Monday, December 17, 2012

FOREIGN FILM PREDICTIONS- The Americas, Africa and the Middle East (17 films)

This crop of films from OUTSIDE of Europe and Asia has the potential to contribute half of the Oscar shortlist...

I'd better hurry with these since I just learned that the official Foreign Oscar screenings are finishing tonight.....That means we could see a shortlist of 9 films as early as Wednesday (though I think it will be announced next week)

BETTER LUCK NEXT YEAR:
17. COLOMBIA- "The Snitch Cartel"
16. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC- "Jaque Mate"
15. URUGUAY- "The Delay"
14. PERU- "The Bad Intentions"

A remake of a telenovela is not usually a country's choice for an Oscar nomination, but that's exactly what COLOMBIA has decided to do with action movie "The Snitch Cartel" (El Cartel de los Sapos) which is a retelling of the 2008 local soap opera of the same name, which in turn was based on the memoirs of a member of one of the country's most notorious drug gangs. While it features an A-list cast and is supposed to be an engaging watch, it really is just a big-screen soap and it won't be able to advance from here.

PERU has chosen "The Bad Intentions", an intriguing dark film about a morbid, upper-class 8-year old girl living amidst terrorism and political turmoil in the early 1980s. The girl, daughter of separated parents, announces that she will die the day that her pregnant mother gives birth. Think Wednesday Addams in "The Official Story", with a dash of "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Heavenly Creatures". These are some of my favorite films, and I can't wait to see it. But while reviewers tend to note debut director Rosario Garcia-Montero as one to watch, reviews have not been strong enough to carry it to the next round, nor has it won the sorts of awards like "Milk of Sorrow" to get a wild card slot.

I managed to see both "Jaque Mate" (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC) and "La Demora" (URUGUAY) at this year's Latin American Film Festival in DC, and I enjoyed both of these obscure films, especially the exciting "Jaque Mate". But they are completely out of their league here. VERY loosely based on a true story from the "Jaque Mate" (aka Check Mate) is the name of the Dominican Republic's most popular talk show, and it's handsome host lives a perfect life in a luxurious mansion with his beautiful wife and young son. During a live broacast, the host receives a phone call from a man who says he is holding his family at gunpoint and that they will not be let go unless he engages in a series of increasingly painful psychological games. It's a nail-biter and great fun to watch, but it's largely a commercial effort and the melodramatic acting won't suit the austere Academy . But I'm so happy the DR sent it, because otherwise I never would have heard of it! One of the more enjoyable films of 2012. URUGUAY's "The Delay" is also about the head of a family (this time an impoverished seamstress/single mother) guarding a secret. However, in all other ways this is the polar opposite of the loud and exciting "Jaque Mate". It's a very quiet, introspective drama about a desperate woman who, in a moment of weakness, abandons her senile father on a park bench in winter the hopes that the authorities will find and take care of him. When she feels guilty about her decision, she discovers him missing. It's a sad story but it's so subdued and quiet that it will easily get lost in the mix here.

UPHILL BATTLE:
13. MOROCCO- "Death for Sale"
12. PALESTINE- "When I Saw You"
11. VENEZUELA- "Rock, Paper, Scissors"
10. KENYA- "Nairobi Half Life"

These four obscure titles haven't made enough of an impact internationally to have a realistic chance of making it in such a competitive year.

KENYA had a film accepted to the Oscars for the first time (they reportedly sent a film- "Heart of Fire"- in 2008 but it was disqualified for not being a majority Kenyan production....it wasn't). Co-produced by German director Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run"), "Nairobi Half Life" is an exciting fish-out-of-water story/crime drama about a young man newly arrived from the Kenya countryside, determined to make it in the dangerous capital of Nairobi. It is said to present an interesting and polished African twist on the traditional fish-out-of-water story with realism and a sense of humor. Youth, energy and dynamism is not often rewarded in this category so "Nairobi" definitely is a dark horse. If "City of God" couldn't make it, this can't either.

The Arab world sent only three films this year, and two of those were from MOROCCO and PALESTINE. Annemarie Jacir had to film "When I Saw You" in Jordan since she says she is no longer allowed to end the Palestinian Territories where she was born. "When I Saw You" is the story of a family torn apart by the 1967 war with Israel. Focusing on one 12-year old boy whose father is presumed dead and whose mother has fled with him to a Jordanian refugee camp, "When I Saw You" watches this young boy attempting to have a normal childhood in the camps amidst Islamic militants, poverty and, above all, an inability to return home.....The disaffected youth in the Moroccan thriller "Death for Sale" are a great deal older- probably their early 20s at least. When three unemployed young men become involved in a jewelry heist that goes wrong, their lives become even more dangerous than before. It won a minor award in Berlin and the trailer looks downright exciting. Reviews for both films have been mostly positive but not overwheling enough so to rise out of the pack.

VENEZUELA's thriller "Rock, Paper, Scissors" is largely a mystery. The obscure thriller came out of nowhere to grab the Venezuelan nomination. It's a dark tale revolving around two families- one rich, one poor- whose lives become intertwined in the Venezuelan capital amidst drugs, violence, and corruption. After many years of being a non-player in the 1990s, Venezuela has been sending a series of very strong urban drama to Los Angeles over the last few years. The trailer makes it look like a pretty standard melodrama. With zero buzz however, it's destined to be an also-ran.




UNLIKELY DARK HORSES:
9. ARGENTINA- "Clandestine Childhood"
8. BRAZIL- "The Clown"
7. ALGERIA- "Zabana!"
6. MEXICO- "After Lucia"

These four countries are usually strong threats in this category but will ultimately fail to advance this year for one reason or another.

Oscar has previously shown a great deal of interest in the Algerian war for independence ("Battle of Algiers", "Indigenes", "Outside the Law") as well as the Argentine military dictatorship ("The Official Story") and children in peril more generally. ARGENTINA's semi-autobiographical "Clandestine Childhood" swept the Argentine Oscars but this story of a 5th grader living under an assumed name due to his parents' anti-junta political activities has not gotten as strong reviews outside its home country and won few other awards. The Hollywood Reporter was particularly unkind, noting "the picture is too mainstream for arthouses, too arty for multiplexes". Despite the baity subject matter, they're probably out of luck. ALGERIA's "Zabana!" is a tougher one since there is so little information on it online. The film tells the story of the life and death of Algerian freedom fighter Ahmed Zabana, whose execution by the French in 1956 (by guillotine) was a turning point in the Algerian struggle for independence, and also the start of the Oscar nominated "Battle of Algiers" which represented Italy way back in 1966. In the end, I think the politics of the film may be too obscure and the profile of the film too low, but Oscar has shown itself to be passionate about this period of history so I can't be sure.

BRAZIL's "The Clown" was a box-office hit in its native Brazil, and it has gotten some great reviews, but also some pretty bad ones. Director Selton Mello plays part of a father-son team (he is the son) of clowns who work for a financially strapped circus and he's had enough of the aimless travelling circus life, working hard to make others laugh. Those who praise the film note the colors of the cinematography and the handling of the relationship between father and son. Those who hate it say it is slow and boring, despite its short running time, and that its jokes/humor consistently fall flat. Too decisive. I can't see it advancing.

The strongest of this particular group is MEXICO's "After Lucia", a topical film on the subject of bullying which won the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes 2012. Alejandra lives with her depressed, recently widowed father and has recently moved to another town. Initially popular, Alejandra makes an enemy of one of the popular girls during a drunken party, leading to painful and increasingly violent and disturbing bullying. Said to be shot in a spare minimalist style and uncomfortable to watch, I fear "Lucia" is not what this committee usually goes for.


CONTENDERS:
5. SOUTH AFRICA- "Little One"
4. CHILE- "No"
3. CANADA- "War Witch" (aka Rebelle)

Now onto the real contenders....I'm pretty sure that one or maybe even two of these three films will make it onto the final list of Nine....but not all three. But who's in?

I definitely think it will be CANADA, who has made the shortlist five of the past six years. "War Witch" (a.k.a. "Rebelle", a much more appropriate title) tells the tragic story of a pregnant child soldier fighting in the Congo. The young girl has witnessed atrocities that would devastate a full-grown adult soldier (including the murder of her parents) but the film concentrates of the life of this young woman, rather than the horrors of war. Universally praised, "Witch" may be a bit more challenging that Oscar usually goes for (they usually avoid war unless it takes place in the trenches of 20th century Europe) but it has a good chance of advancing out of both the large and small committees

CHILE's "No", starring Gael Garcia Bernal, is cited all over the web as one of this year's front-runners but I think the film is going to be fighting hard for that ninth and final slot. "No" is the latest film from Pablo Larrain ("Tony Manero", "Post-Mortem") and it focuses on an ad man hired by the anti-Pinochet opposition to help use US-style advertising tactics to help win an anti-Pinochet referendum. The vote, which was thought to be unwinnable, ended up going against the military dictator and helped bring democracy to Chile. "No" has been widely praised for direction, script and filmmaking, but the decision to film it in a cinema-verite style makes the film look less technically impressive that it would otherwise. This may annoy many on the Oscar committee from the technical branches. I always think that's what doomed "4 Months, 3 Weeks"....not the abortion subject matter.

That brings us to SOUTH AFRICA and their "Little One", which has almost no buzz at all (not a single review online) but which has an Oscar-nominated director (Darrell Roodt) and baity subject matter (child rape). AMPAS has shown that they like these sorts of topical South African stories in the past (three of their last six submissions were shortlisted). In the film, a South Americans finds a child who has been brutalized and left for dead. It then appears that she steals her from state custody in order to take care of her. Oscar likes heartwarming stories of adults taking care of children and this one could definitely be a surprise nominee. It's a dark horse.

FRONT-RUNNERS
2. ISRAEL- "Fill the Void"
1. AUSTRALIA- "Lore"

And then there two....I think AUSTRALIA and ISRAEL both have an excellent chance of making the next round.

Nazi children in peril! World War II!!! It's difficult to see Oscar failing to fall for the charms of AUSTRALIA's German-language drama "Lore" (the name of the title character), which looks at a forgotten moment in World War II history. After the Germans are defeated, six siblings aged 1 to 19- all children of devoted Nazis- are forced to undertake a long journey to reach relatives in the aftermath of the German defeat and Allied occupation. It's exactly what Oscar likes and reviews have been very strong.

As for ISRAEL, they have achieved a remarkable record of four nominations in the past five years and they have an excellent chance at a fifth. "Fill the Void" is exactly the sort of voyeuristic look into an faraway culture that this category has traditionally honored. It's an intimate look into the world of Orthodox Jews in modern-day Israel through the eyes of a young bride looking forward to her arranged marriage to a good-looking young man. However, when her sister dies in childbirth, her family considers whether she should marry her sister's husband. It's a story that is said to be told with candor, tenderness and even humor.

Both Australia and Israel should both be considered close to locks.....but there's always one front-runner that the committee just don't seem to like....

Now, the statistics:

Number of countries that have participated in the past: 8 from North America, 9 from South America, 12 from Africa, 7 from the Middle East and 2 from Australia/NZ.

Number of countries participating this year: 17, including first-time entrant Kenya.

Number of countries opting out: Technically 21 but ten of these countries (Guatemala, Jordan, New Zealand and seven African nations) have only ever submitted films once and two (Kuwait and Tunisia) haven’t sent films in ten years or more….so they aren’t really missed. Also, due to a rule change in 2010, Puerto Rico has now been (unfairly) excluded from the competition

The most glaring omission is obviously returning champion IRAN. Despite chilly relations with the United States, the Islamic Republic of Iran successfully sent films to the Oscars each and every year between 1997-2011. Only eight non-European nations managed to do this (the others were Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Mexico and Taiwan). This year, the Iranian Academy announced that they would send family comedy-drama “Cube of Sugar” to defend the Iranian title. After an amateurish anti-Islamic film appeared on Youtube (posted by a Christian Egyptian-American in California), Iran initially announced that they considered boycotting the Oscars but decided that “following an investigation” they would participate since the film had nothing to do with Hollywood and the American film industry. The Iranian Academy said they would send a strongly worded statement to AMPAS along with “Cube of Sugar”, condemning the Youtube video. Within 24 hours, an Iranian Ministry said that, in fact, they would not send their film unless AMPAS apologized for/condemned the Youtube video. When that didn’t happen, the Iranians announced they would boycott. The order clearly came not from the Iranian Academy (which clearly wanted to send the film) but from higher up in the government. “A Separation” was a clear victory for Iran, but not everyone there was happy that a film showing chinks in the Iranian family unit was feted at such a high level. It’s such a shame that Iran is not in the race this year. I hope this is a one-year setback.

Like Iran, BOLIVIA’s Oscar committee met and designated an official Oscar nominee- Jorge Sanjines’ “Insurgentes”, a political drama about the struggle of Bolivian underclasses throughout history. Unfortunately, after contacting the filmmakers, it was decided that there was not enough time to prepare the necessary paperwork to send the film to Los Angeles. PARAGUAY, the only South American nation who has never sent a film to the competition, apparently wanted to send a film for the first time (box-office smash thriller “7 Cajas”), but were told by AMPAS that they were too late to convene an official Oscar committee (http://www.nacion.com/2012-11-23/Entretenimiento/Exitosa-pelicula-paraguaya-7-Cajas-no-podra-postularse-al-Oscar.aspx) .

Two other glaring omissions are EGYPT (which has sent films eight of the past ten years) and LEBANON, which each had a number of suitable contenders. In a year that saw record numbers of nominees from nearly every region of the globe, it’s odd that we have only two from the Middle East (three if you include Turkey). Lebanon was widely expected to send “The Attack” by Ziad Doueiri, a protégé of Quentin Tarantino who was robbed of a Foreign Oscar nod in 1998 for “West Beyrouth”. However, Lebanon’s Oscar committee told Doueiri that the acclaimed film, about a man who learns that his wife committed a suicide bomb attack, would not be considered since it featured a number of Israeli actors. Egypt’s “After the Battle” played in Cannes, but it’s subject matter was criticized by some as “anti-Arab Spring”. I failed to understand why both countries didn’t just choose politically less controversial choices like the beautifully filmed “Heels of War” and AIDS drama “Asmaa.

Variety seemed surprised that SAUDI ARABIA (http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118060469?refcatid=19) did not make its Oscar debut with “Wadjda”, but since Saudi Arabia has no movie theatres, it would be impossible for them to qualify (and the fact that it was directed by a woman only makes it more unlikely).

Also from the Middle East, JORDAN could have easily sent “The Last Friday”, while the UNITED ARAB EMIRATES could have debuted with “Sea Shadow”.

CUBA and ECUADOR took the unusual step of submitting films to the Goya Awards in Spain, but not the Oscars. Cuba’s Communists showed they had a sense of humor by sending zombie horror comedy “Juan of the Dead”, while Ecuador submitted Sebastian Cordero’s breezy comedy-thriller “Pescador”. Cordero likely came close to an Oscar nod for “Cronicas”, so why “Pescador” didn’t get sent, I’ve no idea.

Also absent: COSTA RICA, IRAQ and NICARAGUA

Number of countries with a realistic chance at making the shortlist: Five of these seventeen are really serious threats. I also count two long-shots.

Number of Foreign Languages Represented: 8 in Spanish (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela) and 3 in Arabic (Algeria, Morocco, Palestine), plus one each in Afrikaans, French, German, Hebrew, Portuguese and Swahili.

The Australian film (in German) is only eligible due to the rule change about languages in 2006. The Canadian film, filmed in Congo-Kinshasa, is partly in Lingala.

Highest profile film: It’s a draw between Canada’s “War Witch” (Jury Prize in Berlin, Best Feature at Tribeca) and Gael Garcia Bernal’s “No” from Chile. Mexico’s “After Lucia” (Cannes Un Certain Regard) is in third place in “buzz”.

Country with the Best Shot at a Nomination: Probably AUSTRALIA, with its Nazi children in peril.

Longest Shot for a Nomination: COLOMBIA's cinematic remake of a popular TV miniseries, “The Snitch Cartel”

Number of Comedies: Two- Brazil and Peru have sent two fairly dark comedies.

Number of Animated Films, Documentaries and Horror Films: None.

Oscar History: We have one returning Oscar nominee- namely, SOUTH AFRICA’s Darrell Roodt, whose well-meaning (but ultimately underwhelming) AIDS drama “Yesterday” was nominated in the 2004-2005 Oscar season.

Three other directors have represented their countries once before. Ironically, Annemarie Jacir (Palestine, “Salt of this Sea”), Pablo Larrain (Chile, “Tony Manero”) and Carlos Moreno (Colombia, “Dog Eat Dog”) all faced off against each other four years ago in 2008.

Four of the competing countries have won the Oscar (Argentina twice…Algeria, Canada and South Africa once) while five others have been nominated (Brazil, Israel, Mexico, Palestine and Peru). Two more have been shortlisted (Australia and Morocco).
Five of the Latin Americans (Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela) are fighting to advance to the next round for the first time. Of these, Chile has a strong shot.

Number of Female Directors: Four talented ladies in the running- Rama Burshtein (Israel), Rosario Garcia-Montero (Peru), Annemarie Jacir (Palestine) and Cate Shortland (Australia).

Oldest and Youngest Directors: ALGERIA’s Said Ould Khelifa is nearly twenty years older than the next oldest director (Darrell Roodt).

The DOMINICAN REPUBLIC’s Jose Maria Cabral is the youngest helmer from any country in this year’s competition. “Jaque Mate” was released in April three months prior to his 24th birthday.

Familiar Faces: Most of these films feature a cast of unknowns, although two of the South Americans films have quite a bit of starpower, mostly from Mexico. The biggest name clearly comes from CHILE’s “No”, which stars Mexican superstar Gael Garcia Bernal as a man fighting against the Pinochet dictatorship with a slick advertising campaign.

Western audiences will recognize most of the cast of COLOMBIA's thriller (and also-ran) “The Snitch Cartel”, which co-stars American actor Tom Sizemore (“Saving Private Ryan”, “Black Hawk Down”) as a DEA agent and Mexican Oscar-nominated actress Adriana Barazza (“Babel) in small roles, as well as well-known Mexican faces Kuno Becker and the late Pedro Armendariz Jr. It also stars Colombia’s Manolo Cardona who gave one of my favorite performances of 2010 in Peru’s Oscar candidate “Contracorriente”.

Tough Choices: ARGENTINA probably had the toughest choice, with “Clandestine Childhood” beating out “Everybody Has a Plan” (starring Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen), “Las Acacias” (Best Film at the Argentina Silver Condor Awards, Camera d’Or at Cannes 2011), “El Ultimo Elvis” and “White Elephant”, starring Ricardo Darin who has been in virtually every Argentine submission in recent history. “Childhood” hasn’t gotten good reviews outside of its native Argentina so I’m not sure they made the right choice.

CANADA had to turn down Oscar nominee Deepa Mehta’s (“Water”) latest controversial film- “Midnight’s Children”, based on a Salman Rushdie novel. Although I
predicted “Children”, it wasn’t much of a surprise since reviews were mixed and the film may be more than 50% in English. Many thought MEXICO would send Carlos Reygadas’ “Post Tenebras Lux”, but this weird mess of a film (it was booed at Cannes where it also won Best Director) never had much of a chance.

Also out “Bonsai” (Chile), “God’s Horses” (Morocco...did it premiere there?), “God’s Neighbors” (Israel), “Habibie” (Palestine...the first Gazan feature film), “The Miracle Worker” (South Africa...It’s not about Helen Keller) and “Sirga” (Colombia).

Controversies and Changes: The biggest controversies were the countries that didn’t send movies (Egypt, Iran and Lebanon….see above). AUSTRALIA’s German-language film would have caused trouble a few years ago but is now a-okay.

Number of countries I predicted correctly: Only two- CHILE and PERU! How embarrassing! I came close with several others, but I was quite honestly surprised by a lot of this year’s choices. Incidentally, I also got BOLIVIA correct, but they decided not to send their film to Los Angeles. Grr….

Films I'm most looking forward to seeing: I’ve seen the nominees from the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC and URUGUAY, both of which I liked. If I could get a ticket to any one of the other fifteen films, I would definitely choose PERU’s “Bad Intentions”, although I’m also excited to see into the closed cultures of GREENLAND’s “Inuk” and ISRAEL’s “Fill the Void”.

Last year's race: Last year’s these regions of the world sent a total of 19 films (if you count the disqualified submission from Puerto Rico), four of which made the nine-film shortlist. I managed to see 10 of them. IRAN’s “A Separation” (A) was clearly the best one, while LEBANON’s “Where Do We Go Now?” (A-) was clearly second. I was less excited about the other three films that advanced, namely CANADA’s “Monsieur Lazhar” (B), ISRAEL’s “Footnote” (B-) and MOROCCO’s “Omar Killed Me” (B-).

I also saw the rather average films from Colombia (C), Mexico (B-), Peru (C+) and Uruguay (C+)

Next up: the final 17 submissions from Asia.


2 comments:

Spartak said...

Fisrt of all thanks for all this information (now I'm rooting to see "The Attack", which I didn't know about)...
Anyway, my guess is that Egypt and Lebanon didn't submit from the same reason like Iran...

Peru,Brazil,Uruguay - Boring.

Mexico - A very strong and and chilling (I hope I use the right word) film, I think that it chances depands on Big committee (if it gonna include acclaimed films like "A Royal Affair" and "Amour")...

South Africa - I think it's the darkest horse, a film with the less informantion this year.

Canada - The best film in the competition I have seen (including "Amour", which was quite dissapointing to me) untill now... I'm holding my fingers.

Israel - My country, what should I say, holding my fingers # 2 (not just, because patriotic feelings, but it just deserves it)... And btw, Best Actress in Venice is not enough to include it in "Highest profile film"? ;)

Spartak said...

I was told that they gonna announce the list on Friday...