Monday, December 11, 2017

Foreign Oscar Predictions- the Submissions from Western Europe (18 films)

I've managed to see half (9 of 18) of the films from Western Europe, so I feel confident when I say that Western Europe won't get as many spots as they usually do. 

16. IRELAND- "Song of Granite"
17. PORTUGAL- "Saint  George"
18. BELGIUM- "Racer and the Jailbird"
19. GREECE- "Amerika Square"
20. LUXEMBOURG- "Barrage"

Almost every year, the films from Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal are at the bottom of this list. Portugal holds the world record for the most submissions without an Oscar nomination, Greece has gotten one nomination in the past forty years (for "Dogtooth", which I still think was some sort of mistake) and tiny Luxembourg only makes two or three movies a year. Their record is unlikely to improve this year. 

For the record, GREECE selected "Amerika Square", an interesting little drama about an economically depressed neighborhood in Greece where migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe now outnumber the Greeks. The local population deals with the issue in different ways...Among a pair of old friends, one embraces the newcomers, the other turns to violence. It's an interesting little movie, but a fairly minor effort. LUXEMBOURG has Isabelle Huppert, which would seem like enough for a nomination....but it isn't. It's a character study of three generations of mother and daughters, as a young mother estranged from the family takes the daughter she never knew on a road trip. It's not a bad movie...It's well-acted and has solid characters, but nothing much happens (though it has some beautiful sequences towards the end). PORTUGAL's "Saint George" focuses on the economic crisis endured by Portugal in the 1990s. It's available on Amazon and won Best Actor at Venice Horizons, but nobody seems very excited about it. 

As for BELGIUM, they really screwed up. After a great film year, they decided to dump all of thse films to choose the unreleased "Racer & The Jailbird" by the same director and star of "Bullhead", which netted the, a surprise nomination six years ago. It's a dark love story set on the mean streets of Belgium and it's gotten fairly negative reviews. So bye bye Belgium. You should have picked "Insyriated" or "The King of the Belgians". Lastly there's IRELAND which has selected B&W docu-drama-cum-musical-biopic "The Song of Granite". I missed the film twice so I haven't seen it, but it's supposed to be lovely if you're interested in the history of Irish folk music.....which seems rather a niche. 

10. NETHERLANDS- "Layla M."
11. SWITZERLAND- "The Divine Order"
12. ICELAND- "Under the Tree"
13. UNITED KINGDOM- "My Pure Land"

These four films have been well-received, but not well enough to be considered by either of the two selection committees. "The Divine Order" from SWITZERLAND is currently in limited release in US cinemas, and it was the first of the 92 Oscar submissions I saw this year. This story of Swiss women fighting for the right too vote in the 1970s ( read that right...the 1970s!) was entertaining and educational with a lot of humor (and a little too much talk about vaginas). But I didn't find it much more than a pleasant diversion. ICELAND picked "Under the Tree", a darkly comic thriller about two neighboring families feuding over a tree. It sounds great, but Oscar doesn't really like black comedies and nobody is talking about the film. 

"My Pure Land", the film representing the UNITED KINGDOM was made in Pakistan by a debutante British director of Pakistani descent. It's been described as "Kill Bill" Pakistani-style, as a rural woman and two female relatives have to fight back against a group of bandits trying to take their home. I was living in Pakistan when it was selected and elite Pakistani women on social media are excited to see it. Unfortunately, it may never be seen in Pakistan and the majority of Pakistanis have never heard of it. Everyone says it's a daring feminist film, but critics also say it is clearly the work of a talented director still learning his craft. Last is "Layla M."from the NETHERLANDS, about an 18-year old Dutch girl of Moroccan descent who is tempted by fundamentalist Islam and radicalism. Director Mijke de Jong set out to make a thoughtful film trying to explain why Dutch Muslim youth turn to violence. However, I confess that many people like me don't care. I don't particularly want to see a movie that ends up forgiving those seek to harm their fellow citizens. I know that wasn't the director's intention, but that's how it will play in the USA. 

6. SWEDEN- "The Square"
7. NORWAY- "Thelma"
8. AUSTRIA- "Happy End"
9. FINLAND- "Tom of Finland"

A lot of people are predicting these three Nordic films (a lot of people think "The Square" will win) plus the Haneke. But I've seen three out of four and I think all of them are going to be disappointed come announcement time. Let's take a look: 

AUSTRIA- "Happy End"
In Brief: A wealthy dysfunctional family deals with extra-marital affairs, suicidal tendencies, and faulty construction.
Pros: Michael Haneke is a beloved director. All-star French cast. The film has some clever dark comedy and twists. 
Cons: It's one of Haneke's weaker efforts and the reviews shows it. The film's focus on social media means much of the film is irritatingly spent reading texts and e-mails. An unlikable family. 
Bottom Line: Not Haneke's best and it won't get in. 

FINLAND- "Tom of Finland"
In Brief: A biopic of Finland's most famous erotic, gay artist Touko Laaksonen. 
Pros: Oscar sometimes goes for biopics. The film shows the USA in a positive light. It's a rather tame look at a racy subject so it won't make the old people voting too uncomfortable. Topical subject of gay rights. 
Cons: It's still a biopic of a man famous for his depictions of leather daddies and gay sex. 
Bottom Line: The LGBT community may be represented by Chile and France, but not by Finland.

NORWAY- "Thelma"
In Brief: A lesbian college student starts shaking and either has epilepsy or frightening telekinetic powers.
Pros: It's an original film that deftly blends mystery, arthouse, sci-fi and fantasy. There are some beautiful and frightening moments. 
Cons: None of these are genres that appeal to Oscar. The film is definitely female-centric and the mystery is a little too easy to figure out. 
Bottom Line: Unlikely to advance. 

SWEDEN- "The Square:
In Brief: A modern art museum gets ready for a pretentious exhibition. 
Pros: CANNES PALME D'OR. Even those who don't like the film will want it saved to save AMPAS the embarrassment of not nominating the favorite. Lots of English will save room on subtitles. Director Ruben Ostlund was Oscar shortlisted for "Force Majeure" and likely came in sixth place. Earned a Golden Globe nomination this morning. 
Cons: It's not a very good movie. The characters are irritating and this kind of Roy Andersson-esque, theatre of the absurd has never played well with AMPAS. 
Bottom Line: I'm fairly certain this will be the surprise snub on shortlist morning....but it's possible the Large Committee could save it. 

3. ITALY- "A Ciambra"
4. DENMARK- "You Disappear"
5. SPAIN- "Summer 1993"

All of these films from traditional Oscar superpowers are in with a chance.....but mixed reviews will probably prevent that from happening. "You Disappear" from Denmark is a great film that has gotten mostly bad reviews. "Summer 1993", a terribly boring film from Spain has gotten mostly good reviews. Which means that "A Ciambra", the street kid drama from Italy and backed by Martin Scorsese is the most likely to make the cut....which is still a bit of a long shot

If you're interested in a thought-provoking, twisty courtroom drama, look no further than "You Disappear", from DENMARK about a principal who stands accused of embezzling huge amounts of money from his school and blames the crime on a brain tumor that has changed his behavior.  Most of the movie is seen from the point of view of his wife. It's smart (one might say intellectual....) and talky (one might say too much....) and tells much of its story through flashbacks that reveal the story little by little, with a twist ending. Oscar loves Denmark. They're nominated almost every year because they understand what this committee likes....Reviews haven't been great, but maybe Denmark knows something we don't. If you're interested in watching two small children play in a backyard for an hour and 45 minutes, by all means go see "Summer 1993" from mean SPAIN. An orphaned young girl is sent to live with her 20-something aunt and uncle and their young daughter in the Catalonian countryside. It's very realistic, with great child actors and a very serious message. It's also overlong and terribly boring. I can't see it succeeding here. ITALY chose "A Ciambra", a sequel to "Mediterranea", about a street-smart Gypsy kid coming-of-age in a community of Italians, Roma Gypsies and African refugees. Reviews have been pretty good. We'll see if it's good enough to make the shortlist. Scorsese is campaigning......

1. GERMANY- "In the Fade"
2. FRANCE- "180 battements par minute"

On Sunday, France was a favorite and Germany was on the bubble. After the Golden Globe nominations honored "In the Fade" and snubbed the more critically acclaimed "BPM", the positions were reversed, with France now fighting to make the finals.

FRANCE has better reviews, a healthy US box office result and has won Best Foreign Film among the NYC, LA, DC and San Francisco Critics associations. So, I think this heavy AIDS drama set during the 1980s when the disease was a death sentence, will get France on the list. But the LGBT subject matter and gay sex may turn off some voters. I haven't seen it yet as it screened while I was working overseas. GERMANY won Best Actress at Cannes for actress Diane Kruger though reviews for the film have been decidedly mixed. I can't understand why, because I thought "In the Fade" was amazing. It's exciting, intelligent, topical and a perfect mix of arthouse and Hollywood, courtroom drama and action movie. Along with Bulgaria, it's the best of the 26 films I've seen. For the record, it's a thriller about a woman whose ex-con German-Kurdish husband is killed in what appears to be a terrorist attack.....and what an ending! If Oscar shortlisted terrible German Oscar submissions like "Pina" and "Labyrinth of Lies" and nominated mediocre ones like "Baader Meinhof" and "Sophie Scholl", it would be a disgrace not to nominate "In the Fade". 

Now the statistics:

Number of countries from these regions who have participated in the past
: 20

Number of countries participating this year:  18

Number of debuts: None.

Number of countries opting out: Only tiny Greenland (pop: 55,000) and Malta (pop: 440,000), which don’t always have something eligible.

Number I predicted correctly: 6. FRANCE, IRELAND, LUXEMBOURG, SWEDEN, SWITZERLAND and the UK. I would have also gotten AUSTRIA had I known Haneke was arranging a qualifying release. 

Already Seen: NINE. I’ve seen the films from Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, and plan to see the ones from Finland and Portugal this month. 

Film I'm most looking forward to seeing
: Definitely Iceland’s “War of the Roses”-style thriller “Under the Tree”

Feature Debuts:   Only TWO. Carla Simon of Spain, and Sarmad "Sam" Masud of the UK.

Number of Female DirectorsFOUR. Mijke de Jong (Netherlands), Laura Schroeder (Luxembourg), Carla Simon (Spain) and Petra Biondina Volpe (Switzerland).

Oldest and Youngest Directors: The senior director is (unsurprisingly) 76-year old Michael Haneke (Austria). The youngest is 31-year old Carla Simon of Spain.

Number of Foreign Languages Represented:  Four films are mostly in French (Austria, Belgium, France and Luxembourg), two are in dialects of German (Germany and Switzerland), with the other twelve in Catalan, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Icelandic, Irish Gaelic, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish and Urdu.

Number of Documentaries:  None.

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: About five.

Highest profile film:  As usual, Western Europe has a lot of high-profile entries….Austria has big names, France has a message, Britain has a backstory and Norway has buzz. However, Sweden has a Palme d’Or, so I’d argue that “The Square” is the highest-profile film on the list.

Oscar History: The big name is Michael Haneke, who was selected to represent Austria for the sixth time, and has also represented Germany once. He has one Oscar win in this category (for “Amour”), one nomination (for “The White Ribbon”), plus Directing and Writing nominations in his own name for “Amour”. Michael R. Roskam (Belgium) was also nominated once before for “Bullhead”.

Also in the race before: Fatih Akin (“Edge of Heaven” in 2007), Mijke de Jong (“Bluebird”, which was ultimately disqualified in 2005), Peter Schønau Fog (“The Art of Crying” in 2007), Dome Karukowski (“House of Dark Butterflies” in 2008), Marco Martins (“Alice” in 2006), Ruben Östlund (“Involuntary” in 2009 and “Force Majeure” in 2014) and Joachim Trier (“Reprise” in 2006).

Nine of these countries have won the Best Foreign Language Oscar, while six more have been nominated. Ireland was short-listed once (for “Viva”), leaving only Luxembourg and Portugal as the unluckiest countries on the list.

And of of course, the producer of "A Ciambra"- Martin Scorsese- has an Oscar for directing "The Departed", plus eleven more nods for directing, writing and producing. 

Controversies and Changes: No real controversies, although I personally find it unfortunate that this year so many countries felt the need to “cheat” on their release dates by arranging a qualifying release. This year, Austria, Belgium and Germany did that.

Most Notable Omissions:     I think the most notable omissions were "Heartsone" from Iceland, and "Insyriated”, an Arabic-language drama that would have done a much better job representing Belgium that the poorly reviewed “Racer and the Jailbird”. Also absent: "Western" (Germany), "Sami Blood" (Sweden) and a slew of films by previous Oscar winners like "Redoubtable" (France), Tulipani, Love, Honour and a Bicycle (Netherlands) and Die Holle (Austria).. 

Familiar Faces:  Well, obviously the big star is Isabelle Huppert, who co-stars in both the Austrian and Luxembourgian submissions this year. That's after starring in the French submission last year, and as well (over the years) other submissions from France, Austria, Switzerland and Portugal. And she's great in both of them, as she always is. 

But we also have Jean-Louis Trintignant ("Amour") and Mathieu Kassovitz ("Amelie) in "Happy End", Matthias Schoenaerts ("Rust and Bone") in "Racer & the Jailbird", Diane Kruger (Cannes Best Actress winner + the "National Treasure" series) and Elisabeth Moss ("The Handmaid's Tale") in "The Square". 

Last year's race:    I saw seven of the Western European nominees last year, including five that got nominated for Oscars- “Land of Mine” and “A Man Called Ove” (Best Foreign Film), “Fire at Sea” (Documentary), “My Life as a Zucchini” (Animated Film) and “Elle” (Best Actress). I thought four of them were very good….My favorite was slow-burn horror film “Under the Shadow” (UK), although it starts off very slow, followed by “A Man Called Ove”, “Land of Mine” and “Elle”. I thought “Chevalier” (C+) was okay, but “My Life as a Zucchini” (C-) and “Fire At Sea” (D-) were incredibly overrated. 

No comments: