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


Spartak said...

Cuba - "Conducta" is also directed by previously submitted Ernesto Daranas, so it's a big chance will be sent... Never mind his "Fallen Gods" being one of the worst films in competition in its particular year.

Dominican Republic - I'm not sure about "Cristo Rey", I mean it "completely" lost at what seems to be the only Dominican awards (it gives prizes to all kinds of arts, there're only for prizes for cinema, Film, Director, Actor and Actress), mostly to last years nominee "Who is the Boss?"...

Ecuador - I know that in case of Ecuador it doesn't matter a lot (due to the lack of films), but in previous post I wrote that I want Brazil to submit "The Way He Looks", both it and "Holiday" deals with homosexual awakeing at teens... But the Ecuadorian one is much weaker due to director's fear to show real relationship (while Daniel Ribeiro, know how to show enough and as well not to push it over the edge).

Estonia - First of all, "I Won’t Go Back" is a massive co-production so I'm not sure it's Estonian enough.
Regarding "Tangerines" and "Kertu", both are quite good, but both of them stands on the verge of belief and disbelief to the plot, which might hurt it chances...
So, I do agree with you that Estonia will go with "In the Crosswind", also because many post-Soviet republics tend to choose films that deals with their sufferings during the regime.

Estonia - Why do you think that Jolie attached her name only after the film was made?
Having her name on it and being in circuit of festivals makes me think that we'll see Ethiopia back in the competition. Though, you shouldn't forget that 4-5 years, they probably could submit "Teza", which won the Screenplay award at Venice, but they didn't (but it was before their first submission)...
But if they do submit "Difret" we may see fisrt Sub-Saharan country (which is not South Africa) in 40 years getting a nomination...

Finland - It's very strange, how could "Heart of Lion" lose to "Concrete Night"...

France - I'm wondering if they send "Blue is the..." or will they avenge its producer for turning back for the local Academy (when the producers refused to make a cinematical pre-run).

Greece - Greece seems to have a very strong year. And if we were talking about Japan I would easily agree with you, but it is Greece...
Actually, first, I was surprised that you picked up "Little England" over "Miss Violence" (the description you wrote is only half-true, but I don't want to reveal any details, just say that it's very dark and resembles "Dogtooth", though the director is almsot denying it), which worthily won Best Director award at Venice last year.
But it was until I've seen "Little England"... An astonishing film!
Again, it'd be a hard choice between it and "Miss Violence" (I'm quite sure about two of them), because in 3 of 4 last years they went with Greek New Wave and also "Miss Violence" has a stronger buzz, but "Little England" is better.

Italy - I'm glad that you also prefer "Human Capital" over "Wonders" (which is also a good film, but "Human Capital" is just a way better).

P.S. In previous years, in the first post, you usually have a little sum for a previous year's competition, writing about your favourites. But this year, you have skipped it. Why?

Spartak said...

Israel (I know it's a bit long, but it's my country :) - You're very close and very far from reality in the same breathe.
Probably, you're right about the final choice, but you're almost completely wrong about other contenders.
The biggest threat (and right now, it chances seems to be nearlu equal) for "Gett" comes from "Zero Motivation". A comedy, which won Tribeca Film Festival (and it's why, I find it strange that you've ignored this film), become a box-office hit (it started a month ago, I'm ashamed to say that I haven't seen it yet) and critics adore it.
The dark horse is "The Farewell Party" ("Mita Tova"), a dark comedy, which will take part at Venice Film Festival (in "Venice Days").
Another film that I, personally (just based on my opinion and not on buzz), include as dark horse is "Dancing Arabs" that you have mentioned. Its premiere was shedueled on July 10th and was postponed after Palestinians have kidnapped and murdered 3 Israeli teenagers. The reason, I think it to be a dark horse, have nothing to do with its quality (though I've to admit that the film is excellent, IMHO, better than "Gett"), but political. Most of academy members are left-minded and they may want to show a support for a film, which tries to bring the ideas of peace and coexistence. But again, it's only a personal opinion and maybe it would be even left out, because it's a very strong year.
The options for the fifth nominations are "Next to Her", "Yona" (the film seems to suffer from the same problem like "A Place in Heaven" last year, a lot of people like it, but there're enough of the members, who hates it. BTW, despite, what is written on IMDB, it hasn't been released), "The Valley" and much less obvious option is Nadav Lapid's “The Kindergarten Teacher", like with his previous film, "The Policeman", critics slobber over the film, but it almost got empty-handed (expcet the prize from Israeli critics) from Jerusalem Film Festival... Another posibility is "Princess", a 2nd winner from Jerusalem Film Festival, but on the contrary to “The Kindergarten Teacher" critics hated it.
Regarding “Pracht Inn” and "Encirclements"... The article about the buzz was written a few weeks ago, when half of the films have not been revealed before the Academy members, so I'm not sure that those films were shown at this momemnt... The first one has very intresting synopsis, the second one has a very strong cast, so a surprises are possible.
BTW, if you'd like to make conclusions after the nominees will be announced in mid-August, you wouldn't be able to do it. The reason is "simple", there's a stupid rule (among many others that are not much wiser) that allows only Israeli citizens to be nominated for Ophir prizes. So it means that "Yona" (Lutz Reitemeier), "Gett" (Jeanne Lapoirie), "Princess" (Radek Ladczuk, who was awarded for his work in this film at JFF) and "Dancing Arabs" won't be able to get nominees for Best Cinematography...

pitviper_sg said...

As far as India is concerned, they have a few interesting films that could take the cake. 1 is from lat 2013, the others are all from 2014:

SHAHID (dir. Hansal Mehta)
This film is about the latter life of Shahid Aazmi who was wrongly jailed for being a terrorist and in turn, decided to fight against the persecution of Muslims in India following the 1993 Mumbai terrorist bombings.

MISS LOVELY (dir. Ashim Ahluwalia)
My personal favorite Indian film in a while, it premiered at Un Certain Regard at Cannes and Ahluwalia was praised by critics as a Rainer Werner Fassbinder meets Abel Ferrara. The film is an art-film about the underground C-grade porn/horror industry and how directors must struggle to make money while being pressured by underground mafia dons who are capitalizing on the black market.

FILMISTAAN (dir. Nitin Kakkar)
This is what people in India call an "Amaan Ki Aasha" film, which means its a hopelessly optimistic movie that tries to make amends amongst religious groups. The film is a dark comedy about an aspiring actor who gets captured by Muslim terrorists in Kashmir and hopes to prevent his execution by making friends with them through their mutual love for Bollywood cinema.

AANKHON DEKHI (dir. Rajat Kapoor)
This is a great film about the philosophy of "seeing is believing". It's narrative is styled after Greek-tragicomedies and is about an old senile fool who decides to stop believing people and only starts believing things he sees with his own two eyes. This has a detrimental effect on his family and it becomes an almost self-destructive vice on the main character. It's a very philosophical film, and it's filmed in the style of India's art cinema from the 70's and 80's during the era of the New Wave movement of art-cinema pioneers Shyam Benegal, Kumar Shahani, Govind Nihalaani, and Mani Kaul.

These are the films I believe they'll submit. Check out the trailers for them. I also have reviews on my blogsite

dzong2 said...

Thanks Spartak. I heard Jolie took a credit on the film shortly before the film premiered in Sundance. ( But by putting her name on the film, she's giving it some much-needed publicity so I'm just teasing about her taking the credit....

As for France, they cannot send "Blue is the Warmest Color" because it was released in the USA last year and was eligible in all other categories though it failed to be nominated). AMPAS rules say that a film cannot be eligible in more than one year. For example, "City of God" was secretly grateful it failed to get a Foreign Film nomination because that would have prevented it from being nommed for Director etc. a year later.

Unfortunately, now that I live in Korea I have not been able to see many of last year's films. I have seen 23, but perhaps I will do a post when I reach the halfway point. :) My Top Five were Chile, Denmark, Netherlands, Palestine and Saudi Arabia and I would give the Oscar to "Borgman", but I didn't see many of the big contenders (Australia, Bosnia, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan etc)

And I'm proud to have gotten 3 out of the 5 Ophir nominees. :) I admit that I thought "Zero Motivation" would go the way of Eytan Fox movies...Too young and hip for the Israeli Academy...But I was wrong.