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.


Spartak said...


I'm glad to see that you continue to run the blog!

Afghanistan - Have you seen the last Barmak's film ("Opium War")? And if it's possible to purchase (or watch) it somewhere?

Are you sure about "Soil and Coral" having an Afghan crew, because by IMDB, its producer, composer, DOP and editor seem to be Iranian...

Albania - Regarding Xhelilaj's new film, as far as I understand its filming took part during December, 2013... So, actually it may be ready, but probably not...

Australia - Actually, I thought "S&D" is a great film (I like films with a little dialoguu :)

Belgium - Right now, "Two Days..." is the best film of the year, from those I have seen... It's not just a frontrunner to represent Belgium at Oscars, but to bring it a 3rd nomination in 4 years.

Cambodia - Actually, I'm proud to say that I've guessed "The Missing Picture" making it to the shortlist. It was clearly a dark horse for Elite Committee, being both an acclaimed film and both unusual and interesting enough

P.S. I'll be much smarter after Jerusalem Film Festival that starts today (despite the war going on and Hamas throwing rockets on our country) and will be able to add some additional comments regarding some of the possible participants.
In meantime, this's the link to the site of Israeli Film Academy with the list of this years competitors for Ophir prizes for Best Feature Film (actually, there're another 8 films in indie route, while 1 of them will be become nominie, but none of them have a realistic chance to be sent):

It's in Hebrew, but I suppose that Google Translate will help you to figure out the names...

dzong2 said...

Thanks Spartak, Hope everyone is safe where you are.

I actually never got to see "Opium War" and I've also been unable to find it on DVD anywhere. So strange, since Barmak is fairly famous. I'm not 100% sure about "Soil"'s eligibility but the Afghans always have a lot of foreign crew. I know for a fact AMPAS debated the eligibility of "FireDancer" and "Black Tulip" before allowing them to compete.

I don't like the Brothers Dardenne, but I like Cotillard so will give them another chance!

Hope you get to see some films at JIFF...I'm not sure what the status is of the screenings. :(

Spartak said...

Yeah, I'm safe (I live in Jerusalem), more or less, thanks to "Iron Dome" (Israeli system that hits the rockets in the air), but it's succeed in 90% and it's not nice at all, each time I hear the siren to run the shelter...
Anyway, thank for you concern.

So, back to the topic (after 42 films in 10 days :).

Australia - It seems to me that "Charlie's Country" qualifies (I'd say it even 60-40 or 65-35)... It's quite a good film (David Gulpilil is great) about clash of cultures, but it gets weaker towards the end.

Austria - It's strange to me that experienced fox like you didn't count "October November" as a real contender.
I mean it's not that "October November" such a good film (it has beautiful cinematography and the actresses are excellent, but the scrip is rather banal with bad developed characters), but it's directed by Götz Spielmann, whose last 3 films were submitted... So, I think that with lack of strong opponents we will see his 4th submission.

Bangladesh - It's strange, but IMDB has the language of "Ant Story" as English.

Brazil - I'd like them to submit Daniel Ribeiro's "The Way He Looks" (actually, I watched it at home, during the festival I saw "Wolf at the door", which won the main award at Rio's festival and it was quite a bad thriller).

Chile - "To Kill a Man" is a great film, but yeah it scheduled to October (I've asked the director).

Chine - If it was for any other country, I'd predict an excellent Berlin winner, "Black Coal, Thin Ice"... But with Chine everything is possible...

P.S. What did you mean by "I'm not sure what the status is of the screenings"?