Monday, January 13, 2014

Final Foreign Oscar Predictions

Damn.....I only got 2 out of 9 (Front-runner DENMARK plus BELGIUM).....That's certainly the worst I've ever done since I started predicting nominees in this category....I should have just used my "Alternate 9"....5 of the eventual shortlisted films- Bosnia, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy and Palestine- were on that list.

I saw "The Great Beauty", "The Hunt", "The Missing Picture" and "Omar".....I'll see "The Grandmaster" later this month.

A few notes....
1. The Elite Committee voted with their hearts....They got a lot of flak for not choosing front-runner "The Past", but they selected three films they thought were more deserving....They don't announce which three they chose, but presumably, this was good news for Cambodia's "The Missing Picture" and Hungary's "The Notebook".
2. Germany gets to advance even when nobody particularly likes their film.
3. So far, I've seen 20 of the 76 films, including four of the films on the shortlist. By far, the best films were CHILE's "Gloria" and NETHERLANDS' "Borgman". Once again, these excellent films were ignored, which is why I try to see all the movies on the list. You're sure to find five films that are better than all the nominees.
4. This year, it's harder to choose the Top Five than usual. I think there's only one film that is sure to make the Top Five (Denmark) and only one who is sure to be left out (Hungary). Everyone else is in with a chance....But here's what I think is going to happen.
1. DENMARK- "The Hunt"
2. BELGIUM- "The Broken Circle Breakdown"
3. GERMANY- "Two Lives"

Okay, so we all know that "The Hunt" is going to be nominated, and in all likelihood it will take home the fourth-ever Oscar for DENMARK....a feat only ever achieved by France, Italy, and Spain plus Japan (thanks to 3 Honorary Awards prior to the official inauguration of this category in 1956). "The Hunt" is a very good film- a drama about a man whose life is slowly destroyed by untrue allegations of child abuse- which is engaging, original and still mainstream.

I'm also feeling confident about the chances of BELGIUM's Dutch-language "The Broken Circle Breakdown". I haven't seen it yet, but word-of-mouth says this drama with a great bluegrass soundtrack is challenging and cerebral. I worried about it getting through the first round, but it should be appreciated by the Finalist Committee. As for GERMANY and "Two Lives", the Germans have shown time and time again that if they choose a solid, historical drama- even one that nobody particularly loves- they can get a nomination time after time (last year's "Barbara" was an exception, but the film was average and competition fierce).

4. HONG KONG- "The Grandmaster"
5. PALESTINE- "Omar"
6. BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA- "An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker"

For the middle tier, consider the pluses and minuses:

BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA, "An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker"
PLUSES: The return to form of Oscar-winning director Danis Tanovic ("No Man's Land"). A relatable and relevant true story about a poor family struggling to pay for medical treatment. An film festival favorite this year.
MINUSES: Made on a shoestring budget with non-professional actors. Oscar has repeatedly shown that they don't like "gritty" Eastern European dramas (just ask Romania).

HONG KONG, "The Grandmaster"
PLUSES: The film looks absolutely stunning and is a contender in a number of other Oscar categories (especially Cinematography and Art Direction). Well-known director (Wong Kar-wai). Wong re-edited a special version of the film especially to be relatable to American audiences. Backing of the Weinstein Brothers.
MINUSES: Oscar hasn't gone for a martial arts film in over a decade. Some critics don't like the re-edited, streamlined version.

PLUSES: It's a fast-paced and exciting thriller with endless twists, made by an Oscar-nominated director (Hany Abu-Assad) and starring a handsome newcomer lead.
MINUSES: The film has a virulently anti-Israel political slant....Will that turn off some voters? (it didn't with "Paradise Now", and "Omar" is a more exciting film).

Verdict: I think the gorgeous visuals and high-profile backing of "The Grandmaster" will beat out the cheap realism of "Iron Picker". They're all in with a very good chance!

7. ITALY- "The Great Beauty"
8. CAMBODIA- "The Missing Picture"
9. HUNGARY- "The Notebook"
The subject matter of HUNGARY's "The Notebook" makes it sound like a real winner....World War II! Small children!! Nazis!!! However, reviews have been mediocre, with many criticizing excessive voiceovers and others turned off by the two masochistic young boys trying to desensitive themselves to violence. I don't think there's much chance of making it to the next round.

Many people are predicting ITALY's glossy "The Great Beauty" as a finalist for sure, but I'm predicting it gets cuts in this round. I know it just won the Golden Globe, but I think the arty, verbose and Felliniesque treatise on aging and "beautiful people" in Rome is better suited to the largely European critics of the HFPA. "Beauty" is in with a shot, but it's not really a mainstream film.

No one could possibly root against CAMBODIA and their stirring French-language documentary "The Missing Picture"During the Khmer Rouge genocide, one-fourth of Cambodia's population was murdered in labor camps, and the country's film archives were largely destroyed. Director Rithy Panh was a teenager when he was deported to a camp with his family, who all perished. This documentary tries to tells their story while acknowledging, replacing "the missing pictures" with lovingly carved clay figurines. It's an exceptionally important film and an Oscar nomination would mean so much for the domestic film industry. Working against it, "Picture" didn't even make the Top 20 on the Best Documentary longlist, and I actually preferred Panh's earlier documentary "S21".