Wednesday, July 22, 2015

OSCAR SUBMISSION PREDICTIONS 2015-2016, HONG KONG-LUXEMBOURG (Pt. 3 of 5)

And here's Group 3.....I haven't had time to write up the world's largest film industry- INDIA- but you can see some guesses in the Comments Section. I hope to finish them later.


1. HONG KONG- "Little Big Master" The city-state of Hong Kong has three main candidates this year, namely “Dearest” (directed by Peter Chan, “Perhaps Love”), “Little Big Master” and “Port-of-Call”. I’m wavering between the first two but have decided to predict “Little Big Master”, a heartwarming family drama (based on a true story) about a dedicated headmistress who leaves her elite school to take care of a small village kindergarten with only five students. Everyone who sees it seems to like it, and it seems to fit the same mold as recent sentimental Hong Kong selections like “Echoes of the Rainbow” and “A Simple Life”. To me, “Dearest” sounds much more interesting, and it also has a high chance of being selected. It’s about a couple whose child is kidnapped and found years later living with an impoverished woman who may or may not be the kidnapper. Who gets to keep the child? How did the child end up with this woman? Reviews have been solid, though it lost Best Picture at the Hong Kong Fim Awards to Ann Hui’s dull “Golden Era” which repped Hong Kong last year. In third place will be “Port of Call”, the Closing Film at the 2015 HK Film Festival, starring Aaron Kwok as a police inspector investigating the murder of a teenage prostitute. The killer confesses at the beginning of the movie, so this is much more a movie about “WHY” rather than “WHO”. Rounding out the Top Five will be “Office” (aka “Design for Living”), a musical-comedy directed by Johnnie To, famous for his gritty gangster films (and who’s repped Hong Kong four times) and Tsui Hark’s splashy 3D action film “Taking of Tiger Mountain”, set during the Chinese civil wars of the early 20th century (also a dark horse for CHINA).  Unlikely but possible: Herman Yau’s drama “Sara”, about a female reporter investigating prostitution in Thailand. I don’t think Hong Kong will be swayed by the starpower of “The Crossing” (directed by John Woo, starring Zhang Ziyi) or “Dragon Blade” (starring Jackie Chan, Adrien Brody and John Cusack, but probably over 50% in Chinese). Two new Wong Kar-wai movies (“Blossoms”, which he is directing, and “The Ferryman”, which he wrote) don’t seem to be ready for release. If Wong hurries up, “The Ferryman” would become the new frontrunner.

2. HUNGARY- OFFICIAL SELECTION "Son of Saul" Hungary was the first country to officially name their candidate for the Oscar race on June 11, 2015, choosing the concentration camp drama "Son of Saul" four months before the official deadline. After winning four prizes, including the Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Price at Cannes 2015, this was the obvious frontrunner. "Saul" is a grim character study of a Jewish prisoner tasked with the secret disposal of corpses from the murder of Auschwitz victims in 1944 Poland. There was little doubt Hungary would choose “Saul” but I am a bit disappointed because I have been waiting years to see horror-comedy “Liza, the Fox Fairy”. “Liza” is a dark comedy about a young nurse who ends up being terrorized by a Japanese fox demon (known as an inari) after caring for the Japanese Ambassador’s wife. The demon gleefully murders any man who takes an interest in poor Liza. The plot sounds loopy and original and, best of all, the film opened to really positive reviews. Before “Saul” came out, I was thinking “Liza” might be Hungary’s submission (after all, they sent the bizarre “Taxidermy” in 2007). "Saul" may also spell bad news for the upcoming “Lily Lane” (Bence Fliegauf) and “Home Guards” (Krisztina Goda) by two of Hungary’s leading arthouse directors. Their films have no release date but will have no chance at the Oscars if they premiere before September 30. “Saul” is no surprise, but I still would have loved to promote "Liza"!

3. ICELAND- "Virgin Mountain" Iceland has eight or nine eligible films, but this is very much an extremely competitive two-way race between “Virgin Mountain” (Berlinale), which dominated the awards at the Tribeca Film Festival, and “Rams”, which won the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes. That’s a lot of love for tiny Iceland and it’s anybody’s guess which one they will pick. Iceland chooses their nominee by a mass vote of the Icelandic Academy’s members rather than a traditional selection committee like most countries, so personal popularity may play a part. The arthouse may prefer “Rams”, the story of two feuding elderly brothers who live next to each other in rural Iceland but who haven’t spoken in 40 years. They are forced to work together when a virus kills their prize rams. Those voters savvy enough to pay attention to actual chances of an Oscar nonmination may opt for Dagur Kari’s “Virgin Mountain”, which won Best Fiction Feature, Best Screenplay and Best Actor at Tribeca. It's about a depressed, overweight man living at home with his mother, who finds himself unexpectedly courting a pretty, free-spirited, single mother. Both films explore surprisingly similar stories of lonely older men in today’s Iceland. Kari has been chosen once before (for the overrated “Noi the Albino”). The only film that could possibly catch up to these two is the yet-to-be-released “Sparrows”, a coming-of-age drama with several big Icelandic stars, directed by Oscar Short Film nominee Runar Runarsson. He’d be smart to wait to release the film until October. This will likely come down to just a few votes, but I think the fact that “Mountain” has proven to appeal to an American audience will make it the front-runner. Road comedy “Reverse” will be a very distant third. 

4. INDIA- "Court" Analysis to follow.

5. INDONESIA- "Guru Bangsa: Tjokroaminoto" Indonesia has chosen historical films four years in a row, and they are likely to do so again this year. Two of the films I mentioned last year as possibilities were actually released after the deadline so “Golden Cane Warrior” and “3 Nafas Likas”, both period pieces, will contend this year. The same goes for the two strongest candidates of year 2015, “Guru Bangsa: Tjokroaminoto” and historical anime “Battle of Surabaya”.  The only acclaimed “contemporary” film this year is “Coffee Philosophy”, about a struggling café, but I’m fairly certain Indonesia will choose one of the four historical films. Oddly enough, Indonesian grande dame Christine Hakim will be competing against herself, as she stars in both of the Indonesian frontrunners. If the Indonesians want something exciting, they will send “Golden Cane Warrior”, a glossy and expensive martial-arts spectacular with an all-star production team including director Ifa Isfansyah, producer Riri Riza and actor Nicholas Saputra, alongside Hakim. The four of them have co-starred or directed most of Indonesia’s recent submissions. "Warrior" is about an aging female guru (Hakim) who trains the children of her vanquished  enemies. If the Indonesians want to send something more dramatic and serious (and much less interesting), it’s likely they’ll choose 3-hour historical drama “Guru Bangsa” which covers the life of famed 20th century Indonesian resistance leader Haji Omar Said Tjokroaminoto who fought against the Dutch. Unfortunately, AMPAS couldn't care less about Indonesian resistance leaders and probably has no understanding of Indonesian history. The action-packed (and less cerebral) “Golden Cane Warrior” would appeal more and could actually get a US release if someone in the Oscar screening room saw potential. “3 Nafas Likas”, a nominee at last year’s National Film Awards, is another 20th century biopic, this time about the widow of another resistance leader. “Battle of Surabaya”, an Indonesian venture into Miyazaki-style animation, is definitely a long shot. Based on Indonesia’s previous choices, “Guru Bangsa” looks like it will be the Indonesian nominee, though I’m hoping for “Golden Cane Warrior". 

6. IRAN- "Track 143" Iran has a wide-open field and one of the most interesting races of the year, partly due to some unusual controversies. Although the Islamic Republic proudly believes itself to a model of Islamic values, its two biggest films have ironically run into controversy because they have angered conservative clerics! Majid Majidi was Iranian’s first Oscar nominee for “Children of Heaven” in 1999. Since then, three of his four features (“Colour of Paradise”, “Baran” and “Song of Sparrows”) were sent to the Oscars. So add that to the fact that historical epic “Muhammad” is the most expensive film ever made in Iran (at an estimated cost of $US35 million) and it would seem to be the obvious front-runner. However making a movie about the childhood of the Prophet Muhammad is tricky business, as it is forbidden to actually show him on screen. Majidi somehow accomplishes this, but clerics still object to seeing the back of the child Muhammad’s head (!!) The film failed to screen at the national Fajr Film Festival, probably in part due to the January terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris. While Iranian critics have praised the film, some Sunni Arabs have called for it to be banned. Majidi, who has Iranian government support, has said the film is meant to educate and unite Muslims and has reaffirmed that he will make two more “Muhammad” films constituting a trilogy. Majidi is not the only one with problems. The 2014 Fajr Best Picture Winner- expensive 7th century historical epic “Hussein, Who Said No”- ran into similar problems, since it showed certain distant relatives of the Prophet Muhammad. It’s all very ridiculous! In any case, even if these two historical films weren’t so controversial, they’re also aimed directly at an Islamic audience. Hollywood won’t care about the controversy, but they may not understand the context of the films. So that's a long way of saying that I think Iran will not court controversy and simply choose a more contemporary Iranian film to send to the Oscars. I’m feeling good about “Track 143”, a drama about women on the homefront, waiting for their sons to come home from war. It won the Audience Award at the 2014 Fajr Film Festival and was released in Iranian cinemas in November. Iran has never chosen a woman filmmaker, but there has been a lot of buzz in the country about female directors this year. The film has gotten very good reviews at home, tells a universally relatable story (mothers waiting for their sons to come from war) and also shows Iran in a positive light. However, with no front-runner and a fairly liberal Academy, Iran could choose any number of new movies. The two strongest runner-ups are probably “Tales” (Best Screenplay in Venice 2014 + Jury Prize, Asia-Pacific Screen Awards), a series of seven stories about the travails of contemporary Iranian life (also directed by a woman!) and “A Time for Love”, a marital relationship drama about an Iranian woman living in France (Leila Khatami) who returns home. These two films each star half the couple from the Oscar winning “A Separation” (he in “Tales”, she in “Time”). Majidi’s “Muhammad” and “Mazar-e-Sharif”, about a Taliban attack on an Iranian Consulate will round out the Top Five for Iran. But they really could choose anything, including “We Have a Guest” (parents care for a dying son), “Long Goodbye” (a man found innocent of a crime is still ostracized by a suspicious community), “Princess of Rome” (an Iranian anime film), “Raspberry” (surrogate pregnancies) and “Crazy Castle”, which got middling reviews but somehow won the top three awards at Fajr 2015 for a story of teens behaving badly on social media. As for Iran’s festival films…”Nahid” (Cannes, Un Certain Regard), another female-helmed film, seems a bit too controversial as it explores the Shi’ite custom of “temporary marriage”. Berlinale Golden Bear winner “Taxi”, made in secret by Jafar Panahi, won’t be considered at all as Panahi remains legally banned from making films for twenty years. The Guardian recently published a good article on this year’s Fajr Film Festival and the decline of Iranian arthouse to the advantage of commercial blockbusters. Still confused!

7. IRAQ- "Silence of the Shepherd" Iraq has suffered so much this year and yet they rejoined the Oscar race in 2014 and won a Crystal Bear in the Short Film section at Berlinale 2015. Most Iraqi films are made in the autonomous Kurdish region which has remained (mostly) peaceful and stable over the past 15 years. This year, Iraq has two standout films, one Kurdish and one Arab. “Memories on Stone”, the Kurdish-language film, has the higher profile, winning “Best Film from the Arab World” at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Best Picture at the Erbil Film Festival (in Iraqi Kurdistan) and the UNESCO Award at the Asia-Pacific Film Awards (the pan-Asian Oscars). It’s about a pair of aspiring filmmakers desperately seeking a lead actress for their new film about Saddam Hussein's atrocities against the Kurds. When the directors finally find a perfect actress, they find they'll need to convince her reluctant family to agree to be in the film. “Silence of the Shepherd”, in Arabic, is about a rural man’s desperate search for his 13-year daughter who has disappeared while fetching water from the river. Dealing with the controversial concepts of honor and machismo in today's Iraqi Arab society, both films sound good. Unlikely but possible: “Face of the Ash” (Busan), a black comedy about a village trying to identify a body. The Iraqis have a very tough choice, and it may come down to who can get an Oscar-eligible screening (and it would be much easier for the Kurds to do that in the mostly peaceful North). I’m going out on a limb and predicting the more serious “Shepherd”. The Iraqis have sent three Kurdish films and two Arab films to the Oscars, and there may be a desire to even the score.

8. IRELAND- "Moscow Never Sleeps" Ireland obviously makes most of their films in English, but they have sent two films in Irish Gaelic as well as one film in Bosnian. I don’t believe they have any feature films in Irish this year (in fact the “Irish Language Award” at the Irish Film & Television Awards appears to have disappeared) but they do have three possible choicesin 2015, namely silk weaving documentary “Tana Bana” (made by an Irish director in Uttar Pradesh, India), multi-character drama "Moscow Never Sleeps" (made by an Irish director based in Moscow) and Spanish-language LGBT-themed drama “Viva” (made by an Irish director in Cuba). With all the hubbub around gay marriage in Ireland, I originally predicted “Viva”, the story of an 18-year old Cuban hustler who suddently becomes reacquainted with his father gets out of prison after serving a 15-year sentence. Since that film is still unreleased, it's more likely Ireland will select "Moscow Never Sleeps" (described as a "love letter to Moscow") which opens in Russia in September, though it also has no domestic release date. 

9. ISRAEL- "Kapo in Jerusalem" In my first draft for Israel, I wrote about how I predicted a surprise snub for Natalie Portman's Cannes drama “A Tale of Love and Darkness” which is being buzzed about online as the most likely Israeli candidate. I also predicted the five Ophir candidates to be announced in August, with Jerusalem International Film Festival winner "Tikkun" taking the prize and representing Israel. Unfortunately, neither "Love and Darkness" nor "Tikkun" will even be eligible for the Oscars, as they haven't registered themselves as candidates. Neither will "Suicide" (which I heard was very good) which was apparently considered last year, nor Amos Gitai's "Tsili" (which had no chance in hell anyway). Oh well! The full list of the 23 Israeli candidates (in Hebrew) can be found here. So, what film will represent Israel? I now predict the five Ophir candidates will be: "Afterthought" (aka "Stair Cases"; Cannes 2015), an odd, intellectual comedy about two men going up and down stairs in different directions,  "AKA Nadia", the directorial debut of an award-winning editor, about an Arab woman who was raised Jewish, "Kapo in Jerusalem", a drama about two Auschwitz survivors who settle in pre-independence Israel, "The Kind Words", a family drama about three brothers (made by a director who is traditionally well-liked at the Ophirs) and “Man in the Wall”, a mystery-thriller about a man who vanishes while walking his dog. Alternate choices for the Israeli shortlist include "Baba Joon", a Farsi-language drama about Israel's Iranian Jewish community, "90 Minute War", about the race to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "Wedding Doll", about a mentally handicapped woman at a paper factory who falls in love, and Dror Shaul's peacenik comedy "Atomic Falafel", about two girls from Iran and Israel who meet online and secretly plot to denuclearize the Middle East. Oscar nominee Uri Barbash ("Kapo in Jerusalem"), Eyan Halfon ("90-Minute War") and Dror Shaul ("Atomic Falafel") have represented Israel in the Oscar race before, while Shemi Zarhin ("The Kind Words") missed out by a single Academy vote (losing to Shaul in a tiebreaker). I still wonder whether JIFF winner "Tikkun" or Portman's "Love and Darkness" will find some way of sneaking into the Ophir race late. But, I think the eventual winner will be the deadly serious "Kapo in Jerusalem", with comic "Afterthought" its main competition. Based on a famous play, "Kapo" is about a male doctor and a female pianist who settle in Israel after WWII. The doctor faces allegations of abuse from the war and is soon enlisted in the army to fight for Israel's independence in 1948. 

10. ITALY- "Mia Madre" This year's Italian contest has fewer contenders than usual. Last year’s big winner at the Donatello Awards (“Black Souls”) opened a few days too early to be considered. Paolo Sorrentino (Oscar winner for “The Great Beauty”), Matteo Garrone (“Gomorrah”) and Saverio Costanzo (selected but disqualified in 2005 for the excellent “Private”) all made their films in English this year, while the latest films from acclaimed directors like Gabriele Salvatores and the Taviani Brothers have failed to live up to expectations. Italy makes over a hundred films a year, but to me this year is a pretty clear three-film race between Nanni Moretti’s dramedy “Mia madre” (the only Italian-language film in the Main Competition at Cannes 2015), Marco Bellocchio’s upcoming “Blood of my Blood” (to be released in September) and Mario Martone’s 19th century biopic “Leopardi” (Venice, 2014). Of the two films that have been released so far, I think “Mia madre” can certainly fend off "Leopardi”. “Madre” has gotten better reviews, co-stars a Hollywood actor (John Turturro) and its contemporary, universally relatable story of a production assistant coping with her stressful job and her dying mother with grace and humor will appeal to the Academy more than the story of obscure Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. If the year were to end now, “Mia madre” would have this easy. Enter Bellocchio, a respected 75-year old Italian director who hasn’t been selected for the Oscar race since 1980 (35 years!!) even for critical darlings like “Vincere” and “Good Morning Night”. “Blood of My Blood” is an odd film about a 17th century noblewoman/nun convicted of witchcraft for seducing a priest and his brother. Somehow the story then connects to another incident in present-day Italy. Bellocchio is clearly due and if the film is good, it may be selected over Moretti. I keep changing my mind between these two but I’m thinking that “Madre” fits the profile of recent Italian submissions like “Great Beauty” and “Human Capital” more than the decidedly weird “Blood”. I could mention other Italian films that will be on Italy’s longlist (“Antonia”, “Greenery will Bloom Again”, “Invisible Boy”, “Latin Lover”, “La scelta”) but I really don’t see any film other than these three being seriously considered to represent Italy. 

11. JAPAN-  "Cape Nostalgia" I have never once correctly guessed the Japanese Oscar submission, as it’s so hard to figure out what they like. Sometimes, they’ll choose a film that you really need to be Japanese to understand (“The Great Passage”), while other times they’ll choose a silly mainstream effort that could have been made in Hollywood (“Hula Girls”). They only rarely choose films that have done well at international film festivals (snubbing “Like Father, Like Son”, “Unagi”), often snub films that seem destined to be Oscar nominees ("Always: Sunset on Third Street") and sometimes choose obscure films out of nowhere that haven’t really impressed anyone at all (“Our Homeland”, the first female-helmed film ever to represent Japan and “OUT”, which I loved but nobody else did). Japan used to send a lot of period samurai films until one got nominated (“The Twilight Samurai”) and then they stopped! This year (as always) Japan has produced hundreds of films (heavy on animation and horror) and has half a dozen legitimate Oscar contenders. Having said that, it’s completely possible they will ignore all of them.  I see this as a “fight to the finish” between two of Japan’s most respected senior actresses- 70-year old Sayuri Yoshinaga (sometimes referred to as Japan’s Meryl Streep, with 17 Japanese Oscar nominations for Best Leading Actress since 1981) and 72-year old Kirin Kiki (10 nominations since 1986). Yoshinaga stars in “Cape Nostalgia”, a box-office success which marks her first film as producer. It’s a gentle drama about an elderly woman who runs a countryside café with her dim-witted nephew, who dispenses advice and good will to the locals who frequent her establishment. Despite the simple plot, it is said to be entertaining and emotional, and it got nominated in every category at this year’s Oscars (though it won nothing). “Sweet Red Bean Paste” (aka “An”), directed by arthouse film director Naomi Kawase, played at Cannes 2015. Kawase has generally been more successful in France than in her native Japan but “Bean Paste” is said to be her first film to appeal to a Japanese audience. It’s about an elderly woman who asks to help the grouchy middle-aged manager of a dorayaki stall improve the flavor of his sweets. The man, who hates sweets, reluctantly lets the old woman help. Though Kawase is very “arthouse”, this movie is said to be accessible to both Western and Japanese audiences. It also sounds like total Oscar bait- Oscar loves tearjerkers, food porn, old people and “Babette’s Feast”. In the end, though I think “Bean Paste” would have a better chance in Hollywood, the fact that Kawase works outside the studio system and that women directors have been selected two of the past three years may give Yoshinaga and her more popular “Cape Nostalgia” the Japanese nod. It’s interesting though that both of these frontrunners have such similar themes. Also very possible: (in 3rd place) “Pale Moon”, a much more manic, modern drama-thriller about a conservative housewife who gets involved in a life of crime to help support her younger boyfriend. Japan often chooses more “contemporary” films, and “Pale Moon” has gotten very strong notices for lead actress Rie Miyazawa (“Twilight Samurai”) and its sly humor. It won the Audience Award at the Tokyo Film Festival and won two Japanese Oscars (Best Actress and Best Newcomer). In 4th place is Hirokazu Koreeda’s “Our Little Sister” (Cannes 2015) , which bloggers seem to be predicting for Japan. About three adult sisters who meet their teenaged half sister after the death of their father, Koreeda excels at these sorts of family dramas. However, Japan rarely nominates independent directors. It’s true Koreeda was selected once, but he has been ignored for many more acclaimed films than this, though this one has done well at the box-office… In 5th place will be “100-Yen Love”, a quirky comedy which won Best Japanese Film at the 2014 Tokyo Film Festival. It’s about a female hikikomori (someone who shuts themselves off from the rest of the world) who ends up moving out of her house to avoid her annoying sister and becomes a successful amateur boxer. The Japanese are extremely unpredictable so they could also easily consider two films by previously submitted directors- Takashi Koizumi’s samurai drama “A Samurai Chronicle” and Yuya Ishii’s baseball drama “Vancouver Asahi”, about Japanese immigrants in pre-WWII Canada. But reviews for these two haven’t been as strong as for their previous films. I think Shinya Tsukamoto’s “Fires on the Plain” (Venice 2014) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s genre-bending ghost romance “Journey to the Shore” (Cannes 2015, Best Director, Un Certain Regard) are too weird and divisive. Count on one of the two obasan to be selected.

12. JORDAN- "Theeb" The Kingdom of Jordan has only sent a movie once (the delightful “Captain Abu Raed”) but they are almost certain to make a second submission this year with the critically acclaimed “Theeb”. After winning major awards in Abu Dhabi (Best Picture), Cairo and Venice (Best Director, Horizons Section), this beautifully shot historical drama finally premiered in Jordanian cinemas in March 2015. The film, featuring gorgeous desert cinematography, is about two young Arab brothers during the Ottoman era, who follow a troop of British soldiers on a secret reconnaissance mission. It’s also been picked up by Film Movement for distribution in the U.S. One of the easiest predictions. Count on it to rep Jordan.

13. KAZAKHSTAN- "Kenzhe" Kazakhstan mysteriously skipped last year’s competition, ignoring one of the most critically acclaimed foreign films of the year- “Harmony Lessons”. It’s true that school bullying drama “Harmony” was a bit controversial, but why not select another film? Kazakhstan makes about 20 films per year. It’s odd. Perhaps a problem with paperwork?  My prediction for 2015 is “Kenzhe”, a new crime drama directed by Ermek Tursunov. Tursunov received a shortlist spot for “Kelin” (Daughter-In-Law) and also competed with “Shal” (The Old Man) in 2013. “Kenzhe” (literally translated as Younger Brother) is said to be the third film in a trilogy about Kazakhstan. Information is scarce but it's some sort of crime drama about two brothers trying to make a living in the big city. Tursunov said it is not a “festival film” but one for the people of Kazakhstan. Does that mean he doesn't want an Oscar? The biggest Kazakh film on the film festival circuit this year- tragicomedy “The Owners”- is about a family of orphans facing off against a corrupt bureaucracy. It has apparently not been received well in the country at all (they’ve accused the director of showing the country in a negative light) and I don’t think it’s gotten a domestic release at all. Other possibilities besides “Kenzhe” include “The Way Home”, about a Kazakh man who returns to his homeland after studying abroad, “Voice of the Steppes”, starring actor Gerard Depardieu (now a Russian citizen) and “To Be or Not to Be?”, a retelling of Hamlet starring an actor with cerebral palsy.  Festival films like “Nagima” (Busan 2013) and “Adventure” (Karlovy Vary 2014) could also come into play if they premiered at home late, as often happens in Kazakhstan. Out of luck: stylish thriller “The Whole World at our Feet” co-starring Peter O’Toole, Armand Assante and Michael Madsen alongside a Kazakh cast appears to have too much English.

14. KENYA- "Strength of a Woman" The Kenya Film Commission reportedly considered sending a film last year….but then they didn’t. Their only Oscar submission thus far was the enormously entertaining “Nairobi Half Life”, which was produced thanks to the support of German director Tom Tykwer and his Kenyan production house One Fine Day Films. Unfortunately, their latest effort “Veve”, a political thriller, appears to have been released four weeks before the eligibility period. Not sure why they didn’t send it last year. Kenya’s most critically praised film of the year- low-budget LGBT anthology “Stories of Our Lives”- is banned in Kenya and one of its producers was arrested by Kenyan authorities due to the country's homophobic laws, despite accolades at Berlin (where it won a Teddy Award) and Toronto. What does that leave? Very little. So I’ll predict feminist drama “Strength of A Woman”, about a teenager desperately trying to achieve her dreams while her drunkard father tries to marry her off. It opened in March 2015 after winning Best Picture at the local Kalasha Awards. 


15. KOREA- "Ode to my Father" Greetings from South Korea! Even though Korea produces many good films, I'm feeling strangely confident that nobody can beat "Ode to My Father". Ever since it opened last December, the film has broken box-office records (it is currently the #2 Korean box-office hit of all time) and garnered critical acclaim. It has proven its ability to appeal to mainstream audiences, but also landed an arthouse berth at the Berlinale Panorama. Korea is desperate for a first Oscar nomination (they've deserved many) and the film's positive reception from US audiences (even the US Ambassador saw it and said he loved it) will surely vault the film to an Oscar berth. Incidentally, the film covers nearly 50 years of Korean history beginning with a boy's separation from much of his family during the Korean War to his attempts to work hard and make money for his family in the Southern city of Busan, and later abroad. It costars actress Yunjin KIM ("Lost"). While the film has been praised by political conservatives (including President Park), there's really been no liberal backlash, so I think it's okay. If the Korean Academy doesn't want to choose a film the conservative President likes, I think the second choice will be LEE Jun-ik's period drama "The Throne" (aka "Prince Sado"), a lush royal period piece about a controversial 18th century prince executed in a most cruel fashion by his father. Rounding out the Top Five: "Assassination", an action-thriller about political intrigue during the Japanese colonial era, "Set Me Free", a drama about a boy with an abusive father trying desperately to remain with his new foster family and "Western Front 1953", yet another large-scale Korean War drama, this time about encounters between North and South Korean soldiers at the end of the war (sounds like "The Front Line"). Others in with a chance: "Coin Locker Girl" (Cannes), about what becomes of a young woman raised by a criminal gang after being abandoned in a coin locker as a baby, "Revivre" (Venice 2014), IM Kwon-taek's 102nd film about an aging man who falls for a younger woman while his wife is on her deathbed and "Salut d'Amour", a small-scale elderly romance starring two retired film stars and directed by action-film director Je-kyu KANG. And just to make this an even "Top Ten" let's add "C'est si bon", about a rural boy who aspires to be a professional singer and "Memories of the Sword", a period piece about a female warrior. But my money is easily on "Ode to My Father". 

16. KOSOVO- "Father" Kosovo is only recognized by 60% of the world’s countries due to a dispute with Serbia, but they’ve increasingly been successful at getting admittance to “fun” international competitions like Miss Universe (since 2008), the Oscars (2014), the Olympic Games (recognized by the IOC in 2015). They reportedly have their sights set on Eurovision 2016 as well. Last year I believe Kosovo had two eligible local films- “Three Windows and a Hanging” and “Hero”. “Three Windows”, the nominee, is supposed to be quite good, although also quite hard to find. The Kosovo Cinematography Center has a number of co-productions in the works, including “Distant Angels” (about Kosovo, but by an Albanian director) and “Home Sweet Home” (a co-production with Macedonia to be filmed this year). “Distant Angels” may be released in time, though they’ll have to compete with neighboring Albania as to who gets to send it. More likely is “Babai” (Father) which is the first-ever Kosovar film to compete at a Class A International Film Festival (Karlovy Vary 2015). It’s about the relationship between a father and his 10-year old son amidst the complicated turmoil of the 1990s wars. The father tries to illegally emigrate to Germany to find work, with the son doing everything he can to follow. 


17. KUWAIT- "Habib al-Arad" Kuwait sent two films to the Oscars in 1972 and 1978. They have the longest absence of any country in the world except Cote d’Ivoire (1976). Although I didn’t know about it at the time, Kuwait had a suitable candidate last year- “He Was My Friend” (aka Kan Refeeji), which performed well at home during the Eid holidays, and was invited to the rebooted 2014 Cairo International Film Festival, a rare Class A Festival slot for a Gulf film. If they didn’t send “Friend” (or the acclaimed “Tora Bora” a few years back) then they’re unlikely to return this year either. However, "Habib al-Arad" would make a suitable candidate. It's the true biopic of a renowned poet and humanitarian who was killed during the Iraqi invasion of 1991. It's far more likely than their other eligible film,  “090”, a low-budget thriller about mysterious goings-on at a vacation house.  

18. KYRGYZSTAN- "Heavenly Nomadic" Kyrgyzstan has zero Oscar nominations, but this small former Soviet mountain republic has probably come unbelievably close at least three times. We’ll never know for sure. I hope the failure of their biggest film of all-time to make the shortlist last year (“Kurmandjan Datka, Queen of the Mountains”) won’t lead them to stop trying. This year’s likely nominee is “Heavenly Nomadic”, the directorial debut of the 32-year old son of Kyrgyzstan’s most famous international director Aktan Arym Kubat (aka Aktan Abdykalykov). He's also the former child star of his father’s films, including two Kyrgyz Oscar submissions, “Beshkempir” and “The Chimp”. Besides the fact that he comes from a well-established Kyrgyz filmmaking family, "Nomadic" was produced by the director of last year's "Queen of the Mountains" and was selected for Karlovy Vary’s 2015 East of the West competition. Mirlan's father wrote the script to “Nomadic”, about a close-knit family of nomads living in the mountains. The Kyrgyz Academy likes these sorts of village films and they typically do them quite well. Also possible: “The Move” (Busan) is a (long) movie about an adorable little girl and her grandfather who are pressured by the girl’s mother to move to the big city. Dark horse: “Under Heaven”, about a woman and the jealousy that arises from her relationship with two brothers.

19. LATVIA- "Alias Loner" Latvia is a difficult one to predict this year. They have five features scheduled to premiere in 2015 but as of July none of them have made it into theatres. I believe they also have four films eligible from 2014 (a docudrama, two festival dramas and a horror-thriller) but a lot of this will depend on what gets released by September 30, 2015. If all nine films are eligible (which they won’t be), my prediction would easily be “Chronicles of Melanie”, a harrowing drama about a woman separated from her husband and deported to Siberia with her 8-year old son during Stalin’s mass deportations. It doesn’t get any more dramatic than that. However, “Melanie” won't premiere until year's end. My next pick would be “Dawn”, about a patriotic young Communist who denounces his father to the secret police, leading the rest of his family to plot revenge against him. It is directed by Laila Pakalnina, one of Latvia’s top directors and one who has never been honored here. It's scheduled to be released in "summer", but no date is scheduled. Third place would go to “My Peaceful Place of Exile”, a German co-production set in 1917 about the goings-on at a rural Latvian sanatorium for war veterans run by a German doctor. Its scheduled for “Autumn 2015”. I'm predicting all three fail to get a timely release. So, what will Latvia choose? Difficult to say, but I’m guessing "Alias Loner”, an obscure docudrama (the Latvian Film Centre says it’s a documentary but it has a “cast” and IMDB says it’s a drama) about a priest in 1945 who saves men from Soviet conscription. Like Switzerland's "Der Kreis", I think its some sort of documentary/drama hybrid. Its main competition is “Modris” (Toronto, San Sebastian), about a teenaged gambling addict.  Home invasion horror flick “Man in the Yellow Jacket” (trailer looks really good) and an ethnic Russian-Latvian update of “Romeo n Juliet” (by twice-submitted Maris Martinsons) are probably out of luck. My prediction: “Alias Loner” gets this by default, unless "Dawn" sneaks in. 

20. LEBANON- "The Valley" Lebanon won a Palme d'Or for Best Short Film at Cannes (for "Waves '98") this year. Congratulations! In terms of feature films, their highest-profile choice is “The Valley”, which has played at a number of festivals, including Toronto, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Seattle. It’s a slow-burn thriller about a man with amnesia who runs into trouble when he seeks help from a mysterious group of strangers who end up kidnapping him and holding him hostage. It’s slow-moving and not everyone likes it, which leaves the door wide-open for "The Road", which premiered at the Moscow Film Festival, winning the Critics Prize. About a man and his depressed wife on a road trip, it's also slow-moving and not for everyone though the fact that it won a major prize makes it more likely to be selected. In third place: documentary “Scheherazadze’s Diary”, about a group of female prisoners who put on a theatrical production in jail. Local box-office hit "Vitamin" (the #1 movie of 2014) doesn't have good-enough reviews to contend. In the end, I don't think "The Road" will be released in Lebanese cinemas until this fall, meaning "The Valley" is in. 

21. LITHUANIA- "Master and Tatyana" The Lithuanians will likely see a face-off between the two big winners at the Silver Crane Awards, namely teen lesbian drama “The Summer of Sangaile” and documentary “Master and Tatyana”. “Summer of Sangaile” won Best Picture, Actress and a Tech Award and was also the surprise winner of Best Director (World Cinema Section) at the Sundance Film Festival. Its a gentle LGBT story about two girls who fall for each other over a fascination for stunt airplanes. The film lost Best Director at the Silver Cranes to “Master and Tatyana”, which also won Best Documentary, Editing and Cinematography, for its look at Vitas Luckus, a famous (but insane) Soviet Lithuanian photographer whose life ended in a bizarre murder-suicide. Their third candidate, “Peace to Us in Our Dreams” (Cannes) will be released in Lithuania in October, making it ineligible. The Lithuanian Academy likes documentaries…three of their seven Oscar submissions to the Oscars have been docs less than a hour long, and “Master and Tatyana” is more consequential fare. Add to that the fact that Lithuania is one of the most squeamish countries in Europe about LGBT issues....So, I predict the surprise selection of "Master & Tatyana” to represent Lithuania. In third place: historical drama “We Will Sing”, about the 1991 struggle for independence from the Soviet Union. If “Sing” wasn’t a UK co-production (with a British director), I might have ranked it higher.

22. LUXEMBOURG- "Mammejong" Luxembourg has no less than four films in their native dialect (Letzeburgesch) this year, plus one majority Luxembourg production in French. That may be a record for the country, which mostly deals in minority co-productions because of its small size. Three of these films are by locally famous directors who have been submitted before (Pol Cruchten, Andy Bausch and Christophe Wagner) while the other two are by newer filmmakers.  The front-runner should clearly be “Eng nei Zäit”, a period drama about a young man who returns to his village in 1945 after fleeing during the four-year Nazi occupation. When his girlfriend is murdered soon thereafter, he finds the investigation hampered by a number of village secrets connected to the war. Director Christophe Wagner directed the well-received thriller “Blind Spot” and this looks like it has a bigger budget. The problem is that it is not scheduled to be released until October 14th in Luxembourg, making it eligible next year. That means the field is wide open between French-language crime thriller “Les Brigands” and dark dramas “Baby (a)lone” and “Mammejong”. The confusing “Les Brigands” has not gotten the best reviews despite its higher profile (Director Cruchten repped Luxembourg twice and the film co-stars French actor Tcheky Karyo and the late German actor Maximilian Schell), so I’m going to predict they send “Mammejong”, about a 20-year old man who lives with his stifling widowed mother (she makes them sleep together in the same bed), whose life is changed when he meets a teenaged runaway. "Baby (a)lone", about a violent sociopathic teen whose life is far different from Luxembourg's wealthy capital, will come second. I don’t expect Andy Bausch’s documentary “Faustino” to figure in.

POSSIBLE DEBUTS:
The most likely national debut this year is the impoverished Caribbean nation of HAITI. Former Haitian Minister of Culture Raoul Peck ("Lumumba") has made his first fiction feature in 15 years with "Meurtre a Pacot" which managed to be shown in Berlin Panorama. That's pretty impressive for a Haitian film. Set over eight days in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, it's about a middle-class couple who are forced to rent out their home to a French aid worker and his trashy girlfriend and move into an adjoining garden shed in order to pay for repairs to save their house from total demolition. It's also possible we could see "Vientiane in Love" from the Communist Southeast Asian nation of LAOS. It's an omnibus of love stories from some of the countries up-and-coming directors.

NEXT WEEK: GROUP 4: MACEDONIA to ROMANIA

6 comments:

pitviper_sg said...

Hey dzong,

As I have done with some of your past years posts, I will suggest Indian films to really look out for for this years race:

Court (dir. Chaitanya Tamhane) - Orizzonti Winner at Venice Film Festival
^This one is my best bet. It's an incredibly searing satirical portrait of India's justice system that will make you really uncomfortable because you won't know whether to laugh or cry or get pissed off about everything that goes on in this film. It has gotten basically universal praise from everybody who has seen it. It's culturally relevant to India, and I think it can hit a chord with American voters too because the law and justice system in the U.S. is also being held under scrutiny... this movie will give some Indian perspective to the issue.

Others:
Qissa (dir. Anup Singh) - NETPAC Award at TIFF
Ugly (dir. Anurag Kashyap) - Director's Fortnight at Cannes
Masaan (dir. Neeraj Ghaywan) - Un Certain Regard/FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes
Killa (dir. Avinash Arun) - Crystal Bear at Berlin Film Festival

Mainstream popular films they might consider, but I hope to God they don't select:

Baahubali (dir. SS Rajamouli) - Telugu historical epic
Badlapur (dir. Sriram Raghavan) - Hindi revenge drama
Bajrangi Bhaijaan (dir. Kabir Khan) - Hindi action thriller
Piku (dir. Shoojit Sircar) - Hindi dark comedy

Spartak said...

Iceland - I found "Virgin Mountain" a banal dramedy about a loser, who falls in love with a woman problems. Nothing interesting and not funny enough, never mind bad developed female character, but overall the audience seemed to like it (so I was in minority).
What about "Webcam"? (It sounds interesting enough to be a possible submission)

Iraq - If “Memories on Stone” is submitted, it probably won't get a nom, but it'll make a worthy competitor.

Israel - The nominations will be announced on Tuesday... First of all, neither "Tikkun" nor "Love and Darkness" cannot sneak into the race due to stupid and outdate rules (that has been really change in last 25 years) that films (their papers, the films themselves can be finished, one day before their screening, it's why each and every year about 3-4 films pull their submissions out, because they're not finished in time) have to be submitted till late March, but they're required for any cinematic run...
So, right now, there're 21 films in the competition. I've seen 15 of them (most, at Academic screenings, which I can attend as a holder of the Cinemateque Tel-Aviv season ticket, where they're screened). The funniest thing that I still haven't seen one of a few films that was already had its premiere ("The Kind Words"), which I'll try to see on Sunday...
Reading Israeli cinema blogs it seems that the frontrunners are "The Kind Words" and "Wounded Land", which may suffer because it came empty-handed out of Jerusalem Film Festival. "Afterthought" also should get nomination in most of major categories, but some (I'm among them) find it too sophisticated and arrogant. "Baba Joon" (which I also haven't seen, along with "Atomic Falafel") is also has some buzz and it may grow towards the 2nd round.
My personal favorite, "The Man in the Wall", which is built in 12 one shot scenes, probably will end only with few nominations.
I also liked "Kapo in Jerusalem" and "90 Minutes War", both shares almost simular cinematic style, a mockumentary. While "Kapo" lacks any real action, but only series of monologues from different characters, who talks about the main one, some praise him, some accuses him in amoral behavior in Auschwitz. "90 Minutes War" is fake TV-Documantery that covers the events of upcoming soccer match between Israel and Palestine, which should end the conflict. It seems that I'm in the minority, who likes "Kapo", while "War" would probably get acting noms and it has small chances for Best Pic noms.

Latvia - "Dawn" won't be released till the end of this year (maybe even beginning of 2016), they're still working on special effects.

Luthuania - I was pretty much disappointed with "The Summer of Sangaile". It's forgettable and predictable film. Though, I do think that Directing award at Sundance should be enough to make "The Summer of Sangaile

South Korea - Just curious, what film is the box-office hit of all time?

Spartak said...

Regarding India... Pitviper_sg, what about "Umrika" (it won Audience Award at Sundance) and I can tell that public seems to like it (I don't, I just couldn't believe the plot). I also found "Court" a boring film (like the creators want to make the audience to feel the same way like the main characrer does :), but I also heard opposite opinions from those, who attended the screening at JFF (along with sighs of relief, when the film ended)... BTW, do you know something about "Liar's Dice"? Is it true that the film was actually screened in India (except the 7 day run)?

dzong2 said...

Pitviper + Spartak,

Thanks very much for your comment and for your analysis of the INDIAN + ISRAELI races.

Everyone seems to be telling me that "Court" will represent India. However, I will do India last because they are so unpredictable. I've only gotten them right once (for "Peepli Live"). I will use your predictions when I decide.

Spartak-

It seems "Roaring Currents" beat "The Thieves" and is now the #1 Korean box-office hit of all time. I think "Rams" and "Virgin Mountain" have won so many awards that "Webcam" is not even a contender in Iceland.

It was very difficult for me to predict "Kapo in Jerusalem" (also Argentina, China, Egypt, Poland, Spain) because it has not come out yet and there are no reviews. However, many countries like to choose a late release, so it's just part of the guessing game. From what you describe, it probably will not be the Israeli nominee and the race sounds more competitive than I thought. I look forward to hearing about the Ophir noms this week.

Spartak said...

I suppose that you already know that the list of nominees for Ophir Awards was announced on Tuesday, if you've missed it, here's some information (in English):
http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Culture/2015-Ophir-nominations-announced-snubs-and-all-411819

A little clarification is needed. There's a rule that allows only Israeli citizens to take part in Ophir, which means that most of "Baba Joon" cast was not eligble (actually only supporting actor could get the nom, which he did), composers of "Afterthought", "Wedding Doll" and "The Kind Words", whose DOP is Canadian (so can't be nominated either). Also "Wounded Land" is mainly man-casted drama (so it "lacks" 2 possinle nominations).

pitviper_sg said...

To spartak,

The film "Umrika" premiered at Sundance, and its release is going to be on September 11th (a very, I guess, um... appropriate date for the film). I don't know if that's enough time for the committee to give it the greenlight or not, or if Prashant Nair is even planning on sending it in to the IFF (India's Oscar voting body) for consideration.

"Court" has basically received universal praise in India, winning its biggest film prize, The National Award for Best Feature Film, and it also has 100% perfect score on Rottentomatoes so far, and an 85 on Metacritic, mostly by western film critics. I think the movies premier at the Venice Film Festival where it won the Horizon's prize has given it enough exposure and weight to compete for the Oscar. It's also the most socio-politically relevant film made in the last 3 or 4 years in India.

"Liar's Dice" was a strange choice and yeah, there was something screwy about its 7 day release because no press publication even mentioned it being SENT to the IFF for Oscar consideration (and no, its STILL hasn't had a nationwide release in India). Usually most media has access and announces which movies are currently being reviewed by the IFF for consideration and Liar's Dice and even the previous year's "The Good Road" came literally out of nowhere... one of the biggest things that is being discussed in India is TRANSPARENCY of the IFF voting body. People want to see what is actually discussed and how the process works because there's nothing right now, given the past years choices, to stop people from suspecting that there is corruption and bribery in voting for these films...

Personally, in addition to just the quality of the film, India needs to select movies which already have a promotional platform in place. The reason LAGAAN got nominated and almost won in 2001 was because Aamir Khan had a very sound and adamant promotional plan and marketing scheme for the film, to play it at several film festivals throughout the year, spend time in LA and SF and NY promoting the movie amongst American audiences and industry professionals etc. They have to understand the Oscars are as much a CAMPAIGN as they are a sign of some cinematic quality. Which is another reason why I think "Court" would be a great choice because amongst American critics publications, it was already made its mark of quality and appreciation.