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).