Sunday, February 26, 2017

FINAL PREDICTION- A second win for Farhadi

While here in Pakistan, I haven't been able to see as many Oscar nominees as I usually do....

This year's foreign film race is a competitive four-way race for the first time in years. That's kind of exciting after the "bleh" years of "Son of Saul" and "Ida", which romped through the precursors to predictable, boring Oscar wins.

Only "Tanna", the lovely film from VANUATU (but representing Australia) is out of the running. They were a shock nominee and should be happy finishing a respectable fifth place out of the 83 countries competing.

"A Man Called Ove" and "Toni Erdmann" will benefit from the new rule established a few years ago that you don't have to prove you've seen all five nominees to vote. SWEDEN's "A Man Called Ove" got the widest release of any of the five films, grossing 3.5 million dollars in the USA. GERMANY's three-hour dramedy "Toni Erdmann" has been the critic's choice most of the year, which means it has the highest name recognition for any voters that just vote for what they heard was good.

"Land of Mine" is the traditional choice to win the award....a World War II movie that pushes all the right buttons and packs an emotional wallop. For most of the year, I was pretty certain it would be the eventual winner. But it has been the least visible of the five and American viewers have barely been able to see it (though it did have a qualifying Oscar release) unlike "Tanna" (currently on VOD) or the others which got a wider viewing.

Ultimately, I'm going to predict "The Salesman" and a second win for Asghar Farhadi from IRAN. It seems like very few people think "The Salesman" is the best Foreign Film of the year....But reviews have been solid across the board unlike "Toni" (overlong....touted as a hilarious comedy even though it is really a comic drama), "Ove" (which many think is formulaic and standard) and "Tanna" (slow and obscure). Most of all, "The Salesman" could benefit from a political bump due to liberal voters in Hollywood wanting to show that they are against the campaign of Islamophobia pushed by this administration. When the travel ban (now rescinded) seemed to bar director Farhadi and actress Taraneh Alidoosti from attending the ceremony (which they are now boycotting), Americans got angry. I think "The Salesman" has the best shot at winning, though it's by no means a lock


I also managed to watch 11 of the 15 nominated short films

Best Live Action Short
Will Win:    Enemies Within (France), A-  
Should Win:  The Woman and the TGV (Switzerland), A 
Could Win: Sing (Hungary) C+
No Chance: the disappointing Timecode (Spain) D and Silent Night (Denmark) C-

Best Animated Short
Will Win: Piper, A
Should Win:  Piper
Could Win: chilling 6-minute western "Borrowed Time", A-
No Chance: the original 360 degree animation "Pearl" B+, Pear Cider and Cigarettes (which I admit I didn't see) and Blind Vaysha, C

Sunday, January 22, 2017


With many of the frontrunners (“Neruda”, “Elle”, “Clash”, “Olli Maki”) replaced by a series of generally well-received films with little Oscar buzz, this is going to be a difficult year to predict. Really, any of these nine films has a chance to be nominated but here's my rank order: 

1. DENMARK- "Land of Mine"
2. IRAN- "The Salesman"
3. GERMANY- "Toni Erdmann"
4. NORWAY- "The King's Choice"
5. CANADA- "It's Only the End of the World"

6. AUSTRALIA- "Tanna"
7. SWITZERLAND- "Ma vie de courgette"
8. SWEDEN- "A Man Called Ove"
9. RUSSIA- "Paradise"

As usual, I’ve tried to divide the films into three tiers:

1. DENMARK- "Land of Mine"
2. IRAN- "The Salesman"
3. GERMANY- "Toni Erdmann"

These three front-runners have generally been seen as “safe” throughout awards season and Golden Globe nominations for two of them (“Toni Erdmann” and “The Salesman”) have led me to believe that all three will be on the list on Tuesday morning. Though it failed at the Globes, Denmark has been nominated four of the past six years and I haven’t seen a single bad word about World War II drama “Land of Mine”, which focuses on the relationship between victorious Danish forces and young German POW conscripts forced to clear land mines that Germany used to terrorize Denmark during the war. I see the Danes as the dark horse front-runner to win the 2017 Oscar. And though some complain that father-daughter dramedy “Toni Erdmann” is overlong and others say Asghar Farhadi’s theatrical thriller “The Salesman” is not his best work, both have very strong, solid reviews overall. So, I’d say that all three of these are in.

4. NORWAY- "The King's Choice"
5. CANADA- "It's Only the End of the World"
6. AUSTRALIA- "Tanna"
Let’s take a look at the three films on the bubble. I keep going back and forth as to which of these three films will fail to make the list. Most people, in fact, are predicting all three will fail. 

In Brief:                                Directed by two Australia-based directors, “Tanna” is an exotic “Romeo + Juliet” story set during the late 20th century in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.
Pros:                      The cinematography is beautiful. Though it takes place in a remote island, the story is universal and relatable.
Cons:    Oscar seems to have lost its taste for “exotic”. Film starts off somewhat slow. 
Hoping to emulate:         “Theeb”, "Embrace of the Serpent" and “Caravan”

CANADA- “It’s Only the End of the World”
In Brief:                Xavier Dolan goes to France in this all-star drama about a man who tells his (all-star cast) family that he’s dying.
Pros:      This sort of all-star family drama is traditional Oscar bait. Big stars, emotional pull and very much a "French" flavor. Reviews have been stronger in the US than internationally. Won two awards at Cannes but…
Cons:   Reviews have been very mixed, with many calling it Dolan’s weakest film. The film does descend a bit into hysterics. Xavier Dolan has never found favor with Oscar before. Some think the film is genuinely bad. 
Hoping to emulate:     Every French nominee of the past 50 years.     

NORWAY- “The King’s Choice”
In Brief:                                An obscure "true story" domestic box-office hit about the Norwegian King’s decision in 1940 to fight Nazi Germany instead of agreeing to an ultimatum to  join the Nazi cause.
Pros:      World War II! And it’s a rare WWII story that they've probably never heard of (Denmark is also trying for this angle). It's a more intellectual war film rather than an action movie, which could play for or against it. 
Cons:     Obscure Norwegian history. Some say it’s really a film for a domestic audience
Hoping to emulate:      "Sophie Scholl", "Baader Meinhof Komplex", 

Bottom Line- I think the cerebral war film from Norway will play well with Oscar voters as will the French family drama. Though they've been shortlisted twice, Australia will likely have to wait for their first-ever nomination in this category. 

7. SWITZERLAND- "Ma vie de courgette"
8. SWEDEN- "A Man Called Ove"
9. RUSSIA- "Paradise"

RUSSIA's“Paradise” is probably the longest of long shots on this year’s list. This grim, artistic black + white WWII film has more detractors than fans and was surely one of the “elite committee” saves. Like the similarly grim “The Notebook” from Hungary- which was shortlisted a few years ago- this Oscar journey of this divisive pick is sure to end here.

SWEDEN's tragicomic “A Man Called Ove” is said to have had a rapturous reception with the geriatric older members of the “Large Committee”. They were perhaps best able to appreciate its story of a cranky widower learning to enjoy life again, after the death of his beloved wife. It’s a perfectly pleasant and well-made film, but it’s also formulaic and largely forgettable. Although I liked the film, it seems to fit the mold of other “pleasant”, unchallenging comedies that get cut at this stage (“Les Intouchables”, “Simple Simon”, “Superclasico”). 

Which brings us to SWITZERLAND….I keep going back and forth on animated tale, “My Life as a Zucchini”. In many ways, it seems to be the most beloved film on the list. Everyone thinks it’s lovely and touching. Everyone likes it…..meaning it could become the second-ever animated film to score a nomination in this category. However, I’m still predicting that this spare 75-minute film will ultimately be relegated to the Best Animated Film category.