Monday, January 12, 2015

Foreign Film Predictions- Final Five

So, I only got four out of nine finalists right. While I'm thrilled that the Academy recognized the brilliance of Mauritanian debutante "Timbuktu" (which I have seen) and the nontraditional brilliant black comedy of Argentina's "Wild Tales" (which I have not seen), I'm disappointed with their selection of "Ida" (a perfectly ordinary film that I virtually forgot the day after I saw it), "Corn Island" (well-made but dull) and "Force Majeure" (not exactly dull but very pretentious).

And of course, like everyone else I made the mistake of predicting "Two Days, One Night", forgetting that Oscar really, really hates les Freres Dardenne. The trailer for "Two Days" looks great, but I must admit I usually hate the brothers too.

So, who will make the Top Five? It will be really close this year....Eight of the nine are really competitive films while the ninth- Georgia's "Corn Island"- was clearly selected by the Elite Committee perhaps due to some sort of coin toss or fetish for learning how one grows corn.

Final Predictions:
Argentina, Mauritania, Poland, Russia and Venezuela

Who I want to be nominated:
Argentina, Estonia, Mauritania, Netherlands and Russia,

1. RUSSIA- "Leviathan"
2. MAURITANIA- "Timbuktu"
3. POLAND- "Ida"

I think these three films are safe because there is a "consensus" they are great movies. Yesterday's Golden Globe win for political critique "Leviathan" (Best Screenplay at Cannes) probably locked up an Oscar nomination for RUSSIA. It's supposed to be both accessible and intelligent, with a great political backstory (though few Oscar voters care about that sort of thing). Formerly an Oscar superpower, this will only be Russia's second nomination in fifteen years. POLAND's "Ida" is probably also safe. Though I fail to understand how the film is any different from dozens of forgotten low-budget Eastern European submissions over the years, the film has been a critical and box-office success, dominating the Foreign Film Awards among year-end American film critics (possibly the only one many of them saw?) and somehow sweeping the European Film Awards as well. I would love to see a surprise snub, but this B&W nun's tale seems safe. MAURITANIA is competing for the first time and "Timbuktu" was the best film I saw at the Busan International Film Festival last year. Focusing on the 2012 jihadist takeover of the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu in 2012, "Timbuktu" is a perfect "Foreign Language Film". It's surprisingly accessible to Western audiences yet exotic enough to entrance. It's grim and sad, but with many moments of humor. Oscar has often honored this type of film and this is a superior effort.

4. ARGENTINA- "Wild Tales"
5. VENEZUELA- "Libertador"
6. NETHERLANDS- "Lucia de B." (aka "The Accused")

These three are really close and I'm not sure who will be left out....Let's look at the Pros & Cons:

ARGENTINA's Almodovar-esque black comedy "Wild Tales"
PRO:   Universally liked and a real crowd-pleaser. Probably the best reviews of any film on the list.
CON: It's a comedy competing in what is usually a very serious, humorless category.

NETHERLANDS' pulled-from-the-headlines legal thriller "Lucia de B."
PRO: Solid mainstream Dutch effort. Supremely accessible, relatable. Director Paula van Oest managed a surprise Oscar nomination once before.
CON: No buzz, no awards. Nobody's heard of the film and the film couldn't even manage a Best Picture nomination at the Golden Calf Awards. Too mainstream? (Similarly themed "Omar Killed Me" made the shortlist but failed to advance)

VENEZUELA's historical biopic of Simon Bolivar, "Libertador"
PRO: Expensive, large-scale historical drama with lots of action and costumes. Rumor has it that it received an exceptionally warm reception during its Oscar screening.
CON: Reviews are easily the weakest of these three films, with many saying it's a rather well-made history lesson. Biopics rarely score well in this category since many people don't know much about the subjects. No awards from anywhere.

In the end, I think Argentina's critical acclaim will get them to the finals (After all, Amelie and Almodovar managed comedy nominations). For the fifth slot, it's a virtual tie for 5th between Netherlands + Venezuela plus Estonia and Sweden. Like "Mongol", I think "Libertador"'s production values will see it through for the fifth and final slot.

7. ESTONIA- "Tangerines"
8. SWEDEN- "Force Majeure"
9. GEORGIA- "Corn Island"

These three arthouse films are more divisive, meaning they may struggle to get selected for the Top Five. Quite unbelievably, two of the three films have the same obscure topic, focusing on the lives of ordinary civilians living through the civil war in Abkhazia (!)

It should be noted that Estonia and Sweden both made the Top Five at the Golden Globes. "Force Majeure" has been a critical darling among arthouse critics while "Tangerines" has quietly been building buzz. Both of them are definitely in with a chance. SWEDEN's film- "Force Majeure"- also won the Jury Prize at Cannes (Un Certain Regard) but it's pretentious, cerebral, talky plot is exactly the sort of film that may struggle to overcome the last hurdle to make it to the Final Five. ESTONIA's "Tangerines", about two Estonian settlers in Abkhazia caught in the middle of an ethnic civil war between Abkhazians and Georgians, is said to be a very special film. I've heard very good things about it and would love to predict a first nomination for the smallest of the ex-Soviet republics, but there are some who dislike the film meaning that it will probably just miss out on a nomination. The same can't be said about GEORGIA's "Corn Island", a dull film about an old Abkhaz man and his homely, barely clothed teenaged daughter who shelter a Georgian soldier while spending their year growing corn.