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Entries in foreign films (351)

Friday
Sep302016

Foreign Watch: Two Oscar Favorites Join the Fray

We've been faithfully updating the Oscar charts daily to reflect the submissions in one of our favorite categories. We'd call it our favorite but then how would Cinematography, Production Design, both Actress categories, and Costume Design feel? The deadline for submission is just a few days away so in a week or two the Academy will make the list official. Generally speaking, there are one or two surprises from our charts once they do -- a sudden addition or replacement and maybe a single disqualification. But if this list holds we are just short of the all time record number. The are currently 82 submissions, which is one shy of the record from 2014 (the Ida year).

90 year old legend Andrezj Wajda with his film trophies

Among the newly announced films are After Image, a biopic of an avant garde artist, by Andrzej Wajda for Poland and The Idol, the true story of a man who competed on "Arab Idol," from Hany Abu-Assad of Palestine. Oscar loves these two directors so they're surely threats for the finalist list. Poland has submitted films by Honorary Oscar winner Andrzej Wajda a total of nine times in their history and four of those were nominated: The Promised Land in 1975, The Maids of Wilco in 1979, Man of Iron in 1981, and Katyn in 2007. Meanwhile both of Palestine's nominations in the Best Foreign Language Film category come from Hany Abu-Assad: Paradise Now in 2005 and Omar in 2013.  Can these men work their Oscar-hooking magic again?

Updates to the charts (part 1, part 2, part 3) also include new contenders from Argentina, Bangladesh, Jordan, Kazakhstan, South Africa, and Turkey.

Thursday
Sep292016

NYFF: Hermia & Helena & Graduation

Bill Curran reporting from the New York Film Festival. Hot takes on two titles...

Hermia and Helena
Matías Piñeiro’s newest Bard-based roundelay belongs to that venerable arthouse tradition, the stranger-here-in-this-town movie. Far from attempting a fully foreign pose, the Argentina-bred but Brooklyn-living Piñeiro is driven by the same impulse found in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flight of the Red Balloon and Wim Wender’s 70’s USA road trilogy: flaunt the outsider perspective. When Carmen (Maria Villar) hustles back to Buenos Aires with an unfinished manuscript, Camila (Agustina Muñoz) all but assumes her friend’s spot—not to mention a few dangling relationships—in a literary translation fellowship in New York City. Camila’s choice of text: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, naturally, giving Hermia and Helena license to oscillate between North and South America as if they were different worlds, and to riff on the impermanency of love and self. The trouble with translation and the clash of cultures is also evoked constantly, from the Five Points apartment adjacent from Columbus Park that both Camila and Carmen separately occupy, to the recording of a Scott Joplin ditty; from Camila’s touching first trip to meet her American biological father (filmmaker/critic Dan Sallitt), to the humorously arty avant-short-within-a-film created by Carmen’s secret lover. (This bit falls flat in execution.) Returning to a traditional runtime after a brief but fruitful sojourn into featurette land (The Princess of France, Viola), Piñeiro doubles-down on his fast-established trademarks—a waltzing blocking of actors spitting very fast dialogue, a liberal if still a bit lazy referencing of Shakespeare scenes, a folding-in-on-itself structure, the idea of romance as a transitory state—while giving them a little more room to breathe and take hold. It’s a breezy delight.
 

Cristian Mungiu and his "Graduation" cast earlier this year at Cannes

Graduation
After wrestling, often in real time, with the horrors of abortion and exorcism, the most universally acclaimed of the Romanian New Wave directors, Cristian Mungiu, grapples with another the universally grave topic: college. Specifically, getting into a good one, chief concern of Romeo (Adrian Titieni) and, to a lesser extent, his seemingly ailed wife Magda (Lia Bugnar) for their daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus). She is on the verge of a major scholarship to study psychology at Cambridge and escape the blandness of Cluj in northwest Romania, should she pass a major statewide test with near-perfect marks. As plots go, one might expect the catch of a handsome, motorcycle-wielding boyfriend and a growing my-life-to-live defiance from the dotted daughter, and the film delivers there. However, setting the story up with the news of Eliza being sexually assaulted outsider her school comes as a shock, happening off screen and with few concrete details (if only to milk the mystery for two full hours). Romeo, of course, must remain vigilant in securing his daughter’s future, even if that means cashing in on the reverberations of one kind of crime to execute another. Mungiu eyedrops the narrative details, and twists their structural importance, with placid confidence, and continues to possess a rigorous handle on percolating tensions; there’s a sharp point-counterpoint cadence to the driving scenes between Romeo and Eliza, a fine grasp of subtle yet smart visual cues (dogs, windshields and windows, cell phones), and a fundamental distrust of authority, again exemplified by the smarmy calm of Vlad Ivanov. In Graduation, though far less subtle in its ratcheting suspense (and here, superficially in service of a university-entry exam of all things) than his Palme d’Or-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, the drama still manages to take hold early on and remain riveting throughout.  

Monday
Sep262016

Foreign Oscar Watch: Can "Elle" Slay the Competition?

Verhoeven & Huppert at Cannes this summer

France, as ever, was spoiled with options when it came to selecting their film for Oscar competition this year. Frantz (reviewed) from François Ozon would likely have appealed to Oscar voters but the selection committee went with the controversial Elle (reviewed at TIFF). It's a brave choice but we think a smart one; even if its divisive within initial voting, it will likely be a candidate to benefit under the Executive Committee 'saves' rule. Plus those who love it will love it passionately meaning it could even have a dark horse shot at a win. Not only does it have a high profile auteur and star (Paul Verhoeven and Isabelle Huppert) but it's got sensational reviews, a US release on the table in the thick of Oscar traction season (November 11th), and an outside shot at a Best Actress nomination. France has not won the category since Indochine (1992) despite numerous nominations.

Trivia: Paul Verhoeven has had one previous film nominated in this category for his home country The Netherlands with Turkish Delight (1973). If Elle is nominated it would not be the first time a director has competed for multiple countries: Akira Kurosawa, who competed many times for Japan, won the prize for the Soviet Union with Dersu Uzala (1975); Luis Buñuel who won the Oscar for France with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) was also nominated twice for Spain, his home country; and Michael Haneke won for Austria with Amour (2012) and also competed for Germany with The White Ribbon (2009) 

More News:
Oscar's other favorite country Italy has selected the Golden Bear winner, Fire at Sea (reviewed at Berlinale), a documentary about the European migrant crisis. To my knowledge only two documentaries have ever been nominated in this category (Waltz With Bashir from Israel and The Missing Picture from Cambodia) but both of those were in the past eight years so perhaps Oscar votings are loosening up about these distinctions. Among countries who have not yet announced their submissions (with a week left) Poland and Argentina are the most formidable, statistically speaking, with Oscar.

Foreign Film Oscar Charts
Predictions - 15 films that could have the best chance at the finals?
Afghanistan to Finland - 22 submissions thus far
George to Morocco - 23 submissions thus far
Nepal to Venezuela - 28 submissions thus far 

Friday
Sep232016

Foreign Oscar Watch: Bedouin Marriage, Persian Haunting, Slavic Space Program

Yesterday at an unusually tense and controversial Ophir Awards ceremony, Sand Storm won the Israeli Oscar and will thus be Israel's Oscar submission. The debut female director Elite Zexer, giving the last acceptance speech of the evening, spoke about how she employed Jews, Muslims, and Christians on the picture. 

Though I already think Israel should have won the Oscar in this category (for Late Marriage which was submitted but not nominated in the year of Amelie and No Man's Land) and they've had high quality films in the mix before, I'm a little cool on this particular picture. Ah well, you can't love everything!

The UK's submission is a horror thriller set in IranAs more and more titles are announced for the Foreign Oscar Race, the variety of genres keeps growing, too. We have animated films, horror thrillers, docu-fiction hybrids, political dramas, romantic comedies, crime films, as well as submissions from this particular category's three all time favorite subgenres: 1) WW II Anything, 2) Internationally Famous Auteur Made It, and 3) Emotional Journeys Featuring Young Child/Children Forming Bond and/or Travelling With Old Person/Persons. 

Beyond Israel's submission the past few days have brought us a Persian horror film submitted by the UK called Under the Shadow, Canada's third attempt at getting Oscar voters to love Xavier Dolan with It's Only the End of the World, Slovenia's docu-drama about America's interest in the Yugoslavian space program in the 1960s, Iceland's family drama Sparrows (which curiously marks the fourth year in a row that country has sent a film with an animal in the title), a big budget Pakistani effort about poets in two different eras called Mah e Mir, and Hong Kong's hit crime drama Port of Call starring Aaron Kwok. You can read about all 73 titles on the charts

We've reviewed 11 of the 73 titles announced thus far (with more reviews soon) In case you missed any of those reviews, here's the list:

With the caveat that i have MANY more submissions yet to see, my four favorites (to date) are the entries from Chile, Bosnia, Singapore, and Estonia

  • Death in Sarajevo - Bosnia & Herzegovina's politically-loaded hotel drama 
  • Mother - Estonia's black comedy about a very popular comatose man
  • Elle - France's twisted comedy about a woman who reacts strangely to a rape
  • Chevalier - Greece's satire on competitive masculinity
  • Sand Storm - Israel's feminist drama (their first submission entirely in Arabic) about women in unhappy marriages
  • Fire at Sea - Italy's documentary on the migrant crisis
  • A Flickering Truth - New Zealand's doc on a quite unusual subject: film preservation in Afghanistan
  • Apprentice - Singapore's prison drama on capital punishment
  • My Life as a Courgette - Switzerland's animated film about orphaned/abused children
  • As I Open My Eyes - Tunisia's youth drama about musicians struggling with the lack of freedom of expression they're allowed
  • From Afar - Venezuela's violent intergenerational LGBT romance

Four of the submissions this year are in theaters in the US or about to hit: Australia's Tanna and South Korea's The Age of Shadows are now in theaters in select cities; Sweden's A Man Called Ove opens next Friday; and on October 14th we get one of the most high-profile competitors in Mexico's Desierto starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Foreign Oscar regular / international star Gael García Bernal. (Bernal also leads Chile's excellent submission from Pablo Larraín called Neruda; we fully expect Larraín to have two films in the Oscar running since he also directed Jackie). Desierto is directed by Alfonso Cuarón's 34 yr old son Jonás, who co-wrote Gravity with his dad. Will you try to catch these films in theaters? 

Monday
Sep192016

"Land of Mine" to compete for Foreign Oscar. (Plus Chart Updates)

Though I just gushed love all over Thomas Vinterberg's Oscar submission finalist The Commune yesterday, today brings news that Denmark went with another title for their submission. The committee unanimously chose Land of Mine, a World War II drama. The film looks at a little told story about German POWs in Denmark forced to dig up land mines. The film will be released in the US by Sony Pictures Classics, dates TBA. It's worth noting that the film is also up for the Nordic Film Prize on November 1st, a prize which has other Oscar submission finalists in the running:

Nordic Council Film Prize Nominees
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Finland's Oscar submission)
The Here After (Sweden - Reviewed last year at TIFF)
Land of Mine (Denmark's Oscar submission)
Louder Than Bombs (Norway's English Language Joachim von Trier film)
Sparrows (Iceland's Oscar submission finalist - they have not announced yet)

If you haven't checked out the Foreign Film Submission Charts they've had multiple updates recently with 55 films announced thus far (the number of contenders generally falls somewhere between 75-80 when all is said and done). New announcements include Apprentice from Singapore (reviewed), Jonas Cuarón's Desierto from Mexico (opening next month in the US starring Gael García Bernal, a mainstay of this category), Asgar Farhadi's Arthur Miller inspired Salesman from Iran, Karma from Thailand, and more. You can read about the films on the charts

Submission Charts
Afghanistan to Finland - 20 submissions thus far
George to Morocco - 13 submissions thus far
Nepal to Venezuela - 23 submissions thus far 

Current Predictions 
Here are 15 hunches, alphabetically, of films that have a good shot at the 9-wide finals. In red is the only film you could argue is locked up for the finalist list.
Barakah Meets Barakah (Saudi Arabia)
Desierto (Mexico)
Happiest Day in the Life... (Finland)
Julieta (Spain)
The King's Choice (Norway)
Land of Mine (Denmark)
Letters From War (Portugal)
A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
Neruda (Chile)
Salesman (Iran)
Sieranevada (Romania)
Tanna (Australia)
Toni Erdmann (Germany) 
Train Drivers Diary (Serbia) 
"Whatever France Submits" (TBA) 

 

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