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2015 | 2014

1 item from 2015


35 Films That Could Become Foreign Language Oscar Submissions

26 August 2015 9:01 AM, PDT | Sydney's Buzz | See recent Sydney's Buzz news »

As of this article's publication only five countries have announced their official Oscar entries for the 88th Academy Awards: Hungary ("Son of Saul"), Romania ("Aferim!"), Bosnia & Herzegovina ("Our Everyday Life"), Luxembourg ("Baby(A)lone"), and Kazakhstan ("Stranger"). Taking into account last year's record number of submissions, 83 in total, there are certainly a lot more coming in the next few weeks. Several national film organization have already narrowed the field down to a shortlist of films that qualify to be considered, other countries skip the shortlist and simply announce their participant title without revealing what was being considered.

Trying to predict what a particular nation will enter is a tall order because of the numerous factors that weight in, especially when dealing with countries with a large film industry. In other cases, however, there are usually just a couple standouts that meet the standards to be submitted. Whatever the case, even with the most obvious choices there could be surprises such as Indian choosing not to submitting "The Lunchbox" or Chile choosing another film over Silva's "The Maid."

While there is no sure-fie formula to predict what films will be competing for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, by looking at festivals, release dates, national awards, previous submissions, and with a hefty dose of educated speculation, I've put together a list of 35 titles that, at this point, seem like excellent choices. 

Update 08/28: Several countries have announced their official submissions: Croatia ("The High Sun"), Germany ("Labyrinth of Lies"), Guatemala ("Ixcanul"), Switzerland ("Iraqi Odyssey"), and Palestine ("The Wanted 18").

Argentina

"The Clan" (El Clan)

Dir. Pablo Trapero

Isa: Film Factory Entertainment

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Argentine Release Date: August 13th, 2015

Coming off the success of this year’s nominee “Wild Tales,” which also did very well at the U.S. box-office for Sony Pictures Classics and became a spectacular hit back home, Argentina seems to have another strong contender this year with Pablo Trapero’s latest work “The Clan” (El Clan).  Two of the director’s previous films have been submitted before (“Lion’s Den” and “Carrancho”), and this one about the Puccio family, which was criminal organization that kidnapped and murdered wealthy people, looks more than promising. “The Clan” is also produced by Almodovar’s El Deso, just as Damian Szifron’s “Tales” was. There are several other films that have enough merits to be considered, but might prove insufficient when faced with Trapero’s film. “Refugiado,” “El Patron,” “Two Shots” and, even “Jauaja,” starring Viggo Mortensen, qualify

Brazil

"The Second Mother"

Dir. Anna Muylaert

Isa: The Match Factory

U.S. Distribution: Oscilloscope Pictures

Brazilian Release Date: August 27, 2015

Undoubtedly the most awarded Brazilian film of the year is also their best bet at the Oscars. Anna Muylaert's “The Second Mother” premiered at Sundance where it won a Special Jury Prize for both of its leading actresses Regina Casé  and Camila Márdila. It went on to screen in the Panorama section of the Berlinale and took home the C.I.C.A.E. Award and the Audience Award. The film tells the story of a live-in housekeeper and his daughter as they navigate the class divisions prevalent in Brazilian society. Another factor in its favor is the fact that the film has secured U.S. distribution thanks to Oscilloscope. “The Second Mother” opens in Brazil on August 27 and, in a strange turn of events, on August 28 in the U.S. While there are plenty of other great Brazilian works that qualify to be submitted, it’s unlikely that the selection committee will look elsewhere. Other films that could have a shot at being chosen are  “August Winds,” “Casa Grande.” “Blue Blood,” and  “White Out, Black In”

Bulgaria

"The Judgement"

Dir. Stephan Komandarev

Isa: Premium Film  

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Bulgarian Release Date: October 16, 2014

Following last year’s scandalous selection of “Bulgarian Rhapsody” over the more deserving “Viktoria,” the Eastern European country has a two-way race in which both candidates have almost equal chances at being chosen. Stephan Komandarev’s drama “The Judgement” is the larger production of the two and revolves around a desperate father trying to amend his relationship with his estrange son. At the same time the protagonist is also trying to make ends meet and decides to take on the dangerous job of smuggling illegal immigrant from Syria through a remote area of the Turkish-Greek-Bulgarian border. The other  film is Kristina Grozeva & Petar Valchanov's “The Lesson,” about a devoted teacher who is faced with corrupt bureaucracy after her classroom is burglarized. Winning awards at the Sofia International Film Festival, San Sebastian, Thessaloniki, and screening at Tiff and Rotterdam, “The Lesson” should be the frontrunner. However, “The Judgement” might have the edge not only because it sports a larger budget and wider appeal, but because Komandarev is the filmmaker behind “The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner,” which is the one Bulgarian film that has gotten the closest to Oscar glory when it was shortlisted by the Academy in 2010. Less likely to be selected but still viable possibilities are “Adultery,”"Buffer Zone," and "The Petrov File."

Canada

"Felix & Meira"

Dir. Maxime Giroux

Isa: Urban Distribution International

U.S. Distribution: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Canadian Release Date: January 30th, 2015

As of now Canada’s ideal representative would be the small, but touching, “Felix & Meir,” about a married woman from the Orthodox Jewish community who falls in love with a secular man, as way to know life beyond the restrictions of her faith. This tiny gem won the Best Canadian Feature award at last year’s Tiff and received four awards at the Whistler Film Festival including Best Film and Best Director. “Felix & Meira” was acquired by Oscilloscope for U.S. distribution and was released last April. To date it has grossed nearly $500,00, which, for a subtle and niche film like this, is a great feat.  Giroux’ film should take this easily, unless the new film by Oscar-nominated director Philippe Falardeau decides to push for the opportunity. Falardeau newest film “Guibord Goes to War” (Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre) is a political dark comedy that premiered at Locarno and is scheduled to open in Canada on October 2- just two days after AMPAS’ deadline. If the distributor decides to have a one-week qualifying run ahead of the release, then it would become the new frontrunner to represent Canada. However, it’s still unknown if that is being considered or if the film will just wait till next year. Falardeau was nominated in the category for “Monsieur Lazhar” in 2012. “Chorus,” which premiered at Sundance, Berlin’s “Corbo,” Tiff’s “In Her Place,” and the “Les Loups” also qualify.   

Chile

"The Club" (El Club)

Dir. Pablo Larraín

Isa: Funny Balloons

U.S. Distribution: Music Box Films

Chilean Release Date: May 28, 2015

With Pablo Larraín’s Silver Bear-winner film, Chile has an easy choice to make. “The Club,” which was recently picked up for U.S. distribution by Music Box Films, has received universal critical acclaimed and has cemented its director as one of the most important figures in Latin American cinema. Larraín’s latest centers on a group of priests and nuns sent to a beach town to purify their sinful pasts involving everything from pedophilia to kidnapping. The only other film that truly stands a chance is  Matias Lira's “El Bosque de Karadima,” which deals with similar themes regarding secrecy and crimes against children within the Catholic Church. But even if this film has been well-received at home, “The Club” has had more much more international visibility and it has the distinction of being the newest work from the director behind “No,” Chile’s only Oscar-nominated film to date. Other notable works that will be part of the conversation include historical drama “Allende en su Laberinto” by veteran director Miguel Littin, Rodrigo Sepúlveda’s touching “Aurora," and indie flick “La Voz en Off.” 

China

"Mountains May Depart" (山河故人)

Dir. Zhangke Jia

Isa: MK2

U.S. Distribution: Kino Lorber 

Chinese Release Date: Unknown

Censorship has always played a role in China’s decision-making process when it comes to their Oscar submissions. Some of the best Chinese films in recent years are never considered given their controversial topics or because they were made outside of the state-run system. Under this circumstances patriotic epics or lavish period dramas are often selected even when their quality is subpar. The country’s big production this year is “The Lady of the Dynasty,” which was a box-office disappointment and garnered mostly negative reviews locally. With this in mind, the hope is that they will finally look at more compelling films with greater international exposure, such as Jia Zhangke’s “Mountains May Depart.” Premiering at Cannes to mostly positive responses, the film looks at Chinese society from three perspectives scattered over three decades. The film has passed the censors' revisions and will be allowed to screen in mainland Chine, which means it’s possible one of Zhangke’s film might finally represent his homeland. His previous effort, “A Touch of Sin,” was ignored because of its thematic elements. Jean-Jacques Annaud’s stunning “Wolf Totem” is a close second choice, but given the fact that China submitted a film by a French director last, they might want to highlight a homegrown talent this time. There is also “Red Amnesia,” a thriller about a widow that compulsively needs to take careof those around her until strange incidents shake her life. Er Cheng’s  “The Wasted Times,” which appears to be a delirious visual treat, but it opens just a few days after the September 30th deadline. A qualifying run prior to that date is possible, but not likely. “Mountains May Depart” is definitely  the strongest candidate.

Colombia

"Embrace of the Serpent" (El Abrazo de la Serpiente)

Dir. Ciro Guerra

Isa: Films Boutique

U.S. Distribution: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Colombian Release Date: May 25th, 2015

The Colombian film industry has had an outstanding year and that has produced an impressive lineup of films from which their strongest Oscar entry to date will emerge. Three films that screened at the Cannes Film Festival - two of which earned prizes – are at the top of the list. Winning the Art Cinema Award at the Directors’ Fortnight Ciro Guerra’s black-and-white “Embrace of the Serpent” is the one to beat among these trio of art house wonders. Guerra’s film is a period piece about the clash between the native people of the Amazon and a European explorer, which has received stellar reviews and was picked up for U.S. distribution by Oscilloscope. Two of Guerra’s previous films, “Wandering Shadows” and “The Wind Journey,” also represented Colombia at the Academy Awards. Nevertheless, the other films that screen at the Croisette, Golden Camera-winner “Land and Shade” and war drama “Alias Maria,” shouldn’t be completely counted out of the running. Films like Franco Lolli's “Gente de Bien” (Cannes 2014), Josef Wladyka's “Manos Sucias,” "Todos Se Van," and “Ruido Rosa” qualify and testify of the great moment Colombian filmmaking is experiencing, but they will have a difficult time pulling off an upset.

Croatia

"The High Sun" (Zvizdan)

Dir. Dalibor Matanic

Isa: Cercamon

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Croatian Release Date: Septemeber 2015

It’s not often that a Croatian feature manage to grab Cannes’ attention and take home a prestigious award like the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize. “The High Sun” achieved such feat and should be almost a lock to become the country’s Oscar entry. This intense drama, that expands over three decades and explores the Balkan region’s turbulent history, also won 7 awards at the Pula Film Festival including Best Film, Director, Leading Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress. If there’s another film with a reasonable shot, it would be Ognjen Svilicic's “These Are the Rules” about a family questioning their moral compass after a violent incident, which did well in the festival circuit winning awards in Venice, Warsaw, Stockholm, and Pula. Svilicic’s 2007 feature “Armin” represented the country at the 80th Academy Awards. “The Bridge at the End of the World,” “Ungiven,” “The Reaper,” “Number 55” are other noteworthy Croatian films released during the past year, but Matanic’s highly praised wok should have no trouble becoming the official entry.

Dominican Republic

"Sand Dollar" (Dólares de Arena)

Dir. Israel Cárdenas & Laura Amelia Guzmán

Isa: FIGa Films

U.S. Distribution: Breaking Glass Pictures

Dominican Release Date: November 13th, 2014

Thanks to a growing film industry, Dominican films have participated every year starting in 2011 after being absent from the race since 1995. Their submissions have included romantic comedies and low-budget crime dramas that weren’t successful at getting AMPAS’ attention. Fortunately, this year they might have their strongest candidate yet with “Sand Dollars.” In Israel Cárdenas & Laura Amelia Guzmán's film starring Geraldine Chaplin, a local girl becomes the object of desire for an older French woman visiting the Caribbean country, influenced by her boyfriend the Dominican beauty decides to take advantage of the foreigner’s interest. “Sand Dollars” has screened at countless festivals around the world winning a handful of awards and has secured U.S. distribution. Guillermo Zouain's road-trip comedy “Algún Lugar” has also been well-received at a couple of international festivals, but is less likely to be picked. “Pueto Pa’ Mí,” a drama about urban music, documentary “Tu y Yo," and biopic “Maria Montez,” might be out of luck.  It’s unclear if Agliberto Meléndez political film “Del Color de La Noche,” has premiered yet, so that could a contender next year given that the director was behind the country’s first ever Oscar submission.

Ethiopia

"Lamb"

Dir. Yared Zeleke

Isa: Films Distribution

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Ethiopian Release Date: Unknown

The East African nation has only sent two films for consideration. Last year it was the Angeline Jolie-supported “Difret,” which was part of the World Cinema competition at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. This year only two films seem to qualify. “Lamb” is the first-ever Ethiopian film to screen at Cannes, which makes it the unquestionable favorite. It’s a rural story about a boy and his beloved sheep moving in with relatives as his mother goes to work in the city. Reviews were positive praising the film’s cinematography and layered storytelling. The other film that could possibly be selected is Hermon Hailay’s “Prince of Love” about a prostitute and a cab driver struggling to get by in the capital city of Addis Ababa. “Prince of Love” represented the country at Fespaco, one of Africa’s most renowned festivals, and will screen at Tiff in September. Ethiopia might choose to send “Lamb” this time around and save Hailay’s feature for next year depending on release date.

Finland

"The Fencer" (Miekkailija)

Dir. Klaus Härö

Isa: The Little Film Company

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Finnish Release Date: March 13th, 2015

Peculiar teen drama “They Have Escaped” won four Jussi Awards from the Finnish Academy earlier this year including Best Film and Best Director; however, it will probably face an uphill battle to become Finland’s Oscar entry. Instead, Estonian-language period piece,  “The Fencer,” looks like a more feasible alternative because of its classic story, elegant cinematography, and the director behind it: Klaus Härö. The film tells the story of a young Estonian fencer who leaves his homeland to become a Pe teacher and escape persecution by the Russian authorities in the 1950s. Some critics have gone as far as to call it “the best Finnish film in a decade.” Three of Härö’s previous films (“Elina: As If I Wasn’t There,””Mother of Mine, “ and Letter to Father Jacob) were selected as Oscar entries. The only obstacle in its path is the fact that this is an Estonian story with mostly Estonian dialogue. If the selection committee can overlook that, this will be their pick. Antti Jokinen's “Wildeye,” a visually arresting war drama that opens in September is another strong option, particularly because Jokinen’s previous film, “Purge,” represent the country in 2013.  “Absolution,” “Head First,” ”Homecoming,” and “Tsamo” are proof a strong year in Finnish cinema but won’t make the cut.

France

"Dheepan"

Dir. Jacques Audiard

Isa: Wild Bunch

U.S. Distribution: Sundance Selects

French Release Date: August 26th, 2015

Given the amount of films produced in France each year, this is the most difficult country to narrow down. However, this year there is a heavyweight contender among the scores of worthy productions. Surprise Palme d’Or-winner  “Deephan” by the Academy Award-nominated director of “A Prophet," Jacques Audiard, is a clear favorite. Audiard is a legend and it’s hard to think France won’t support the film that took home one of cinema’s most coveted prizes. Following the relevant immigrant story of a Sri Lankan warrior in France, “Dheepan” is almost a safe bet. If for some unimaginable reason Audiard’s latest is not chosen, the most likely alternative would be  well-received “My Golden Days” by Arnaud Desplechin, which has been picked up for U.S. distribution by Magnolia Pictures.  While there are dozens of films that could be considered, here are some other important French films that qualify based on their release dates: “Girlhood,” “Standing Tall,” “The Measure of Man,” “The New Girlfriend,”  “Valley of Love,” “Eden,”"The Connection." 

Germany

"Labyrinth of Lies" (Im Labyrinth des Schweigens)

Dir. Giulio Ricciarelli

Isa: Beta Cinema

U.S. Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics

German Release Date: November 6th, 2014

After an 8-film shortlist was released, - which sadly doesn’t include “Phoenix” because it opened late last September – things look pretty clear for the German selection committee. It’s really a 3-film race between “13 Minutes,” Labyrinth of Lies,” and “Victoria.” Unfortunately, and despite incredibly positive reviews, Sebastian Schipper's “Victoria” might be considered a risky choice because a big part of it is in English. That leaves Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “13 Minutes,” about a man who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1939. On the surface this looks like the prime title to send to AMPAS since Hirschbiegel’s “Downfall” earned him a nomination and he has worked in Hollywood for several years now. Yet, reception wasn’t as warm for his first German film in a decade. On the other “Labyrinth of Lies,” which deals with Post-World War II Germany and how the government tried to cover up its recent Nazi past, had better luck. Critical reception has been better for this film and it was a financial success in Germany and France, which gives the edge. Both “13 Minutes” and “Labyrinth of Lies” were acquired by Sony Pictures Classics for U.S. distribution. The complete list of shortlisted films can be found Here

Greece

"Xenia" (Ξενία)

Dir. Panos H. Koutras

Isa: Pyramide International

U.S. Distribution: Strand Releasing

Greek Release Date: October 2nd, 2014

Although it’s not an official rule, Greece almost-automatically selects the winner of the Best Film Prize at the Hellenic Film Awards as their Oscar submissions. This year’s winner was the Lgbt dramedy “Xenia,” which follows two Albanian brothers searching for their Greek father after their mother’s death. The film was nominated for 15 Hellenic Film Awards and won a total of six. “Xenia” premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival and will be released in the U.S. in October by Strand Releasing. I can’t see any other film being selected other than Koutras’ Almodovar-infused film, but if that were the case the other Best Film nominees – that meet AMPAS requirements- would be the ones to look to:  “Electra,” “A Blast,” and “Forever.”

Guatemala

"Ixcanul"

Dir. Jayro Bustamante

Isa: Film Factory Entertainment

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Guatemalan Release Date: August 27th, 2015

This is a no-brainer. Guatemala has only sent a film once back in 1994, but this year director Jayro Bustamante delivered the most awarded Guatemalan film in history. That should be a good enough reason to enter the race once again. “Ixcanul” won the Alfred Bauer Award at the Berlinale and has screened across the world to great success. Bustamante’s film centers on a Mayan girl who wants to escape the arrange marriage that awaits her to see what’s beyond her village. Another Guatemalan film, which also screened in Berlin, Edgar Sajcabún's “La Casa Más Grande del Mundo,” will probably not open theatrically in time and should be considered next year. 

Iceland

"Rams" (Hrútar)

Dir. Grímur Hákonarson

Isa: New Europe Film Sales

U.S. Distribution: Cohen Media Group

Icelandic Release Date: May 28th, 2015

Two middle-aged brothers in an Icelandic rural town leave their differences behind and come together to save their beloved farm animals in the Un Certain Regard Award-winner “Rams.” With such recognition under its belt and having just been picked for U.S. distribution by Cohen Media Group, Grímur Hákonarson's film is certainly the handsomest choice.  Still, “Rams” is not without a strong rival. Crowd-pleaser “Virgin Mountain,” about a lonely man whose life changes when he meets a new friend, had its U.S. premiere at the Tribecca Film Festival where it won three awards: Best Narrative Feature, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay. It could go either way, but the Cannes prestige and having found a U.S. distributor give “Rams” the upper hand. Iceland produced several qualifying features this year including “Brave Men’s Blood,” “East of the Mountain, “ and “The Homecoming.”

Iran

"Muhammad: The Messenger of God"

Dir. Majid Majidi

PC: Nourtaban Film Industry 

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Iranian Release Date: August 26, 2015

Iran will have to make an incredibly difficult decision that unfortunately may have political repercussions. Majid Majidi’s latest film “Muhammad: The Messenger of God” is the most expense Iranian feature ever made. The historical epic brings to life the early years of the prophet's life with impressive locations, costumes, and cinematography courtesy of Three-time Oscar-winner Vittorio Storaro. Majidi himself is no stranger to the Academy having earned Iran’s first-ever Academy Award nomination with “Children of Heaven.” Taking these facts into consideration, “Muhammad” seems to be the obvious selection, but there are many religious and political concerns that could get in its way. Islam prohibits the depiction of the prophet and other sacred figures in any artistic work. Knowing this, Majidi shot the entire film - which is the first part in what’s to become a trilogy – without ever showing the prophet’s face by shooting most scenes from his point of view or showing him with his back to the camera. This was acceptable for Iran’s censors, as the film will open this week in theaters across the Middle Eastern country. However, other Muslim countries, particularly Sunni Muslims, have been outspoken about their discontent with the film. Whether Iran will still choose to submit the film to AMPAS is a mystery, but it will certainly have more to do with outside influences rather than artistic merit. “Muhammad” will have its North American premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival.

Nahid” by Ida Panahandeh, about a woman’s journey from divorce to remarrying, won the Avenir Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, but - although censors have said the film will be allowed the screen in Iran - it might not open theatrically in time. It also deals with a controversial subject and that might limit it chances. A third, and much safer option, is romantic drama  “What’s the Time in Your World?” starring Leila Hatami (“A Speration”) and Ali Mosaffa (“The Past”). Directed by Safi Yazdanian, the film looks beautifully done and sports two of the most talented Iranian actors working today. It could definitely be a good alternative. Other films include “Borderless,” “Track 143,” "Tales” and “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.” Perhaps Iran will ignore the risk and submit their most lavish film to date by one of their most celebrated filmmakers who still works within the state’s parameters.

Israel

"The Kind Words" (Ha'milim ha'tovot )

Dir. Shemi Zarhin

Isa: Beta Cinema

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Israeli Release Date:  May 28, 2015

With 12 nominations to Israel’s Ophir Awards, “The Kind Words” including Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress Shem Zarhin’s film is the one to beat. Since the winner of the Ophir Award for Best Film automatically becomes Israel’s Oscar submission, “The Kind Words” has a strong shot at both honors. The film follows a group of siblings as they travel abroad to uncover a secret. By default the other contenders are the rest of the films nominated for Best Film: “Wounded Land,” ”Afterthought,” “Wedding Doll,” and “Baba Joon.” Of this Elad Keidan's “Afterthought,” which premiered at Cannes to positive reviews, and Erez Tadmor's intense drama “Wounded Land” appear to be the strongest alternatives. Despite being nominated several times Israel has never won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.

Italy

"My Mother" (Mia Madre)

Dir. Nanni Moretti

Isa: Films Distribution

U.S. Distribution: Alchemy

Italian Release Date: April 16th, 2015

Nanni Moretti is back with “Mia Madre,” a new family drama that screened in competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and won a few awards at the Italian David di Donatello Awards. Since the big winner at the national awards, “Black Souls,” was considered last year, Moretti’s film is the frontrunner. However, there is a wild card that could change things. Veteran filmmaker Marco Bellocchio will release his newest work “Blood of My Blood,” a historical drama about a 17th century woman accused of being a witch, on September 9 - just in time to qualify. It’s likely that Moretti will have enough support to pull it off, but there is still a chance that might not be set in stone. Besides these two films there is Mario Martone’s “Leopardi,” a biopic about poet Giacomo Leopardi, which won several David di Donatello Awards and was also recognized in Venice. With even less possibilities are Sundance’s “Cloro,”  “Greenery Will Bloom Again,” and Albanian-language “Sworn Virgin,”  

Ivory Coast

"Run"

Dir. Philippe Lacôte

PC: Banshee Films

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Ivorian Release Date: December 17th, 2014

The first and only time a film represent Ivory Coast at the Oscars was back in 1977. That film, “Black and White in Color,” won the first and only Academy Award attributed to a Sub-Saharan African country. Nevertheless, that landmark work was directed by a Frenchmen, Jean-Jacques Annaud, and had mostly French talent in the leading roles. Now, almost 40 years later, an actual Ivorian film looks presents a fantastic opportunity for the country to return to the race. Philippe Lacote’s political drama “Run” screened in the Un Certain Regard section in Cannes 2014, Tiff, and AFI Fest, and later opened commercially in Abidjan, the Ivorian Capital, and Paris.  Ivory Coast has only one eligible film to submit as their Oscar entry, and fortunately it’s a good one.

Japan

"Our Little Sister" (海街 diary)

Dir. Hirokazu Koreeda

Isa: Wild Bunch

U.S. Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics

Japanese Release Date: June 13th, 2015

Japan hasn’t had a successful entry since unexpectedly winning the award in 2009 with “Departures.” Their selections are often baffling because they tend to ignore festival winners and critically acclaimed films to pick obscure titles that rarely connect with voters. In recent years outstanding films such as “Like Father, Like Son” have been overlooked. Having said this, one can only hope that this time around they will chose more wisely. This year another film by Hirokazu Koreeda, “Our Little Sister,” debuted at Cannes and has been picked up for U.S. distribution by Sony Pictures Classic – a powerhouse distributor in the Best Foreign Language Film race. Based on a manga series, the film revolves around a group of young women who decide to adopt their stepsister after their father dies. “Our Little Sister” was also a financial success in its homeland. Even with all these positive qualities on its side, Japan might refuse to submit Koreeda’s film and look elsewhere. Other options from the festival circuit include Naomi Kawase's “An- Sweet Red Bean Paste,” which less positive reviews; “Journey to the Shore,” though it opens on October 1; “Kabukicho Love Hotel,” which screened at Tiff last year, and “Cape Nostalgia.”  

Jordan

"Theeb" (ذيب)

Dir. Naji Abu Nowar

Isa: Fortissimo Films

U.S. Distribution: Film Movement

Jordanian Release Date: March 19th, 2015

In 2008 Jordan submitted their first-ever Oscar submission, and the first feature film made in the country in half a century. That film, “Captain Abu Raed,” did very well in festivals like Sundance and Dubai. Since then, Jordanian cinema has been scarce forcing the country to be absent from the race. That could change this year with “Theeb” by UK-born filmmaker Naji Abu Nowar. His period piece about a Bedouin boy during World War I has played at numerous festivals and will have a U.S. theatrical release via Film Movement.

Lithuania

"The Summer of Sangailé" (Sangaile)

Dir. Alanté Kavaïté

Isa: Films Distribution

U.S. Distribution: Strand Releasing

Lithuanian Release Date: August 21st, 2015

The Sundance Film Festival screened its first-ever Lithuanian feature this past January, “The Summer of Sangailé” by Alanté Kavaïté. This Lgbt coming-of-age story showcases captivating cinematography and nuanced performances. “Sangailé” went on to win the Directing Award in the World Cinema Competition at the Park City festival. It will also become one of the very few Lithuanian films to have been distributed in the U.S. when Strand Releasing schedules its theatrical release. Being the most awarded narrative film from the Baltic nation, it should be a shoo-in. "Sangailé" also won three Silver Crane Awards (Lithuanian Oscars): Best Film, Best Actress for Julija Steponaityte and best set design for Ramunas Rastauskas. Its only realistic adversary is the documentary “Master and Tatyana,” which won the Best Documentary, Best Director, and Best Cinematography prizes at the Silver Crane. Lithuania has shown to be fond of submitting documentaries, but one could presume that “Sangaile’s” wider international appeal will help it succeed.

Mexico

"The Thin Yellow Line" (La Delgada Línea Amarilla)

Dir. Celso R. García

Isa: Latido Films

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Mexican Release Date:  Unknown

Among the 14 films that the Mexican Academy announced as candidates to become the official Oscar submission, only a handful of them have a real chance at representing Mexico. It’s really a three-way race between “600 Miles,” “La Tirisia,” and “The Thin Yellow Line.” Each of these has distinctive assets as well as factors that could play against them. Gabriel Ripstein's “600 Miles” stars Tim Roth, which could be beneficial because Academy voters would see a familiar face on screen. At the same time Roth’s participation means that there is a considerable amount of English dialogue that could make the film feel less authentic when considered as a “foreign language film” representing a country. Then there is Jorge Pérez Solano's art house marvel, “La Tirisia,” about the role of women in a very traditional Mexican community. This is a film that truly showcases an unseen aspect of Mexican culture and has garnered international recognition, but it might be too small in scope to be selected.

Lastly, “The Yellow Thin Line,” which was awarded at the Guadalajara Film Festival but hasn’t travel much. It will screen at the Chicago International Film Festival in October. “The Thin Yellow Line” tells the story of a group of men working on a deserted road as they are forced to come to terms with their yearnings and failures. The premise seems unique; the cast includes some of Mexico’s most recognizable talents, and it’s partly produced my Guillermo del Toro. That last fact is what could set the film apart from the rest because the general public and Academy voters will be intrigued to see what was it about this story that interested Del Toro, who hasn’t been involved in a Mexican project in several years. It’s a tough race, but having someone like the “Pan’s Labyrinth’s” director supporting the film could be a deal breaker.

Peru

"The Vanished Elephant" (El Elefante Desaparecido)

Dir. Javier Fuentes-León

Isa: Mundial

U.S. Distribution: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Peruvian Release Date: October 9th, 2015

Javier Fuentes-Leon’s “The Vanished Elephant” premiered at last year’s Tiff and was also part of this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival making it the highest profile Peruvian film of the year. At home, the critical response was very positive and the quality of the film, in comparison to other Peruvian works released in the last 12 months, is undeniable. “The Vanished Elephant” tells the cryptic story of a writer whose girlfriend disappears without a trace. After receiving a series of strange photographs, he delves into deceitful conspiracy that defies the lines between reality and fiction. Fuentes-Leon debut feature “Undertow” was submitted to the Academy back in 2010. Enrica Perez’ “Climas” about three Peruvian women from different walks of life and Héctor Gálvez forensic mystery “Nn” have both screened at several international festivals, and though they are much smaller film’s than “The Vanished Elephant,”either of them could be the next best choice to become Peru’s Oscar entry. Less likely titles include “Videophilia,” “Solos,” and historical drama “Gloria del Pacífico.”

The Philippines

"Trap" (Taklub)

Dir. Brillante Mendoza

Isa: Films Distribution

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Filipino Release Date: Unknown

Brillante Mendoza is one the Philippines most acclaimed auteurs and yet none of his films have ever been selected to represent the Southeast Asian nation at the Oscars. His latest work, “Trap,” won Special Mention from the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes and it’s the prime contender to travel to L.A. this year. “Trap” follows a group of survivors soon after Typhoon Haiyan devastated a great part of the country. The film stars Filipino actress Nora Aunor, who also the lead in Mendoza’s “Thy Womb,” which was the Filipino entry at the Golden Globes a couple years back. Given that Mendoza’s work has never been selected, there is a chance he might miss out once more. If that happens, the film that could benefit is Paul Soriano's Manny Pacquiao biopic titled “Kid Kulafo,” which would evidently ring a bell with Americans. Other films to be considered include “Justice,” also starring Aunor, “Crocodile,” or even lighthearted comedy “English Only, Please.”

Russia

"Sunstroke"

Dir. Nikita Mikhalkov

Isa: Wild Bunch

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Russian Release Date: October 4th, 2014

Even after winning the Golden Globe and being nominated for an Academy Awards, Andrey ZvyagintsevLeviathan” couldn’t get the Best Film award from the Russian Academy. Instead, they decided to bestow that honor on veteran filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov's period piece "Sunstroke.” This is the type of film that Russia loves to submit: patriotic, historical, and epic. Even though last year the Russian selection committee showed they could overlook their political agenda to ensure the best film represented the country, this year they will go back to their old ways. This is not to say “Sunstroke” is a bad film, as hardly anyone outside of Russia has seen, but it does mean that other more daring offers like Yuriy Bykov's festival darling “The Fool” and Aleksey German's “Under Electric Clouds" have little hope at becoming the country’s entry and getting the exposure that comes with it. Mikhalkov won the Oscar in for “Burnt by the Sun” in 1995 and was nominated again for "12" in 2008, which means he will be hard to beat this year. "The Fool" would be a much more interesting selection but its story about a regular citizen fighting the corrupt system might prove too controversial. There is also another war epic titled "Batalion" by Dmitriy Meskhiev, which could pull off a surprise.

Serbia

"Enclave" (Enklava)

Dir. Goran Radovanovic

PC: Nana Filam

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Serbian Eelease Date: March 19, 2015

Serbia’s 6-film shortlist includes worlds that deal with a variety of subjects, from the recurrent tales of war and its aftermath, triumphant sports stories, and even the peculiar case of a boy who grew up wild in the woods. Of all these possibilities, the film that seems to have the most gravitas is Goran Radovanovic's  “Enclave,” a film about the ethnic divide in Kosovo and the atrocities that perpetuates. This is definitely not the film with the most international exposure, but the story might be enough to warrant its submission. Films that deal with similar issues like, “Circles,” have been previous selected. But the Serbian committee wants to stay away from both war and sports dramas, they might go with Vuk RsumovicNo One’s Child” which did very well at a few festivals including Venice and Palm Springs. It could either way. Original comedy "Monument to Michael Jackson" could also be a more lighthearted choice. The shortlist is completed by "We Will Be the World Champions"," The Man Who Defended Gavrilo Princip," and "The Disobedient" (Sundance 2014).

Spain

"Ma Ma"

Dir. Julio Medem

Isa: Seville International

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Spanish Release Date: September 11, 2015

For a long time I had hope that Spain would find a loophole and submit their most honored film at this year’s Goya Awards, “Marshland” (La Isla Minima), but that seems like a farfetched hope now. Luckily, another film that looks like a winner will be released just in time. “Ma Ma” directed by Julio Medem and starring Academy Award-winner Penelope Cruz has Oscar written all over it. Cruz plays a mother diagnosed with cancer and whose ferocious battle with the disease will reinvigorate her love for life. The actress also served as a producer in what has become one of the most anticipated films of the year. The only films that could challenge are coming-of-ager “A Cambio de Nada” and Basque-language drama “Loreak.” The former appears to be feel-good story that might seem slight in comparison to both “Ma Ma” and “Loreak,” which deals with a woman who starts receiving flowers from a mysterious sender. “Magical Girl” is a brilliantly twisty film, but being so edgy it will probably be considered to risky for the Oscar race. Penelope Cruz’ star power will decide this race.

Sweden

"A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence"  (En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron)

Dir. Roy Andersson

Isa: Coproduction Office (Paris)

U.S. Distribution: Magnolia Pictures

Swedish Release Date: November 14th, 2014

The two previous chapters sin Andersson’s trilogy about being human were submitted to AMPAS, and even if they didn’t get a nomination, it’s hard to imagine them not submitting “A Pigeon.” The film has been critically acclaimed and it won the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film festival. Furthermore, it has already been released in the U.S. by Magnolia, the company that handled last year’s Swedish submission, “Force Majeure.” While I’d love to see Andersson be selected, there are several other films that could prevent that from happening. Kay Pollack, who earned Sweden’s most recent nomination for “As It Is in Heaven,” has a new film opening in early September titled “Heaven on Earth.” Depending on how that film is received the tables may or may not turn. The third strongest option is the romantic costume drama “Gentlemen,” which won several awards from the Swedish Academy and has already been picked up for U.S. distribution by, of course, Magnolia. Smaller, yet worthy candidates, include “My Skinny Sister” and “Flocking,” both of which premiered in Berlin. 

Switzerland

"Vanity" (La Vanité)

Dir. Lionel Baier

Isa: Wide

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Swiss Release Date: September 2, 2015

Out of the 7 films shortlisted by the Swiss, the one that immediately stands out is dark comedy “Vanity.” The film just premiered at Locarno and it stars Spanish actress, and one of Almodovar’s favorites, Carmen Maura, as well as Patrick Lapp. Although the film deals with suicide, the approach seems to be very comedic. In a list of several obscure titles, “Vanity” should come out on top. A second option could be Stina Werenfels' “Dora or the Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents,” which screened in Berlin’s Panorama section and tells the story of a mentally disabled woman discovering her sexuality. “War” by Simon Jaquemet, about a rebellious teenager, had some festival play as well but is less likely to be chosen. The other four titles in the shortlist are: “Pause,” doc “Iraqi Odyssey,” “Chubby,” and “L’oasis des mendiants.”

Taiwan

"The Assassin" (聶隱娘)

Dir. Hsiao-hsien Hou

Isa: Wild Bunch

U.S. Distribution: Well Go USA Entertainment

Taiwanese Release Date: August 28th, 2015

There is really no race here. “The Assassin” will be Taiwan’s entry almost certainly. Winner of the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival and clearly one of the best reviewed films of the year, this martial arts epic, which is said to showcase marvelous imagery, should be consider a strong contender. I can’t see Taiwan not choosing the film, but there are still other films that could be considered. Of those the most viable, but very distant, second choice could be Tso-chi Chang's  “Thanatos, Drunk,” which was awarded in Berlin and received six prizes at the Taipei Film Festival. The film revolves around to brothers in Taipei trying to find jobs.

Thailand

"Cemetery of Splendor" (รักที่ขอนแก่น)

Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Isa: The Match Factory

U.S. Distribution: Strand Releasing

Thai Release Date: Unknown

It was a great year for Thai art house cinema, which means the country has several prominent titles to choose from. Strangely enough, even when there are films with international recognition, Thailand often decides to submit a quirky romantic comedy or a random horror film. The reasons behind their selections are unknown. Still, assuming that they will pay attention to their most respected filmmakers, the number one choice should be "Cemetery of Splendor." However, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's films are not as well liked in his homeland are they are abroad, but it seems irrational for them not consider the film. It might be too abstract for AMPAS’ taste, but it’s still the most prestigious work. Other possibilities include “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)," which is partially in English, “The Blue Hours” (Berlin’s Panorama), and Rotterdam’s “Vanishing Point.” Of course, there are scores of more commercial titles from which the committee might pick.

Turkey

"Mustang"

Dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Isa: Kinology

U.S. Distribution: Cohen Media Group

Turkish Release Date: Unknown

Last year Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or-winning film “Winter Sleep” failed to receive a nomination, perhaps due to it’s length and cerebral screenplay. This year another title out of Cannes shows more promise. “Mustang” tells the story of five sisters living in a small village and subjected to the sexist prejudices of the townspeople. With extensive festival play and in the hands of Cohen Media Group - the company behind this year’s nominee “Timbuktu" - Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s film is the ideal pick. Sundance’s “Ivy” by Tolga Karaçelik, about a group of men trapped aboard a ship could definitely be a top contender. Kutlug Ataman's “Kuzu,” winner of the C.I.C.A.E. Award in Berlin’s Panorama section would be the third most likely film to represent Turkey at the Oscars. Lastly, “The Miracle,” a romantic period piece,  is a large local production that could be considered,  but lacks the festival exposure of the other three.

Venezuela

"Gone With the River" (Dauna, Lo que lleva el río)

Dir. Mario Crespo

Isa: Centro Nacional Autonomo de Cinematografía

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Venezuelan Release Date: March 20, 2015

With Alberto Arvelo’s “The Liberator,” the South American nation got as close as it’s ever been to Oscar glory this year. The biopic about Simón Bolívar starring Edgar Ramírez managed to become one of the 9 shortlisted finalists out of 83 submissions. Venezuela has several options to submit for the 88th Academy Awards, but they are much smaller in magnitude on this occasion. Appearing at the NATIVe sidebar of the Berlinale, “Dauna, lo que lleva el río” or “ Gone with the River” is the most important Venezuelan film of the year and gives voice to the country’s indigenous people by telling story that rarely gets seen on screen. On the other hand, the film “3 Beauties,” about another of Venezuelan’s most well-known obsessions, beauty pageants, has received critical praise at home but it seems to be a lighter satirical comedy. Their Oscar entry could be either one of the two, but I think they will go with the more socially relevant story. A smaller film, “Espejos,” could be part of the conversation but is possibilities are very limited. »

- Carlos Aguilar

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