international critics, while “Zero” has dazzled the domestic ones. "Zero" won Best Moroccan film (over “Horses” and others) at the Tangier International Film Festival. Both were commercial successes in Morocco (but “Zero” was a bigger hit) and both directors have been selected to represent Morocco before (Ayouch in 1998 and 2000, Lakhmari in 2009). A possible dark horse is all-star funeral dramedy “Rock the Casbah” (co-starring Hiam Abbass of “The Visitor”, Nadine Labaki of “Caramel” and Lubna Azabal of “Incendies”) which will open in September. Movies like “Malak” (about the stigma of being a single mother in Moroccan society), “Road to Kabul” (a hit comedy about four aimless 20-somethings who end up in Afghanistan when they try to illegally emigrate to Europe) and “Miscreants” (a troupe of actors are kidnapped by Islamists) have a slight chance, but are unlikely. The same goes for child abduction drama “Sack of Flour”, by a Belgian-Moroccan director (Morocco made it to the shortlist with “Omar Killed Me”, a European co-production). Like last year, I’m keeping my prediction as “God’s Horses”.

20. PALESTINE- "Omar" Palestine has the easiest decision of any of the 104 countries in the competition this year. “Omar” is the first Arabic-language film made by director Hany Abu-Assad since Palestine received its their only Oscar nomination for “Paradise Now” (which is still the only non-Arab country- bar Algeria- ever to be nominated for an Oscar).  Add the fact that it won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes 2013, and that it's also the first film to be made almost entirely with local Palestinian funds. The Palestinians are sure to choose this drama about the hardships imposed by the Israeli occupation on a pair of lovers in the Gaza Strip.

21. ROMANIA- "Child's Pose" Romania finally made it to the Oscar shortlist last year after entering films without any success since 1966. “Beyond the Hills” probably came in seventh place last year (out of 71…the largest field ever), just missing out on Romania’s first Oscar nomination. The Romanian Academy has a pretty easy choice this year- it will certainly be “Child’s Pose”, the winner of the 2013 Golden Bear in Berlin, and a film that bears certain similarities to the Oscar winning “A Separation”. In the film, Luminita Gheorgieu (“Death of Mr. Lazarescu”) plays a wealthy, high-society mother who will stop at nothing to exonerate her (guilty) son, who has just killed a child in a automobile accident. This “moral dilemma” drama has gotten great reviews, won a major film festival and could very possibly finally net Romania their overdue first Oscar nomination. I consider “Child’s Pose” to be a lock, but if you’re looking for alternate choices, look no further than two films by previously submitted directors- “Domestic” is a comedy about an apartment building arguing over the status of a pet dog, and “Rocker” is about a 40-year old ex-hippie, who is taking care of his young son. Less likely is comedy “Chasing Rainbows” (which got a Best Pic nom at the National Gopo Awards). While these are all possible, I don’t think anyone from Romania will be able to dislodge (or even seriously challenge) “Child’s Pose”. 

23. SERBIA- "Circles" Serbia probably made a mistake last year by sending well-meaning but overwrought drama “When Day Breaks” instead of super-fun gay-pride comedy (and surprise box-office blockbuster) “The Parade”, which was one of my favorite films of the year. Serbia (controversially) changed its rules last year to specify that film producers had to pay a fee to be considered for the Oscars; in previous years all Serbian releases were evaluated. So, what Serbia selects will depend in part on who ponies up the 300 euros! Half of Serbia’s eligible films seem to rely on the same tropes (the aftermath of 1990s Balkan wars; or three intersecting stories). The probable candidate is “Circles”, a chilling take on “Six Degrees of Separation” by the director of the outstanding “Klopka/The Trap". During the Balkan wars, a Serbian is murdered by thugs when he tries to save a Muslim man, who survives the attack. Years later paths cross again and revenge is in the cards. Golubovic is a master of morality tales and “Circles” has gotten good reviews. The two runner-ups (in case “Circles” is somehow not submitted for consideration) are likely to be: “The Falsifier”, a drama by respected director Goran Markovic (“Tito & Me”) about a merry counterfeiter and dedicated Communist in 1960s Yugoslavia; and “The Withering”, a Karlovy Vary drama about a man who returns from Belgrade to his village to sell his land and move to Europe. Rounding out the Top Five: “The Whirlpool” (the most likely of the films about “intersecting stories”), a drama set in the turbulent 1990s, and “Barbarians”, about the life of Serbians set against the backdrop of the Kosovo wars. “See You in Montevideo”, the sequel to their 2011 football-themed submission, might come into play if it's released in time. My prediction: “Circles” is the one to beat.

24. TUNISIA- "Hidden Beauties" Tunisia’s film industry has begun to get back on its feet after the country initiated the Arab Spring in 2011, leaving the country with more serious issues than making movies. Tunisia premiered three new local features at their Carthage International Film Festival, and Tunisian films competed in Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Doha, Dubai and Ouagadougou as well. The front-runner is clearly “Hidden Beauties”, a film about two young women struggling to maintain their independence in a male-dominated society and amidst creeping Islamism in the country after the 2011 democratic revolution. It is by one of Tunisia’s most acclaimed modern directors and it won Best Arab Feature in Abu Dhabi 2012. In 2002 (the last year Tunisia competed at the Oscars) however, Tunisia sent an unknown also-ran instead of a critically acclaimed feminist front-runner (“Satin Rouge”), so if feminism bothers Tunisia’s Academy, they’ll probably send “Kingdom of Ants”, about the more politically correct struggles of the Palestinians. Less likely: 1970s political drama “The Professor” although I’m betting on “Hidden Beauties”. Then again, they haven’t entered since 2002, so maybe they’ll just send nothing!

25. TURKEY- "Beyond the Hill" Turkey's pick is notoriously difficult to predict. The Turks have three major film festivals (Anatalya, Istanbul and Ankara) which all have Turkish Film Competitions, but none of the winners of any of these festivals has been selected for the Oscars since 2003 (when the dreadful “Distant” swept all three festivals and got to represent Turkey at the Oscars). That spells bad news for European immigration drama “Your Beauty is Worth Nothing” (which won the 2012 Antalya competition despite being a majority German-Austrian production) and fantasy drama “Thou Gildst the Even”, about a small, dull town where people have magical powers (Winner, Istanbul 2013). I’d hold out a bit more hope for “Beyond the Hill” (Winner of both Istanbul 2012 and Ankara 2013), an arty movie about the theft of a lamb which erupts into a violent blood feud. It  opened in Turkey in December after nearly a year winning awards around the world (including Berlin 2012 and the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards). I consider it to be one of the front-runners. It’s two chief competitors are “Strangers in the House”, a drama about Turkey’s history with long-time rival Greece as seen through the eyes of an 80-year old woman who fled Turkey decades before, and “Watchtower” (Rotterdam/Toronto), a quiet drama (Turkey loves these) about a couple coming together in rural Anatolia.  “The Butterfly’s Dream” had gotten great reviews in Turkey for its story of two poets in the 1940s, and 16th century period romance “Mahmut & Maryam” looks very pretty but Turkey hasn’t sent a period film to the Oscars since 1999. Other possibilities include: “Cold” (Berlin) about three Russian women living near the Turkish-Georgian border, “The Mountain”, a thriller about two Turkish soldiers trying to survive a terrorist ambush on an isolated mountain, and “Lifelong”, a relationship drama. Highly unlikely: Reha Erdem has been selected before and “Jin” got good reviews, but its controversial Kurdish topic will be enough to knock it out of contention; “Gallipoli”, a big-budget war movie sequel, will confuse those who don't know the history detailed in the first film. Having said that, two of the past four years they’ve chosen a film that was released right before the deadline. None of these movies are jumping out at me, so maybe they’ll do that this year too….This is one of my shakier predictions, but here goes: “Beyond the Hill” represents Turkey, with “The Butterfly’s Dream” in second, and “Watchtower” in third
26. UKRAINE- "The Guide" Ukraine rejoined the Oscar race after a three-year absence last year. Although they have no particular front-runner, they’ll likely submit a film if they have something that meets the seven-consecutive-day screening requirements, which is sometimes a problem for them. Five films of note: “Eastalgia”- a drama about cross-cultural love stories in Kyiv, Belgrade and Munich- was the only local Ukrainian film in competition at the country’s Molodist Film Festival in Kyiv;  “Eternal Return”- a drama about a man who returns to his hometown to meet the two women he loves….it's directed by Kira Muratova, and it won Best CIS/Baltic Film at this year’s Russian Oscars (the third time Muratova has won the award);  “The Guide”- a stylish thriller about an American boy and a blind musician in Communist-era Ukraine made by a previously submitted director; “Paradjanov” is the biopic of a famed, abstract Soviet-Armenian filmmaker which has Armenian and Ukrainian co-directors; and “Strong Ivan”, a family-friendly biopic about an early 20th century circus's said to be one of the most expensive Ukrainian films ever made, but I predict it won’t be released in time. Dark horses include “Backstreet Champions”, a football drama about a tournament for the homeless, “Dreams in Plasticine”, a thriller about a young girl who falls in love with her good-looking, 20-something neighbor and “Goodbye Ukraine”, an omnibus of short films. My prediction: “The Guide” pips “Eastalgia” to represent Ukraine.
There are only three small Eastern European republics that have never entered a film in the Oscar race and all of them have potential contenders this year. The most likely to send a film is MONTENEGRO's "The Boys from Marx-Engels Street". Montenegro mulled over sending a film last year, but they felt they didn't have a suitable candidate (just one horror-comedy). "The Boys" is a intriguing drama about two brothers facing a momentous night in both their lives- one will lose his virginity and the other will kill a man. Newly independent KOSOVO has joined the European Film Promotion group, has its own Film Festival and began participating in the Berlin and Cannes Film Markets in 2012. Last year's Kosovar war drama "Agnus Dei" is a take on Oedipus that won some awards locally. Lastly, MOLDOVA is one of only three former Soviet republics that has never entered (the others are the odd Asian dictatorships in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), but they had a film in competition at Karlovy Vary, namely "The Unsaved", about a boy from a small town trying to avoid the life of petty criminality.The Hollywood Reporter called it "solidly made".

From the Middle East, the most likely debutante is "Aseen", the second-ever feature film from the Sultanate of OMAN. This gentle story of a nomadic boy and his camel has played at a lot of regional festivals. SAUDI ARABIA should also make it's debut with the critically acclaimed "Wadjda", but this female-helmed film about a sweet little girl who wants a bicycle isn't eligible for the Oscars since cinemas are banned in Saudi Arabia.