Monday, December 4, 2017

2018 Foreign Oscar Predictions- THE AMERICAS (17 films)

14. HONDURAS- "Morazán"
15. COSTA RICA- "The Sound of Things" (El sonido de cosas)
16. PERU- "Rosa Chumbe"
17. BOLIVIA- "Dark Skull" (Viejo calavera)

With a record 92 countries in the competition, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Honduras and Peru should be happy to be participating. Their films don't have any chance at making the next round, but the Oscar competition provides great exposure for their small national industries. BOLIVIA has selected "Dark Skull", which has gotten strong notices for its gritty cinematography- largely set in claustrophobic underground mine shafts- though less for its story about an obnoxious, drunk young man who replaces his father after a suspicious mining accident. Sadly, the unlikable characters and weak, inconclusive story will make this a non-starter. COSTA RICA has selected spare 71-minute drama "The Sound of Things", a quiet drama about a nurse struggling to deal with her cousin's suicide. It's a small film that feels like a short rather than a feature. HONDURAS is making its debut in the Oscar competition with historical drama "Morazán", about the 19th century political machinations of a Costa Rican leader in 1842, pitted against powerful landowners and church groups. The film looks impressive, but the obscure Central American historical references and theatrical, melodramatic style of acting will make this a hard sell. PERU unexpectedly chose drama "Rosa Chumbe" over "La Última Tarde" (which went to the Goyas). "Rosa", a grim drama about an alcoholic policewoman given one final chance to redeem herself, and the woman's pregnant teenaged daughter. It has gotten mixed notices and just earned a particularly poisonous review from the New York Times this week. I thought it was well-acted poverty porn, that reminded me of Filipino cinema. Better luck next year!

10. URUGUAY- "Another Story of the World" (Otra historia del mundo) 
11. HAITI- "Ayiti Mon Amour"
12. ECUADOR- "Alba"
13. COLOMBIA- "Guilty Men" (Pariente)

Impoverished HAITI is submitting a film for the first time with "Ayiti Mon Amour", about a number of characters in the aftermath of the terrible 2010 earthquake. Critics have called the film charming, but it's a small film by a debutante director and little chance to compete against so many festival heavyweights. The three South American films are also facing an uphill battle. COLOMBIA's thriller "Pariente" (Guilty Men) is about a rural area where the lives of ordinary people are complicated by competing right-wing paramilitary and left-wing rebel groups. I've seen the film and I think American audiences will be very confused by some of the politics that will be very obvious to a domestic audience. ECUADOR has sent "Alba", a well-regarded film about an 11-year old girl who has to move in with her estranged father. Though the film is said to be good, it couldn't even crack the Top Four at last year's Goya, running against a dozen Latin films. The Oscars is much more competitive. Finally, there's URUGUAY which has sent another one of its quiet village comedies, this year "Another Story of the World", about a history professor trying to skew the news to help his friend get out of jail during the military dictatorship. Reviews have been good but this is a small, quiet film.


6. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC- "Woodpeckers" (Carpinteros)
7. PARAGUAY- "Los buscadores"
8. ARGENTINA- "Zama"
9. PANAMA- "Beyond Brotherhood" (Mas que hermanos)

First, let's start with ARGENTINA- the most successful Latin American country in this category. Some people think historical Western "Zama" will be nominated. Some critics think it's a good film. Many other hate the film, which I've heard is "perplexing", boring and difficult to watch. All in all, the film is too divisive to be selected. It will flop with the large committee and is not regarded enough to be saved. It will be a poor showing this year for Argentina. 

However, for the other three obscure countries in this group, I think they've all done rather well. The Dominican Republic and Paraguay have selected definite crowd-pleasers (kind of the opposite of what Argentina did). "Woodpeckers" (Sundance), from the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, is a kind of co-ed "Orange is the New Black", about a small-scale criminal who arrives in a Dominican prison where the #1 form of entertainment is flirting via sign language with the women's prison next door. It's funny, thrilling, sad and very entertaining, although probably a little too rough around the edges for the Oscars. PARAGUAY has selected treasure hunt thriller "Los buscadores", by the team who made the brilliant "7 Boxes" a few years ago. The trailer has the same manic energy of that film, and this film will probably place well even if the genre is a bit too light for the Oscars. Lastly is domestic drama "Beyond Brotherhood" from PANAMA, about an orphaned brother and sister who grow up on the streets after running away from separate orphanages. It has by far the highest rating of the Latin American films on IMDB (ahead of 2nd place Brazil) and although it's too small to advance, notices have been positive. 


3. CANADA- "Hochelaga, Land of Souls"
4. MEXICO- "Tempestad"
5. VENEZUELA- "El Inca"

Any of these three films could surprise on the shortlist, although I'd be very surprised if any of them could go all the way to the Final Five. MEXICO's "Tempestad" is one of the most critically acclaimed documentaries of the year. about two impoverished young women victimized by Mexican society. Documentaries have a hard time making it in this category and this documentary is supposed to be "beautiful" but also a little less structured. It's definitely in the running to be saved by the Elite Committee, but ultimately it will probably fail to get through. 

The other two check a lot of boxes on what Oscar usually likes. It's always foolish to bet against CANADA which is almost always shortlisted (7 times in the past eleven years) and "Hochelaga: Land of Souls" is a big-budget historical epic that tells two stories at different historical periods. It will be hoping to emulate "Embrace of the Serpent" and will probably impress the tech branch voters. However, nobody is excited or loves the film (though that didn't stop "Days of Darkness" or "Just the End of the World" from being shortlisted). Oscar also loves a boxing drama, and well-reviewed biopic "El Inca" from VENEZUELA should also be considered a viable dark horse. On the negative side, Oscar prefers biopics when it knows who the subject/star is. 

1. BRAZIL- "Bingo, the King of the Mornings"
2. CHILE- "A Fantastic Woman" (Una mujer fantastica)

Chile and Brazil both have an excellent chance at making the shortlist, but in a field of 92, there are no locks. CHILE is of course the favorite. It won three awards in Berlin, including Best Screenplay and a Special Jury Prize and it has charmed audiences with its story of a trans woman dealing with the death of her lover. It's gotten some of the best reviews of the year. Unfortunately, you could say the same thing about Sebastian Lelio's previous woman power film "Gloria" (now being remade by Lelio in English with Julianne Moore). Though it was one of the best films on the Oscar list that year, it failed to advance. Trans issues are trendy now, and I'm not sure how the Oscar committee- which rarely selects films featuring strong women- will react. A Fantastic Woman" will likely be on the bubble. "Bingo: The King of the Mornings", about an actor who finds anonymous fame as a universally beloved clown on Brazilian morning television, has a lot less buzz, but equally strong reviews. This is the feature debut of the Oscar-nominated editor of "City of God", and it's supposed to be emotionally resonant and a damn fine film. It will be catnip to the large committee, and will even have a chance at being saved. 

Now the statistics:

Number of countries from these regions who have participated in the past: 19

Number of countries participating this year:  17

Number of debuts: 2- HAITI and HONDURAS

Number of countries opting out4. You can't blame PUERTO RICO which was unceremoniously and inexplicably uninvited from sending films to the Oscars a few years ago, but CUBA, GUATEMALA and NICARAGUA also opted out. None of these countries submit regularly (Guatemala and Nicaragua have sent one film apiece in the past twenty years), but Nicaragua did elect to enter the Goyas this year with documentary "Las mujeres de Wangki". Not sure why they didn't also send it to the Oscars.

Number I predicted correctly- Only four- Argentina, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Paraguay, although the films I predicted for Bolivia, Brazil and Uruguay were all delayed and contend next year.

Already Seen: I've saw the films from BOLIVIA, COLOMBIA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC  and PERU here in DC, and have plans to see the film from Ecuador before the end of the year. "Woodpeckers" was the best I've seen so far. 

Film I'm most looking forward to seeing
: No contest. I loved "7 Boxes" and can't wait to see thriller "Los Buscadores" from PARAGUAY, which was made by the same directors. 

Feature DebutsEIGHT. Ana Cristina Barragán (Ecuador), Arianne Benedetti (Panama), Ariel Escalante (Costa Rica), Guetty Felin (Haiti), Iván Gaona (Colombia), Jonatan Relayze (Peru), Daniel Rezende (Brazil) and Kiro Russo (Bolivia)

Number of Female Directors SIX. Ana Cristina Barragan (Ecuador), Arianne Benedetti (Panama), Guetty Felin (Haiti), Tatiano Huezo (Mexico), Lucrecia Martel (Argentina) and Tana Schembori (Paraguay). 

Oldest and Youngest Directors: It's a really young group! The oldest director is 54-year old (not that old, at all) Francois Girard of CANADA. The youngest is 29-year old Jose Maria Cabral of the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, who has already made six feature films! 

Number of Foreign Languages Represented:  As always, most of the films from the Americas are in Spanish- 14 out of 17 this year. The other three are mostly in French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. Interestingly enough, indigenous languages play a key role in three films- Quechua (Bolivia), Guarani (Paraguay) and Mohawk (Canada). 

Number of Documentaries: ONE, "Tempestad" from Mexico

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: Not many....Perhaps four?

Highest profile film:  Once again, it's CHILE, "A Fantastic Woman" got raves at Berlin and Oscar buzz for trans lead actress Daniela Vega. 

Oscar History: We've got one bona fide Oscar nominee in the running- director Daniel Rezende of Brazil got a surprise Editing Oscar nomination for "City of God" in 2003, before losing to "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King". 

Sebatian Lelio ("Gloria"), Jose Maria Cabral ("Check Mate") and Guillermo Casanova ("Seawards Journey") have all represented their countries at the Oscars once before. 

Of the seventeen countries, only Argentina and Canada have won a Foreign Language Oscar. Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru have been nominated, and Venezuela shortlisted. 

Controversies and Changes:  "El Inca" was briefly banned in Venezuela due to complaints from the family of the boxer portrayed in the film, but there was no controversy when it was selected at the Oscars.

Most Notable Omissions:   Many people were predicting that all-star drama "La cordillera" (The Summit) would represent Argentina. Also absent: "Searchers", "Old Stone" and "Boundaries" from Canada, "A Movie Life" and "Joaquim" from Brazil and "I Dream in Another Language". However, the eventual picks from all of these countries were respected decisions. 

Familiar Faces:  80s star Maria Conchita Alonso co-stars in Panama's "Beyond Brotherhood", while 90s heartthrob Vincent Perez co-stars in Canada's "Hochelaga". Almodovar fans will also recognize Lola Duerte ("The Sea Inside") in Argentina's "Zama".

Last year's race:   Living in Pakistan for the past year, there weren't many opportunities to see Latin American cinema. I only managed to see the films from Argentina (B+), Canada (C+) and Venezuela (A-), whose "From Afar" deserved at least a spot on the shortlist. 

1 comment:

Spartak said...

Argentina - It's true, a total pranky boredom, though as you've mentioned few critics seems to like it. "The Summit" will be much stronger contender being a much more communicative intriguing political thriller and be featuring all-South American-star cast. Though, personally, I would prefer to see "The Desert Bride" ("La novia del desierto") being chosen. It's a true little gem.

Panama - The rating is clearly fake. Usually, I try to follow the imdb rating of the nominees during the season and "Beyond Brotherhood" has gotten more than 1000 votes on it deposit in period of 3 weeks that I haven't checked the ratings and since than only about 30-40 people have voted... So... Shame on film's producers or whoever it's!

From last year's competition, the strongest one seems to be "It's Only the End of the World". Unfortunately, "Little Secrets" is still unavaliable.