Sunday, August 13, 2017

FOREIGN FILM PREDICTIONS (Western Europe)

1. AUSTRIA- “Die Hölle” Austria is favored to send Michael Haneke’s “Happy End” but that doesn’t open in Austria until October 6th so they’d need to organize a qualifying release or it won't be eligible. Because of that, Austria has three main candidates. “The Best of All Worlds” (Best Actress in Moscow) is a grim drama about a heroin addict trying to raise her young son. “Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden” (Best Picture nominee at the 2017 Austrian Film Awards) is a biopic of a renowned Austrian painter who died in 1918 at the age of 28. “Die Hölle” is a thriller about a Turkish-Austrian woman who witnesses a murder committed by a serial killer, directed by Oscar winner Stefan Ruzowitzky (“The Counterfeiters”), making his first German-language film since 2009. These are the most likely candidates, but it’s a wide open race with three other films by previously submitted directors (“Beetroot in Teheran”, “Mister Universo”, “Killing Stella”), two clever comedies (“The Migrumpies”, “Wild Mouse”) and two dark dramas (“Tomcat” and “Seventeen”) in the running as well. Barbara Albert’s latest- historical drama “Licht” (Toronto) won’t open in time. The Austrian Academy likes their submissions dark and depressing, so I’m predicting Ruzowitzky’s Oscar will get his new serial killer thriller to the next round, followed by “The Best of All Worlds”, “Egon Schiele”, adolescent drama “Seventeen” and “Killing Stella”, which has a grieving mother narrating the tragic tale of  her late daughter's life.

2. BELGIUM- “Insyriated” Belgium is cinematically two separate nations, with Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonie having two separate film boards, separate national film awards and lots of co-productions with actors from the Netherlands and France respectively. Both sides have quite a few films to choose from this year. The Belgian Academy tries to alternate between the two sides, but since the past two years have seen both a Flemish and Wallon film selected, it’s anybody’s game. From Flanders, the three frontrunners are “Cargo”, “Home” and “King of the Belgians”.  From Wallonie, the most likely choices are “Insyriated”, “La fille inconnue” and “A Wedding”. The Brothers Dardennes are the darlings of Cannes and Belgium’s most famous directors, but Oscar has ignored them all four times they’ve been submitted (ranging from  “Two Days, One Night”, which deserved a nomination to the excruciatingly dull “The Son”). Their new film “The Unknown Girl” debuted at Cannes but it doesn’t have the buzz of his earliest films (though I’d argue it looks better). It’s about a woman investigating the murder of a young woman who knocked on her door begging for help before she was killed. The other Wallon films are actually not in French at all. “Insyriated” (starring the prolific Hiam Abbass, who seems to co-star in every movie made this year) won the Panorama Audience Award in Berlin and is in Arabic….it’s about a family trying to survive the civil war in Syria. “A Wedding” is mostly in Urdu, and is about an immigrant Pakistani family in Belgium, who are trying to force their young daughter into an arranged marriage. “Insyriated” is the best-reviewed and should be Wallonie’s choice. From Flanders, comedy “King of the Belgians” was "longlisted" for the prestigious LUX Prize for its tale of a fictional Belgian King and Queen desperately trying to get home from a trip to Turkey, when Wallonie suddenly secedes and Belgium disappears from the map. It’s the Belgian film I most want to see this year, butr could it have too much English to qualify? Fien Troch’s “Home” won Best Director in Venice 2016 for her haunting look at modern-day teenagers in the digital age. Finally, the upcoming “Cargo” is about a family torn apart when a father falls overboard, leaving his three sons with a failing business and a great deal of debt, each of whom deals with the crisis in a different way. It will open right before the deadline. I have a feeling “King of the Belgians” will be Flanders’ choice. Ultimately, I’m predicting Belgium will send the claustrophobic “Insyriated”, due to its solid reviews and topical subject matter. “King of the Belgians” and “Cargo” will probably come second and third, with the Brothers Dardennes in fourth. 

3. DENMARK- "Darkland" Denmark has been nominated for an Oscar five of the past seven years (plus a surprise shortlist spot for “Superclasico” in 2011)….arguably the best record in the world. Denmark typically chooses a 3-film shortlist in August and waits a month (why so long?!) to announce their Oscar candidate in late September. Denmark has approximately two dozen eligible films. There’s no visible frontrunner and this may be a year where they go home without a nomination. I predict their shortlist will be (1) “Across the Waters”, a historical drama about Danish Jews fleeing the country in the run-up to the Nazi occupation, (2)- Darkland” (Moscow), a revenge thriller about an Arab-Danish doctor who gives up his successful career to avenge the murder of his brother and (3)- “Never Again a Tomorrow”, about a 75-old year old man (played by director Erik Clausen, who represented Denmark twice in 1986 and 1994) who dies suddenly but who is able to go back to Earth and silently watch over his dysfunctional family. I think “Darkland” is the only lock on the shortlist…”Across the Waters” is sure to appeal to the American Academy but it didn’t make much of an impact in Denmark, while “Never Again” won’t premiere until August 31st, so no reviews are available. Either could easily be replaced by boxing biopic “Pund for Pound” or "Word of God", the latest quirky film from Henrik Ruben Genz (“Terribly Happy”), a dramedy about a man named God and his holy family. Less likely: “You Disappear”, about a seemingly honest man accused of graft, and breezy comedy “Dan-Dream”. With by far the best reviews in a fairly weak year by Danish standards, I think “Darkland” has the best chance to represent Denmark.

4. FINLAND- “The Eternal Road” Finland has four very strong contenders this year and any of them- “The Eternal Road”, “The Other Side of Hope”, “Star Boys” and “Tom of Finland”- could be selected to represent the Nordic nation. The obvious choice is “The Other Side of Hope”, directed by Aki Kaurismaki- Finland’s only Oscar nominee and winner of this year’s Best Director prize at Berlinale. The movie has gotten great reviews and is relevant and topical- it’s about a bar owner and his burgeoning friendship with a group of newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers. However, the cranky Mr. Kaurismaki has twice refused to allow his films to be submitted for Oscar consideration (1996 and 2006), with vague rants of “not liking film competitions” (though he allowed his films to be sent in 2002 and 2011) and complaints about U.S. domestic politics. With Trump in office, he seems likely to do this again, opening the door to one of the other three films. “Tom of Finland” is the (toned-down) biopic of flamboyantly gay Finnish artist/photographer Touko Laaksonen whose work was variously described as art or pornography. The other two contenders haven’t been released yet. “Star Boys” premiered at the Moscow International Film Festival in June. It’s a drama about what happens when the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s hits a small, conservative Finnish town. “The Eternal Road” is about a little-known period of history in the 1930s when right-wing Finns violently forced Finns suspected of Communist sympathies to emigrate to the USSR, where they then became the victim of Stalinist purges. “The Eternal Road” follows a Finnish immigrant in America who returns home due to the Great Depression, only to be forced into Russia shortly after his arrival. The film premieres in September, right before the deadline. Expect some more drama with Kaurismaki declining to allow his film "Other Side of Hope" to be sent, with “The Eternal Road” ultimately becoming the Finnish submission.

5. FRANCE- "120 BPM"

6. GERMANY- "Western"

7. GREECE- “Exodos 1826” Greece is going to be unpredictable this year since they usually look to the Hellenic Film Awards (the “Iris” Awards) or the Thessaloniki Film Festival for their Oscar submissions. The two big winners at the 2017 Irises were in the running last year (“Suntan” and “Notias”) and the Greek Film winner at Thessaloniki was an obscure sports documentary (“90 Years PAOK”). Add to that the fact that many of their festival films have gotten middling reviews (anti-immigrant drama “Amerika Square” and twisted abduction/romantic-comedy “Afterluv”) or downright bad reviews (juvenile delinquent drama “Park” and the largely incomprehensible thriller “The Thread”) and Greece is going to be at a loss.  The best reviewed film of the year is probably “Lines”, about seven characters dealing with the Greek economic collapse, but that hasn’t gotten a domestic release yet. So what will Greece do? They’ll probably be forced to choose a more mainstream film, and I think the obvious choice will be “Exodos 1826”, a historical drama released this summer, about the Greek war for independence against the Turks. Another popular choice would be “The Other Me”, which won an Audience Award at Thessaloniki….it’s about a man trying to solve five different murders simultaneously. Competition is thin, so the producers of “Lines” should get their film released! My Top Five for now: “Exodos 1826”, “Amerika Square”, “Lines”, “The Other Me” and the quirky, upcoming “Ussak…Years Later”, about a financial crisis in an imaginary country (i.e. Greece).

8. GREENLAND (population: 56,000) is the smallest country (in terms of population) ever to enter the Foreign Oscar competition. I don’t think they have any features of documentaries eligible this year, but they do have a promising new fiction feature (“Anori”) in post-production. It’s a thriller starring the Greenlandic wife of Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and hopefully it will be submitted next year. But Greenland, which last submitted a film in 2012, will probably be absent again this year.

9. ICELAND- “Heartstone”  Set in a tiny fishing village, coming-of-age drama “Heartstone”  has played at innumerable international festivals (including Venice and Toronto), gotten strong reviews and dominated the 2017 Edda Awards, winning Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and two of the four acting awards. Add that to the fact that Iceland has released very few films this year (they have about ten awaiting release) and that none of their major directors have new films, and the result is that Iceland has the easiest Oscar decision of any European country. I honestly can’t see them sending anything else. Tragic drama “Mihkel” and thriller “Under the Tree” should premiere this summer, but I can’t see either of those beating “Heartstone”. It’s a lock.

10. IRELAND- “Song of Granite” It’s rare that Ireland produces films in the Irish Gaelic language (although there are a sizable number of Irish-language television programs) so when one gets released, it’s got a fairly good shot at representing the nation at the Oscars. This year, they’ll probably send “Song of Granite”, a B&W musical drama/biopic about folk singer Joe Heaney, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Irish countryside. It played at South by Southwest and Karlovy Vary and is scheduled to get a limited release Stateside in November.

11. ITALY- "La tenerezza" Italy, as always, has plenty of movies to choose from, but I can't really see any potential winners this year. 

12. LUXEMBOURG- “Barrage” Multilingual Luxembourg has a small film industry which is focused mostly on co-productions with its larger neighbors, especially Belgium, France and Germany (all Luxembourgers are fluent in French and German), and to a lesser extent also with Austria, the UK and the Netherlands. They produce very few majority productions- typically two to five each year. This year, the only features I know of that are made by local directors are comedy “Rusty Boys”, drama “Barrage” and documentary “Tourist”. Starring the incomparable Isabelle Huppert, produced by local director Pol Cruchten (who has repped Luxembourg three times) and directed by an actual Luxembourger (Laura Schroeder), French—language mother-daughter drama “Barrage” is certain to get this. 64-year old beauty Huppert is actually the grandmother in this film, who is raising her granddaughter in Luxembourg when her flighty daughter returns. That should be enough to beat senior-citizen comedy “Rusty Boys” (in the local dialect) and “Tourist”, a documentary about a Luxembourg man who decides to start a new life on the Arctic island of Svalbard.

13. MALTA- “Limestone Cowboy” Malta submitted a film just once in 2014 and it reportedly did quite well. Malta (pop: 430,000) has a tiny national film industry but half of this small number are in English. Comedy-drama “Limestone Cowboy” premiered at a film festival in Malta last year but will be released in cinemas “at the end of the year”. The film will probably be Malta’s second-ever Oscar submission, but it remains to be seen whether its release date will qualify it for this year or next year. The film is about an eccentric old man who believes a childhood story that he will be a great Wild West Hero (though the tiny islands of Malta have no “Wild, Wild West”) and so decides to run for political office, embarrassing his social-climbing son. From the trailer, it seems like it may meet the Maltese "foreign language" requirement.

14. THE NETHERLANDS- “Tulips, Love, Honour and a Bike” The Netherlands has plenty of films to choose from, as they often do. I think the decision is likely to come down to “Layla M.”, a drama about a girl tempted by Islamic fundamentalism that has played at a myriad of international film festivals, and the upcoming “Tulips, Love, Honour and a Bike”, about a Canadian woman tracing her family history back to when her Dutch parents faced off against the Mafia in mid-20th century Italy. Director Mike van Diem won an Oscar for “Character” twenty years ago and the Netherlands likes sending films that open right before the deadline, so I’m predicting “Tulips” gets the Nod. They’re also likely to consider “Bram Fischer”, a biopic made in South Africa about Nelson Mandela’s lawyer, artist biopic “A Real Vermeer”, and sad custody drama “Waldstille”. The directors of all five (except “Waldstille”) have been selected before. Unlikely but possible if the Dutch are in a lighter mood: absurdist anthology “Quality Time” and father-son dramedy “Waterboys”. Top Five for Holland: “Tulips, Love, Honour and a Bike”, “Layla M.”, “Waldstille”, “Bram Fischer” and “Waterboys”. UPDATE: The Netherlands announced an eight-film shortlist, which includes "Tulips", "Layla M." and "Quality Time", but not the other films mentioned. I'm sticking with my prediction of "Tulips", but there's definitely a lot of competition from "The Day My Father Became A Bush", a view of the outbreak of a war in a peaceful country, seen from the point of view of a young girl. 

15. NORWAY- “The Comet”  Like neighboring Denmark, Norway typically announces a three-film shortlist, but this year they will really struggle to find three worthy films. This year’s three Best Picture nominees at the Amanda Awards included a a car-racing comedy sequel and a children’s cartoon (which will presumably both be defeated by the shortlisted “The King’s Choice” at the ceremony on August 18). I predict the shortlisted three will be “Drib”, a comic mockumentary about the marketing of a new energy drink, “Kometen” (The Comet), about  a young man investigating the disappearance of his father who disappeared twelve years earlier when a comet was sighted, and “Thelma”, a sci-fi/horror film by Joachim Trier about a lesbian with supernatural powers (?!) “Comet” and “Thelma” will be released in August and September respectively. "Thelma" has good buzz and has already managed a number of international sales, but lesbian horror doesn't sound very Oscary, so I’m just going to predict “Comet". Anyway, it's clear that no films released so far this year have any chance. “Hoggeren”, about a man who goes to live in the forest, and big-budget fantasy film “Askeladden” could also appear on the shortlist, though I don’t think they’ll have much of a chance. It appears to be the weakest of any of the major European countries.

16. PORTUGAL-“Fatima” Production is way up in Portugal…As of mid-August, they seem to have nearly twenty eligible fiction features plus a number of documentaries. They are the only Western European country (alongside tiny Luxembourg) never to have made it to the shortlist stage…In all honesty, they’ve probably never even come close.  This year, they have a quartet of  contenders- (1)- the gonzo, full-on erotic drama “The Ornithologist” (Best Director, Locarno 2016) which finally opened in Portugal in October, (2)- Cannes unemployment musical "The Nothing Factory" which will open domestically in September, (3)- the lower-profile “Fatima”, about a group of women embarking on a 400km pilgrimage on foot, and (4)- “Saint George”, about a man dealing with the Portuguese economic crisis.  The directors of three of these films have been selected at least once before (Joao Canijo, who directed “Fatima”, was selected twice in 2005 and 2012) and all four films have gotten good reviews, though clearly “Ornithologist”- with it’s graphic gay sex- is not for everyone. In such a strong year, Portugal should choose their best film (which they don’t always do….i.e. rejecting “Mysteries of Lisbon” for a dull, dusty documentary) so I’m predicting “Fatima”, “The Nothing Factory", The Ornithologist” and “Saint George” in that order, with “Jacinta” (the #1 box-office hit this past year), about a 1917 sighting of the Virgin Mary in a distant fifth. Talky crime drama “Leviano" is a potential spoiler if it gets released in time.

17. SPAIN- TBD

18. SWEDEN- “The Square” Few major countries have an easier choice this year than Sweden. First of all, "The Square" won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Second, although his uncomfortable films are definitely an acquired taste, director Ruben Ostlund has been selected twice to represent Sweden and he made the Final Nine last time with “Force Majeure”. Lastly, in a mostly weak year, Sweden just doesn’t have much else to send. I haven’t enjoyed either of Ostlund’s previous submissions, but "The Square" is pretty much a lock. The satirical drama is about an eccentric art exhibition dedicated to idealism. I’ve heard the film is mostly in Swedish, but it has no less than three English-speaking leads. If language becomes a problem, the only other real option is “Sami Blood”, a well-reviewed drama based on a true story about a teenage girl from the indigenous Sami community and the discrimination and exploitation she suffered at the hands of Swedish authorities in the early 20th century. It was shortlisted for the LUX Prize alongside "120 BPM" and "Western". The other high-profile Swedish film this year- “Borg/McEnroe” with Shia LeBoeuf and Stellan Skarsgard- almost certainly has too much English to qualify here.

19. SWITZERLAND- “The Divine Order” Switzerland is always an unpredictable one, and their choices are often unexpected. Their gamble last year on animated film “My Life As a Zucchini” paid-off as they made the Top Nine for only the third time since they winning the Oscar in 1990. I seem to be the only one that failed to see the charm of this cloying cartoon. This year, I expect they will send either “The Divine Order”, a drama about women fighting for the right to vote in 1971 (you read that right….Swiss women apparently could not vote or work without permission until 1971) or “Goliath”, about a young man who begins taking steroids to protect his pregnant girlfriend, but ends up being abusive. “The Divine Order” did well at this year’s Swiss Film Awards (netting five of the total nine acting nominations, and winning three awards. It lost Best Pic to “Zucchini”) and won the Audience Award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. “Goliath” is the only Swiss film in competition at this year’s Locarno Fest. These are the two usual Swiss precursors, so it’s probably going to be one of these two. Other options include the Italian-language “Seven Days” (which has booked a UK release), about a man in love with his prospective sister-in-law, or the German-language “Marija” (a thieving Ukrainian immigrant tries to make ends meet) or weird, dark thriller “Animals” (Berlin).  The directors of “Seven Days” and “Animals” have been submitted before. French Switzerland has been quiet. I predict “The Divine Order”, followed by “Goliath” and “Animals”. UPDATE: "The Divine Order" became the official Swiss candidate on August 4th.

20. TURKEY- “Big Big World” With Semih Kaplanoglu working in English this year and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s new film not ready until 2018, Turkey is wide open, with a dozen real possibilities. I was going to predict “Ayla”- a drama about a Turkish soldier saving an adorable Korean orphan during the Korean War- but it looks like that won’t be ready either. So, I see seven main possibilities: six award winners “Album” (Cannes), “Big Big World” (Jury Prize in Venice, Best Picture in Adana), “Blue Bicycle” (Best Turkish Film in Antalya), “Clair/Obscur” (Best International Film in Antalya), “Daha” (Karlovy Vary) and “Yellow Heat” (Best Director in Moscow, dominated Istanbul Film Festival), as well as one local mainstream hit- “Sour Apples”, directed by popular actor/director Yilmaz Erdogan. All seven films are supposed to be “good”, but I haven’t heard that any of them are “great”, and they’re all at approximately the same level. Ultimately, I think Turkey will select either “Big Big World” or “Clair/Obscur” and I give the edge to the more macho “Big Big World”. “World” is especially likely because it is the rare Turkish film that has managed awards from both local and international critics. Plus Reha Erdem is a respected director who hasn’t been selected since 2000. The film is about two orphaned “siblings” who run away to try and escape the world. The female-helmed “Clair/Obscur” is about two very different women- one rich, one poor- who find themselves facing many of the same challenges. It’s a strong threat. Not far behind- minimalist adoption comedy “Album” (often compared to Romanian New Wave), “Yellow Heat”, a drama about poverty that has also managed awards inside and outside of Turkey, and Erdogan’s popular dramedy “Sour Apples”, about three decades in the life of a family moving around Turkey. Also possible in a very close year- “Ember” earned a Best Pic nomination at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, and “My Father’s Wings” looks like the sort of dark social drama the Turks often send. This is a tough one.

21. UNITED KINGDOM- “My Pure Land” The Brits have gotten creative in this category since they returned to the Oscar competition in 2008, sending four Welsh movies, and four made by British directors in Afghanistan, Turkey, Jordan (with an Iranian cast) and the Philippines. This is possible thanks to a rule change that allowed countries to send movies in languages that aren’t native to the nominating country. It was precipitated by the UK submission of Hindi-language “The Warrior” directed by British director Asif Kapadia, which was disqualified. I was sure that Oscar winner Kapadia (“Amy”) was finally going to benefit from the rule change this year with “Ali & Nino”, a $20 million period romance set in turn-of-the-century Azerbaijan, written by Oscar-winning British screenwriter Christopher Hampton. However this drama starring Palestinian actor Adam Bakri and Spanish actress Maria Valverde looks like it was filmed mostly in English. There appears to be dubbed Azerbaijani version (could it compete for Azerbaijan?? There aren't many Azerbaijani crew)  but the UK release was probably completely in English. So, I'm predicting “My Pure Land”, an Urdu-language drama set in Pakistan, about three women trying to defend their home from armed invaders. The UK could also arrange a qualifying release for “Gholam”, a Persian-language drama directed by London-based, Iran-born director Mitra Tabrizian, and starring Shahab Hosseini (Best Actor in Cannes for Oscar winner “A Separation”), about an Iranian émigré whose military past catches up with him in London. It’s currently scheduled to be released in the UK in December and should compete for next year. Other options:  “Mahi MRI”, an energetic multi-cultural comedy in Punjabi about an Indian student studying in Birmingham and “The Receptionist”, a co-production with Taiwan about an illegal Chinese massage parlor in London. As for Welsh movies, the only feature I know of is “The Library Suicides”, which was released in Wales too early (August 2016). 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

FOREIGN FILM PREDICTIONS (Asia)

And here are my predictions from the 23 countries from Asia. 19 of these countries submitted films last year. Bhutan (1999), Mongolia (2005), Sri Lanka (2009) and Tajikistan (2005) haven't sent films in years.

1. AFGHANISTAN- “Wolf and Sheep” Afghanistan is one of those countries that keeps sending great movies year after year without luck. “Parting” was one of the best films submitted last year (albeit a weak year) but AMPAS mysteriously disqualified it without announcing a reason. Was it because of nationality (the film was an Iranian co-production) or was it not properly released in Afghanistan? Who can say? The year before, “Utopia” was disqualified for having too much English. This year, I predict they will send either “Lina”, a movie about a young woman who goes in search of her biological father after learning from a blood test that her parents are not her real parents, or “Wolf and Sheep”, about life in a pastoral village in central Afghanistan. I give the edge to “Wolf and Sheep” whose 27-year old female director won Director’s Fortnight at Cannes in 2016, and who made the film in Afghanistan with an international crew. Siddiq Barmak (the Golden Globe-winning director of “Osama”) is currently in production on a new movie called “The Pass” in Georgia. 
2. BANGLADESH- “Rina Brown”- There seems to be an unfortunate trend in Asia whereby the highest-profile films of the year are being banned. In February, Bangladesh joined Bhutan and Jordan on the list by banning “No Bed of Roses”, a drama starring Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan. Reasons for the ban are unclear, but it appears to be due to allegations from the widow of acclaimed author/filmmaker Humayun Ahmed (who was also a strong supporter of the current ruling party) that the film is an unauthorized dramatization of her husband’s life. All but one of the Bangladeshi submissions since 2005 have been produced by Impress Telefilms, the dominant national film studio. That bodes well for “Hotath Dekha”, a co-production with India about two characters who meet on a train in 1938 Bengal, and “Rina Brown”, a romance between a Muslim man and a Christian girl on the eve of the war for independence. Films about the 1971 war are always popular subjects for Bangladeshi cinema. If selected, “Rina Brown” would be the first female-helmed film to represent the country. However, most Bangladeshi films that have received buzz abroad have been made outside the Impress studio system, including two decidedly arthouse entries- “Live from Dhaka” (Singapore) and Abu Sayeed’s crowd-funded “Death of a Poet”- as well as “Gopon: The Inner Sound”, which won Best Foreign Film at the Delhi Film Festival. Other Bangladeshi movies about the war for independence this year include “Bhuban Majhi” and “Lal Sobujer Sur”, which could be selected.  My prediction: “Rina Brown” ends up being one of the more obscure entries on this year's Oscar longlist, with war drama “Bhuban Majhi” in second, dramedy “Hotath Dekha” in third, and arthouse “Gopon” in fourth. 

3. BHUTAN- “Honey Giver Among the Dogs” Bhutan submitted a film just once in 1999, for Khynetse Norbu’s delightful “The Cup”. According to the national newspaper/news agency Kuensel, the producers of Norbu’s latest film- “Hema Herma: Sing Me A Song While I Wait” were preparing to submit their film- when the film (which has delighted audiences in Locarno, Toronto and Busan) was unexpectedly banned. Bhutan, best known for its mountain scenery and “gross national happiness” policy is not known for censorship. However, the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) refused to budge, meaning the film cannot be screened in Bhutan and thus cannot compete for an Oscar. The reasons are vague, but it appears the cultural authorities objected to the way Bhutanese masks were used in the film, in fictional, non-traditional ceremonies. This is a pity for Bhutanese filmmakers and a shameful act of censorship. But all is not lost. Bhutan actually had two well-reviewed films at Busan, so I’m hopeful they’ll send film-noir mystery “Honeygiver Among the Dogs” this year until “Hema Hema” can work out its issues with the government. But they probably won’t send anything. “Honeygiver” is about a policeman searching for two missing people- a monk and a local femme fatale. “Serga Mathang”, which won Best Picture at the National Film Awards, won’t figure into the decision-making.

4. CAMBODIA- “Diamond Island” Most of Cambodia’s film and television industry were executed or exiled during the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s, but the country has submitted films four of the past five years, and netted an unexpected Oscar nomination for Rithy Panh’s documentary “The Missing Picture”. I used to struggle to find even one eligible Cambodian film, but this year’s Cambodia International Film Festival (CIFF) featured six new movies. This year’s nominee is almost certain to be “Diamond Island”, which screened at Cannes Critics Week 2016 before opening in Cambodian cinemas in October. It’s a familiar story- boy from the countryside moves to the big city to find work and falls in love with a local girl- but it’s all supposedly done very well. The main competition comes from Oscar nominee Panh, who has another Khmer Rouge documentary out this year- the French-language “Exile”. However, it’s so abstract and cerebral that I think the Cambodian Academy will give 33-year old Davy Chou a chance. The other four Cambodian premieres at the CIFF included a psychological thriller, a popular martial arts action film, a horror film and an LGBT-themed chase comedy.

5. CHINA- “The Chinese Widow” Director Feng Xiaogang has been selected by Chinese officialdom to represent the country twice. He is one of China’s biggest box-office draws and his “I Am Not Madame Bovary” has been the front-runner all year, ever since its domestic release date was postponed from September to November 2016, changing the year it was eligible. It won Best Picture at the Asian Film Awards and at the China Film Directors Awards and was nominated at the Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan. “Madame Bovary” is a comedy/satire about a woman who is double-crossed by her ex-husband after the two plan a fake divorce to get around government land regulations. Will China feel comfortable nominating a film with a heroine who is trying to cheat the government? Probably not, but they did approve it for release. China is usually the last major country to announce their Oscar pick, and they often make strange decisions. In the past three years, they've selected movies out of left field, that few people had heard of, and which hadn’t won any awards of note. For that reason, I’m wondering if “Madame Bovary” could get bumped by nationalist war drama “The Chinese Widow”, directed by Danish Oscar winner Bille August and starring Emile Hirsch as a downed American pilot who is cared for by a benevolent Chinese family during WWII. Although the film isn’t supposed to be very good, this sounds much more like China’s cup of tea. "The Chinese Widow" opened the Shanghai Film Festival and China has a tradition of sending films to the Oscars with Hollywood stars (Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins in “Back to 1942”, Christian Bale in “Flowers of War”). Feng Xiaogang also has a new movie premiering in October (“Youth”) that could arrange an early release. Three other Chinese films deserve a mention here: “Summer is Gone” is this year’s arthouse frontrunner. It beat out “Madame Bovary” for Best Picture at the Golden Horse Awards, and is an intimate B&W tale of a Chinese family living in Inner Mongolia. “Lady in the Portrait” is this year’s costume drama frontrunner, starring Fan Bingbing (who also plays (not) Madame Bovary) as a 16th century Empress who commissions a portrait by a French artist. “Wasted Times” is a lush, period crime epic, co-starring Zhang Ziyi and Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano. All of these films (except the brand-new “Widow”) competed at the China Film Director Awards, and appear to have the approval of the Chinese government. Less likely:  China’s festival films have either gotten mixed reviews (“Free and Easy” from Sundance, “Crosscurrent” from Berlin) or deal with controversial issues (“Walking Past the Future” from Cannes and “Mr. No Problem” from Tokyo). Only “Knife in the Clear Water” (Rotterdam) would seem to stand a chance. Dark horses: a couple of Mainland pictures with Hong Kong directors- girl power romantic drama “Soul Mate” probably has a better chance to represent Hong Kong than China, while hit action film “Operation Mekong” isn’t acclaimed enough. In the end, I’m disappointed to say that I’m predicting “Chinese Widow” will beat out the superior “Madame Bovary”, but I'm hoping that I’m wrong. Rounding out the Top Seven from the world’s largest nation: (in order) “Wasted Times”, “Summer is Gone”, “Lady in the Portrait”, “Youth” and “Knife in the Clear Water”.  Or maybe something nobody has ever heard of. 

6. HONG KONG- “Our Time Will Come” Hong Kong is confusing because many of the territory's top directors are now working on the Mainland, with its mega-market of 1.2 billion cinemagoers. At the same time there are a growing number of people wary of Mainland influence and urging the protection of Hong Kong’s distinct culture and Cantonese language. The obvious Oscar front-runner is “Our Time Will Come”, a large scale historical drama directed by Ann Hui, who has represented Hong Kong four times. It’s about how local Hong Kongers and Chinese guerillas fought the Japanese together during World War II. It’s gotten decent reviews, but Hong Kong’s artistic community may be reluctant to select a film that was released to celebrate twenty years since the unification of China and Hong Kong (it depends who’s on the selection committee!) Still, for now that’s the front-runner. Two small-scale dramas (of the sort selected in 2010 and 2011) also have a chance, namely Cantonese-language “Mad World” (winner of two acting awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards), about a man struggling with mental illness, and Mandarin-language “Soul Mate” (nominated for Best Director at Asian Film Awards and Best Picture at the HK Film Awards), an emotional girl-power romantic drama about two best friends in love with the same man. They haven’t chosen a big martial arts movie in years (2006 and 2008), but these visually impressive films may impress members of the tech branches. Of these, the ones with the best chance are Gordon Chan’s “God of War”, about local Chinese fending off Japanese pirates in the 16th century, and the upcoming Tsui Hark-produced “Thousand Faces of Dunjia”, a wuxia film about the formation of secret society. It’s set to bow October 1st, but Hong Kong frequently arranges an Oscar-qualifying release to promote new films. They could also do the same for “Find Your Voice”, a new Andy Lau movie about a grouchy choir (Oscar loves choirs!) that is currently without a release date. I’m predicting “Our Time Will Come”, but I’m not confident. The rest of the top five: “Mad World”, “Thousand Faces of Dunjia”, “Soul Mate” and “Find Your Voice”.

7. INDIA- TBD

8. INDONESIA- “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts” Indonesia rarely makes movies that make it to the Cannes Film Festival, so “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts”, an exciting feminist revenge thriller with shades of “Kill Bill”, is currently the front-runner to represent Indonesia. One big problem- the film has no domestic release date. Another potential problem- the Indonesian Academy usually sends stuffy historical dramas rather than edgy and exciting fare like "Marlina". But the film has gotten enthusiastic reviews, and I’m hopeful she’ll make it to the longlist.  Overall, Indonesia is seeing a film resurgence, even though they’ve never yet seriously contended for an Oscar. I’m going to predict “Marlina” gets an Oscar-qualifying release this "island western" about a kick-ass widow who takes revenge on the men who have wronged her. Other possibilities include a trio of historical dramas (“Kartini”, “Solo, Solitude” and “A Woman From Java”) and two melodramas (“Salawaku” and “A Letter to God”). If “Marlina” doesn’t get released, I think Indonesia will select “Kartini”, about a feminist hero who defied the traditions of her high-born family to fight for women’s rights in early 20th century Indonesia. Director Bramantyo was selected in 2014 and the film co-stars Indonesia's most acclaimed actress- Christine Hakim- as Kartini’s mother. In third place: “A Letter to God”, about two street children whose fates diverge when the girl is suddenly adopted by a foreign family. She then searches for her best friend a decade later. Garin Nugroho , one of Indonesia’s most senior directors, hasn’t been selected since 1998 but his “A Woman From Java”, about the Indonesian concubine of an elderly Dutch merchant in the colonial era, will come fourth and road movie “Salawaku”, which got a Best Pic nominee at last year’s national Citra Awards, will probably come fifth. 

9. JAPAN- “Harmonium” I lived in Japan five years but I’ve never once predicted them correctly. Their choices tend to be extremely random. I’ve managed to see seventeen out of eighteen submissions since 1999 and they’ve sent some brilliant films (the best was “Confessions”) as well as some real losers (last year’s “Nagasaki: Memories of My Son”) that nobody inside or outside Japan seemed to like. So it’s best not to spend too much time trying to understand. This year, I predict they’ll send “Harmonium”, a dark drama about a man who hires his friend who has just been released from prison. The “friend” (played by Japanese superstar Tadanobu Asano) begins to insinuate himself into the lives of the man’s family. It won the 2016 Jury Prize in Cannes “Un Certain Regard”, and was the only Japanese film to be nominated for Best Picture at the 2017 Asian Film Awards. It has good reviews and starpower and has the same dark tone of their 2010 and 2014 submissions.  Not far behind is Hirokazu Koreeda’s “The Third Murder”, which opens in September. Koreeda is a brilliant director who works outside the studio system. He’s frequently passed over for great work ("Like Father, Like Son" etc.) but he was selected by the Japanese Academy once. Told from three perspectives, “The Third Murder” is about a murderer, a lawyer and the family of a murder victim. Three strong dark horses are (1)- “The Old Capital”, a family drama about a traditional family whose business has hundreds of years of roots to the city of Kyoto, but which is having trouble adjusting to the modern world; (2)- “Oh Lucy!”, a quirky low-key comedy that was called a “hidden gem” at Cannes, stars Shinobu Terajima and Josh Hartnett as a bored office lady and her English teacher. (It’s produced by Will Ferrell!) and (3) “In this Corner of the World”, a gorgeous animated film about Hiroshima in the years leading up to World War II, which won Best Animated Film (a very competitive category in Japan!) at the Japanese Academy Awards this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these five were selected. Cancer comedy “Her Loves Boils Bathwater” and samurai movies “Tatara Samurai” and ultra-violent “Blade of the Immortal” have all gotten great reviews….but none of them seem serious enough to be the Japanese candidate. And the high-profile “Radiance” from Naomi Kawase has gotten mostly mixed reviews. I still say “Harmonium” gets this, with “Third Murder” and “Oh Lucy!” the most likely spoilers.

10. KAZAKHSTAN- “Returnee” Kazakh films do well at international film festivals, though these arthouse films don’t always get released at home. Kazakhstan doesn’t have any obvious contenders this year. Their most acclaimed film (“Road to Mother”) was released on September 29th, 2016 meaning it was eligible for last year. I predict the Kazakhs send “The Returnee”, a drama about the oralman, ethnic Kazakhs from other countries (mostly China and Mongolia) who are invited by the Kazakh government to resettle in Kazakhstan. Although they are “Kazakhs” ethnically, these immigrants often have a difficult time adjusting to the more liberal and secular, Russified culture of Kazakhstan. It was the only Kazakh fiction feature at the Eurasian Film Festival (Kazakhstan’s largest) and it won Best Asian Film at the Fajr Film Festival in Iran. In second place is “Districts” (Rayony), a well-received crime drama by Akan Satayev, who has represented Kazakhstan twice before. A third option would be “The Plague at the Karatas Village”, an arty drama about a new mayor confronted with a strange village plague. It earned Kazakhstan a prestigious nomination for “Best Film From the CIS Countries” at the 2017 Russian Nika Awards. Less likely: taxi driver drama “4+1” (Busan 2016) and 3-hour biopic “Aktoty”.

11. KOREA- “Warriors of the Dawn” South Korea is the world’s greatest filmmaking nation that has never been nominated for an Oscar. They’ve tried everything- arthouse/festival darlings, big-budget war movies, big-budget costume dramas, mainstream box-office hits, comedies, dramas and action movies- but nothing works. This year, they’ve got a lot of contenders (including five by previously submitted directors, four that premiered at Cannes and two that premiered in Berlin), with no obvious frontrunner. The highest-profile Korean film of the year is “Okja”, starring Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and a flatulent, giant animated pig. It premiered at Cannes and is being called this year’s “E.T.” However because it may have premiered online and also has a lot of English, I don't think it will be considered. From Korea’s arthouse branch we have “Bacchus Lady” (Berlin 2016), “On the Beach At Night Alone” (Best Actress; Berlin 2017) and “The Day After” (Cannes 2017). The Koreans love their anti-Japanese history movies (e.g. “Anarchist From Colony”, “Snowy Road” and “Battleship Island”, all set in the colonial era, as well as “Warriors of the Dawn” set in the 16th century), but they also sent one last year. And although they rarely send them to the Oscars, they have a number of crime dramas that could compete here like “The Merciless” (Cannes), box-office hit “New Trial”, corruption drama “Ordinary Person” (Moscow) and this summer’s upcoming “VIP”.  And it’s never wise to count out (1)- Song Kang-ho, who has starred in the Korean submissions the past two years and who stars in “Taxi Driver”, about a man driving a German journalist around during one of Korea’s most politically turbulent times, or (2)- Kim Ki-duk who should have two Oscar noms already for “Spring Summer Fall Winter Spring” and the disturbing “Pieta”. Kim has a new movie- “The Net”- about a North Korean fisherman who accidentally drifts into South Korean waters. It’s gotten good reviews, though they say it’s not his best film.  Ultimately, I think it will depend whether Korea wants to go large or small; set in 1592, “Warriors of the Dawn” is a splashy historical drama about mercenaries fighting against the Japanese with great battle scenes and high production values. It couldn’t be more different than “Bacchus Lady”, a comparatively low-budget film about the surprising Korean phenomena of elder prostitution, that has quietly gained strong notices since its Cannes debut over a year ago. I'll pick “Warriors” since Korea has tended to go glossy the last few years and "Bacchus is a bit disturbing. Rounding out the Top Five: Kim Ki-duk’s “The Net” , big-budget prison break drama “Battleship Island” and noirish police drama “Ordinary Person”. I wouldn’t count out festival films “The Day After” or “On the Beach At Night Alone” either, but reviews have been more mixed.

12. KYRGYZSTAN- “Centaur” Kyrgyzstan takes on the story of Don Quixote in "Centaur", a village drama about a man living with his wife and handicapped son, who secretly frees racehorses in the middle of the night. Director Aktan Arym Kubat (formerly known professionally as Aktan Abdykalykov) is the country’s best-known director and his films have represented the country three times.  Combine that with the fact the film won two awards in Berlin and was the country’s representative at Karlovy Vary, and “Centaur” looks like a shoo-in. Dark horse: “Finding Mother” has also gotten good notices (and some US screenings) for its story of a Kyrgyz orphan who goes to the United States to find his long-lost mother.  

13. MALAYSIA- “Interchange” Malaysia’s first-ever Oscar submission was a Malay-language fantasy film by ethnic Chinese director Teong Hin Saw. This year, most everyone would agree that Malaysia’s best film of the year is “You Mean the World to Me”, a semi-autobiographical drama about Saw’s difficult relationship with his mother. It has an all-star regional cast and is lensed by Wong Kar-wai cinematographer Christopher Doyle. In any other country, this critically-acclaimed family drama would be automatically be the country’s Oscar submission. But the film is about an ethnic Chinese family, and Malaysia has a system of pervasive legal and cultural discrimination against its Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities. I’d say it’s extremely unlikely they would select a Chinese-language film to represent the country, no matter how good it is (In 2014, Malaysia sent nothing, rather than send “The Journey”). However, things may be changing. Last year, a number of prominent Malay filmmakers threatened to boycott the Malaysian Film Festival in protest of the rule that only Malay-language films could compete in the main awards (Malaysian Chinese and Indian films would be relegated to a sort of Best Foreign Language Film category). Due to the controversy, the festival was forced to change the rules, and a Tamil-language film won. So, I hope I'm wrong. For now though, I still think the Malaysian Academy will seek to send a Malay film….Problem is, they don’t have much to choose from this year. One option is “Interchange” (Toronto 2016), a weird fantasy-mystery about a forensics photographer trying to solve a supernatural murder. Director Dain Said directed Malaysia’s second Oscar submission (“Bunohan”). Other possibilities: social dramas “Adiwiraku”, about a rural school and “Hijabsta Ballet”, about a young ballerina who insists on wearing a hijab when she dances. I’m definitely rooting for “You Mean the World to Me”, but ethnic prejudice means I’m going to predict “Interchange”, even though it hasn’t gotten great reviews. But then, most Malaysian films sent to the Oscars haven’t either.

14. MONGOLIA- “Children of Genghis” Mongolia hasn’t been on the Oscar list since 2005. Both their previous submissions were directed by Germany-based Byambasuren Davaa who got a Documentary Oscar nomination for “The Story of the Weeping Camel” after failing the make the shortlist for Foreign Film the year before. Davaa said in a 2017 interview that she is working on “several projects” but nothing is ready to start filming. She also mentioned that her next film may be a fiction film. The Mongolians began a new national film Awards this year, so perhaps that will inspire them to rejoin the Oscar race. This year, the two front-runners are “Faith”, a moral dilemma drama about the pervasiveness of corruption in Mongolia which won Best Picture at the new awards, and “Children of Genghis”, a US co-production which appears to be a sort of docudrama about Mongolian children learning the ancient sport of horse racing. I give the edge to “Genghis”.
15. NEPAL- “White Sun” Few countries this year have an easier decision than the Himalayan nation of Nepal, which is certain to submit “White Sun”, which has played at a dozen festivals since its premiere in Venice last August. It won the Interfilm Award there, as well as prizes at Palm Springs (Grand Jury Prize) and Singapore (Best Asian Film). This film, about a political activist burying his father amidst ancient traditions, family pressures, caste differences and the challenges of living under the new, post-war republican government, is said to be one of the best films ever made by a Nepali director. The Hollywood Reporter specifically noted in its review that the film could “go a fair distance” in the Foreign Language category. It’s a lock.

16. PAKISTAN- “Rahm” Pakistan is my home country until September 2nd, and I’ve had a wonderful year here. Unfortunately, although national cinema has really been improving, many Pakistanis still snobbishly say they won’t go and see local films. While here, I’ve tried to encourage people to support their local cinema industry.  I see five possibilities this year:  (1)- “Abdullah: The Final Witness”, a film based on a true story about an innocent truck driver convicted of the murder of several foreign citizens in Balochistan province. It was set to premiere in 2015 but was banned by the Pakistani censors until Fall 2016; (2)- “Gardaab”, a gritty thriller very loosely based on Romeo & Juliet, set amidst the slums of Karachi, (3)- “Rahm”, also based on a Shakespeare play (the less well-known “Measure for Measure”),  about a woman trying to save her innocent brother from being executed by a fanatical, religious governor, (4)- “Salute”,  based on the true story of a teenaged boy who died saving his school from a suicide bomber and (5)- the long-delayed “Saya-e-Khuda-e-Zuljalal” (aka “SKZ”…I predicted it two or three years ago), a nationalist action film about Pakistan's worsening relations with India between Pakistani independence in 1947 and the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. Less likely: two-time Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s new animated film “3 Bahadur”, or upcoming revenge thriller “Wujood". In the past four years since Pakistan returned to the Oscar race (after a 50-year absence), Pakistan has selected one “indie” movie, and three arty but mainstream dramas. For that reason, I’m predicting a surprise nod for the relatively obscure “Rahm”, which has arguably gotten the strongest reviews and which is not controversial like “Abdullah” or “Salute”. I’ll rank the other Shakespearean adaptation- “Gardaab” – in second place with "SKZ" a strong third. 
17. PHILIPPINES- “Pedicab” I honestly don’t have a clue what the Philippines will send to the Oscars this year. They have a couple dozen mostly well-received films that have won awards at the country’s numerous awards shows and film festivals. Virtually none of them have been screened at any major film festivals (except “Pedicab”), and almost none of them have been reviewed by international critics. To make things more complicated, they have nine new films premiering at the Cinemalaya Film Festival in August, which often supplies many of their Oscar submissions. So, I'm definitely going to get this one wrong. I vaguely see the ten leading candidates (in alphabetical order) as “Apocalypse Child”, “Baconaua”, “Die Beautiful”, “Mercury is Mine”, “Mrs.”, “Patay na si Jesus”, “Pedicab”, “Right to Kill”, “The Sun Behind You” and “Women of the Weeping River”….but none of them seems especially likely. My prediction is “Pedicab”, but only because it won Best Picture at the Shanghai Film Festival. It’s a black comedy about a poor family moving from the slums of Manila, back to their home village. Reviews have been good but not great. My runner-ups: “Apocalypse Child”, about a youth in a surfing town who believes he was conceived during the filming of “Apocalypse Now”, “Women of the Weeping River”, a drama about a blood feud in a Muslim village which dominated the Gawan Urian Awards and “Die Beautiful”, by the director of “Bwakaw”, a surprisingly heartwarming comedy about a family trying to honor a transgender woman’s last wish to appear dressed as a different celebrity each night of her wake. The Philippines is the most confusing country in the world this year.

18. SINGAPORE- “A Yellow Bird” Tiny Singapore has submitted films six years in a row now, and appears to have become a regular participant in thi category. Although most of their films are made in Chinese or English, this year's two main contenders are in minority languages. The front-runner has got to be “A Yellow Bird”, which premiered in the International Critics Week section of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. That’s a big deal for Singapore. The multilingual film is mostly in Tamil and focuses on an Indian Singaporean whose family rejects him after he is released from prison. Singapore likes to highlight its multicultural society and has never selected a director from the minority Indian community (although director Rajagopal was one of the short film directors who made the entertaining omnibus “7 Letters”). The problem is that “A Yellow Bird” hasn’t gotten very good reviews, with critics applauding the cinema verite style, but also calling the film slow, boring and/or difficult to watch. A fun, alternate choice would be the Thai-language “Pop Aye”, a road movie made in Thailand by Singaporean director Kirsten Tan. It delighted audiences when it premiered in Sundance and it's been getting great reviews around the world. Starring 50-something Thai singer Thaneth Warakulnukroh alongside a scene-stealing elephant, “Pop Aye” is an indie dramedy about a man travelling with his childhood friend (an elephant) on a road trip back to his hometown. I’m rooting for “Pop Aye”, but I think the more “authentically Singaporean” “Yellow Bird” will be Singapore’s submission.

19. SRI LANKA- “Aloko Udapadi” Sri Lanka hasn’t sent a movie since 2009, despite a medium-sized film industry that annually produces several dozen films. They’ve only sent two films before- first an arthouse costume drama (“Mansion By the Lake”), followed by a more commercial effort (“The Road From Elephant Pass”). Their best movie of the year is said to be “Burning Birds’ (Busan, Tokyo, Rotterdam etc.), about a widow forced to care for a family of nine after her husband is abducted and killed by a paramilitary group. The director’s first film “Flying Fish” was banned in Sri Lanka by the previous government in 2011. There’s a more liberal regime in place now, but the film still hasn’t secured a local release. So, if the Sri Lankans do elect to send a movie, it will probably be big-budget historical drama “Aloko Udapadi”, set in 89BC in an ancient kingdom replete with palace intrigue, or the arthouse “Dirty Yellow Darkness” about a man with mental illness struggling to win back his wife. This really should be “Burning Birds”, but I’ll guess “Aloko Udapadi”.  

20. TAIWAN- “The Road to Mandalay” Taiwan has a wide open race, with every possible genre in contention to represent the island- comedy (“Village of No Return”), theatre of the absurd (“The Great Buddha”), straight drama (“Gangster’s Daughter”, “Missing Johnny”), arthouse (“Road to Mandalay”, “White Ant”), road movie (“Godspeed”), thriller (“The Last Painting”), musical (“52Hz, I Love You”), and even an unlikely horror film (“Mon Mon Mon Monsters”). Most of their top contenders were screened at the Taipei Film Festival, where the bizarre B&W “The Great Buddha” was the unexpected winner of both the festival's Grand Prize, and Best Fiction Feature in the Taiwanese film competition. “Road to Mandalay”, about two Burmese migrants living illegally in Thailand, has been the most acclaimed movie of the year from international critics, while “Godspeed” managed an impressive number of nominations (including Best Picture) at the Asian Film Awards and the Golden Horse Film Festival (losing both to films from Mainland China). The directors of black comedy “Godspeed” (about a man dealing drugs by hiring a sleep-deprived taxi driver to take him from one side of the island to the other and back, in 24 hours) and the Burmese-language “Road to Mandalay” have both been selected before. I’m unsure what Taiwan will do. “The Great Buddha” just looks too weird. Wei Te-sheng got Taiwan to the shortlist for “Seediq Bale” but his latest- “52Hz”- didn’t get great reviews. Taiwan-based Burmese director Midi Z. was selected in 2014, and selecting a non-Taiwanese twice in four years might be perceived negatively. It’s a confusing year, but I’m going to predict Midi Z. gets this for “Road to Mandalay”, with murder mystery “The Last Painting” and Taipei winner “Great Buddha”  not far behind. Less likely: taxi comedy “Godspeed” and “Missing Johnny”, about a number of characters whose lives intersect in Taipei. That last one won four awards in Taipei. I personally am most looking forward to see quirky comedy “Village of No Return”, about a con artist who brings a magical machine to a small village that causes people to forget all their bad memories, worries and responsibilities. 

21. TAJIKISTAN- “Monkey’s Dream” Tajikistan hasn’t submitted a movie since 2005, but their biennial Didor International Film Festival featured no less than four new films. So, here’s hoping Tajikistan returns to the Oscar race with the Russian-language horror-drama “Monkey’s Dream”, a local retelling of the famous short story “The Monkey’s Paw”, about an Oriental relic that grants its owner three (cursed) wishes. Sadly, Tajikistan's most famous international director, Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov,died in 2015.

22. THAILAND- “By The Time It Gets Dark” Thailand has probably had the weakest film year of the major Asian countries, so they don’t have much to choose from. Most of their film output consists of silly comedies replete with ghosts and drag queens, a huge number of horror films and the odd martial arts action movie. I think that the Thais will send “By The Time It Gets Dark”, a drama that won Best Picture and Best Director at this year’s National Film Awards. Set in the 1970s, it’s about student protests against the Thai military junta, and it’s been praised for its unique, dreamlike style of cinematography. However, since 2014 Thailand has once again been ruled by a military junta, which has been busy putting down protests and clamping down on dissidents, so this film may be a little too close to home. “Bad Genius” isn’t a typical Oscar submission- it’s a youthful heist thriller- but it’s gotten surprisingly good reviews, it has rocked the Thai box office and won Best Picture at the New York Asian Film Festival, so that’s probably their second-best option. Other possibilites: romantic drama “A Gas Station” (Busan) and romantic anthology “The Gift”, featuring music composed by the late King. Less likely: indie drama “Fail Stage” and Burma co-production “From Bangkok to Mandalay”. One potential dark horse: Thailand selected a film by an American director in 2015 so they could send critically acclaimed elephant comedy “Pop Aye” made in Thailand by Singaporean director Kirsten Tan. That would actually be a very smart move.

23. VIETNAM- “Father and Son” Vietnam’s film industry used to be dominated by dull state-sponsored dramas about Vietnamese history, and the occasional arthouse film made by Vietnamese directors based overseas. No longer. Vietnam has a local film industry catering to local tastes, dominated by local romantic comedies and action movies of the type that are popular all over Asia and around the world. 18 movies competed at the national Silver Kite Awards this year, and there wasn’t a Vietnam War movie in sight. The awards were dominated by rom-coms “Saigon, I Love You” and “12 Zodiac”. “Saigon, I Love You”, an omnibus of five romantic stories (including a gay couple, and one foreigner) centered around Ho Chi Minh City, was a local box-office hit and is eligible this year. It’s possible, but I think the Vietnamese Academy will go with something more serious. Vietnam’s “The Way Station”, a heavy drama about a series of characters from all over Vietnam who find themselves in a small seaside village,  won the third biannual ASEAN International Film Festival, and was one of three new features introduced at Vietnam’s first-ever Cannes pavilion in May (the others were “Cu Li Never Cries” and “The Third Wife”, which was the recipient of a prestigious grant from Spike Lee's production company). In the end, I think “Saigon” will be too light and the “The Way Station” (with its sexual themes) will be too heavy. And “The Third Wife”, about a 19th century girl forced to marry an older man, probably won’t be released in Vietnam until next year. So my prediction for Vietnam is “Father and Son”, a slice-of-life drama about a poor, widower fisherman raising his son in a small village, when his son suddenly falls ill. It’s serious, non-controversial and pretty.