Sunday, August 24, 2014


Here's the last batch of countries, from Philippines to Vietnam.

Poland, Romania and Turkey have already made their official selections, while I've left off the three biggest countries (Philippines, Russia and Spain) and will fill them in by the end of August.

1. PHILIPPINES- (Written late on 9.24.14) I'm sorry that Philippines is one of the countries I didn't get a chance to research this year. You can read a great article about the Filipino race here. As the author indicates, "Barber's Tales" seems to be a strong candidate based on prior committe love for the Actress and Director. I don't think the Philippines will be silly enough to send one of Lav Diaz's films. Though "Norte: The End of History" appeared at Cannes and "From What is Before" won Locarno, the fact remains that these films are an acquired taste. "Norte" may be the highest-profile Filipino film of the year, but it's over four hours long, while "Before" is just under SIX hours. Hit action movie "10000 Hours" (which won two Best Picture titles last year at various Filipino Film awards ceremonies....they seem to have a half a dozen) shouldn't be counted out either, nor should crococile attack docudrama "Bwaya" or LGBT-themed "Commitment", which were the big winners at Cinemalaya 2014. I think "Barber's Tale" makes a lot of sense. 

2. POLAND- "Ida" (Written in June before the selection).  Poland seems to have an easy decision this year, considering the international success of “Ida”, a black & white drama about a novice nun in Communist Poland who discovers her Jewish roots shortly before taking her final vows. The film has successfully been released in Canada, France, the USA and elsewhere, winning critical acclaim for the film itself (winning the Grand Prize in London and Warsaw) and especially for its lead actresses. “Ida” is the front-runner and will be hard to beat. If anybody can, it will probably be “Warsaw 44”, a film about a number of young people who play a key role in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis. It will be released in September and Poland sometimes  uses the Oscar submission to promote new films (“In Darkness”, “Walesa”). Two other films tied “Ida” at the Polish Eagle Awards with four awards apiece. “Ida” won Best Picture/Director/Actress, while “Life Feels Good”, about a man with cerebral palsy, won Screenplay and three of the four Acting awards, and “Papusza”, the biopic of a Polish-Gypsy poetess, dominated the tech categories. I’m skeptical of their chances. It's  “Ida” for sure.

3. PORTUGAL- "The Mais: A Story of a Portuguese Family" Portugal is a mess in this category. They hold the record for most Oscar submissions without getting a nomination, and this year pickings are slim. Last year’s sole box-office success was a silly buddy comedy (“Pecados Rurais”) and this year six of the ten feature films in their National Film Catalogue were made by foreign directors (including Bille August)! One of their only contenders- 3-hour long historical drama “Até Amanhã Camaradas”- looks well-made but got middling reviews and might be disqualified because it is largely a repackaging of a television miniseries. I'm not sure how much is new footage but AMPAS is very strict with films that have appeared on TV in any form. Netherlands and Sweden have had films disqualified for this. All of this is a long way of saying it is fairly certain that Portugal will choose their only real option: “The Mais: A Story of a Portuguese Family”, a three-hour epic costume drama about incest and intrigue among an elite 19th century family. It’s directed by Joao Botelho, who has been selected twice before. Set in 1825, it looks gorgeous and Portugal likes their movies stuffy and long. For those of you keeping track, 105-year old Manoel de Oliveira appears to be taking a break after directing or co-directing three feature films in 2012. Runner-ups: not much to choose from, but in 2nd place will be “Getúlio”, a true story about political assassinations in 1954 military-ruled Portugal. In 3rd place:  “Yvone Kane”, about a white Portuguese woman returning to her African birthplace. Highly unlikely:  the aforementioned ineligible “Camaradas” (they may try to send it) and teen drama “End of the World”.
4. PUERTO RICO- "Cows Wearing Glasses" (Las vacas con gafas)- Puerto Rico had been invited to send films to the Oscars behinning in 1986. However, Puerto Rico was unceremoniously banned from the Oscars after 2011. Their crime was that they were not an independent country. Never mind that AMPAS had allowed Palestine to send films since 2005 in the interests of “inclusiveness”, that Hong Kong had sent films for decades and that Danish province of Greenland was welcomed into the Oscar family in 2010. Puerto Rico is no longer invited, but I will always include them in this list in protest. Puerto Rico hasn’t had a strong film year, but the strongest candidate would be “Cows Wearing Glasses”, a drama about an elderly painter reflecting upon his life after learning he will soon go blind. I've heard through the grapevine that some Puerto Rican filmmakers working in the USA are launching another campaign to get re-invited. Bring back the Puerto Ricans!
5. ROMANIA- "Japanese Dog" (OFFICIAL) Romania announced they were sending “Japanese Dog” to the Oscars on August 14 before I’d made my prediction. I probably would have gotten it wrong as I thought the more likely choice was period drama “Kira Kiralina” (set in 1960s Romania) or perhaps “A Love Story, Lindenfeld”, about a man who returns to Romania after 60 years upon learning his childhood love survived the Communist labor camps. Both were among the four Romanian films highlighted at this year’s Cannes Film Market but I should have remembered that the Romanian Academy prefers more modern “New Wave” films rather than these more old-fashioned efforts. “Japanese Dog” got eight Gopo nominations this year, winning only one for Best Actor (it lost four to “Child’s Pose” which represented Romania last year and two to “The Unsaved”, which will probably represent Moldova this year). However, it has gotten good reviews for its story of a grumpy old Romanian father who receives a visit from his estranged son and his Japanese wife.

6. RUSSIA- All I know is that it's unlikely to be "Leviathan"!

7. SAUDI ARABIA- Nothing Eligible. For me, Saudi Arabia was the biggest surprise on last year’s list. The Oscars have fairly strict rules that films have to play in commercial theatres in their home country. As cinemas have been banned in Saudi Arabia since the 1970s, “Wadjda” seemed out of luck, even without its feminist slant scaring Saudi conservatives. Still, female helmer Haifaa al-Mansour managed to get it booked for “non-traditional” screenings, reportedly  at Foreign Embassies and oil installations, and convinced the Ministry of Culture to nominate the film. Sadly, it didn’t make the next round but al-Mansour did get to Hollywood. She’s now in pre-production on a film biography of author Mary Shelley before returning to Saudi to work on a film about young Saudi men (good luck getting permission for that!). Contrary to many news stories, “Wadjda” was not the first-ever Saudi film but it is the most acclaimed of the few which have been made. Having said all that, I haven’t heard of any new Saudi films this year so they’ll presumably skip. Too bad because "Wadjda" was great! Go see it!

8. SERBIA- "Barbarians" Serbia is likely to submit “Barbarians” (Karlovy Vary), a drama about troubled teens in 2008 Serbia. The main character is a violent young man who is informed by his social worker that his father killed in the Kosovo War is actually alive and wants to meet him.  Serbia now requires filmmakers who want to be considered for an Oscar to formally submit their films and pay a fee, so if the producers of “Barbarians” don’t enter, the nominee will almost certainly be “From Zero to Hero”, an all-star black comedy by acclaimed director Srdjan Dragojevic set a seaside time-share hotel (although reviews have been less than warm). Among the other contenders are “Monument to Michael Jackson” (another black comedy...the Serbs do these very well) about a town that fakes a visit from Michael Jackson only to have the celebrity die in real life while he is “visiting” their town; “Withering”, about a man who returns to his hometown to sell off his land after living in Switzerland, and Bosnian Serb war drama “So Hot was the Cannon”. Intriguing but out of luck:  “See you in Montevideo”, the sequel to their 2011 submission, and killer mermaid horror film “Nymph”. 

9. SINGAPORE- "3 Peas in a Pod" Singapore will see nearly 20 local films released in 2014, which is quiet good for them. They’ve sent films to the Oscars six of the past nine years since joining the competition in 2005. The city-state doesn’t have any big successes on the international arthouse circuit this year, so if they join they will have to send one of their more commercial efforts (they did this in 2007 and 2012) or just sit out (which they did in 2009 and 2010). The three strongest films (Royston Tan's "3688" plus "Sinema Paradiso" and "Don't Wayang Me") are still without release dates and should be eligible next year. That means the Sings will have to go with one of two dull-looking youth dramas. “Three Peas in a Pod”, a road movie dramedy about three college friends involved in a love triangle on a post-graduation road trip, looks slightly more likely than inspirational basketball drama “Meeting the Giant”. Director Michelle Chong (“Peas”) repped Singapore two years ago. As for myself, I’m more interested in seeing “Filial Party” selected. It’s a spoof of reality television about three people competing for a million dollar prize to be given to the one most devoted to their parents’ happiness. 
10. SLOVAKIA- "The Candidate" Slovakia just held their bi-annual film awards and the big winner was last year’s submission “My Dog Killer” (a decent enough film, but a bit slow for my tastes). This year, the Slovaks have been mostly quiet.  I think the Slovak candidate is pretty clear to be “The Candidate”, a black comedy-thriller about a man in charge of surveilling prominent citizens (clergy, ad executives, and of course political candidates) in the midst of a presidential election. It got good reviews and did well at the box-office, and was also nominated against “My Dog Killer”. In with a shot is documentary “Comeback” (Karlovy Vary 2014; they chose documentaries in 2008 and 2010), following two ex-cons as they exit prison. I believe they have another nine films eligible, most of which are awaiting release. Among the more promising: “A Step Into the Darkness”, about a self-destructive romance imploding against the background of post-war Communist Czechoslovakia, “Stanko”, a road movie about a man building a relationship with the girl he is helping to traffick to Italy, and “Children”, an omnibus film telling four separate stories. Prediction: “Candidate” gets the nod, with “A Step Into the Darkness” and “Comeback” dark horses.
11. SLOVENIA- "Inferno" Slovenia is tough to predict this year because most of their contenders haven’t come out yet and/or don’t have release dates. I see the front-runner as family drama “The Right to Love” (previously a short, now a full-length feature), but I don’t think it will premiere before September 30.  Last fall, Slovenia saw the release of modest hit “Southern Scum, Go Home” (aka Chefurs Raus!), a dark comedy-drama about a group of young Slovenian guys and their attitudes towards immigrants and their ex-Yugoslav compatriots. This year, we’ll see the release of “Seduce Me”, about a 19-year old orphan who leaves his group home, falls in love and goes on a quest to find his father’s grave, “The Tree” (Karlovy Vary), an abstract, non-linear arthouse piece about youth, love and grief set against a background of blood feuds, and “Inferno”, about an unemployed man and his family facing off against capitalist society. If “Right to Love” doesn’t get into Slovenian cinemas, I predict they send “Inferno”, followed by “Seduce Me” and “Southern Scum” with difficult to digest “Tree” and feminist comedy “Panic” rounding out the Top Five.
12. SOUTH AFRICA- "iNumberNumber" South Africa clearly loves gritty urban drama. Since winning the Oscar for “Tsotsi”, the South African Academy has highlighted the country's criminal underbelly in “Jerusalema”, “Little One” and last year’s “Four Corners”. Expect to make it four this year with the acclaimed “iNumberNumber” starring Tsotsi himself (Presley Chweneyagae) as one of a pair of crooked cops involved in South Africa’s criminal underworld. It’s rocked the box-office and is supposed to be one of the best films of its kind made in South Africa (and reportedly picked up for an American remake). Though it portrays itself as the rainbow nation, South Africa never picks films about the white Afrikaner community unless they have nothing else (like in 2010 when they chose the haunting “Beauty”), though ironically they so far have only picked movies made by White directors (again….all except 2010’s “Beauty”). That’s a shame because most of South Africa’s well-reviewed “Foreign Language” films are actually Afrikaner stories. This year, a trio of them have gotten great reviews:  road movie “Pad na jou hart”, long-awaited fantasy drama “The Windpump” and “Faan se Trein”, a sort of Afrikaner Forrest Gump revolving around an inheritance. Lastly are two films in native African languages: “Elelwani”, the first-ever film in the Venda language, about a young woman trying to continue her education despite her parent’s attempts to force her into an arranged marriage with a dying, elderly man, and “Cold Harbour”, a crime thriller in Xhosa. I predicted “Elelwani” last year, but it didn’t premiere in cinemas until January 2014. “iNumberiNumber” should get this easily, with “Elelwani” in second and “Faan se Trein” third. “Die Windpomp” would have a better chance if its director wasn't American.

13. SPAIN- "Living is Easy with Eyes Closed"- So I cheated a bit and waited until Spain announced their three-film shortlist. Most of the news stories are about "El Nino", the biggest and loudest of the three films on the list, with some stories (falsely) indicating the film was already chosen. "El Nino" is a drama about traffickers smuggling people and drugs from Africa to Gibraltar and Spain. It's probably a very good action movie, but it's a mostly commercial effort and hasn't won any awards or gotten major festival play. For a country like Spain, that's not good enough. My personal choice would be "10000 Km.", a sweet dramedy about the long-distance relationship between two Catalonian Spaniards, one in Barcelona and one in Los Angeles. Despite good reviews, it's probably too "small" an indie flick to be selected by Spain. That leaves us with the likely nominee, "Living is Easy With Eyes Closed", about a Beatles-obsessed professor who picks up two hitchhikers in 1966 Spain on his way to see a performance by John Lennon. Director David Trueba has been picked by the Spanish Academy before ("Soldiers of Salamina") and he recently won both Best Picture and Best Director at the Spanish Goya Awards. Add the period theme and a slice-of-life feel that matches last year's submission and this should be an automatic win for "Living".

14. SRI LANKA- "Butterfly Symphony" Sri Lanka has sent movies to the Oscars twice seemingly randomly and they are one of the least likely Asian countries to enter this year. The most prominent film from Sri Lanka this year is “With You, Without You”, but though it got released in India and was shown at film festivals worldwide it seems to have failed to get a domestic release. The Lankans release about 20 films a year, though none seems are likely Oscar candidates. If they feel pressured by the return of neighboring Pakistan and Nepal last year, they could potentially send “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow”, about three friends visiting Northern Sri Lanka after the Civil War, “Siri Daladagamanaya” a Buddhist-themed costume drama, or “Butterfly Symphony”, a music-laden melodrama about a music student inspired by a misladen love letter. However, the more interesting gay-themed “Frangipani” is not realistic. I was set to predict“Between Yesterday and Tomorrow” (Montreal), but it looks like the release date won't be until November, so I'm opting for "Butterfly Symphony" . For an interesting analysis of the current state of the Sri Lankan film industry, see here.

15. SWEDEN' "The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared" Sweden has four front-runners, all of which have played in major film festivals. On paper, the front-runner should be considered “The Reunion” (Venice 2013) which dominated the Guldbagge Awards and topped the Swedish Film Insitute’s new “Review Index” for 2013. Unfortunately, critics outside of Sweden mostly seem to hate this very arthouse film about a high-school outcast causing a scene at her class reunion. It would be a poor choice. “Force Majeure” (Cannes 2014), an unconventional "arthouse thriller" about a postcard-perfect Swedish family snowed in by an avalanche on a ski holiday, has gotten better reviews from overseas critics.  However, the Swedes should remember that their three shortlisted films in the past dozen years have all been decidedly more commercial efforts (“Simple Simon” and “Evil” certainly, while ”As It Is in Heaven” straddles the line). Thus, I’m hoping Sweden opts for Lukas Moodysson’s surprisingly upbeat “We Are the Best!”, or surprise box-office hit comedy “The Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared”. “The Man”, about a centenarian who escapes from his nursing home, just became the highest grossing local film in Swedish history (up nearly 50% above “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”). It faces the reverse problem of “Reunion” though. Domestic critics liked the film but not all that much. It barely registered at the Guldbagge Awards (though it won the Audience Award) and placed 13thth on the 2013 Review Index. If selected, it would likely be an early favorite for the shortlist. “We Are the Best”, about an all-female teenaged punk rock band, is said to be a feel-good surprise from the usually depressing Moodysson. Every review I’ve read is glowing, and feel-good movies (“Amelie”, “Lagaan”, “Everybody Famous”) can sometimes score here (though not recently). Three other films to watch out for: Colin Nutley’s upcoming comedy “Medicine”, Hanna Schygulla in trippy fantasy-drama “Quiet Room” and African documentary “Forest of the Dancing Spirits”, filmed in the Congo. My prediction: Sweden should choose “The 100-Year Old Man”...and I’m betting they do. “Force Majeure” will come second.
 16. SWITZERLAND- "I'll Be the Goalie" Switzerland now holds a film festival to select the Swiss nominee for the Oscars. I wrote my predictions for Switzerland before the lineup was announced and I was surprised to see that three of my Top Five aren't even contending (Locarno Audience Award winner "Unlikely Heroes", Bettina Oberli's "Lovely Louise" and Jean Luc Godard's bizarre 3-D "Goodbye to Language"). Instead, we have a rather bizarre list of eight features and four documentaries, including one that seems to be an almost completely Belgian production, one that appears to be largely in English (co-starring Americans Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz alongside Juliette Binoche) and a documentary short that is only 50 minutes long. That makes this a super-close race between Swiss Film Prize winner "I'll be the Goalie" and Xavier Koller's "Black Brothers". Koller ("Journey of Hope") was the last Swiss filmmaker to win this category and his “Black Brothers”, is a period drama exposing the practice of buying and selling impoverished young boys into apprenticeships, which ended only in the 20th century. "I’ll be the Goalie”, the story of an ex-junkie released from prison who tries to go straight, was the big winner of this year’s Swiss Film Awards, winning four of the eight categories that it was eligible for. Juliette Binoche's "Clouds of Sils Maria" (Cannes) will certainly give those two a run for their money if indeed it's more than 50% in French. Two other Best Pic nominees from the Swiss Film Awards are competing and they're both about teenaged prostitutes! “Dreamland” is about a man, his wife and a Bulgarian teenaged prostitute while “Left Foot, Right Foot” is about a young prostitute and a skater boy. But they’ll be also-rans. My prediction: The Swiss Film Prize are a good precursor. Every Swiss nominee since 2006 has scored a major Swiss Film Prize (Best Film or Documentary) except Bettina Oberli’s light “Late Bloomers”. I think “Goalie” will represent Switzerland, although “Black Brothers” (only two minor noms at the Swiss Film Prize) and the possibly ineligible "Sils Maria" are big threats. "Dreamland" and child labor documentary "L'abri" should round out the Top Five. You can see the full list of contenders here:

 17. TAIWAN- "Kano" Taiwan has a competitive two-way race but I think they’ll send “Kano”, a big-budget three-hour baseball drama that was a critical and financial success in Taiwan. Set during the Japanese colonial period, it tells the true story of an underdog little league team that ended up beating the Japanese champions and it comes from the same team as blockbusters “Cape No. 7” and “Seediq Bale”, which both represented Taiwan. Tsai Ming-liang’s “Stray Dogs” won the Special Jury Prize in Venice (2013) for its story of a desperately poor father and his kids living on the street, but Tsai’s films are boring and “Stray Dogs” looks terrible. Still, they’ve chosen him twice before so he has a chance. It’s difficult to see them choosing anything else, although drama “Exit” (which beat “Kano” for Best Film at the 2014 Taipei Film Festival) and upcoming murder mystery-thriller “Partners in Crime” should be considered dark horses. “Partners” director Chang Jung-chi was a surprise pick a few years back for another late release. Rural coming-of-age tale “A Time for Quchi” (Locarno 2013) might also have been a contender but acclaimed director Chang Tso-chi’s June conviction for rape has probably made this dark horse an impossibility. I’m more interested in seeing playful rom-com “Campus Confidential”, but that won’t be a contender at all. I predict “Kano”.

18. TAJIKISTAN- "Gilding" Tajikistan last entered the Oscar race in 2005. They had a rare local film at the Busan Film Festival (“Mirror Without Reflection”) which I tried and failed to see last year, but it appears it was released four weeks too early in Tajikistan to qualify. The only possible contender I know about this year is the female-helmed “Gilding”, a drama about the hardships of a young teenaged boy forced to work in the gold mines in order to help pay his mother’s medical fees. Along the way, he becomes the victim of scammers and thieves. It played at the Eurasian Film Festival in Kazakhstan but since it was made without any state funding I doubt it will spur the country to enter the Oscar race for the first time in a decade.

19. TANZANIA- "White Shadow" Tanzania entered the race just once a decade ago and I don’t see much chance of them returning this year. If they do, they have three films competing in the main competition of the Zanzibar International Film Festival (the country’s biggest). Their best bet is “White Shadow”, a film about the ritual murder of albinos in traditional Tanzanian culture. It’s the only Tanzanian film that has played internationally this year, though its director (a German-based Israeli) and its non-Tanzanian crew made render it ineligible. For an interesting article about Tanzania’s burdgeoning film industry (mostly low-budget Nigeria-style productions shot on video) see here.

20. THAILAND- "The Last Executioner" Thailand hasn’t let a coup d’etat dent their box-office. Horror movies and ghost comedies have been pulling in the audiences, although they don’t have too many movies that they could consider for the Oscars. Last year they had to resort to sending a teen horror flick (albeit a good one) and the previous year they sent an action movie (another good one). This year’s battle is between “The Last Executioner” (Shanghai), a biopic and easily the best-reviewed Thai film of the year and big-budget finale “King Naresuan 5” the oft-delayed finale to the costume drama series directed by a prince. The Thai have only ever sent one of the Naresuan films to the Oscars, so I’m guessing they send “The Last Executioner”, about the life of the man tasked with shooting Thailand’s condemned criminals. Don’t let his name fool you...Director Tom Waller is Thai. Other options include indie teen comedy “Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy” (based on a series of online tweets), romantic rural drama “The Story of Kwan and Riam”, “Timeline”, a romantic drama about a widowed mom , and “Concrete Clouds” (Busan), an arthouse film about two brothers dealing with their father’s suicide. Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s latest (“Life of Gravity” is not eligible because it aired on TV first. “Executioner” should have this in the bag, with cultural showcases “Naresuan” and “Kwan and Riam” a distant second and third.

21. TUNISIA- "Bastardo" Tunisia hasn’t sent a film since 2002...way before the Arab Spring made things very difficult for the local film industry. They’ve got two possibilities that have gotten quite good notices this year. I’m hoping they send “Bastardo”, a moral allegory about how power corrupts. It’s the story of a man disgraced for life since his parents abandoned him at birth, but who is able to seize control of his slum from a gang. Unfortunately, he soon becomes a slumlord himself. It played at Abu Dhabi and Cannes Film Market and would be a great way for Tunisia to return to the competition. Dark horse: female helmed mockumentary “Le Challat de Tunis” about a woman director searching for a (real-life) criminal who has been slashing women’s buttocks. "Challat" was the Tunisian film chosen to be screened alongside the Tunisian Minister of Culture’s big pitch at Cannes to promote Tunisia as a safe filming location as well as a source of quality Arab cinema.
22. TURKEY- "Winter Sleep" (OFFICIAL) (Written in June prior to the selection) Turkey won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for the second time this year (the first was for “Yol”, which was banned in Turkey at the time) meaning that it’s certain the Turks will submit Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s three-hour plus “Winter Sleep”. In the past thirty years, all but three eligible Palme d’Or winners were submitted by their respective countries and I expect “Sleep” to rep Turkey as well. “Sleep” is said to be a bit more accessible and talky than Ceylan’s usual brooding, dialogue-less films. It centers on a former actor-turned-hotel-owner in the Turkish countryside and the gap between the rich and poor people living in the area. The Turkish Academy has submitted Ceylan's films three times, always after winning a major award at Cannes. Also, Turkey’s only shortlist appearance was for Ceylan’s “Three Monkeys”. In a different year, they might have considered other films including earthquake evacuation movie “Singing Women”, action thriller “Antidote”, grandma-granddaughter Kurdish drama (Berlin 2014) “Come to My Voice" or especially historical prison camp drama “Kirimli Korkunc Yillar”. But I’d say “Sleep” is very safe. It’s only challenge is getting a Turkish release date to prevent “Kirimli” from stealing their spot.
23. UKRAINE- "The Tribe" Ukraine seems certain to choose “The Tribe”, one of the most innovative films at Cannes 2014 and also the winner of three awards there, including the Critics Week Prize. Ukrainian films are unused to such acclaim, so the Ukrainians will probably submit despite their domestic problems this year. Shot with a cast of amateur deaf actors, “The Tribe” is a film with no spoken dialogue and no subtitles. In the film, a boy enters a boarding school for deaf students and upon his arrival there, he discovers the school hierarchy includes gangs, bullying, drugs and prostitution. There is precedent for films without dialogue being approved for the “Foreign Language Film” award (e.g. Algeria’s “Le Bal” and Kazakhstan’s “Kelin”) so no worries about disqualification.   Ukraine has had a pretty good film year despite their country. Films like strongman biopic “Ivan the Powerful”, family Christmas comedy “Credenza” (winner of Best Ukrainian Film at Odessa 2013) and Soviet-era “Saint Luke”, the true story of a brilliant surgeon, would normally be contenders but probably can’t touch "The Tribe".
24. UNITED KINGDOM- "Letters to Sofija" The UK is rather fussy. First of all, the United Kingdom obviously makes most of their films in English, and their nominating body (BAFTA) has said that they will not send a film unless they see it as a worthy contender (there was a controversy a few years back when they refused to send any of the films that answered an open call for submissions). In the past ten years, they’ve sent two Welsh films and two films made by British directors in Afghanistan and the Philippines.  Unfortunately, their Celtic-language film industry (mostly Welsh) which has netted them two Oscar nods is moribund. I don’t think they’ve made a Welsh-language film in several years. I’ve tried to find a good eligible British film, but there aren’t any obvious contenders. I think they’ll skip this year, though for the sake of completion I’m predicting “Letters to Sofija”, a period romance between a famous composer and a local girl, set in 1908 pre-independence Lithuania. Other (unlikely) options include surreal fantasy “The Winter” (in Greek, made by a UK-based Greek director), UK-set illegal immigration drama “Leave to Stay” (in Kurdish, made by a UK-based Iraqi Kurdish director) or “Falling Leaves”, a droll dramedy about an émigré reluctant to return to Iran (in Farsi, filmed in Iran by an Iranian émigré  based in London). The UK has not chosen a foreign-born director since 1991 (Asif Kapadia is London born and raised), so I really think “Sofija” is their best option, though not a very likely one.
25. URUGUAY- "Mr. Kaplan" Uruguay has three main choices. First is “The Militant” (El lugar del hijo), a slow, introspective drama, which has represented Uruguay at most international film festivals this year, winning awards at Havana and Sao Paulo. It’s about an intellectual whose father's death coincides with a series of general strikes at Uruguayan universities, as well as with an economic downturn that devastated Uruguay. In "cinema of the absurd" style, the student channels his interest in student politics into working for a rural labor union. However, the Uruguayan Academy typically prefers lighter fare, so I am predicting (like last year) that they go with “Mr. Kaplan”, a comedy about an elderly Jewish man obsessed with arresting a German neighbor he is sure is a runaway Nazi. The film was made by the director of comedy“A Bad Day to Go Fishing” which beat out the favored “Gigante” to rep Uruguay in 2009. Their third option is “Solo”, another droll comedy (the Uruguayans send these almost every year) about a man who flees to Antarctica with an army band after his wife leaves him. It finally opened in Uruguayan cinemas in the fall. I’m much more excited to see pothead action-comedy “Relocos y Repasados” (released two months before Uruguay became the world’s first country to legalize marijuana) but it didn’t get very good reviews at home. Dark horses: “The Carrot” (Zanahoria), a political thriller will come out September 11.
26. VENEZUELA- "God's Slave" Venezuela has been having a great film year despite domestic political unrest and a rising crime rate. Although they’ve never been nominated, the quality of their submissions has increased dramatically in recent years. This year, they have five impressive contenders, and that's not even including baseball comedy “Papita Mani Toston”, the most successful Venezuelan film of all-time. Last year, I predicted this would be a walk-over for nationalist choice “Libertador”, the expensive biopic of national hero Simon Bolivar, directed by Alberto Arvelo (who repped Venezuela in 1997 and 2001) and starring Edgar Ramirez (“Bourne Ultimatum”, “Carlos the Jackal”). However, reviews have been just as strong or stronger for two smaller films on the film circuit, crowd pleaser “Bad Hair” (Pelo malo) (Toronto and others), directed by Mariana Rondon (chosen in 2007) and especially "God's Slave" (Esclavo de dios), the directorial debut of Joel Novoa, son of one of Venezuela's foremost directors. "Hair" is about a woman panicking about her young son’s sexuality. There's also arthouse “The Longest Distance” (La distancia más larga)(Huelva and others), though it's been praised more for its beautiful vistas than anything else and Jose Ramon Novoa's "Solo" (Joel's papa, selected in 1995 and 2000), though reviews haven't been as good as the other films. Venezuela's Academy almost always selects gritty dramas and I think the ultimate winner will be “God’s Slave” (Esclavo de Dios), recently acquired by Film Movement. “Slave” follows an Israeli agent and an Arab saboteur whose religious convictions put them on a collision course culminating in the real-life bombing of a 1994 Jewish community center. It's arguably the best-reviewed of the five and papa Jose Ramon produced it, so the Venezuelans may not feel they are snubbing papa for hijo. At this year's Festival of Venezuelan film, the big winner ("El regreso") was eligible last year, but "God's Slave" and "Bad Hair" both picked up major wins. ("Libertador" was not competing). The Venezuelan Academy is usually pretty fair. I predict “God’s Slave” is the upset choice over favorite “Libertador”, with “Bad Hair” in third. UPDATE: The list of eligible films has just come out and "God's Slave" was released too early to qualify, while director Jose Ramon Novoa has withdrawn his film from contention, citing a lack of transparency in the voting. Venezuelan media is reporting "Bad Hair" and "Libertador" are the only realistic options. Expect a walkover for "Libertador".
27. VIETNAM- "Legend Makers" Vietnam has had a mixed film year. A Vietnamese film opened the Panorama Section at Berlinale 2014, and the country witnessed a large number of high-profile box-office flops interspersed with the two biggest openings in local film history. The National Film Studio productions typically selected for the Oscars have a hard time even getting distribution in Vietnam while arthouse films and violent movies often have trouble with the Communist censors. The Vietnamese Academy typically chooses patriotic war films made with government money, which makes “Legend Makers”, another paint-by-numbers war movie about the Vietnam War, the obvious choice. That said, it doesn’t look very good and it couldn’t muster much support at the National Film Awards (the Golden Kites), winning only four minor awards. The shock winner that night was “The Talent”, a glossy melodrama about the entertainment industry in Vietnam, which won six awards including Best Picture, Best Director and the Critics Choice Awards. That’s definitely not what they typically send to the Oscars, but maybe this year will represent a shift in their thinking? I hope so. “2030” (aka “Water”, Berlin 2014) is Vietnam’s first sci-fi movie/murder mystery, set in the year 2030 when rising sea levels have forced half of society onto floating farms, but reviews have been mixed and the film seems to have failed to get a local cinematic release. Martial arts thriller “Blind Warrior” looks like a Vietnamese Zatoichi, though they’ve only ever chosen this genre once before. Vietnam has a slew of cute comedies, but the dour Vietnamese Academy seems unlikely to choose any of them, even a well-reviewed one like contemporary office comedy “How to Fight in Heels”, described as a Vietnamese “Devil Wears Prada”. A final contender is the upcoming female-helmed village drama “Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere” (Toronto).  Will Vietnam even submit at all this year?  If they do, I predict they make the worst possible choice and send “Legend Makers”, with “Blind Warrior” as the alternate. Sigh.
The most likely debutante from this group are a pair of feminist-themed films from the Islamic world, namely "Red Blue and Yellow" (Dubai) from the UNITED ARAB EMIRATESand "40 Days of Silence" (Berlin) from UZBEKISTAN. Although I don't expect either film to be submitted, "Red" is about the life of a prominent female artisit, while "Silence" is about a village woman who takes a vow not to speak for 40 days. SENEGAL has produced some of Africa's most acclaimed films of the 21st century but they've never entered the Oscar race, so it's unlikely they will send "Under the Starry Sky", a warmly received film about Senegalese immigrants and the diaspora in Italy and the USA. RWANDA's "Mu Buzima" is about an aspiring musician. As for SYRIA's "Ladder to Damascus" and SOMALIA's "Fishing Without Nets", it's difficult to see how they could possibly get a domestic theatrical release due to war and instability.

Friday, August 15, 2014


Here are the likely submissions from Japan to Peru. I'll actually add Japan later this month.
Incidentally, the race is in full swing! Hungary, Poland, Romania and Turkey have made their official selections ("White God", "Ida", "Japanese Dog" and "Winter Sleep" surprises there) and Germany and Israel have announced their shortlists.
1. JAPAN- TBD They're notoriously hard to predict, but perhaps Yoji Yamada's "Little House"
2. JORDAN- "Theeb" Jordan has only sent a film once and that was the delightful “Captain Abu Raed”, the first Jordanian feature to be made in decades. Since then, film output has been steady (2 or 3 a year) but they’ve never sent in films even when they’ve been well-received this year. This has been an unusually lean year and (as of June) I don’t know that they have anything eligible. However, I do think that “Theeb”, a lush period drama currently in post-production, could potentially be released in time and become Jordan’s second submission. Set in 1916, it’s about a young Bedouin boy in Ottoman-era Arabia who secretly follows his brother on a dangerous journey to find a hidden well important for a cadre of Allied soldiers. If it gets a domestic release before September 30, it might be in.

3 KAZAKHSTAN- "Harmony Lessons" Kazakhstan is likely to send Berlinale 2013 Silver Bear winner “Harmony Lessons”. It finally opened in Kazakhstan in December 2013 after a very successful year screening around the world. The film, about a young boy being bullied by an older student, has been slightly controversial for its dark portrait of Kazakh society, but it certainly has the best reviews of any Kazakh film this year (and possibly, ever). They have four other contenders that have been entertaining the film festival circuit, namely (A)- “Adventure” (Karlovy Vary 2014), based on a Dostoevsky story about a man with a dull job who meets an exciting young woman,(B)- “Little Brothers” (Venice 2013), about a 9-year Kazakh boy from a dysfunctional family, which Variety recently called a kinder, gentler version of Harmony Lessons…It was the only Kazakh film in competition at their biggest domestic film festival, Eurasia Film Festival, (C)-“Nagima” (Busan 2013, Berlin 2014), about the lives of three women living on the fringes of society. It received a Gala Premiere at Busan. And (D)-“The Owners” (last-minute addition at Cannes Special Screenings 2014), about three orphans (age 25, 16 and 12) struggling against a corrupt justice and land distribution system. The prolific Yermek Tursunov, the last Kazakh to make it to the shortlist, has two new films this year, comedy “Kempyr” and drama “Kenzhe” which is in post-production. Independently produced family comedy “Kempyr”, about an elderly village couple who learn that there will be a new addition to the family, is a departure from his brooding artistic masterpieces. Director Tursunov said Kazakhs need more of a reason to laugh these days. He’ll return to form with “Kenzhe”, the third film in his dark trilogy (alongside “Kelin” and “Shal”). Unlikely: Busan premieres “The Book” and “Story of an Old Woman” (shot in one-take) haven’t got any buzz and the upcoming “Voice of the Steppes”, starring Gerard Depardieu has no release date. Festival films often take a very long time to come out domestically (like “Harmony Lessons”). I think "Lessons" will be selected anyway, but their biggest threats should be considered to be “Kenzhe” and “Little Brothers”, if released at home.

4. KENYA- "It's Us" Kenya submitted a movie two years ago and reportedly came close to the shortlist for the gritty “Nairobi Half Life” which sadly never got a US release (I saw it at a Smithsonian Museum screening in Washington, DC and it’s quite good). If they submit this year, I’m fairly certain it will be “It’s Us” (aka “Ni Sisi”). This Swahili-language film is easily the most critically acclaimed Kenyan film of the year, focusing on how a series of rumors and lies quickly destroys the fragile ethnic harmony of a small village. It’s a parable for the deadly events that occurred in 2008. The only handicap: Director Nick Reding is British, not Kenyan. Since he’s based in the country I don’t foresee a problem. 

5. KOREA- "The Admiral: Roaring Currents" There's always one country that I don't feel like researching. I live in South Korea and 16th century action drama "Roaring Currents" has dominated conversation ever since its release this summer. This big-budget action drama is a patriotic war film about the historic defeat of the invading Japanese navy despite being Korea being vastly outnumbered. I've seen the film and it would be a poor choice. The visuals are great, but the plot is confusing for non-Koreans and yet predictable and formulaic at the same time. However, it's the #1 hit of all time and has been slickly marketed as a real national film. That's my prediction, although "Wish", a wrenching drama about a child rape victim would be a smarter choice and is the only other film that could possibly challenge the juggernaut of "Roaring Currents". Two others that will likely be shortlisted: legal drama "The Attorney" and LGBT drama "Night Flight" (Berlin).

6. KUWAIT- "Cut: Unforgettable" Kuwait was the first and only Gulf Arab country to enter the Oscar race until last year, when Saudi Arabia joined the competition. However, Kuwait hasn’t sent a film since 1978 (the longest absence of any country other than Cote d’Ivoire), even on the rare occasions when they have a good one to send (“Tora Bora”). This has been a relatively weak year for premiering new Arab films; the Cairo, Damascus and Doha Film Festivals were all canceled. I think only two Kuwaiti films are eligible- an amateurish thriller shot on video, and a childish comedy about Kuwaiti men seeking Ukrainian wives. What a choice! For the sake of completing this chart: horror film “Cut: Unforgettable Night”. 

7. KYRGYZSTAN- "Queen of the Mountains" Few countries have an easier decision this year than the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. First of all, “Queen of the Mountains” (aka “Kurmandjan Datka”) is said to be the biggest film in their national history. It’s an expensive national epic ($US 1.5 million, very high by local standards) about a woman who helped unite divided tribes into a cohesive nation. As such, it’s also a long-awaited patriotic affair that easily has the nationalist credentials to get the Kyrgyz to enter the race. Most importantly, it doesn’t have much competition! Kyrgyz cinema has been pretty quiet this year and the big winner at the National Film Awards (comedy “Salam, New York”) and Kyrgyzstan’s surprise nominee for Best Foreign Film at Russia’s Nika Awards (drama “Passion”) were released in last year’s eligibility period. Count on the “Queen”.

8. LATVIA- "Man in the Orange Jacket" Latvia is now the laggard of Baltic cinema (it was traditionally Lithuania, which now seems to be doing rather well). There were only two majority-Latvian productions released in 2013 (last year’s Oscar submission, plus a stoner comedy) and the films that are being released in 2014 are mostly co-productions in English. This year, Estonia and Lithuania jumped ship from "Baltic Films" joint three-nation membership in EFP, leaving Latvia with no seat at one of Europe’s key film networking fora. The Latvians could conceivably skip this year, though they’ll probably enter with creepy thriller “Man in the Orange Jacket”, a violent, bloody thriller about a man who’s just been fired terrorizing a wealthy couple.  Trailer looks really good. Runner-up: “Modris”, a drama about a young gambler and his mom, with quirky animated film for adults “Rocks in My Pockets” in third. Unlikely: docudrama “Escaping Riga” probably has too much English and geriatric army comedy “Then It’s Hi Hi Hee!” (about a group of pensioners who join the Latvian Army) will be too silly.

9. LEBANON- "Ghadi" Lebanon changed its mind at the last minute last year when their official pick “Ghadi” postponed its release date. That means “Ghadi”, an Amelie-type story about the influence an eccentric  little boy (an angel?) has on the lives of people in his community, should be considered the frontrunner. The other major contender is “Heritage”, a documentary by Philippe Aractingi (selected to represent Lebanon twice), a touching and emotionally resonant film about his family’s third evacuation from Lebanon due to various wars. Feel-good comedies “Bebe” and “Neswen” would be extremely unlikely.

10. LITHUANIA- "The Gambler" Lithuania has the least-developed film industry of the three Baltic republics, although they’ve been doing better in recent years. This year’s big box-office hit- “Redirected”- described as “The Hangover as directed by Guy Ritchie” is mostly in English so I think they’ll opt for “The Gambler”, which dominated the local film awards this year (the Silver Cranes) winning Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. It’s a thriller about a paramedic  forced into an illegal gambling game due to his debts. However, Lithuania’s Academy is a weird one and they have ignored “obvious choices” before. In fact, out of Lithuania’s six Oscar submissions, three have been documentary shorts, barely over the 40-minute AMPAS requirement. So, running neck and neck with “The Gambler” will be documentary “Cenotaph” by a previously submitted director. It’s a rather interesting story….about a man who tries to find the bodies of three soldiers secretly buried on his land by his father during WWII in order to give them a dignified burial.
11. LUXEMBOURG- "Heemwei" Luxembourg held its bi-annual Film Awards in March and the big winner was last year’s Oscar submission “Blind Spot”. Its main competition was “Heemwei” which will probably get to represent Luxembourg this year. “Heemwei”, mostly in Luxembourg’s local dialect, is about two Luxembourgian boys who desert the Nazi German army in 1944 France and try to return home to their occupied country. Made on a shoe-string budget, it tells a genuine Luxembourg story, which the country has favored doing since being disqualified for the multinational “Your Name is Justine” in 2006. Luxembourg’s two most famous directors also have contenders this year- Andy Bausch has “Fifties”, a documentary about Luxembourg in the post-war period, while Pol Cruchten has “Les brigands”, a French-language crime thriller with some famous names (Tcheky Karyo, Maximilian Schell), which has no release date. “Les Brigands” probably won't be released by September 30, so I’m predicting “Heemwei”.

12. MACEDONIA- "To The Hilt" Macedonia was the surprise absentee from last year’s race. Two films with fairly good reviews applied to represent the country but the Macedonian Association of Filmmakers said that neither film was “appropriate”. Oddly enough, one of those two films postponed their release date (“Balkan Is Not Dead”) so it is technically eligible again this year. If you include “Balkan”, I think five films are eligible this year. I’m pretty sure the nominee will be long-awaited costume drama-cum-western  “To the Hilt” set in 1907 in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. It failed to get a major festival slot as hoped but it's still the front-runner. In second place: “Lazarus”, about a pair of human traffickers facing a chilling moral dilemma. In third: family drama “Children of the Sun” has good buzz but the trailer looks dull…..Out of luck: “Honey Night” and the second go round for “Balkan Is Not Dead” (which I think looks pretty good!)

13. MALAYSIA- "Laga" If the world were fair, Malaysia would surely send “The Journey”, a critically-acclaimed film about a grandfather and his grandson. It was a critical and financial success, becoming the highest-grossing film in Malaysian history in February this year. Its main problem, however, is that it’s a Chinese-language film and due to the Malaysian government’s bias (racism?) towards Malay-language culture, I doubt the Malaysian Academy will submit it. It’s the story of a gruff Chinese-Malaysian father coerced into a road trip with his daughter’s British fiancé to hand-deliver a number of wedding invitations all around Malaysia. I think it’s more than 50% in Chinese and I would love for the Malaysians to prove me wrong and send it to Hollywood. I’m really looking forward to seeing it. Out of their Malay-language films, there isn’t much to choose from (They even seem to have forgotten to schedule their National Film Awards this year, which were last held in March 2013). Out of a slew of silly comedies and horror movies, I see only two real contenders, namely “Laga”, a warmly received drama about conflict and intrigue in a small village that specializes in cockfighting . and“Apokalips X”, a big-budget post-apocalyptic action film set in a school, which is said to have an exceptionally original style merged with a Japanese manga look. Their last Oscar submission was an action film set in a village so they seem to like these two themes. I choose “Laga”.

14. MEXICO- "Cantinflas" Mexico announced a longlist of no less than 21 films, but the race isn’t nearly as competitive as it sounds. Six movies on the list are unlikely documentaries and one (“Las lagrimas”) is a graduation film. In fact, I would be pretty surprised if they chose anything but biopic “Cantinflas”which seems to check every box….It’s a genuinely Mexican film about a beloved film star, and buzz is positive (though no one has seen the film yet LOL). Director Sebastian del Amo was probably almost selected three years ago for “Juan Orol”,so there’s a feeling he’s owed. The film already has a US distribution deal and although biopics don’t generally do well in the Foreign Film category, Cantinflas appeared in some American films and the film has some English scenes (including Sopranos actor Michael Imperioli) which often goes well in this category. The competition is fairly weak. The only Ariel winners on the list are theatrical farce “Tercera llamada” (Best Screenplay) and documentary “Quebranto”(Best Documentary). It’s true that “Guten Tag, Ramon” (about a Mexican who tires of being deported from the USA and moves to Germany instead) and B&W arty road comedy “Gueros” (more likely for the Goyas) have gotten good reviews, and Internet users are talking about the upcoming political dramedy “La dictadura perfecta”, I think “Cantinflas” is safe.

15. MOLDOVA- "The Unsaved" The former Soviet republic of Moldova entered the Oscar race for the first time last year (the 13th republic to do so, out of 15) with low-budget adoption drama “All God’s Children”. I predict this year they’ll be back with “The Unsaved”. Moldova shares a language with neighbouring Romania and their films appear to be eligible to enter Romania’s National Film Awards. “The Unsaved" is a Romanian (Moldovan?) New Wave arthouse piece about a disaffected young man trying to improve his lot in life. Unlike last year’s “Children”, the director is actually Moldovan and it’s one of the few Moldovan films ever to screen in a major festival (Karlovy Vary 2013).

16. MONGOLIA- "Remote Control" Mongolia's Oscar experience is limited to Byambasuren Davaa’s animal-based docudramas. They submitted her first two films (but not the third) for Best Foreign Film in 2003 and 2005 (reportedly coming close both times) and got a Best Documentary Oscar nomination for the first film "Story of the Weeping Camel". This year, “Remote Control” became the first Mongolian film in a decade to win a major international Film Festival award, winning one of the top prizes at Busan 2013. It’s the story of a young man from the countryside who seeks to influence the life of a beautiful, wealthy girl in Ulaanbaatar by controlling the television in her apartment by remote control. I saw the film in Busan and it’s a small, sweet movie (with a somewhat Iranian style) though it won’t make an impact in Hollywood. Other possibility: slick action movie “Trapped Abroad”, which was an enormous success at the box-office and which dominated the Mongolian Academy Awards this year ("Remote Control" wasn't eligible but not sure why).

17. MONTENEGRO- "The Kids From Marks and Engel Street" Montenegro, the smallest of ex-Yugoslavia’s republics, entered the Oscar race for the first time last year. They’ll probably enter again with “The Kids from Marks and Engel Street”, a long-awaited project set in the early 1990s when Yugoslavia was falling apart. Two young brothers are facing climactic moments in their lives- one is about to kill a man, while the other is going to lose his virginity. “Kids” features stars and musicians from all over the former Yugoslavia, but proudly claims to be a very Montenegrin story. It's a sure thing, and the only other contender is “Little Buddho”, about a Montenegrin teen who flees to Serbia to avoid a blood feud.

18. MOROCCO- "Adios Carmen" Morocco has been enjoying a film renaissance in recent years. Production has reached roughly 24 films a year and their films routinely win awards internationally, particularly in Arab-themed festivals. It also continues to be the filming venue of choice for international productions in the Arab World (alongside Jordan). They’re also the only African nation besides South Africa that can be reliably counted on every year to send a movie to the Oscars (5 of the past 6 years). This year, I was sure they would send “Fevers”, a drama about a rebellious teenager in Morocco who is forced to move to France to be with his absentee father when his mother is sent to jail. Director Hicham Ayouch is the brother of Nabyl Ayouch who has repped Morocco three times already. However despite festival play, it won’t be released in Moroccan cinemas until mid-October. It’s now a tight three-way race between “Adios Carmen” (Dubai), about a young boy from an abusive home who befriends a Spanish emigree in 1975, “Kanyamakan”, an exciting big-budget Hollywood-style action film about a bank robbery gone wrong, and “Sotto Voce”, a film about militants on the Morocco-Algerian border during Algeria’s civil war. “Sotto Voce” (Dubai) was the big winner at the Festival of Moroccan Film (winning three awards including Best Picture) when most Moroccan releases compete against each other, but I think its leftist, militant politics will keep it from being sent.  “Kanyamakan” boasts American-style entertainment, but it’s definitely a genre film and not an Oscar contender. A few other dark horses in a strong year:  “Aria Delma” (2nd Prize at Moroccan Film Festival) a Berber-language film about a man trying to emigrate to Europe on a sinking ship, “Sara”, a dramedy about a thief and the girl he has illegally adopted, and “They Are the Dogs”, a black comedy about a falsely accused political dissident released from prison after thirty years amidst the Arab Spring. Unlikely: the sexually explicit “Pillow Secrets”, the gay-themed “L’armée du Salut” and the American-helmed “Traitors” have got good reviews but will be too controversial. My Top Five: “Adios Carmen” reps Morocco with “Kanyamakan” and “Sara” runner-ups.
19. NEPAL- "Red Monsoon" Nepal rejoined the Oscar race last year for the first time since 2006 with lesbian drama “Soongava”. This French co-production was definitely more of an “international” arthouse effort rather than the Bollywood-style musicals that Nepali largely produces. That means the most likely pick for Nepal this year would be “Red Monsoon”, a non-musical film about the intersecting lives of a cast of characters in a modern-day Kathmandu slum. It played at Mumbai and has stood out as the strongest Nepali film of the year. Other possibilities: “Kabaddi”, a love triangle romance and probably the best-reviewed of Nepal’s commercial films, “Jhola”, about the ancient practice of bride burning (sati) or “Kollywood”, a film prepped for international release about the country’s local film industry.

20. NETHERLANDS- "Lucia de B." The Netherlands  is a former Oscar power, but although they continue to send good films ( “Borgman” was the best film on the list last year), the Dutch haven’t been nominated in over 10 years, in large part because they have a silly habit of sending children’s films half the time. I know the Dutch have a proud tradition of  making quality films for children, but they’re unlikely to score here (as the Nordics, also renowned in this genre, already know). I see two front-runners for the Netherlands- “Lucia de B.” (by Oscar nominee Paula van der Oest), a true-story legal thriller about a DA who helps convict a nurse for murder but who later sets out to prove her innocence, and “Secrets of War”, a family-friendly war film set in 1943, about Christian classmates who have to help a Jewish family escape during German occupation. Which to choose? “Lucia” has better reviews, but “Secrets” has exactly what the Dutch Academy likes (kids and WWII). I’m predicting “Lucia” but not confident. In third place is “Kenau”, a fairly big-budgeted warrior woman historical drama about war between the Dutch and the Spanish. Rounding out the Top Five: “Nude Area”, an inter-racial lesbian tale about a Dutch and Arab woman who begin a relationship in a female sauna; and female coming-of-age drama “Nena” (set to debut in September). Among the other films the Dutch might very well consider worthy: “The Dinner”, a dark conversational drama similar to Roman Polanski’s “Carnage”, “Farewell to the Moon”, a coming-of-age drama set in 1972, Rotterdam thriller “Helium” and “Land.”, about a Moroccan who falls for a Dutch tourist and seeks to travel to Europe to see her on a surfboard. As I mentioned earlier, the Dutch do have a (silly) habit of sending children’s films with no chance to advance, so that could mean they choose “Above Us All”, “Confetti Harvest” or “Finn”, but none of these really has the gravitas to be sent to Hollywood.  

21. NEW ZEALAND- "The Dead Lands" New Zealand has submitted twice with films in Pacific Island languages (Maori and Samoan). This year's candidate could be intriguing Maori-language action movie “The Dead Lands”. Set in the 16th century before the arrival of the British, it’s about a young man who survives the massacre of his tribe and sets out to seek avenge his comrades. It’s certain to be New Zealand’s next Foreign Oscar submission. "Dead Lands" has been selected for this year's Toronto Film Festival in September but won't premiere in Kiwi cinemas until October 30. They could do an Oscar qualifying run, but I think they'll wait until next year.

22. NICARAGUA released its first movie in over 20 years in 2010 courtesy of French filmmaker Florence Jaguey, who has lived in Nicaragua since the 1980s. The film was a huge domestic hit, and the film was promptly entered into innumerable Latin American film festivals as well as the Foreign Oscar contest. Jaguey’s second fiction feature, “The Broken Screen” (La pantalla desnuda) sounds even better than her first (and I quite liked the low-budget drama of “La Yuma”). It’s about a young man obsessed with his best friend, who uses a sex video to destroy his friend’s relationship with a beautiful local girl. “The Broken Screen” just finished filming this spring and is scheduled for release in November 2014, making it ineligible. The prolific Jaguey also has a mid-length documentary out this year called “Class Days” in which she follows a poor rural class of students for one year.

23. NIGERIA- "B for Boy" Nigeria frequently claims to make the largest number of movies in the world each year (that’s not really true….most of them are low-budget, straight-to-video productions, never to be shown in a cinema….I still consider the global winner to be India) but they’ve never sent a movie to the Oscars before now. However, they confirmed on May 1st, 2014 that they would be assembling a committee to enter the Oscars for the first time. As a multi-ethnic nation, Nigerians typically use English as a lingua franca so like Canada or Singapore, many of their films are not eligible. With the biggest contender mostly in English (“Half of a Yellow Sun”, starring Oscar winner Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, both British actors of Nigerian descent), I see two main contenders to represent Nigeria for the first time in Hollywood. The favorite is probably “October 1st”, an oft-delayed mystery by a prominent local director, set against the backdrop of a small town on the eve of Nigeria’s independence in 1960. The film will have the Academy getting out the stopwatch….The trailer is roughly half in English and half in the three major local languages of Nigeria (Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba). Delayed a year, the release is now scheduled (surprise, surprise) for October 1, 2014 meaning it would need a preview screening to qualify. Because of these two issues, I’m predicting dark horse “B for Boy”, in the Ibo language, gets the nod. It’s gotten very good reviews at home and in Africa (winning Best African Language Film at the AAFA Awards), and unlike most Nigerian fare, it has played at festivals abroad (London, Rotterdam). It’s the tragic story of a pregnant, upper-class woman under extreme pressure to give birth to a baby boy to carry on the family name.
24. NORWAY- "Blind" Norway essentially has a two-way race between two titles from Berlin, namely drama-thriller “Blind” and violent black comedy “In Order of Disappearance”. All the buzz overseas is for “Disappearance” which competed in the Main Section of Berlin and stars Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard. Frequently compared (favorably) with “Fargo” and the Coen Brothers, "Disappearance" is about a father who goes on a killing rampage to avenge the murder of his son. “Blind” (which competed in Berlin Panorama as well as Sundance) is about a woman who has just gone blind, and who retreats to safety of her apartment where her fantasies take over. While “Disappearance” has better reviews overseas, it is “Blind” which dominated the Norwegian Amanda nominations (winners will be announced today August 16th), whereas “Disappearance” was mostly snubbed with just a single nod for Best Actor. In the end, I’m not sure the cerebral “Blind” or the violent “Disappearance” will do so well with Oscar, though I’m rooting for “Disappearance”. The Norwegians waver between choosing Hollywoodesque spectacles (“Kon-Tiki”, “Max Manus”) and snubbing them (“Pioneer”) and doing the same with arthouse (“I Am Yours” and “Angel” made it….”Oslo, August 31st” and “A Bothersome Man” did not). In 2010, the Norwegians had to postpone their announcement since they couldn’t come to a decision, and it will likely be very close again this year. In the end, I think it will be “Blind”. As a footnote, the Norwegians usually choose a three-film shortlist. The third film on the list will probably be 1960s coming-of-age drama “The Beatles” or immigrant tale “Letter to the King”. Out of the running: “1000 Times Good Night” (starring Juliette Binoche) and thriller “Sleepwalker” both have too much English.  

25. PAKISTAN returned to the Oscars last year after a record 50-year absence. Unfortunately, I heard from certain sources that this historical moment in Pakistani cinema was marred by the fact that they forgot to send a version with subtitles to Los Angeles.  In any case, the Pakistani selection committee (headed by Pakistan’s first Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy) elected a critical darling black comedy (“Zinda Bhaag”) over a nationalist historical drama (“Chambaili”) and two other films, in what appears to be a very fair decision. Instead of congratulating their rival, the team behind “Chambaili” and its backers in the press complained loudly that “Zinda Bhaag” violated the rules because it was selected before screening in cinemas (which many countries do, ) and because it was a majority-Indian-production (blatantly untrue, though one of the five lead actors was Indian and so was the co-director). Director Nawaz should be ashamed of himself for making these allegations without understanding AMPAS rules. Anyway, Pakistan has already confirmed they will be back this year. It’s a great opportunity to showcase Pakistani cinema. My prediction was originally dark horse “Hijrat”, a beautifully shot love story set on the Afghan-Pakistan border during the Afghan Civil War. My runner-ups were “Saya-e-Khudaya e Zuljalal”, a patriotic historical drama set in the 1960s (Pakistan ignored a similar nationalist epic last year, but this one looks better) and “Moor” another visually beautiful borderland drama, this time set in Baluchistan (might be politically sensitive) with a larger budget. Both were scheduled for August release. However, everything seems delayed, which has been a major problem in general for Pakistani films this year (See here for more on that story). Of those films which have actually been released, the most likely are smash hit action flick “Waar” (which looks much more professionally made that other hits like “The System” or “Operation 021”) and “Kaptaan”, a biopic of national sports hero Imran Khan. Or will they release one of their arthouse films before the deadline (“Daughter”, about a mother “kidnapping” her 10-year daughter to save her from a child marriage or "Price of Honour", about honour killings would be topical choices). Well, it all depends on who can get their film in cinemas in time. As of today, I'll guess the arthouse films all fall to be released but that "Saya-e-Khudaya e Zuljalal" makes the cutoff, followed by smash hit "Waar".

26. PALESTINE- "Palestine Stereo" Palestine got their second nomination last year for exciting thriller “Omar”, cementing their status as one of only two Arab countries (along with Algeria) to be nominated (although Israel has also been nominated for a mostly Arabic-language film with an Arab co-director). Palestine used to produce barely one film a year, but they now have about ten films in pre-production, including two by two-time Oscar nominee Hany Abu-Assad (one as producer, one as director) and one by Annemarie Jacir (whose films were submitted twice and who I had the pleasure of chatting with last year at a screening in DC), which bodes well for Palestinian cinema. Only a few have been released so far this year. Of those that have, the front-runner is tragicomedy “Palestine Stereo”, about two brothers whose happy lives are destroyed when the Israeli army destroys the third floor of their apartment building to kill a terrorist….destroying their fifth floor apartment in the process, killing one man’s wife and rendering one of the brothers (a sound engineer) deaf. It was warmly received in Toronto 2013, slightly more than “Giraffada” (also at Toronto 2013), a comedy about a zookeeper and his kids who try to smuggle an Israeli giraffe to the Occupied Territories. Of those that haven’t been released, the most prominent choices are expensive Jesus Christ drama “The Savior” and drama “Eyes of a Thief”, about a man searching for his missing daughter after 10 years in an Israeli prison. Abu-Assad’s two projects “Lamya” and “The Flag” will probably face off next year. This year, I think this is a close battle between “Stereo” and the upcoming “Thief”. My prediction: assuming “Thief” gets a Ramallah premiere in time, female director Najwa Najjar will be the second woman to represent Palestine.

27. PERU- "The Gospel of the Flesh" Peru  will probably send “The Gospel of the Flesh” (El evangelio de la carne), an Inarittu-style multi-strand drama of three men (an undercover cop, a bus driver and a football coach) searching for redemption and a better life.  It won Best Audience Award at the Lima Film Festival (the only Peruvian fiction feature to win anything).  It faces a strong challenge from “Trip to Timbuktu”, following a young middle class couple’s romance from childhood through the turbulent years of Shining Path terrorism in the 1990s. These two films are certainly the frontrunners. Dak horses include: “The Blue Hour”, a thriller based on a famous novel about a man investigating his late father’s past during the years of Peru’s military dictatorship;  “The Mute”, a black comedy by the Vega brothers (who represented Peru in 2011) about a hard-ass, conservative judge who is struck dumb by an assassin’s bullet; “Old Friends” (Viejos Amigos), a geriatric road movie about two friends who kidnap a third to go to a football game. Not eligible: “The Vanished Elephant”, a thriller by the director of the brilliant “Contracorriente”, sadly robbed of a nomination in 2010/2011. It’s scheduled to open two days after the deadline and Peru does not tend to do Oscar qualifying releases.  I predict “Gospel”, but Peru made a surprise choice last year (a horror-drama that flopped at the box office and got middling critical reviews), so who knows?


In addition to NIGERIA (see above) which has confirmed its participation, I believe we'll see two new debutantes this year. KOSOVO has already expressed an interest in participating and there's no doubt it will be anything other than "Three Windows and a Hanging" (Sarajevo), a story about rape victims forced to hide what happened to them due to the shame it brings upon their village. It's said to be the best film ever from the tiny nation's brief history. The question is whether AMPAS will accept them as a country. Without getting into politics, they are recognized by more countries than Taiwan and Palestine, including the USA and the European Film Promotion organization, so I hope they'll compete. We can also expect to see the first film ever from MALTA, namely "Simshar" a big-scale shipwreck drama based on a true story, and the first local film pushed for international distribution. Out of luck will be Abderrahmane Sissako's Mali-set drama "Timbuktu", a majority French production set in Mali and co-produced by MAURITANIA. The film doesn't seem to have screened anywhere in West Africa. Other possibilities: mystical Guarani/Spanish-language treasure hunt drama "Costa Dulce"(Rotterdam) from PARAGUAY and "Incompatibles" a romantic comedy and a genuine MONACO production from the principality of 30,000 people. Less likely: the first feature film from LESOTHO, "The Forgotten Kingdom", a US-South Africa co-production about a man who returns to his country after years working in Johannesburg. It got a "Best African Film" nomination at the African Academy Awards and finally premiered in Lesotho cinemas in April 2014, and student romantic drama from LAOS, "Spring in Return", which has repped the country at some ASEAN Film Festivals.

 NEXT: The final tranche of predictions from Philippines to Vietnam