Monday, January 21, 2019

FINAL FIVE

As usual, I've left it to the last minute to predict the Final Five.....

This year we have an interesting list in large part because there were so few surprises.....Yes, "Ayka" was a bit of a shock but the other eight films are all films that many people were predicting.

So this is an unusual year because I think that all nine films really do have a chance of making the Top Five.....I've seen seven of the nine....Germany's three-hour running time scared me away from its single DC screening, while Kazakhstan has been extremely difficult to see.

Here are my final predictions:

FAIRLY SAFE
1. MEXICO- "Roma"
2. JAPAN- "Shoplifters"
3. LEBANON- "Capernaum"

      These three films have swept the precursors (scoring at both the Golden Globe and the BAFTAs), scored at film festivals (Lebanon and Japan winning the Top Two awards at Cannes 2019) and garnered critical acclaim in the United States, where it counts. "Roma", by far my least favorite in this group, has sucked all the oxygen out of the room and has mysteriously emerged as the favorite. The other are Oscar friendly genres....Japan's family drama and Lebanon's topical "children-in-peril" are likely to resonate with voters.

ON THE BUBBLE
4. GERMANY- "Never Look Away"
5. DENMARK- "The Guilty"
6. POLAND- "Cold War"

So, I keep changing my mind about which of these three films will come in sixth......Most people think "Cold War" is the safest, but I'm thinking this may be this year's surprise snub (it didn't make the Golden Globes). Like the film's title "Cold War" runs cold. It's beautifully filmed (and will probably get a Cinematography nod) but the film itself

Denmark is my favorite of the seven films I've seen (Colombia, Denmark, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Poland) and one of my favorites of the 50 films I saw from the long-list. It's a fast-paced, entertaining thriller. Oscar doesn't often go for "entertaining" thrillers in this category but "The Guilty" is so well-done and Denmark knows the Oscars so well.....So, I'm placing it in fifth.

As for Germany......I haven't seen "Never Look Away" and I don't particularly want to. Foreign critics haven't been impressed with the film, but it's important to note that American critics have been far kinder. My friends who have seen it loved it....Germany has a great record in this category....I would much rather see Colombia or Kazakhstan get this spot, but I have a feeling that Germany is in,.

LONG SHOTS:
7. COLOMBIA- "Birds of Passage"
8. KAZAKHSTAN- "Ayka"
9. SOUTH KOREA- "Burning"

There's a strong possibility that these three films were the "Elite Saves" (although I personally think Colombia made it through on its own), putting them at a natural disadvantage. Although I believe it's in the rules that you have to see all nine films to vote, I'm not sure how the rule is enforced....Kazakhstan's "Ayka" is so obscure, so little-seen and so dark and grim that I think it's likely out. But Kazakhstan should be proud of making it to the semi-final round for the third time.

I saw "Birds of Passage" and "Burning" with friends and was lucky to discuss the prospects of both films with them. Everybody readily agreed that "Birds of Passage", a Wayuu-language "Godfather" epic set amongst the indigenous people of Colombia, was extremely well-made. But none of us fell in love with the film, and Ciro Guerra has been nominated already for a more beloved long-shot ("Embrace of the Serpent") ...It would be a worthy nominee but with less buzz than the previous six, I think it will just miss it.

While we acknowledge the film's merits, none of us really liked "Burning", the film is way too long and critical opinion for this arthouse mystery has been divisive. That doesn't bode well for South Korea, which is hoping for its first-ever nomination. However, I will say that the more we discussed the film the more we noticed.....It's not out entirely...Just the least likely choice. 

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