Thursday, July 17, 2014

OSCAR SUBMISSION PREDICTIONS 2014-2015, C-I (Croatia to Italy)

Here is the second group of 27 countries.....Croatia thru Italy.

I've left off three of the biggest countries- France, India and Iran- off the list for now- but they'll be updated in August.
1. CROATIA- "The Bridge at the End of the World" Croatia has a few options this year, but I see the clear front-runner as “The Bridge at the End of the World”, a drama about the plight of Bosnian Croats living in Croatia as refugees. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian Croats and Croatian Serbs fled into each other’s republics, often squatting in each other’s towns and villages. With the return of the Croatian Serbs to their homes, the refugees are suddenly without a place to live. Croatia’s strongest films are typically those that deal with the war, and “Bridge” is one of the leading contenders at the Pula Film Festival. “Bridge” hasn’t premiered yet, so there’s still hope for “Number 55”, a war film about a 24-hour battle between a ragtag group of Croatian soldiers and the Serbian army in 1991, as well as “The Reaper” (directed by Zvonimir Juric, selected to rep Croatia in 2010), a “Rashomon”-type film about the life of a laborer convicted of rape many years before. Both films are also contenders at Pula. We should have a better idea of the Croatian nominee on July 26, when the awards from the National Awards are announced at Pula. These three films may not be released domestically in time to compete for Oscar, but awards at Pula will be an important precursor for those that do. Some might predict live-action family film “The Brave Adventures of a Little Shoemaker” (an animated version of this popular Croatian story was sent by Croatia in 1997) or hit comedy “Cowboys”, but I don’t think the Croatian Academy will select a film from these respective genres. Dark horse: I don’t think “These Are the Rules”, a drama about parents devastated by a street attack on their teenaged son, will be released in time, but I’d vault it to second place if it is. UPDATE: "Number 55"dominated Pula, so that may now be the real front-runner.
2. CUBA- "Behavior" (Conducta) Communist Cuba has mostly given up on the Oscars. Since 2008, they’ve only sent two films, neither of which was a particularly great Cuban film. It’s almost like they picked them at random. It's true that Cuban cinema has been going through hard times lately. The national film development organization, ICAIC, only funded a single film in 2014 (versus 12 in 2012 and 4 in 2013). Independent cinema is on the rise despite a number of difficulties operating in Cuba’s political environment, but it’s difficult to see the National Film Board submitting a film made outside the studio system. Fortunately for Cuba, this year’s sole studio film is supposed to be a pretty good one, namely “Behavior” (Conducta). It’s about an 11-year old from a dysfunctional single-parent home (alcoholic mom, neighborhood obsessed with dog fighting), and his relationship with a dedicated teacher at his school. The picture has gotten great reviews in Cuba and abroad and also done good business in Havana, with some calling it the best Cuban film since Oscar nominee “Strawberry and Chocolate”. It definitely shows an unsavory side of Cuban society, but there’s also some hope there….I’m not sure if the Cubans will send it or not, but it’s more or less their only serious option. "Meñique", a 3D animated film was a big hit, and independent films like gay prostitute drama “The Last Match” and village dramedy “Melaza” defied the odds and got domestic releases this year in Cuba, but I can’t see the Cuban Academy going in that direction.
3. CZECH REPUBLIC- "Hany" The Czech Republic hasn’t been a player in this category in years (last nomination was for “Zelary” more than ten years ago). As usual, the Czechs have a number of a strong candidates to represent the country, but with no front-runner. The Czech Academy likes quirky and original films, and they aren’t afraid to ignore an Oscary historical drama for an experimental or animated film. That said, they also have a penchant for rewarding established directors over newcomers. This year, I see the five main contenders (in alphabetical order) as: (1)- “Clownwise”, a Best Picture nominee at this year’s Golden Lions, about the lives of three clowns who reunite 30 years after breaking up during Communist times, (2)- “Delight”, another Golden Lion nominee and the Czech rep in the East-West competition at Karlovy Vary, a “modernist, minimalist” arthouse drama, (3)- “Fair Play”, a drama about a dedicated young female athlete pressured into illegal doping, and one of only two Czech films selected for the main competition at Karlovy Vary, (4)- “Hany” an independent drama shot in one-take, about a number of friends and strangers drinking on a night out, and (5)- “The Way Out” (Cannes 2014, ACID Independent Section), a film about a modernist Gypsy couple trying to overcome prejudice in modern-day Czech society. Two dark horses: chatty comedy “The Icing” is based on a popular play and directed by Oscar nominee Jan Hřebejk; historical docu-drama “Cyril and Methodius” looks absolutely gorgeous, but has no buzz. Unlikely but possible: action-comedy “All My Tomorrows” and action-drama “Lousy Bastards”. Not eligible? “In Silence” is about the plight of Jewish musicians during the Holocaust, but even though it premieres in Karlovy Vary, it has no release date and strains nationality requirements (a Czech director, but a Slovak-language film). I’m predicting a big upset for dark horse “Hany”, whose trailer looks absolutely brilliant, and which fits the “original” look the Czechs favor. In 2nd place: “Fair Play”, which is supposed to be very good, with “Clownwise” in third, “Delight” in 4th. “No Way Out” and “Delight” have been big on the festival circuit, but “Delight” is too arty and “No Way Out” not well-reviewed enough to compete.

4. DENMARK- "In Real Life" Denmark once again faces a tough decision just to decide its three-film shortlist, and its eventual choice will likely be a major Oscar contender. Last year, Denmark became the first country since 1980 (when France did it) to advance four years in a row (though in 1980, there were only 5 nominees …no 9-film shortlist). I predict this year’s three shortlisted films will be Jonas Elmer’s Internet drama “In Real Life”, Simon Staho’s village drama “The Miracle”, and Niels Arden Oplev’s youth-oriented “Race Walking”….but it’s really, really tight. Many bloggers are predicting Pernille Fischer Christensen’s “Someone You Love” will take home the whole thing, while Niels Arden Oplev’s rap music drama “Flow” has strong buzz. Oscar winner Susanne Bier’s new thriller “Another Chance” looks like it won’t premiere until January 2015, but if released earlier, it will definitely make the shortlist and probably represent Denmark. Final prediction: Denmark wants a 5th Oscar nomination and I think they’ll choose the more topical “In Real Life”, about a number of characters interacting online as well as “in real life” over the more traditional “Miracle” (about a man who returns to his native village and begins an affair with his former sweetheart, now married to the village minister) and youth-skewing “Race”, about a trio of adolescents.  “Race Walking” should manage second place, with “Miracle”, “Someone” and “Flow” rounding out the Top Five. Unlikely: “Sorrow and Joy”, based on the true story of the director’s wife’s post-partum murder of their young child, and hit police mystery “Keeper of Lost Causes”. Also out of the running: Bille August’s “Silent Heart” will be released too late but will be a strong contender next year, while the bilingual western “The Salvation”, starring Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green looks like it contains way too much English.

 5. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC- "Cristo Rey" The Dominican Republic is seeing a record number of films produced each year, averaging about fifteen.  This year, two films have been representing the country internationally, namely “Cristo Rey” a gritty urban drama with Romeo + Juliet overtones, about a feud two between half-brothers (one with a Dominican mother, one with a Haitian mother) over the same local girl, and “To the South of Innocence”, a road movie/coming-of-age tale about three wealthy teens who run away on a road trip.” I predict “Cristo Rey”, which got better reviews and is which is by a previously submitted director. In third place: “Despertar”, a sci-fi/drama about death and memories, whose filming was shrouded in secrecy. The Dominican Academy tends to prefer modern stories to stuffy, historical dramas so I think “Color of the Night”, “Duarte: Betrayal and Glory” and biopic “Maria Montez” will have a hard time getting picked (thankfully), as will critically acclaimed documentary “The Mountain”, about two Dominican mountaineering teams, one climbing Mount Everest, and the other a local peak.
6. ECUADOR- "Holiday" (Feriado) Ecuador rejoined the Oscar race last year after a ten-year absence and I think they’ll decide to stay. Though they used to produce very few films, they’re expected to release a record fifteen features in 2014. They also made their debut at the Berlin Film Festival (in the Youth competition) this year. In fact, 2014 is surprisingly competitive. The obvious candidate on paper is “Holiday”  (Feriado) which competed in the “14+” Section at Berlin. Ecuadorean films rarely get such high-profile festival play. It’s a gay-themed coming-out drama about the unlikely attraction between a rich teen on vacation and the local indigenous boy who saves him from a beating.  Ecuadorean cinema seems to be an unlikely source of queer cinema lately. Last year’s nominee had one gay lead character and there is also a lesbian-themed feature among the fifteen this year (“UIO”). I see two films threatening “Holiday” for the nod, namely “Quito 2023” a violent, low-budget sci-fi film and “Girl Without Fear”, described as a South American “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, and perhaps even father-daughter thriller “The Facilitator”. “Quito 2023” is certainly the innovative choice, but reviews have been decidedly mixed. “Holiday” has done better, even though many critics say it’s a well-made film lacking originality. “Girl”, about a punk girl trying to save her grandfather from an evil corporation, looks like the best choice but I think the festival pedigree will promote “Holiday” to Hollywood.

7. EGYPT- "Factory Girl" Egypt has been going through political turmoil, but Egyptians are still going to the movies. Three of the past six selected directors have new movies this year (Ibrahim el-Batout’s “The Cat”, Marwan Hamed’s “Blue Elephant”, and Mohamed Khan’s “Factory Girl”) and all three are contenders. Three others- comedy “Excuse My French”, drama “Rags and Tatters” and female-helmed arthouse dramedy “Villa 69” will also compete for the nod. I predict the Egyptians will select “Factory Girl” (Winner, FIPRESCI and Best Actress, Dubai 2013), a drama about a lower-class factory worker who falls for her wealthy floor supervisor. “Factory Girl” has done better with Arab critics than with Western ones (who say the supposedly feminist film actually aims to put women in their place) but Khan’s distinguished reputation and the film’s awards and box-office success should help it rep Egypt.  Close behind will be organ-trafficking thriller “The Cat”, which was screened as a work-in-progress in Venice last year. In third place will be controversial black comedy  “Excuse My French”, which pokes fun at the sensitive subject of Muslim-Christian differences. The Egyptian Academy has been known to court controversy (the film had trouble with the censors until the appointment of a more liberal chief), but with the old guard back in charge, that may no longer be possible. In fourth place, “Rags and Tatters”, a Revolution-themed drama about a man released from prison during the Arab Spring, who ends up wandering around the chaotic streets of one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods. “Blue Elephant”, a supernaturally tinged drama by Marwan Hamed, (who probably got Egypt the closest to an Oscar nod for “Yacoubian Building”) will round out the Top Five. With Egypt in chaos, it’s a pretty damn good lineup.
8. ESTONIA- "In the Crosswind" Estonia has four interesting contenders this year, two of which were directed by the prolific Ilmar Raag, who directed my favorite Foreign Oscar film of 2007. Raag’s “Kertu” (Love is Blind) is a quiet, introspective drama about a village drunk who falls in love with a beautiful village girl. It lost “Best Estonian Film” at the Tallinn Film Festival (the closest thing to an Estonian Oscar) to “Tangerines”, which is a film set in Georgia by a Georgian director. Reminiscent of “No Man’s Land”, "Tangerines" is about an Estonian farmer who settled in Georgia during Soviet times, who gives shelter to Georgian and Abkhazian soldiers from opposite sides of the civil war. Raag also has the Russian-language “I Won’t Go Back”, about a young woman on the run from the police who is joined on her journey by a orphan girl. It got warm reviews at Tribeca 2014. Last and not least is“In the Crosswind” a highly unusual film about the Soviet -era deportations of tens of thousands of Estonians to Siberia. The film consists of 13 nearly motionless tableaus in 86 minutes, with accompanying narration. All four films have an excellent chance of advancing. With “Tangerines” and “I Won’t Go Back” mostly in Russian, I’m thinking they’ll be at a slight disadvantage. The Estonians have been going “arthouse” in recent years, so I suggest “Crosswind” beats out the two more mainstream efforts from auteur Raag. “Cherry Tobacco” (Karlovy Vary) premieres October 16 in Estonia and won't be eligible.
9. ETHIOPIA- "Difret" It’s rare that Ethiopian films appear on the Film Festival circuit, much less win awards. That’s why Ethiopia should certainly choose “Difret” as their second-ever Oscar submission. Winning prestigious Audience Awards at both Sundance and Berlin in 2014, “Difret” is the harrowing story of a teenaged girl arrested for murder after she kills a man who was trying to abduct her into a forced marriage.  “Difret” is definitely one of the films I will be seeking out on the film festival circuit this year, so I hope the director (or executive producer Angelina Jolie, who seems to have attached her name to the film AFTER it was made) can get the film a qualifying release at home in Addis.
10. FIJI- Nothing Eligible Fiji became the first country to send a film in an indigenous Pacific Island language to the Oscar race in 2005, beating larger neighbors Australia (2006, “Ten Canoes”) and New Zealand (2011, “The Orator”). They don’t have much of a domestic film industry, though they are often used a filming location. The only film I know of in development is Hindi-language comedy “Unlimited Tamasa”, a low-brow local comedy that has been in post-production for a while. Even if it premieres it time, expect Fiji to sit out.
11. FINLAND- "Very Grumpy Old Man" Finland has 24 eligible fiction features according to Finnish Film Foundation website, but I really think that 21 of these are non-starters. Oddly enough, two of their only contenders are directed by Dome Karukoski, who directed Finland’s 2008 submission and who was recently named as one of Variety’s “Ten Directors to Watch”. Last year’s “Heart of a Lion” (Toronto 2013) is about a member of a neo-Nazi group who falls in love with a beautiful Finnish girl, only to find out that she has a half-black son from a prior marriage. Their budding relationship gets him in trouble with his neo-Nazi buds. Karukoski also directed the upcoming “Very Grumpy Old Man”, a comedy about an old man forced to move in with his daughter-in-law in the city due to an injury, while his son in the city has to take care of the family farm. It will be released end of September. Also shown in Toronto was “Concrete Night”, a black & white drama that swept last year’s National Film Awards (the Jussis) winning Best Picture, Director and four other awards.  Based on a novel, it’s about two brothers spending their last night together before the older one goes off to prison. Finland has chosen movies released in September (perhaps to boost their distribution and/or buzz?) three years in a row so I’m giving “Grumpy Old Man” an edge, followed closely by “Concrete Night”.


13. GEORGIA- "Blind Dates" The Georgians have an easy decision to make. “Blind Dates” has charmed audiences at Toronto, Abu Dhabi and Berlin for its deadpan comedy of a 40-something man nagged by his parents into a number of blind dates. Director Levan Koguashvili has already been selected to represent Georgia for the underrated “Street Days” (which deserved an Oscar nod in 2010), and he’s owed. So really, the Georgians just have to meet, pick the movie and send it to Los Angeles. Runner-up: “Brides”(Berlin First Features sidebar, Tribeca), a drama about the wives and families left behind when men go to prison. Unlikely but technically possible: “Corn Island” (winner, Karlovy Vary 2014), about a father and his daughter living on a disputed border, and “Tangerines”, a majority Estonian production by a Georgian director, set in Georgia about an Estonian settler whose farm is invaded by Georgian and Abkhaz soldiers during the 1991 civil war.

14. GERMANY- "Wolfskinder" Germany announced their official shortlist of 15 films on August  6th, so I’ve got a little bit of help from one of Oscar’s most successful countries. Among their contenders are three Jewish-themed movies (“Hanna’s Journey”, “The Last Mentsch”, “Run Boy Run”) and just one dealing with their favorite theme, East German history (“West”). All of these films have gotten good reviews but with no front-runner, it’s a wide-open race. I see the two front-runners as  Feo Aladag’s Afghanistan-set drama “Inbetween Worlds” (yes, it is spelled wrong) and WWII-aftermath children’s drama “Wolfskinder”.  The Germans have a habit of choosing a last-minute release (they did this 2007-2009 and again last year), which bodes well for the upcoming “Wolfskinder” about the flight of orphaned and displaced German children in 1946 to Lithuania and other Eastern lands after the Nazi loss. It sounds much like Australia’s grim “Lore” from two years back (and Variety says the comparison is not favorable). Aladag was selected in 2010 and not nominated. I think that will hurt her rather than help her. Germany rarely chooses a director more than once….it’s only happened three times in the past thirty years (including the more famous Caroline Link and Wim Wenders). “Inbetween Worlds” (Berlin 2014) has gotten strong reviews and has been compared to the work of Susanne Bier (and Germany knows Oscar likes her)  for its story of a German soldier facing a series of moral dilemmas while trying to keep the peace in Afghanistan. The backstory is a great one (a female director working in Afghanistan about Germany’s peaceful military) and it’s a strong candidate. Three others to watch out for: (1)- “Home From Home”, a 4-hour B&W period drama about the goings-on in a small town. It swept the Lola Awards this year, but it’s a prequel and it may prove less thrilling to American audiences, (2)- “Stations of the Cross”, one of the best-reviewed German films of the year, about a teenage girl from a fundamentalist Catholic sect whose life and death mirrors that of Jesus Christ, and (3)- “The Last Mentsch”, about a German man who has hidden his Jewish heritage his entire life, but who wishes to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. It’s an uphill struggle for  costume drama “Beloved Sisters”, multi-story drama “Finsterworld” (sounds great, but perhaps a little too “local” to be selected), East German-themed thriller “West” (baity plot, middling reviews), and “Run Boy Run” (mostly in Polish) about a Jewish Polish boy escaping a concentration camp (mostly recognized for technical achievements). I think the others (corporate indictment “Age of Cannibals”, Israel-set rom-com “Hanna’s Journey”, comedy “We’re the New People”, musical-comedy “The White Horse Inn” and thrillers “WhoAmI” and “Stereo”) are destined to be also-rans. Any of the Top Five could easily be selected. For now, I choose “Wolfskinder”.
 15. GREECE- "Little England" Until 2009, Greece automatically sent the winner of Best Greek Film at the Thessaloniki Film Festival to the Oscars. Contrary to popular belief, they do not now automatically send the winner of Best Picture at the Hellenic Film Awards to the Oscars, though they usually do (In 2011, “Knifer” was pipped by “Attenberg” to go to Hollywood). Based on these two pre-cursors, the two front-runners are “The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas” (Thessaloniki) and “Little England” (Hellenic Film Awards). If the Greeks choose to look elsewhere, four other films could be considered- namely “Xenia” (Cannes 2014), a bizarro queer comedy –drama/road movie, “The Enemy Within” (winner of three major Hellenic Film Awards), a film noir about a mild-mannered man goaded into taking violent revenge after his daughter is raped, “Miss Violence” (Venice 2013), a mysterious film about a teenage girl’s apparent suicide, and the decidedly less likely “Stratos” (Berlin 2014), about a baker/hitman. My prediction is the obvious choice- “Little England”, Pantelis Voulgaris’ sumptuous box-office hit period drama about the wives of sailors living on a small island. It's the hot favorite. Runner-up:  dark horse “Xenia”, which (unlike “Enemy”, “Violence” and “Antonis”) wasn’t eligible for the Hellenic Film Awards.   
16. GREENLAND- Nothing eligible. Enormous Greenland has a population of only 56,000 people, making them the smallest country in the Oscar race. They’ve sent two films recently but I don’t think they have any eligible feature films this year.

17. GUATEMALA- "Where the Sun is Born" (Donde Nace el Sol) Guatemala used to struggle to make one feature film a year but now output averages roughly eight per year. They only ever submitted once way back in 1994 (only five countries have been absent that long) so I doubt they’ll enter this year. Their strongest candidate is “Where the Sun is Born” (Donde Nace el Sol),  a visually beautiful and intriguing cultural film about the Mayan indigenous people, filmed in their language. It represented Guatemala at the Chicago Latino Film Festival. Other options include murder mystery/thriller “12 Seconds” and quirky classroom dramedy “Pol”. As  side note, I'm going on vacation here tomorrow, which is kind of exciting. :)
18. HONG KONG- "The Golden Era" Hong Kong made the shortlist for the first time last year for a genuine Hong Kong film (its 2 previous Oscar nominations were for Mandarin-language films by acclaimed Mainland China directors Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige). Hong Kong has had a fairly weak year so far. If the year were to end now, they’d probably end up sending Fruit Chan’s cerebal horror-thriller “The Midnight After”, based on a viral Internet novel about a busload of people who find a virus has decimated all of Hong Kong in the minutes they passed through a railway tunnel. It played at Berlin and Hong Kong, and is still a threat, but I think it will be overtaken by a September release. That’s likely to be “Dearest” (by Peter Chan, “Perhaps Love”) or “The Golden Era” by Ann Hui, probably Hong Kong’s senior arthouse director. “The Golden Era” is the clear favorite even though it opens one day too late. In the past, Hong Kong has arranged a qualifying release (an 11:55pm screening the night before would also do) for films it wants to send, and Ann Hui’s period biopic will probably receive the same treatment. The three-hour biopic about one of China's most acclaimed female writers has already been announced as the Closing Film at Venice 2014. If Chan’s “Midnight” is too genre and Hui’s “Era” doesn’t premiere in time, “Dearest”, an all-star drama about the search for a kidnapped boy, will get the nod. Rounding out the city-state's Top Five choices: family dramedy “Aberdeen” and  “Red Passage” a political drama about a Hong Kong boy who moves to Mainland China during the 1970s. The latter film would annoy the PRC Academy and has not been able to find a distributor in Hong Kong yet, so it’s a little unlikely. If Hong Kong insists on sending one of their triad dramas, it’ll probably be “White Storm”, a HK Film Award Best Pic nominee, though it didn’t get particularly good reviews.

19. HUNGARY- "White God" Hungary's film industry is showing signs of recovery after years of decline. Last year, they won the Crystal Globe in Karlovy Vary and made the Oscar shortlist for the first time since 1988 for "The Notebook", and this year they won the main prize at Cannes Un Certain Regard. They launched a new Film Fund in 2011, and this year they’ll revive Hungarian Film Week after a much publicized 18-month hiatus due to a “lack of films”, according to filmmaker Bela Tarr. They’ve lots of films in production, but not many have been released so their Oscar submission is certain to be “White God”, an odd, violent thriller about the canine takeover of a small Hungarian town. The film, using over 250 dogs, was the aforementioned winner of Cannes Un Certain Regard and for the first time ever, its cast of dogs were awarded a Cannes acting prize (the Palm Dog). Not everyone likes the film, but Hungary rarely wins such a major prize, and their Academy likes avant-garde oddities like this. Reviews for "God" have been stronger than the other major contender,  Gyorgy Palfi’s “Free Fall”, a portmanteau film about an old woman who jumps out the window to commit suicide, fails to die, and then trudges up eight flights of stairs peeping into the lives of her neighbors. It won three awards at Karlovy Vary 2014. Dark horse football drama “Land of Storms” (Berlin) and quirky ghost comedy “Afterlife” (Karlovy Vary) probably won’t even figure into the conversation. Variety talks about the country’s revival here.

20. ICELAND- "Life in a Fishbowl" Iceland has 10-12 eligible films to choose from this year. Not bad for a nation of 300,000 people that nearly went bankrupt a few years ago!  Three films stand out: (1)- “Metalhead” by Ragnar Bragason, was released last October and went on to be nominated for 16 Edda Awards (a new record) winning six (though losing in most major categories). It’s a drama about a girl in an Icelandic village who deals with the grief of her brother’s death by donning his heavy-metal persona. (2)- “Rocket Man” by Dagur Kari is  the first Icelandic-language feature by Kari since his acclaimed (boring!) debut “Not the Albino”. It’s been in development a long time and it’s a story of a socially inept man whose life is brightened by a single mom and her young daughter. Last is (3) “Life in a Fishbowl” by an up-and-coming director about three intersecting lives in Reykjavik. Bragason and Kari have won Best Director at the Icelandic Edda Awards a combined five times and both have had their films submitted before. There are also two other potential films scheduled to come out in September  (geriatric comedy “Grandpa” or abandoned children drama “Summer Children”) that could come into play. My prediction: “Life in a Fishbowl” has the buzz, the box-office and is being heralded as The Best Icelandic Movie Ever Made at home, so I think it’s in, followed by Kari’s “Rocket Man”, “Metalhead” and “Summer Children”.

22. INDONESIA- "The Sinking of Van Der Wijck" Indonesia has chosen glossy, period-piece historical dramas three years in a row and three of their four major contenders this year fit the same mold, including two by recently selected directors. Last year’s director has the new “3 Nafas Likas”, a biopic covering 70-years in the life of Likas, the wife of an Indonesian war hero (in the 1950s) turned statesman (through the 2000s). Upcoming martial arts epic “The Golden Cane Warrior” has a big-budget and an all-star pedigree. Director Ifa Isfansyah represented Indonesia in 2012, producer Riri Riza represented Indonesia in 2005, and the two leads (Indonesian grande dame Christine Hakim and heartthrob Nicholas Saputra)  have starred in about half of the country’s recent submissions.  Last of the costume dramas is “The Sinking of Van Der Wijck”, about the doomed romance between a local girl and a mixed-race man during the colonial era. The final major contender is set in the modern-day- “99 Lights Over Europe”, about three Muslim women (I think two Indonesians and a Turk) facing Islamophobia during their travels in Europe. The two highest-profile Indonesian movies this year are high-adrenaline genre films that are unlikely to be chosen: action sequel “The Raid 2” is a huge hit and it's supposed to be better than the original, but it has a British director and is clearly an action film, not a critics prize winner; “Killers” is a Japanese co-production about serial killers who broadcast their crimes over the Internet. Variety calls it “torture porn”. ‘Nuff said. Dark horses include village school drama “Sokola Rimba” (Riri Riza), controversial historical biography “Sukarno”, about the country’s first President, action-drama “Cahaya Dari Timur”, about religious violence on the island of Ambon, and historical anime (and Miyazaki wannabe) “Battle of Surabaya”. It’s tricky…”Sinking” has the production values, “Golden Cane Warrior” the budget and “99 Lights” a subject that AMPAS might actually relate to. My prediction: “Sinking of Van Der Wijck” reps Indonesia despite some shaky critical reviews (that’s normal for them), followed by “Golden Cane Warrior”, “99 Lights”, “Likas” and “The Raid 2”.
24. IRAQ- "In the Sands of Babylon" Iraq has only submitted one film in the past five years (“Son of Babylon”) but I think it's possible they will send the sequel this year.  In reality, the Iraqi film industry is divided into two virtually independent film industries- a (struggling) Arabic one and a (thriving) Kurdish one. This year’s top contender is “In the Sands of Babylon”. If you saw “Son of Babylon” a few years ago, you’ll remember it’s about an elderly mother and her grandson wandering around post-war Iraq in 1991 in search of her son who was imprisoned by Saddam. “In the Sands of Babylon”, which has gotten very good reviews, is a prequel detailing the story of the son’s capture and imprisonment. It premiered in dangerous Baghdad on March 27, but I’m not sure if it had a qualifying Oscar run (Iraq is a mess this year).  The Kurds will be ready to take their place with “My Sweet Pepperland”  or “One Candle, Two Candle”. “Pepperland”, a western about a former peshmerga rebel fighter who has become a police chief in a frontier town, co-stars exiled Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, and has been playing on the film festival circuit for the past year or so. It finally premiered in Erbil, the Kurdish capital, in February 2014. “One Candle, Two Candle” is a comedy-drama about the life of a young bride-to-be engaged to be married to an elderly village headman the same age as her grandfather. Kurdistan has regular working cinemas making it much easier for them to qualify their films with AMPAS. I think “Babylon” will coax Iraq back to the Oscars, with “One Candle” coming second.

25. IRELAND- "Moscow Never Sleeps" Ireland has not made a Gaelic-language feature film since 2007 when they made two. They do have a new Gaelic film in development called “Suicide” (Féinmharú), although it appears to be a mid-length film (technically any film over 40 minutes is eligible, though few countries seriously consider them for submission). Most people think the Irish will sit out, but I predict they’ll send in “Moscow Never Sleeps”, a multi-strand series of stories made in Russia (said to be “Crash” without the racism), filmed in Russian by an Irish director who has lived there two decades. The film is co-financed by the Irish Film Board and Irish tax money, so I think the Irish will consider it home-grown (the Irish sent in a Bosnian-language film a few years ago).

26. ISRAEL- "Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" Israel's submission is always the Best Picture winner of the national Ophir Awards in September (assuming it is eligible…once it was not, and a more traditional selection committee had to meet). The Ophir nominations won’t be announced until August, but I think four of the five nominees are very likely to be: (1)- “Dancing Arabs” (Opening Film at the 2014 Jerusalem Film Festival; director Eran Riklis repped Israel in 2010 for “The Human Resources Manager”), (2)-“ Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” (2014 Cannes Director’s Fortnight; actress/director Ronit Elkabetz is an 2-time Ophir winner and 8-time nominee), (3)-“Next to Her” (2014 Cannes Director’s Fortnight and Karlovy Vary) and (4)- “Yona” (director Nir Bergman repped Israel in 2002 for “Broken Wings” and almost did again in 2010 for “Intimate Grammar”). The fifth nominee is probably a dead heat between “Pracht Inn” (a group of Holocaust survivors work to revive the Yiddish language in Israel) and “Self-Made” (Cannes Critics Week/Jerusalem….about an Israeli and Palestinian woman whose lives end up switched due to a police error). Other contenders include: “Encirclements”, “The Kindergarten Teacher”, “Red Leaves” and “The Valley”, but presumably not Keren Yedaya’s controversial incest drama “That Lovely Girl”, which has turned a lot of people off. So, which of the four main contenders will win the Ophir? I’ve got my money on “Gett” (aka “The Divorce”) which has been getting glowing reviews for its tragicomic story of a woman unable to get a divorce from her husband because of Israel’s unfair divorce divorce (which seem to be subject to the religion of the couple and not on any secular law). Director Elkabetz has been rewarded for her acting, but never won an Ophir for her writing or directing, so she is due. In second place: “Dancing Arabs”, about the friendship between an Arab scholarship student and a Jewish boy in a Jewish boarding school. The Ophirs like Arab-Israeli themed tales (“Ajami”, “Bethlehem”), and director Riklis is always good. Festival favorite “Next to Her”, about a woman taking care of her mentally disabled sister and poet biopic “Yona” shouldn’t be counted out either, but I predict “Gett” will win the race handily.

27. ITALY- "Human Capital"  Italy returns as returning champion this year after somehow winning the award for “The Great Beauty” (a pleasant enough film, but too talky for my taste). This year, most of the pre-cursors have been going to Paolo Virzi’s acclaimed “Human Capital”, which not only dominated the Italian Oscars (the Donatellos) by beating “The Great Beauty”, but also won Best Picture at the Italian Golden Globes and the most awards at the Silver Ribbon Awards (though it lost Best Production to comedy “I’ll Stop When I Feel Like It”). Virzi departs from his comedic roots with“Capital”, a drama-thriller about the lives of two families affected by a hit-and-run accident. Critics compliment it both for its “whodunit” thriller elements as well as its scathing critique of Italian high society (a bit like "Beauty"?). While it is true that these precursors do not include films released in Italy during summer 2014, I think “Capital” has the momentum to be selected. Most online buzz seems to  be for “The Wonders” (starring Monica Bellucci), which was the Jury Prize winner at Cannes 2014. It's a drama about a family under the thumb of its 12-year old daughter. However, reviews don’t seem exceptional, and the film has mostly been overshadowed by “Capital” in Italy, and "Capital" sounds like a much more likely Oscar nominee. Two other films that have been released so far also have a chance at a nod- black comedy “The Mafia Only Kills in Summer”, a Sicily-set story about how public opinion turned against Italia's notorious Cosa Nostra mafia, and comedy “I’ll Stop When I Feel Like It” (Smetto quando viglio) about a band of intellectual professors who band together to make and distribute drugs due to the economic downturn. Two big threats in the pipeline are Nanni Moretti’s dramedy “My Mother” (starring John Turturro) and Mario Martone’s poet biopic “Il Giovane Favoloso” which is set to debut in Venice. Other films that are likely to appear on the (usually very long) Italian shortlist include the female-driven “Quiet Bliss” (Berlin), Asia Argento’s “Misunderstood” (Un Certain Regard), Daniel Luchetti’s “Those Happy Years”, Ferzan Ozpetek’s “Fasten Your Seatbelts” (they always shortlist him but never choose him) and LGBT-interest drama “Darker Than Midnight” (Cannes Critics Week). In conclusion, I really think “Capital” will get this quite easily, with “The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” a dark horse for second place and favorite "The Wonders" out of luck, just like "Reality" was.


Two possibilities from Europe: CYPRUS-born filmmaker Yannis Economides’ “Stratos” competed in Berlin and won Cyprus Film Days for its film noir story of a hit man living under an assumed identity at a bakery. It’s a majority Greek production, but has the credits to represent Cyprus. The autonomous FAEROE ISLANDS are part of the Kingdom of Denmark like Greenland (which was allowed to join the competition in 2010) but they have their own language and culture. “Ludo”, a psychological drama about a seemingly perfect family hiding some secrets, is the first Faroese film in 15 years. Originally a short, the feature version will premiere in Faroese cinemas in September 2014. There’s also EL SALVADOR’s “Contraste” featuring actress Cristina Melendez as two different women- a wealthy socialite and a desperately poor maid.
NEXT (in August):
Japan thru Peru

Monday, July 7, 2014


It's that time of year again.....Here are my predictions for what each country will choose as its Foreign Oscar submission. Over the years, 108 countries have sent films to the Oscars and this list considers each of them equal, whether they've sent a film each and every year since 1956 (like France) or a single film in the 1970s (like Cote d'Ivoire).
I've left off China for now. Any ideas?
Also...this year, I tried to give a little more info on each country's domestic film industry in 2014. Let the games begin!

 1. AFGHANISTAN- "Soil and Coral" Afghanistan has submitted seven films in the twelve years since the fall of the Taliban, despite a desperate shortage of funding, a precarious security situation (increasing costs) and a lack of cinemas that will conform to AMPAS screening requirements. Despite no Foreign Oscar nominations yet, the Afghans have defied the odds gotten and a Best Short Film nomination (“Buzkashi Boys”) and won a Golden Globe (“Osama”). In fact all four Afghan submissions I have seen were some of the best of the year. Afghan submissions mostly depend on expat directors (Barmak Akram and Atiq Rahimi are based in France…Sonia Cole and the late Jawed Wassel came to the USA as young refugees). While they occasionally feature foreign talent (Golshifteh Farahani, Jack Scalia), they more often feature talented locals. As for 2014, Siddiq Barmak has a new film in production (“Eclipse”) but otherwise things have been pretty quiet. I know of three films that have come out recently, but I'm not sure any of them qualify- “Icy Sun” and “A Man’s Desire For a Fifth Wife”, both taboo-breaking films about violence and sexual assault against women, each had their Afghan premieres in Spring 2013 (too early to compete this year), but I don’t think they ran for seven days. That means they could qualify if they organize a seven-day run specifically to compete for the Oscars (like “Black Tulip” in 2010). There’s also “Soil and Coral”, a drama co-starring Marina Golbahari (the little girl from “Osama”, all grown up). It’s directed by an Iranian but features a mostly Afghan crew in a story about an Afghan in Iran who returns home for his daughter’s wedding. That’s my pick, if indeed they send anything at all.

2. ALBANIA- "Amsterdam Express" Albania only had one eligible film last year (“Agon”), which was also their only domestic feature in competition at their National Film Festival last year. This year, they have more eligible films to choose from, although I see only one legitimate Oscar contender, namely “Amsterdam Express” by one of Albania’s most famous directors, Fatmir Koci. I remember Koci’s grand “Time of the Comet” failed to be submitted due to some sort of technicality a few years ago (I think Albania was confused about eligibility dates, but I don’t remember the whole story) so Koci is obviously keen. “Amsterdam Express” is a gritty thriller about an Albanian émigré caught up in the world of drugs and human trafficking while seeking out a better life abroad. Trailer looks quite good. Runner-up “Bota” (Karlovy Vary), an Italian co-production about a café in desolate, rural Albania. The Albanians usually send films with local heartthrob Nik Xhelilaj- he has two films out this year, but one is in English and the other still being filmed (“The Angels Are Far Away”). You can pencil in “Angels” as a near certainty next year's race.

 3. ALGERIA- "Le crépuscule des ombres" Algeria (and Oscar) loves anything by Rachid Bouchareb. However, since “Two Men in Town” (starring Harvey Keitel, Forest Whitaker and Brenda Blethyn) is completely in English, that won’t be an option for them this year. The Algerians have four viable candidates, two of which have screened in Algiers but it appears none of them have gotten a seven-day qualifying run in cinemas. I predict Algeria will organize a qualifying run for “Le crépuscule des ombres”, the first film by 80-year old Palme d’Or winner Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina in nearly thirty years. It’s an epic film set in the Algerian desert in the early 1960s focusing on an Algerian freedom fighter, a French colonial commander and a young French soldier sympathetic to the Algerian cause. Lakhdar-Hamina was the Bouchareb of the 1970s and 80s and remains the only African or Arab Palme d’Or winner to date. He faces stiff competition from “The Man From Oran” (Lyes Salem), following the lives of two friends beginning in the heady days of independence in the 1960s to Algeria’s subsequent decline. If neither one of those gets a release, it’s possible they’ll send slice-of-life, multi-story drama/mystery “Rooftops” by controversial Merzak Allouache (Venice 2013) or Kabyle-language historical biopic “Fadhma N’Soumer”. However, Allouache may have stepped on too many toes in his censorship battles recently. Lakhdar-Hamina’s reputation should see him through.
4. ARGENTINA- "Wild Tales" (Relatos salvajes) Argentina had four films premiering in Cannes and four more premiering in Berlin. That’s a pretty amazing lineup, even for Argentina which is the only Latino country ever to win an Oscar (twice). With so many titles in play, it’s also amazing that one film has 95% of the buzz. Premiering in the main competition of Cannes, black comedy “Wild Tales” stars Argentine superstar Ricardo Darin, it's produced by Spanish superstar Pedro Almodovar and has already been picked up for a US release by Sony Pictures Classics. It’s a genuine crowd pleaser featuring a dark anthology of six crazy stories about what happens when people lose their temper and seek (hilarious) revenge. It is true that the Argentine Academy has been mostly humorless lately. The past eight years, they’ve sent a pretty dour, humorless bunch of dramas, but I still think “Tales” is a safe bet. The Argentine Academy votes separately for the Oscar and Goya nominees. We can expect to see some votes for Daniel Burman’s latest romantic comedy, “The Mystery of Happiness”, as well as two big star vehicles, both of which were featured in Cannes, namely Gael Garcia Bernal’s abduction western “El Ardor” and Viggo Mortensen’s period drama “Jauja”, about a Danish father and daughter in 19th century Argentina. The latter won the Fipresci Award in the Un Certain Regard section.  Less likely: Berlin slice-of-life drama “Third Side of the River” and domestic abuse drama “Refugiado”. Out of the running: gay-themed romance “Hawaii”, by the director of my favorite Argentine film of all time, “Plan B”.
5. ARMENIA- "The Romanticists" Armenia rarely sends films to the Oscars (just 4 films in the 20 years since they were recognized as independent). Ironically the big winner at this year’s Hayak Awards was “Paradjanov”, a Ukrainian co-production which represented Ukraine last year. Two other films were nominated in the Best Film category, namely- (A)- “The Romanticists” which won Best Screenplay for its realist modern-day tale of an aspiring actor and his circle of friends during some sort of vacation weekend, and (B)- “The Splinter” which won Best Cinematography for its more traditional Armenian story (read: abstract, surreal and confusing) of a dying man confronted by an angel. "The Romanticists" is also one of only three local features being shown at the Golden Apricot Film Festival in July, alongside their second possibility, multi-strand drama "The Abode". Dark horse: long-awaited historical animated film “Anahit” is waiting for a release date, but I think "The Romanticists" will be sent.
6. AUSTRALIA- "Charlie's Country" Australia is obviously a mostly English-speaking country, but they have sent seven films to the Foreign Language Oscar race since 1996. I've seen them all and the worst of the lot- “Samson & Delilah”- inexplicably made it to the 9-film shortlist five years ago. Three of their films were about immigrants trying to adjust to life Down Under (from Hong Kong, China and Spain), two were about Australia’s indigenous Aborigines, and two were foreign films made by Australian directors working abroad (about Germany and Laos). The Aussies often have the Oscar committee reaching for their stopwatch (films must be 50% in a Foreign Language) and that will probably be the case again this year. The obvious choice is “Charlie’s Country”, another aboriginal tale by Rolf de Heer (whose “Ten Canoes” was sent in 2006) which just won Best Actor at Cannes and which has gotten very strong overall reviews. Looking at the trailer, it appears to be roughly 50-50 in English and Yol-Ngu…let’s hope it meets the 50% mark. If not, the mostly likely choice is “Arrows of the Thunder Dragon”, a Dzongkha-language Australian film made in Bhutan or, less likely “Wanderers”, about Chinese students living in Australia.
7. AUSTRIA- "The Dark Valley" Austria had an unusually prominent presence in various sections at this year’s Berlinale (“Beloved Sisters”, “Cracks in Concrete”, “Fever” and “Macondo”) and “Amour Fou” appeared in Un Certain Regard at Cannes. Two Best Picture nominees from this year’s Austrian Film Awards (“October-November” and “Soldier Jane”…they both lost) are also eligible. Add in one critically acclaimed piece by a previously submitted director (Houchang Allahyari’s “The Last Dance”), two acclaimed genre pieces (rom-com “High Performance” and horror-thriller “I Spy, I Spy”) and two gorgeous and expensive period pieces set in the remote mountains (“The Dark Valley” and “Silent Mountain”) and Austria has a surprisingly long list comprising a dozen contenders with no real front-runner. So what will the two-time winners choose? I think we can safely narrow it down to four:“Amour Fou”, “Macondo”, “The Dark Valley” and “The Last Dance”. For some reason, the Austrian Academy prefers gritty modernism to costume dramas (they haven’t chosen any period pieces in decades, other than the two Stefan Ruzowitzky films, including Oscar winner “The Counterfeiters”) . That would seem to work against dark comedy “Amour Fou” (set in 1811 Berlin) about a young poet trying to convince his beautiful cousin to enter into a suicide pact, and “The Dark Valley” (set in 1865 in the Tyrol Mountains) a “Western” about a stranger who wanders into an unwelcoming town filled with secrets. The Austrian Academy does like immigrant stories, which may help “Macondo”, a docudrama about Chechen refugees or “The Last Dance”(directed by an Iranian émigré), about a young man who is arrested and whose story (involving a relationship with an eccentric old woman at the hospital where he works) is told in flashbacks. Negative review from Variety notwithstanding, I think the Austrians will choose “The Dark Valley” which has the same bleak style of recent Austrian submissions, and which recently won Second Prize at the German Lola Awards and which has already brokered a US distribution deal with Film Movement. In second place, “Macondo”, with “Amour Fou”, “The Last Dance” and Berlin love-triangle drama “Beloved Sisters” rounding out the Top Five. 
8. AZERBAIJAN- "Chameleon" Azerbaijan's Oscar submissions are typically the most obscure ones of the longlist…They’re rarely on the film festival circuit, making them hard to research. I think the two front-runners are (A)- “Chameleon”, a quiet, unassuming rural drama (just like almost all the Azeri submissions thus far) about a man in financial difficulties selling his house in the countryside and (B)- the awkwardly titled “Don’t Be Afraid, I’m With You 1919”, a Russian co-production made by the national film studio, involving some sort of story about an abduction (I think). Also possible: “Down the River” (Karlovy Vary), about a tense father-son relationship struck by tragedy, and biopic “From the Cradle to Eternity”, based on the memoirs of beloved Soviet crooner Muslim Magomayev. My prediction: “Chameleon”.  

9. BANGLADESH- "Ant Story" Bangladesh has had a great film year despite political violence and instability at home. 2014 will go down in history as one of the first years where Bangladeshis were actually excited about a number of new releases, including Bangladesh’s first sci-fi and horror films and two films described as the most expensive ever made in the country. According to one website, 2014 will see film output treble from 51 to over 150. I predict the Bangladeshis will sent either Liberation War drama “Shongram 1971” or arthouse fantasy “Ant Story” (Dubai 2013). The war for independence in 1971 still makes front-page news in Bangladesh and their first two Oscar submissions were set against the backdrop of the war. “Shongram” co-stars Asia Argento as a British reporter, and is said to be the most expensive war drama made in Bangladesh. However,  Bangladesh has (smartly) been going with more festival films lately, making me think that “Ant Story”, a Walter Mitty-esque tale about a daydreaming young man with an avid fantasy life has the edge. Director Farooki was selected to represent Bangladesh in 2010 and 2013. Will that help (they clearly like him)? Or hurt him (jealousy)? More commercial options include alien encounter film “Porobashinee”, Bollywood-style romance “Purno Doirgho Prem Kahini” (which rocked the local box-office in late 2013), and commercial female assassin revenge thriller “Agnee”.  I predict “Ant Story”.

10. BELARUS- "Babu"- Belarus has a small domestic film industry but they haven’t sent a film to the Oscars since sending two Jewish-themed films in 1994 and 1996. They’re the only European country to be absent for that long. This year’s most likely submission is “Babu”, a crime drama about the kidnapping of the seven-year old daughter of an Azerbaijani oligarch living in Moscow. It’s the first co-production between Belarus and Azerbaijan since the fall of the USSR, but I doubt they’ll enter. Belarus' highest-profile recent film- independent HIV youth drama “Horizon Sky”- remains banned at home.


11. BELGIUM- "Two Days, One Night" Belgium's race is always complicated by the fact that the French- and Dutch-speaking regions each think they are a different country. They have separate film academies and separate national film awards. No matter how much they dislike the idea however, they are from the same country and they can only send one film. From the Dutch side (which got an Oscar nomination last year), the front-runner is Oscar nominee Stijn Coninx’s ("Daens") immigrant drama “Marina”, about a family of Italians struggling in Belgium in the post-war era. However, it would be foolish to bet against the front-runner from the French side, namely “Two Days, One Night” (Cannes 2014 + Best Picture at Sydney 2014), starring French Oscar nominee Marion Cotillard as a desperate woman facing the prospect of being laid off at work, but who can avoid her fate if she convinces her fellow employees to forsake their annual bonus to keep her on. Directed by the sleep-inducing Dardenne Brothers (selected by Belgium three times, but snubbed for their last two films, “The Kid With a Bike” and “Lorna’s Silence”), this is actually supposed to be one of their more accessible efforts. The power of Cannes and Cotillard should make this easy for “Two Days”. Belgium occasionally chooses a three-film shortlist before announcing their pick. If so, that third slot will probably go to either French-language “The Taste of Blueberries”, about an octogenarian couple attempting to visit their son’s grave, or Dutch-language “The Verdict”, a thriller about a man taunted by the sex offender long suspected of murdering his brother who disappeared decades before. “Two Days” should win this contest rather easily. Other dark horses that may muster some support at home:  from the Dutch side, bizarre horror-dramedy “The Miracle of Life, about a woman who gives birth to a stillborn baby but a live and sentient placenta and “The Treatment”, a popular thriller, or, from the French side, “Melody”, about a child surrogate left alone and pregnant when her sponsor is tragically killed. I haven't forgotten the violent serial killer couple in “Alleluia” (Cannes) or LGBT drama “All Yours” (Karlovy Vary) but they won't be picked, nor will the Belgian film I most want to see this year: comedy “Moroccan Gigolos”, whose trailer looks hilarious.

12. BHUTAN- "Kushuthara: Pattern of Love"- Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, entered the Oscar race once in 1999 with Khyentse Norbu's charming "The Cup". Norbu, a high-ranking Buddhist monk, has a new film this year- “Vara: A Blessing”, which opened the Busan Film Festival (Asia's largest) in 2013. But the film is entirely in English so it won’t figure in here. The two big winners at the National Film Awards this year were “My Teacher, My World”, a drama about a stuck-up woman who returns to her village after a disastrous marriage to become the village teacher, and “Sakteng Metog”, a Bollywood-style romance about a young woman in a remote village choosing among her many suitors. However, these are both films purely for local consumption. If they are coaxed back to the race, it will probably be with “Kushuthara: Pattern of Love”, an ambitious tale of unrequited love, several years in the making by Bhutan’s first female director. It has a British lead though….Too much English? Dark horse: AUSTRALIA’s “Arrows of the Thunder Dragon”, a film wholly made in Bhutan by an Australian director.

13. BOLIVIA- "Yvy Maraey" Bolivia has gotten films on the Oscar longlist five times and three of these were directed by Juan Carlos Valdivia. His latest film “Yvy Maraey: Tierra sin Mal” was postponed from a September 2013 to October 2013 release, meaning that though I predicted it to represent Bolivia last year, it is actually eligible this year. “Yvy Maraey” is a visually rich road movie about a man delving deep into the culture of Bolivia’s indigenous people. This fits in well with the Bolivian government’s objective of promoting indigenous languages and cultures. It faces stiff competition from a pair of important historical dramas “The Forgotten”, a drama starring Oscar nominee Damien Alcazar about the 1970s military dictatorship, and “Boqueron”, about the Chaco War.  My prediction: “Yvy Maraey” brings Bolivia back to the race for the first time in five years.
14. BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA- "With Mom" Bosnia's two high-profile films are both internationalist efforts. “For Those Who Can Tell No Tales” would be a contender if it weren’t mostly in English. “Bridges of Sarajevo”, a multi-lingual documentary omnibus film by thirteen international directors got a special berth in Cannes and would appear to technically qualify by the rules since it has one Bosnian director (Aida Begic), some Bosnian crew and it’s clearly “about” Bosnia more than any other country. But it’s not really a “Bosnian film”. The same goes for “Love Island” a breezy comedy with an international cast set in Croatia and funded mostly by Croatia but with a Bosnian director. The two more authentic local contenders are “With Mom”, a contemporary family drama about the relationship between a young artist, her domineering mother dying of cancer and the rest of the family; and “Krajina: Life and Death”,  about two close friends who meet up years after the war in Krajina. Of course, the Bosnians also may choose some new film from the Sarajevo  Film Festival that we haven’t heard about yet. My prediction is: “With Mom” edges out “Bridges of Sarajevo”, which has gotten mixed reviews.

15. BRAZIL- "Casa Grande" Buzz from Brazil has focused on three films, all of which played in different sections at Berlinale 2014. The hottest title is “The Way He Looks”, a lovable gay-themed adolescent drama about a blind boy who falls for his classmate. Internet buzz has this as the sentimental favorite to represent the Brasilieros but while everyone likes the film, critics tend to call it “a sweet movie” rather than a groundbreaking film. “Casa Grande” (Berlin Film Market), about a wealthy family in dire financial straits, focuses on the more cerebral topics of class struggle and race relations. It all sounds like Bolivia’s “Zona Sur” from a few years back, except from the point of view of the son instead of the parents. Karim Ainouz’s “Future Beach” is the possible arthouse pick, though it’s said to be more “pretty to look at" than anything else and Ainouz has never been selected to rep Brazil even for his more acclaimed films. Coming in under the radar is a fourth film- revenge thriller “Wolf at the Door”- focusing on the disappearance of a missing child. It's a dark horse with less buzz, but equally good (better?) reviews. We can certainly expect to see films like “Entre Nos”, “The Pilgrim”, “Tattoo” and “Man of the Crowd” (based on an Edgar Allen Poe story) on Brazil’s shortlist (which tends to be ridiculously long), but I think the finalist will certainly be one of the above four films. I think “Casa Grande” fits in better with what the Brazilian Academy usually goes for so it’s my pick, followed by sentimental favorite “The Way He Looks” and possible surprise “Wolf at the Door” (which would have the best chance with the Academy incidentally).  
16. BULGARIA- "The Judgement" Bulgaria has two good options this year, but I think they’ll be rewarding Stephan Komandarev for getting Bulgaria’s first and only shortlist spot in 2010. Komandarev has a new movie this year- “The Judgement”- which is also the only Bulgarian movie selected to get a gala screening at the Sofia International Film Festival, where it also won Best Bulgarian Film. It also has a baity plot- an impoverished man attempts to repent for a sin committed 25 years prior.  Its chief competition is “Viktoria”, an quirky dramedy about three generations of women in Communist Bulgaria, including a young wife desperate to emigrate to America. Her plans are thwarted when Baby Viktoria is randomly declared to be “Socialist Baby of the Decade”, meaning a lifetime of being feted (and followed) by the State. Variety says it is a brilliant film for the first hour-and-a-half. Unfortunately, the film is 2 ½ hours long! I think these two options are pretty strong contenders. Unlikely but possible: amnesiac comedy “Living Legends”, WWII drama “Bulgarian Rhapsody” and “Rat Poison”, a juvenile delinquent drama set during the fall of communism. Dark horse: last year’s acclaimed illegal adoption drama “Alienation” may have premiered in Bulgarian cinemas this year, I’m not sure.

17. BURKINA FASO- "Soleils" Burkina Faso likes to think of itself as the cinematic capital of Africa because they host the bi-annual FESPACO Film Festival and because they have long been the traditional heart of African arthouse cinema (though this is not necessarily true today). They entered the Oscar race just once way back in 1989 which is such a shame (the haunting “A Night of Truth”, for example, would have made a great choice)....If they return this year, it’s likely to be “Soleils”, a road movie about an old man asked to take an amnesiac young woman on a journey through Africa and Europe. With French and Burkinabe co-directors, it’s supposed to be a beautiful film but don’t count on them filling out the paperwork.
18. CAMBODIA- "The Last Reel" Cambodia’s emotional documentary “The Missing Picture” was the surprise nominee at last year’s Oscars (I’m still shocked) and only the second film from Southeast Asia to be nominated for the award (Vietnam’s “Scent of Green Papaya” got a nomination in a much weaker year, way back in 1994). This year, I predict the Cambodians send “The Last Reel”, a drama about a teenaged girl who discovers her mother was a famous film actress before the Khmer Rouge genocide. It sounds interesting and is said to be one of the first films from Cambodia to have Western-style production values. The backstory is interesting as well. Actress Dy Saveth who plays the Mom is also a former Cambodian movie star who escaped the genocide by fleeing to France as a refugee. Interestingly enough, FRANCE also has a possible Cambodian film, namely Regis Wargnier’s “The Gate”, the true story of a French anthropologist  who escaped the genocide. Wargnier won the Foreign Oscar for the Southeast Asian-themed “Indochine” and was nominated for the Russian-themed “East-West”, but I think Cambodia will stick with a locally directed film. If “Reel” is not eligible, another possibility is human trafficking drama “3:50” but I hear it's been having trouble with Cambodian censors and seems to have too much English.
19. CAMEROON- "W.A.K.A." Cameroon was the first country to send a movie made by a Black African director to the Oscars. That was in 1980. They’ve never sent another film and they won’t do so this year either. For the sake of completion, this year’s highest-profile film is “W.A.K.A.”, a drama about a prostitute ready to make any sacrifice necessary to take care of her young son.

20. CANADA- "Mommy" 25-year old wunderkind Xavier Dolan will be his own worst enemy this year as he has two great films that were released in Canadian cinemas in calendar year 2014. Psychological thriller “Tom at the Farm”, featuring Dolan as a grieving man attending the funeral of his closeted boyfriend, won the FIPRESCI award at Venice 2013 but premiered in Quebec in March 2014. Then “Mommy”, about a trashy Quebecois widow trying to control her violent teenaged son, premiered in competition at Cannes 2014, winning the Jury Prize. It will premiere in Quebec cinemas in September 2014, making both Dolan films eligible to represent the Canucks. One would expect strong competition from Denys Arcand ("Barbarian Invasions"), the acclaimed 70-year old director who has represented Canada four times and never failed to make at least the 9-film shortlist. However, his latest (talky drama “An Eye for Beauty”) has come and gone with little fanfare and little love from critics. Dolan’s two films really do seem to be the two best-reviewed Quebecois films of the year. Some other (unlikely) options: “The Auction”, a re-telling of King Lear in which a proud landowner is forced to sell his land and property to help a daughter in dire financial straits; “Tu dors Nicole”, a B&W indie that played at Cannes Director's Fortnight; “La petite reine”, a drama about a female athlete who resorts to doping, and “Le vrai du faux”, a dramedy treading a careful line between laughs and tears, about PTSD survivors back from war. Canada sometimes strays away from French-language fare (2001 and 2006). Punjabi-language historical drama “Punjab 1984” about the massacres in India’s Punjab State would seem to have a better chance over pre-colonial Inuktikut-language drama “Maina” and Hindi-language missing child drama “Siddharth”, though those are all far-fetched. It’s possible we may see something new in Toronto, but I think “Mommy” will get Dolan to Hollywood for the first time since his brilliant debut "I Killed My Mother" (also starring Anne Dorval as the two title Moms).


21. CHAD- "Mariam" Congratulations to the nation of Chad! Last year, they became the second country in sub-Saharan Africa (after heavyweight South Africa) to send a film to the Foreign Oscar race more than once. Director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun also became the first Black African director to have a film submitted twice (All but one of South Africa’s submissions have been made by White directors). Haroun is the country’s only internationally celebrated filmmaker, but they do have an option this year in “Mariam”, a low-budget fiction film dealing with societal issues involving the rape and abuse of underage girls in Chadian culture.

22. CHILE- "The Dance of Reality" (La danza de la realidad) Chile deserved a Best  Foreign Film nomination for "Gloria" and easily a Best Actress win for the flawless Paulina Garcia, but neither was to be. This year, Chilean film output is up, although they don’t have too many Oscar contenders. I think the Chilean winner will be surreal fantasy “The Dance of Reality (La danza de la realidad) by 85-year old Alejandro Jodorowsky (“El Topo”). Anyone who has seen “El Topo” will know that the film, set at a circus in 1929, will be surreal and weird, but reviews have been strong, calling the film surprisingly funny and touching. The Chilean Academy has shown they respect age and reputation (witness “Dawson Isla 10” beating “The Maid” a few years back), which makes me think it will beat the other four main contenders: “Illiterate” (starring “Gloria”’s Paulina Garcia), about a woman learning to read in order to solve the mystery of her father’s long-ago disappearance, “Neruda”, the biopic of Chile’s famous dissident poet Pablo Neruda, “Patagonia of Dreams”, about a French immigrant family settling in indigenous lands in the 1870s, and “The Quispe Sisters” (Winner Best Cinematography, Venice 2013), the tragic story of three adult shepherdesses living a hardscrabble existence in rural Chile in the 1970s.  Less likely: thriller “The Vineyard”, London-set comedy-drama “I Am From Chile” (co-starring Paulina Garcia as a landlady) and “Devil’s Liquor” (La chupilca del Diablo), about an elderly man, his grandson and a failing factory. Unknown quality: two-time Oscar nominee Miguel Littin has a new historical docudrama “Allende, tu nombre me sabe a hierba, scheduled to open in September. He is filming in socialist Venezuela, complaining that he had trouble making the film in Chile. Littin was selected for a last-minute film a few years ago, and this could potentially happen again. Eligible next year:  well-reviewed revenge thriller “To Kill a Man” is set to appear in October. Prediction: “Dance” reps Chile, with “Illiterate”, “Patagonia”, “Allende” and “Neruda” rounding out the Top Five.


24. COLOMBIA- "Todos se van" Colombia tends to go very “arthouse” when choosing their films, choosing slow-paced, meandering dramas four of the past five years (the rest of the time, they choose drug-addled action films), even over more Oscary types of films (like last year’s “Roa”). One major problem that Colombia has this year is that several of their most high-profile films were made by American directors working in Colombia, including mining documentary “Marmato” (winner three awards including Best Colombian film at Cartagena) and rural drug trafficking drama “Manos sucias” (Tribeca). Oscar has loosened up (a bit) since disqualifying Colombia’s “Maria, Full of Grace” ten years ago but the Colombians are likely to be prickly on the subject. Two other wholly Colombian films from Cartagena are contenders, namely “Dust on the Tongue” (Tierra en la lengua) and “Mateo”. “Dust”, winner of Best Picture, seems to have a better chance for its story of a family plotting to help kill their domineering grandfather/patriarch. “Mateo” (winner of the Jury Prize and Best Colombian Director), is a smaller-scale story of a teen dominated by his crime boss uncle. Also from the "arthouse" school of filmmaking comes last year’s “Chasing Fireflies” (Cazando luciernaga), a beautifully shot but very slow rural drama about an old man reconnecting with the teenaged daughter he never knew, and “Chronicles of the End of the World” (Cronica del fin del mundo), a talky apolocalyptic drama about a man who decides to tell off everyone he knows before the apocalypse. If they want something a bit more lively, they could choose “Dangerous Loves” (Amores peligrosos), a thriller by a previously submitted director. And if they premiere in time, they could also consider the upcoming “La Sargento Machaco”, a historical drama about partisan conflict in 1948, “Gente de Bien" (Cannes Critics Week), a family drama set in the barrios, or “Everyone Leaves” (Todos se van), a drama about a little girl in 1980s Cuba in the midst of a fierce custody battle. It’s based on a popular novel and the first film in a decade by one of Colombia’s finest directors (Sergio Cabrera). This is really one of the toughest races to predict this year….So many options and no front-runner. I’m predicting “Everyone Leaves”, which is scheduled to premiere right before the deadline, followed by “Dust on the Tongue” and “Chasing Fireflies” with dark horses “La Sargento Machaco” and “Mateo” rounding out the Top Five. I don't think "Gente de Bien" will make it to cinemas in time. But I’m really confused by this one.

25. CONGO-KINSHASA has not cashed in on the international success of Djo Tunda’s gritty arthouse success “Viva Riva” (which they foolishly did not send to the Oscars). The Congolese sent a film to Hollywood once in 1997 (Zeka Laplaine’s “Macadam Tribu”) but nothing since. Both Djo Tunda and Laplaine have interesting new films in development (“Chandra” and “The Reptiles”) but I don’t think either one will be released in time (in fact, it's likely they never will be released at all in chaotic Kinshasa).Congo has a couple of feature documentaries- the highest profile is “Atalaku” about comedians seeking to get involved in the presidential elections- but they’ll definitely sit out this year. 

26. COSTA RICA- "Red Princesses" (Princesas Rojas) Costa Rica has had a fairly good film year, with no less than three movies released within a one-month period last October.  I hate to predict the same movie two years in a row but “Red Princesses” (Berlin 2013) didn’t get a domestic release until then. It’s almost certain to be selected for its story of a family of Communists raising two young girls, who return to Costa Rica secretly under an assumed name, after years in political exile. Tico films never make festivals like Berlin so it'd be hard to deny them the chance. Unlikely but possible: nationalistic World Cup drama “Italia 90”, or cockfighting dramedy “All About the Feathers”, which represented the country in Vancouver and Miami.

27. COTE D’IVOIRE- "Run" The Cote d’Ivoire (a.k.a. the Ivory Coast) sent a movie to the Oscars way back in 1976….eventually winning the Oscar for the French film “Black and White in Color”. They never entered the race again, but they have their best chance in decades with Cannes thriller “Run”, a French co-production about a young man who goes into hiding after assassinating the Prime Minister. The film was the first beneficiary of the country’s new Film Fund and its prestigious spot in Cannes Un Certain Regard line-up can only help. For more on attempts to jump-start the Ivorian film industry, see here. Trivia: Since Pakistan rejoined the race last year, the Cote d’Ivoire now holds the record for the longest absence of any country- 37 years and counting.


Not many possibilities from these countries. The most likely candidate would be BURMA (aka MYANMAR) for “Ice Poison” (Berlin Panorama 2014), a drama about an impoverished young couple who get mixed up in the drug trade on the Chinese border. Reviews have been good, but there’s no guarantee it will premiere in Burma. Burma-born director Midi Z. works mostly in Taiwan and the negative subject matter may scare off the (liberalizing) Burmese authorities. Another option is ANGOLA’s impressive-looking historical drama “Njinga Rainha de Angola”, about a warrior princess facing off against the encroaching Portuguese colonizers. However, I’m not even clear whether this is an actual feature film or a miniseries. Tiny BRUNEI has martial arts drama “Yasmine”, but surely won’t fill out the paperwork.