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Predicting the foreign-language shortlist

Which of the 63 submissions might make the cut…

The 63 films submitted for the foreign language category of the Oscars are already screening for the foreign language committee, so it’s perhaps risky to make predictions before the initial process is even over. But what the hell. Here goes with my choices (in alphabetical order) for this year’s top ten picks for favour with the committee and why:

Burnt By The Sun 2: Exodus (Russia)
The first film won the Oscar in 1994 and although Nikita Mikhalkov’s sequel was savaged by critics when it screened in Cannes last year, I have a suspicion that Academy voters might respond far more favourably to its wartime spectacle and heart-tugging melodrama. Its Hollywoodized storytelling to which critics objected could work in its favour in this forum.

Declaration Of War (France)
Triumph of the spirit stories always work with the Academy, so what’s the betting that Valerie Donzelli’s life-affirming, joyful and heart-wrenching story of a couple coping with their child’s brain tumour will at least make the final nine shortlist. Plus, as Academy committee members find out that it’s Donzelli’s own story, they are bound to back it even more fervently.

The Flowers Of War (China)
I haven’t even seen Zhang Yimou’s epic about 13 prostitutes who sacrifice themselves during the siege of Nanjing (only a few buyers have seen it), but I am guessing Zhang’s film-making prowess, eye for spectacle and the presence of Oscar winner Christian Bale should help win over the committee.

Footnote (Israel)
Israeli cinema is a favourite of the Academy with recent nominees including Ajami, Waltz With Bashir and Beaufort, so Beaufort director Joseph Cedar’s extremely witty comedy about father and son rivalry in the world of academia should have no trouble snagging a place in the final nine.

In Darkness (Poland)
A return to form for Agnieszka Holland is also prime Academy Award territory in that it tells the true story of a group of Jews who defy Nazi occupation. Her Polish-language story set in the sewers of Lvov is epic and stirring and can’t help but win over the committee. Sony Classics saw the potential early on and took it off the table months before its world premiere.

Le Havre (Finland)
Aki Kaurismaki has been nominated before, for The Man Without A Past in 2002, and has to be a frontrunner again this year for his delightful story of old folk harbouring an African immigrant in the French port. It’s socially relevant, it’s entertaining and touching and it’s about seniors: The committee will love it. If it succeeds it could knock out of contention Emanuele Crialese’s fine Terrafirma which deals with a similar subject in an entirely different tone.

Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)
Philippe Falardeau’s emotional crowdpleaser about an immigrant Algerian teacher who wins over his Montreal class has already proved popular at film festivals, scored a US deal with Music Box and should hit the spot with the Academy foreign language committee looking for wholesome and heartwarming.

A Separation (Iran)
It may be Iranian but Asghar Farhadi’s riveting drama deals with universal themes of painful marital strife and the child caught in the middle that affluent Academy members will relate to. One of the year’s beloved films, it shouldn’t struggle to get on the shortlist.

Superclasico (Denmark)
In an age where feelgood movies are winning awards over more morally complex ones, Ole Christian Madsen’s wry and entertaining comedy might have a strong shot at tickling the members of the foreign language committee. More bittersweet than it initially appears, it nevertheless has that feelgood factor in spades.

Where Do We Go Now? (Lebanon)
A heartfelt plea for conflict resolution between Christians and Muslims, Nadine Labaki’s crowdpleaser about the role of women as peacemakers won the coveted People’s Choice award at Toronto this year, indicating that it has the power to conquer audiences and a message of peace that Academy members would want to endorse.

Others will prove just too tough for the older, frailer members of the committee. Even though they were both laden with awards and festival kudos, The Turin Horse (Hungary) and Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Turkey) are just too long and challenging for this crowd. Attenberg (Greece) is too kooky, Bullhead (Belgium), Beauty (South Africa) and Octubre (Peru) too stark and dark, and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Brazil) too violent. Wim Wenders’ Pina from Germany is a winner but the committee members don’t easily go for documentaries, while Eric Khoo’s affectionate and charming Tatsumi (Singapore) will suffer for being animated.

I suspect that the specific historical context of Postcard (Japan) and The Front Line (Korea) might be a little too removed from the experience of the committee members, although the Spanish Civil War setting of Black Bread (Spain) might work in its favour.

Pernilla August’s Beyond (Sweden) and Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala (Mexico) could be dismissed as too grim (the former) or too violent (the latter) for the Academy crowd but both are so good that they might transcend expectations and make it into the final nine. Certainly the foreign language committee has offered up surprises in the past like Amores Perros (nominated in 2000), No Man’s Land (winner in 2001), Evil (nominated in 2003) or Paradise Now (nominated in 2005).

I am personally rooting for Anne Sewitzky’s winning snowbound comedy Happy, Happy from Norway which might just charm the committee members into a slot in the final nine.

For all previous Open Season awards blog posts, click here.

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