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11 New Movies to Watch at Home This Week on Blu-ray/DVD

Welcome back to This Week In Discs where we check out tomorrow’s new releases today! The Second Mother Val has spent more than a decade as nanny, housekeeper, and cook to a wealthy family in Sao Paulo while her own daughter, Jessica, is raised by relatives in a small rural town hundreds of miles away. Her efforts have always been for Jessica, but as the years ticked by it became more and more difficult to reconnect with her daughter. Their two worlds collide though when Jessica comes to the big city intent on attending college and finds herself at odds with the subservient lifestyle her mom is leading. This delightful Brazilian comedy/drama offers up a series of terrifically honest and relevant observations on the country’s class boundaries and expectations, but while similarly-themed films lean heavy on the drama this one instead focuses on the humor and the heart. The
See full article at FilmSchoolRejects »

Carlos Aguilar's Best Films of 2015 (A Very Personal List)

If the films of 2015 have a common denominator it’s the fearlessness with which filmmakers approached the medium and took it in new directions proving that innovation is still possible and that not everything, both in content and form, has been explored. From a comedy shot entirely on an iPhone starring transgender actresses, to a film in sign language designed to be screened without subtitles, to a stop-motion animated feature that emanates more humanity than most live-action efforts, to a new immersive vision of the Holocaust from an emerging auteur, or a Brazilian hand-drawn musical odyssey about the dangers of the modern world, all granted us experiences unlike anything we've previously seen.

It’s hard to tell how many films I watched this year but I’m sure they were many. From that vast pool of cinematic works the 30 films below are the ones that stood out the most and remained ingrained in my memory as rewarding, delightful, moving, and even harrowing accomplishments. There were also films that simply didn't connect as strongly with me as they did with other journalists and audiences, thus they don't appear here. This is after all, like all of them, a very personal and subjective list of the films I loved.

Even with such an extensive list there are still other great films that deserve to be mentioned such as "The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet," "Christmas, Again," "Mistress America," "Entertainment," "Felix and Meira," "Victoria," "Mustang," "The Wolfpack," "Xenia," Estonia's Oscar-nominated "Tangerines," "Buzzard," "The Salt of the Earth," "Guidance," "Cheatin'," "Black Souls,""The Mend," "Shaun The Sheep Movie," or "'71." One can only hope audiences will discover them and be compelled by their singular perspectives.

What were your favorite films of 2015?

Special Mention: "World of Tomorrow"

Don Hertzfeldt's thought-provoking and visionary Sundance-winning short "World of Tomorrow" is easily the best short film of the year, animated or otherwise. This 17-minute science fiction journey is a mind-bending study on the essence of humanity and how technology’s ferocious advances to know and control it all endanger our ability to notice what’s truly meaningful.

Read More: 'The 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows' is One of the Most Profound Cinematic Experiences of 2015

30. "It Follows"

The best horror film of the year proves that an intriguing premise embedded into an intelligently written screenplay can bring a refreshing point of view absent in most studio productions. Director David Robert Mitchell takes classic genre conventions and twists them into a terrifying tale with morally ambiguous undertones.

29. "The Gift"

Wearing multiple hats Joel Edgerton demonstrated his storytelling and acting talents in an unpredictable psychological thriller that’s as unassuming as it’s disconcerting. An old friend reappears in a married man’s life apparently seeking to rekindle their past bond, but soon enough his good intentions will unveil much more sinister motives that makes us question who the real villain is. A stunning and perversely brilliant film that thrives on its misguiding simplicity.

28. "Heaven Knows What"

An accomplishment both in technique and emotional power, “Heaven Knows What” is an eye-opening experience brimming with unflinching truth. From the streets to the screen, the unbelievable story of Arielle Holmes is a fascinating example of the rare occurrence when cinema and reality blend almost seamlessly.

Read More: 'Heaven Knows What' Directors Josh and Benny Safdie Are Addicted to the Truth

27. "Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet"

Spearheaded by producer Salma Hayek, director Roger Allers and 8 of the world's most talented independent animators took Gibran's timeless poems and assembled a cinematic out-of-body experience that deconstructs our existential yearnings and translates them into mesmerizing animated wisdom.

Read More: Why 'Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet' is a Cinematic Out-Of-Body Experience Brimming with Animated Wisdom

Read More: Salma Hayek on 'Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet': 'His Poetry Talks About the Simple Things in Life That Unite Us All'

26. "James White"

This emotionally devastating character study put Josh Mond in the director’s chair for the first time and allowed Christopher Abbott and Cynthia Nixon to delve into career-defining roles as a mother and a son struggling to accept each other’s shortcomings in the face of impending tragedy. Mond’s debut is an unforgettable portrait of unconditional love

25. "The Big Short"

The financial crisis and the white-collar criminals behind it are examined in an outrageously humorous and dynamically constructed adaptation of Michael Lewis's book. Director Adam McKay crafted his own visual language to paint a picture of capitalism in America that’s as brutally honest as it’s infuriating. His entire cast, in particular Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell, play along in this satirical exposé.

24. "The Second Mother"

Anna Muylaert’s crowd-pleasing, yet thematically complex gem delves into the intricacies of class in Brazilian society through the eyes of an endearing live-in maid. Regina Casé, in an Oscar-worthy performance, becomes Val, a diligent and humble housekeeper that has worked with the same wealthy family in Sao Paulo for many years and who only questions her role within this environment when her strange daughter comes to visit.

Read More: Anna Muylaert on Why the Protagonist of 'The Second Mother' is a Super Hero

23. "Kumiko The Treasure Hunter"

Losing grip on reality Kumiko, a solitary Japanese woman, leaves her monotonous and life and her adorable bunny Bunzo behind to search for the money Steve Buscemi’s character hides in the Cohen Brothers’ film “Fargo.” Knowing very little English and with no American contacts, she ventures in the Minnesotan wilderness. Armed with Rinko Kikuchi ’s outstanding performance, David Zellner and Nathan Zellner managed to create an endearing and poignant adventure at the intersection between fiction and reality.

22. "When Marnie Was There"

Notably current while still unequivocally timeless, Studio Ghibli’s latest film was confected with equal doses of heart-rending drama and life-affirming beauty. More than just a visually delightful tearjerker, "When Marnie Was There" is an animated lullaby that reassures our broken hearts will eventually heal- even from the most indomitable tricks of fate.

Read More: Review: Wondrous 'When Marnie Was There' is One of Ghibli's Most Profoundly Moving Works

21. "The Hateful Eight"

Sharp dialogue and the search for violent retribution are Tarantino staples, and in his latest Western the revered director channels these through a group of deceitful characters confined to a single location. Race relations are examined via the peculiar interactions of the murderous bunch - each with their ulterior motives and frightening reputation. With a magnificent score by Ennio Morricone, impeccable cinematography by Robert Richardson, and tonally perfect performances by the ensemble cast, in which Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell are the highlights, “The Hateful Eight” is a highly entertaining addition to Tarantino's selective filmography.

20. "What We Do in the Shadows"

This masterful mockumentary capitalizes on the general public’s obsession with reality shows and the allure of vampirism and its promise of eternal life. Four ancient bloodsuckers share a house in Wellington, New Zealand and decide to let a crew film their day-to-day routines as vampires living in the modern world. What ensues are a series of intelligently written occurrences that transform every known convention about these creatures of the night into hysterical gags.

19. "The Revenant"

To say Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest is breathtaking would be an understatement. Emmanuel Lubezkii’s work is absolutely astonishing. No other film this year captured this much beauty in every single frame. The Mexican-born Oscar-winning director has reached a new level of artistry here. Leonardo DiCaprio, in one of the best performances of his career, plays Hugh Glass, a man who escapes death to take revenge on the man who killed his son.

18. "Inside Out"

Pixar ventured into the difficult task of decoding the complexity of the human psyche in one of their best features to date. Emotions take on humanoid form in the brain of a young girl adjusting to life in anew city. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust must work together to shape her blossoming personality. “Inside Out” also gifted us Bing Bong, who will go down as one of the most memorable animated characters to ever grace the screen.

17. "Ex Machina"

Artificial intelligence crosses the boundaries of mere functionality to become self-aware and to replicate the behaviors of mortals in Alex GarlandEx Machina.” The provocative screenplay evolves into a fascinating and often unsettling dissection of what it means to be a human being and the seemingly godlike power that comes from creating technology that resembles such qualities. Alicia Vikander is riveting as Ava - a mysterious female A.I.

16. "The Diary of a Teenager Girl"

Bel Powley is this year’s acting revelation and Marielle Heller the woman behind this charming, uncompromising, and original coming of age film, is one of most exciting new directors to emerge in recent memory. Burgeoning female sexuality is treated without moral judgment or shame, and it’s instead embraced in an empowering manner that overflows with truthfulness and charisma. Both Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgård are outstanding in substantial supporting roles.

15. "Taxi"

Despite being banned from filmmaking by the Iranian government, Jafar Panahi continues to bravely expose the political and social problems of his home country with films shot in secrecy. “Taxi” takes the director through the streets of Tehran as he picks up an array of passengers with distinct concerns, beliefs, and opinions on the Islamic nation’s current situation: a young girl trying to make a “distributable” film, a guy who considers selling pirated films a cultural campaign, or a pair of elderly women whose fate depends on the survival of a couple fish. Though scripted, each encounter exudes honesty.

14. "The Duke of Burgundy"

Intoxicatingly atmospheric and full of evocative imagery, Peter Strickland’s follow up to his similarly unusual debut “Berberian Sound Studio” looks at the psychology of sexual desires with a seductive gaze. The line dividing power and submission is blurred and interchangeable between two lovers whose turbulent relationship is juxtaposed with the nature of butterflies. Eroticism derived from degradation and punishment is elegantly approached that suggest more than it explicitly shows.

13. "Phoenix"

The final sequence in this new collaboration between writer/director Christian Petzold and actress Nina Hoss is one of the best conclusions ever written. It’s subtle, yet strikingly revelatory. Departing from a Hitchcockian mistaken identity plot from the point of view of a concentration camp survivor, Petzold delves into Germany’s post war sentiments of guilt and the beginning of the long road to rebuild a superficially and morally shattered nation. “Phoenix” is also a love story coated in betrayal and the harsh realization that, when tested, even the strongest bond can be destroyed. Hoss gives an awards-deserving, restrained and perfectly nuanced performance.

Read More: Christian Petzold's 'Phoenix' is a Deeply Moving Film About Survivors Rebuilding Their Lives

12. "Timbuktu"

Today, perhaps more than ever, a film like Abderrahmane Sissako’s spellbinding “Timbuktu” is imperative. Capturing some of the most beautiful African landscapes ever seen on film and delicately arranging his stories to create a tapestry of human experiences, Sissako’s latest doesn’t abide by any political or religious dogma. Instead, his vision preaches openness and denounces the terrifying absurdity of the world according to extremist.

Read More: Promoting Tolerance: Abderrahmane Sissako on 'Timbuktu' and a Different Kind of Islam

11. "The Voices"

Playing Jerry, the most charming serial killer you’ll ever meet, Ryan Reynolds gives the best performance of his career in Marjane Satrapi’s wonderfully insane horror comedy. Adding to his already outstanding work as the lovable, if unstable young man, Reynolds also voices both of his character's opinionated pets. Stay tuned after the film for one of the most ridiculous credit sequences ever.

Read More: Too Insane To Ignore: Marjane Satrapi On Her Fascinating Sundance Horror-Comedy 'The Voices'

10. "Güeros"

Using one of the most cosmopolitan and complex cities in the world as his canvas, Mexican filmmaker Alonso Ruizpalacios delivered an audaciously original story that delves into many unique aspects of Mexican society wrapped up into a road trip adventure that helps two estrange brothers reconnect.

It’s a revitalizing work, and one of the best Mexican films of the last decade.

Read More: In 'Güeros' Dir. Alonso Ruizpalacios Rediscovered Mexico City Via a Unique Road Trip

9. "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl"

Read More: How Alfonso Gomez-Rejon Used Determinación to Go From a Small Town to Nyu to Sundance

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's Sundance champion is a tonally nuanced and visually inventive work that ingeniously beguiles you to fall in love with every instant of its strangely imaginative magic. This tragicomedy invokes tropes from a familiar realm and deconstructs or tailors them to the uniquely poignant circumstances of it's characters. It's nothing short of a cinephile's dream come true.

Read More: This is the Review That Tells You Why 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' is a Cinephile's Dream Come True

8. "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence"

Constructed of gorgeously understated vignettes, which guide us through the grandeur of life by methodically focusing on the smallest but most resonant instants of it, "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" by Swedish writer/director Roy Andersson won the Golden Lion at last’s year’s Venice Film Festival. Delving into a wide range of quotidian dilemmas via darkly comedic exploits, this episodic tour de force is as insightful as it’s blissfully entertaining and distinctively stylized.

Read More: 7 Reasons Why Roy Andersson's Latest Film is a Must-See Philosophical Wonder

7. "Tangerine"

Sean Baker's riotous and perfectly acted latest film shot on an iPhone “Tangerine” centers on Alexandra (Mya Taylor) and Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), two transgender sex workers on Santa Monica Boulevard who struggle to get by while dealing with heartbreak, revenge, and their dreams.

Baker captured an unseen side of Los Angeles through the eyes of two equally underrepresented characters who get a chance to showcase their comedic brilliance.

Read More: How Sean Baker Used Beautiful Accidents and New Talent to Deliver one of the Best Films of the Year

6. "The Look of Silence"

For “The Look of Silence,” the indispensable companion piece to "The Act of Killing," director Joshua Oppenheimer focused on the survivors, specifically on a brave family that persevered through the immeasurable pain that quietly permeates Indonesian society even half a century after the genocide. The subjects here are often quiet and contemplative, but their anguish transcends even when words fail to describe their tumultuous sentiments.

Read More: 12 Things Joshua Oppenheimer Wants You to Know About 'The Look of Silence'

5. "Anomalisa"

In "Anomalisa," a delicately melancholic observation on loneliness and the flawed human condition, acclaimed writer-director Charlie Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson use stop-motion animation to tell a story of small proportions and big ideas. These existential observations include our fears, failures, insecurities and our desperate need to be loved by someone who can look pass our conspicuous scars.

Read More: Human at the Seams: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson Make Yearning Tangible in 'Anomalisa'

4. "The Tribe"

“The Tribe,” by Ukrainian debutant Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, is a film that communicates with its audience in a non-verbal manner. There are no subtitles or any other way to know exactly what the characters on screen are saying, but that’s never an issue for it to powerfully make its message heard. It’s the purest form of cinema because it can be shown anywhere in the world without modification, and the devastating result would be the same.

Read More: Interviewing Yana Novikova, Star of 'The Tribe,' Was a One-of-a-Kind Experience

3. "Boy and the World"

Alê Abreu’s “Boy and the World” is unequivocally the best animated film of the year. Drawn with the finest ends of an artist's heartstrings and painted with the colorful essence of undefeatable hope, Abreu’s utterly lyrical, visually captivating, musically driven, and extraordinarily sophisticated treasure is the animated equivalent of a childhood dream that thrives on sweet innocence and the pure ability to see the world truthfully for its dazzling beauty and its man-made dangers. As it continues to spellbind the globe with its unconventional artistry and thought-provoking observations, an Oscar nomination would be a more than deserved crown jewel.

Read More:Review: Why Alê Abreu's Sublime 'Boy and the World' is the Best Animated Film of the Year

Read More: How "Boy and the World" Director Alê Abreu Handcrafted His Heartfelt & Dazzling Animated Masterpiece

2. "Carol"

Exquisitely photographed and fueled by the two best performances of the year, Todd HaynesCarol” depicts an ethereal and ravishing romance that’s sure to take your breath away. Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett play two women from opposite worlds that meet serendipitously and fall madly in love for each other in a time yet unwilling to accept them. Carol (Blanchett) is a wealthy mother and wife whose desires are used against her threatening to stripped her of what she loves the most. On the other hand Therese (Mara) is a working class girl discovering herself and who finds the strength to follow her true instincts in Carol. Heartbreak has rarely been portrayed with such a delicate touch, thoughtfulness, and sincerity. Beneath the glossy Christmas-tinted frames is a story as universal as it is particular in which a single pleading look disarms you. Few films will make you feel such tangible and pure yearning to connect with another soul as Haynes masterwork does.

1. "Son of Saul"

First-time director László Nemes decided to look at the terrifying apparatus behind the Holocaust from the perspective of the Sonderkommando, a group of men whose experience was exponentially more harrowing than that of the average victim. Nemes focuses on a particular man, Saul (Géza Röhrig), a fictional character created from the limited information available on this special group and the filmmaker’s artistic sensibilities.“Son of Saul” is not only the best film of the year, but also the most ambitious debut in ages. Both conceptually and visually, the dynamic, yet organically contemplative vision of one man’s ordeal as he walks through the gates the hell is the work of a master auteur.

Read More: 12 Things Director László Nemes and Star Géza Röhrig Want You to Know About 'Son of Saul'
See full article at SydneysBuzz »

Interview: The Actress & Director of "The Second Mother," Brazil's Oscar Hopeful

As 2015 winds down, let's turn a spotlight on one of the year's best foreign films, Brazil's Oscar submission The Second Mother. After a successful limited Us release in late summer, it's now available to watch on VOD. And watch it you should. The film centers on a housekeeper named Val (a terrific Regina Casé) who is reunited with her estranged teenage daughter after many years apart. The daughter's sudden presence wreaks havoc on the the dynamics of Val's relationship to the family that employs her. It's a rich film with humor, sadness and insight.

This interview with writer/director Anna Muylaert and the film's star Regina Casé is edited for clarity because some of it was conducted through a translator. I hope you'll be intrigued enough to check out the film.

Nathaniel: Anna, since you wrote and directed, let's start with you. What prompted you to do this? Was it
See full article at FilmExperience »

Top 25 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Contenders

Fascinating is the best way to describe the process by which the final five nominated for the Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film are selected. Each year dozens of countries send their Oscar hopeful to Hollywood for AMPAS to consider. This work should, at least in theory, be the best representation of the national cinematic achievements of that year. This usually makes for a crowded field of storytelling marvels.

Since each country, via its national film academy or a special cultural committee, can only submit one candidate, there are always “snubs” even at the selections stage. These often happens because a film doesn’t meet the requirements or simply because the selecting body didn’t regard them as highly. While there are numerous detractors regarding AMPAS rule of only one entry per country, in a sense this helps level the playfield given that smaller territories might have very choices in comparison to European powerhouses. The other perspective argues that because of this process sometimes the real standouts don’t get a chance to compete.

Once a film becomes the official entry the next, and most arduous step, is to get into the 9-film shortlist. Six of them are chosen by popular within the AMPAS’ Foreign Language Film committee and the other three by an executed committee. These nine finalists are then watched by 30 randomly selected members from different Academy branches over one weekend. This is where the five nominees are chosen. This year 80 accepted submissions (noting that Afghanistan’s entry was disqualified) are vying for the trophy, and that means that 75 of the world’s best films will have to cherish the exposure given by process.

Nevertheless, making the shortlist is more than a commendable feat itself. This list will be revealed next week, and though there are always unexpected surprises, there are of course a few favorites and films that have garnered lots of positive attention throughout the season. After watching over three quarters out of the colossal list of entries in contention I’d like to share my observations on the 25 films that seem like the strongest bets to make the coveted shortlist and eventually become Academy Award nominees. Granted, other films could easily sneak in if they manage to impress the right people, but I feel confident that most of those that will advance will come from the least below.

Argentina

"The Clan" (El Clan)

Dir. Pablo Trapero

Isa: Film Factory Entertainment

U.S. Distribution: Fox International

Trapero’s sordid crime drama based on the real life story of the Puccio family, which became national news when authorities discovered they were behind a series of kidnapping and murders, is a compelling work that uses Argentina’s historical context as backdrop. . Almodovar’s El Deseo, the company behind the Oscar-nominated “Wild Tales”, produced the film.

Read More: 'The Clan Wins' Audience Award At Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival’s Gems

Austria

"Goodnight Mommy" (Ich seh, ich seh)

Dirs. Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz

Isa: Films Distribution

U.S. Distribution: Radius-twc

One of the most daring selections is also one the most acclaimed horror films of the year. This art house chiller confronts a pair of mischievous twin boys with their convalescent mother who recently underwent a facial surgery. The thematic and aesthetic elegance that co-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz employed elevates “Goodnight Mommy” beyond the usual gruesome fare.

Belgium

"The Brand New Testament" (Le tout nouveau testament)

Dir. Jaco Van Dormael

Isa: Le Pacte

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

This fantastical take on religion is yet another unique vision from director Jaco Van Dormael, the filmmaker behind such films as “Mr. Nobody.” With a humorous tone, “The Brand New Testament” explores what would happen if God himself lived in a regular apartment in Brussels pretending to be a mortal and finding pleasure in the little things that annoy human life - all of which are orchestrated by him.

Brazil

"The Second Mother" (Que Horas Ela Volta?)

Dir. Anna Muylaert

Isa: The Match Factory

U.S. Distribution: Oscilloscope Pictures

Anna Muylaert’s crowd-pleasing, yet thematically complex gem delves into the intricacies of class in Brazilian society through the eyes of an endearing live-in maid. Regina Casé, in an Oscar-worthy performance, becomes Val, a diligent and humble housekeeper that has worked with the same wealthy family in Sao Paulo for many years and who only questions her role within this environment when her strange daughter comes to visit.

Read More: Anna Muylaert on Why the Protagonist of 'The Second Mother' is a Super Hero

Canada

"Felix & Meira"

Dir. Maxime Giroux

Isa: Urban Distribution International

U.S. Distribution: Oscilloscope Laboratories

A clandestine romance and the yoke of religion are at the center of Maxime Giroux’s delicate debut feature. Meira (Hadas Yaron is a Hasidic woman who feels trapped by the expectations and limitations imposed her, but when she meets Felix (Martin Dubreuil), a secular man who is equally lost, her vision of the world widens.

Rea More: 'Felix and Meira' Director Maxime Giroux on Understanding Hasidim and Quebecois Isolation

Chile

"The Club" (El Club)

Dir. Pablo Larraín

Isa: Funny Balloons

U.S. Distribution: Music Box Films

Larrain's latest work follows a group of priests and nuns who live in an isolated beachside town after committing a score of heinous crimes. Though they have the church's protection, there are people out there who are not willing to let impunity prevail. Magnificently written and acted, this dark and piercing drama ranks up there with the director’s best work

Colombia

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

Dir. Ciro Guerra

Isa: Films Boutique

U.S. Distribution: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Strikingly beautiful and laced with poetic mysticism, Ciro Guerra’s most accomplished work to date follows the journey of two European explores at particular times in history as they are guided through the Amazon by Karamakate, an imposing local shaman man who is wary of their intentions.

Czech Republic

"Home Care" (Domácí péce)

Dir. Slávek Horák

Isa: M-Appeal

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

This very low-key dramedy from first-time director Slávek Horák about a a middle-aged home care nurse, who not only has to look after her patients but also her own family, hasn’t had as much exposure as other films on this list; however, the quality of the performances and the nuanced screenplay have resonated with those who have seen it.

Denmark

"A War" (Krigen)

Dir. Tobias Lindholm

Isa: Studiocanal

U.S. Distribution: Magnolia Pictures

Director Tobias Lindholm follow up to “A Hijacking,” blends gritty action with a courtroom drama in a searing study on guilt and the collateral damage of armed conflicts from the point of view of conflicted family man and company commander Claus M. Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk). Subtle observations and intricate moral complexity are once again Lindholm's greatest strengths.

Estonia

"1944"

Dir. Elmo Nüganen

Isa: Eyewell Ab

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

After earning its first-ever Academy Award nomination earlier this year, the Eastern European country returns to the race with an impressive historical epic about Estonian soldiers fighting on different sides against their own. The film was directed, who starred in the Oscar-nominated “Tangerines.”

Finland

"The Fencer" (Miekkailija)

Dir. Klaus Härö

Isa: The Little Film Company

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

Finnish filmmaker Klaus Härö takes on an Estonian story about a professional fencer who becomes a physical education teacher in his homeland after leaving Russia to escape the Kgb. This classically executed and elegant period drama offers uplifting moments, romance, and exquisite cinematography.

France

"Mustang"

Dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Isa: Kinology

U.S. Distribution: Cohen Media Group

Through traditional gender roles and expectations in Turkish society, adults attempt to tame the blossoming womanhood in Deniz Gamze Ergüven's five teenage protagonists. Delicately shot and cast to perfection, this peculiar coming-of-ager is an empowering breath of fresh air that honors freedom and femininity in equal measures.

Read More: 'Mustang' Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven on Femininity in Cinema and French Multiculturalism

Germany

"Labyrinth of Lies" (Im Labyrinth des Schweigens)

Dir. Giulio Ricciarelli

Isa: Beta Cinema

U.S. Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics

In the aftermath of WWII German authorities and the majority of the population refused to acknowledge the magnitude of their involvement in the Holocaust until a driven young prosecutor begins uncovering the truth. Ricciarelli film is a compelling historical drama with a fantastic lead performance by Alexander Fehling at its core.

Read More: Dir. Giulio Ricciarelli and Star Alexander Fehling on the Historical Relevance of 'Labyrinth of Lies' and Germany's Open Wound

Guatemala

"Ixcanul"

Dir. Jayro Bustamante

Isa: Film Factory Entertainment

U.S. Distribution: Kino Lorber

Bustamante’s Silver Bear-winning ethereal masterpiece in indigenous language is an intimate look at the lives of the country’s Mayan population. Told through the eyes of a teenage girl destined to an arranged marriage, this marvelously photographed film speaks of tradition, modernity, mysticism, male chauvinism, and cultural isolation.

Read More: 'Ixcanul' Director Jayro Bustamante on the Strength of Mayan Women and Guatemala's Indigenous Majority

Hungary

"Son of Saul" (Saul fia)

Dir. László Nemes

Isa: Films Distribution

U.S. Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics

By far the most incredible debut of the year and one of the best films about the Holocaust ever made, this year’s Grand Prix winner takes the viewer inside the Nazi killing machine from the perspective of the Sonderkommando, a group of Jewish men chosen to carry out all horrific manual labor within the gas chambers. Immersive and devastating, Nemes' stunner is a powerful cinematic statement.

Iceland

"Rams" (Hrútar)

Dir. Grímur Hákonarson

Isa: New Europe Film Sales

U.S. Distribution: Cohen Media Group

A humorous look at brotherhood and pastoral life, this Un Certain Regard-winning dark comedy pays homage to the importance of sheep in the Icelandic cultural identity. When a disease wipes out the entire town’s flock, two estrange siblings, who haven’t spoken to each other in decades, are forced to collaborate in order to save their livelihood.

Ireland

"Viva"

Dir. Paddy Breathnach

Isa: Mongrel International

U.S. Distribution: Magnolia Pictures

Jesus, a young gay man in Havana, only finds relief from his daily struggles when he transforms into a drag performer in front of an eager audience, but when his macho father returns after decades away his dreams are jeopardized. This Irish production set in Cuba is a delightful work that thrives on authenticity and emotionally layered performances.

Read More:'Viva' Director Paddy Breathnach on Making an Irish Film in Cuba and Visceral Transformation

Jordan

"Theeb" (ذيب)

Dir. Naji Abu Nowar

Isa: Fortissimo Films

U.S. Distribution: Film Movement

Adapting the sensibilities of classic Westerns into a uniquely Middle Eastern setting, this period piece touches on the complicated relationship between the region and the colonial powers via the experiences of a young Bedouin boy who embarks on a mission across the desert. Top-notch filmmaking that twists conventions to depict a singular worldview.

Mexico

"600 Miles" (600 Millas)

Dir. Gabriel Ripstein

Isa: Ndm

U.S. Distribution: Pantelion Films

By focusing on two characters from opposite sides of the border, Gabriel Ripstein’s debut Starring Tim Roth delves into the U.S/Mexico conflictive, yet unavoidable codependency and share responsibility in the fight against organized crime. Guns are at the center of this realist tale in which everyone’s morality is tinged with shades of grey.

The Netherlands

"The Paradise Suite"

Dir. Joost van Ginkel

Isa: Media Luna New Films

U.S. Distribution: None Yet

In this profound multi-narrative film the tumultuous stories of characters from diverse latitudes collide in Amsterdam in unexpected and heartbreaking ways. An Eastern European girl dragged into prostitution, an African man desperate to stay afloat, a war criminal in disguise, a woman seeking revenge, and famous musician and his son struggling to connect, all, in their own way, looking fro redemption.

Norway

"The Wave" (Bølgen)

Dir. Roar Uthaug

Isa: TrustNordisk

U.S. Distribution: Magnolia Pictures

Besides its spectacular, Hollywood-worthy visual effects, what sets this Scandinavian disaster movie apart from less sophisticated American efforts is its interesting character development. While the chaos and destruction on screen is an exhilarating feast, the human aspect is never forgotten and it’s crucial to the Norwegian specificity of the plot.

Romania

"Aferim!"

Dir. Radu Jude

Isa: Beta Cinema

U.S. Distribution: Big World Pictures

Thematically fascinating and visually impeccable, this black-and-white historical adventure set in the early 19th century solidifies Romanian cinema as one of the most exciting and innovative currents in Europe. Radu Jude’s film centers on the mostly unknown history of Gypsy slavery and how this shaped Romanian society by using a tragicomic tone and timeless aesthetics.

Spain

"Flowers" (Loreak)

Dirs. Jon Garaño & Jose Mari Goenaga

Isa: Film Factory Entertainment

U.S. Distribution: Music Box Films

The country’s firs Basque-language entry is a soft-spoken drama that juxtaposes the grieving processes of three women after the tragic death of man that touched their lives directly and indirectly. Unpretentious in its concept, yet unexpectedly philosophical, the power of the narrative lies on the actresses that flourish and decay in varying degrees throughout the film.

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

As brilliant as anything Andersson has ever created, the final chapter in his trilogy about the absurdity of what it means to be human is one of the most unconventional cinematic experiences in recent memory. Without the constraints of la traditional plot, this nonlinear treasure uses clever vignettes to talk about death, humor, and the mundane things that define our existence.

Read More: 7 Reasons Why Roy Andersson's Latest Film is a Must-See Philosophical Wonder

Taiwan

"The Assassin" (聶隱娘)

Dir. Hsiao-hsien Hou

Isa: Wild Bunch

U.S. Distribution: Well Go USA Entertainment

Armed with breathtaking cinematography, lavish costumes and production design, and an ancient legend about betrayal and retribution, master Hsiao-hsien Hou obliterates our expectations and delivers a one-of-a-kind martial arts epic that’s more concerned with sensory transcendence than narrative clarity, but is no less of an enthralling experience because of it.
See full article at SydneysBuzz »

‘The Second Mother’ Director Explores Brazilian Clash of Culture, Gender

  • The Wrap
‘The Second Mother’ Director Explores Brazilian Clash of Culture, Gender
This was originally published in TheWrap Foreign Language Oscar Issue. TheWrap Magazine Editor Steve Pond discussed “The Second Mother,” the Brazilian submission for the Foreign Language Oscar that won film festival prizes at Sundance, Berlin, and Amsterdam, with director Anna Muylaert and star Regina Case, who plays a live-in housekeeper clashing with her estranged daughter and class conflict. Steve Pond: Anna, I know you started thinking about this movie 20 years ago. Why so long? Anna Muylaert: When I had a son, I wanted to talk about the work that a mother does, and how our society values masculine work over feminine.
See full article at The Wrap »

Showdown Between Young & Old for Best Actress

By Patrick Shanley

Managing Editor

Of the four major acting award categories at the Oscars (Best Actor/Actress, Best Supporting Actor/Actress), women have traditionally been awarded at much younger ages than their male counterparts. Dating back to 1974, when Tatum O’Neal (then only 10 years of age) won best supporting actress for her role in Paper Moon, the list of young female talent to be nominated, and in certain cases win, at the Oscars is noteworthy.

In recent years, however, there has been a number of older actresses who have gone home with Oscars, including last year’s best actress winner Julianne Moore who, at the age of 54 became the 10th oldest recipient of that award in Oscars history for her role as a woman suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice.

With strong performances by a crop of talent young and old this year, it is
See full article at Scott Feinberg »

The Second Mother Submitted By Brazil For Oscar Consideration

The Brazilian Ministry of Culture announced yesterday that The Second Mother (Que Horas Ela Volta?), Anna Muylaert's impressive fourth feature, will represent the country in the race for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Beautifully crafted and featuring a fantastic performance by Regina Casé in the leading role, this passion project of director Muylaert is centered around a live-in housekeeper who watches the delicate balance of her relationship with the family she works for implode when her estranged daughter arrives to live in the house. It's a lively, studied and often funny portrait of the impact of the recent social changes in Brazil (where live-in housekeepers were quite common in middle class homes a few years ago) and the insidious nature of class...

[Read the whole post on twitchfilm.com...]
See full article at Screen Anarchy »

Brazil Picks Critical Hit 'The Second Mother' as Oscar Entry

Most people who follow the Oscar race and critics who had the chance to see Anna Muylaert's "The Second Mother" agreed that there was no way Brazil could submit any other film as their representative to vie for Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. Finally, now that over 30 countries have confirmed their selections, the South American nation has confirmed our suspicions and has officially chosen the film as its Oscar entry.

Read More: Peru Chooses Héctor Gálvez' Forensic Mystery 'Nn' as Oscar Entry

The insightful film about a live-in housekeeper working in a wealthy Sao Paolo home and her teenage daughter, as they are confronted with the class divide that exists in Brazilian society, opened in stateside on August 14 via Oscilloscope Laboratories. The film has garnered stellar reviews across the board. Critics praise the subtle yet sophisticated approach used by Muylaert and the incredible lead performance by Regina Casé.

"The Second Mother" premiered at Sundance back in January where it won a Special Jury Price for both lead actresses. This unassuming gem would go on to play numerous festivals around the world to become the most acclaimed Brazilian film of the year. Now that it has become an Oscar candidate, the film could bring its homeland closer to the precious award, which Brazil has never won.

Read More: Spain Shortlists Three Films as Potential Oscar Submissions

Oscilloscope has showed great interest in Latin American and Spanish-language films in general in recent months. The company has also acquired rights for Colombian Cannes-winner "Embrace of the Serpent," which also looks likely to become that country's Oscar submissions; Peru's "The Vanished Elephant," and Spanish drama "Ma Ma" starring Penelope Cruz.

The last time Brazil was nominated in the category was in 1999 with Walter Salles' "Central Station."
See full article at SydneysBuzz »

Brazil Names Foreign Oscar Submission (Exclusive)

Brazil Names Foreign Oscar Submission (Exclusive)
Read More: Foreign Oscar Submissions So Far Writer/director Anna Muylaert revealed to us Thursday morning that, as announced by Brazil's Ministry of Culture, the country has submitted her film "The Second Mother" to the 2016 Oscars. Now in Us theaters from Oscilloscope, the film was chosen from a group of eight Portuguese-language features. Regina Casé stars in this film about the estranged daughter of a hard-working live-in housekeeper who suddenly appears, throwing into disarray the unspoken class barriers that exist within the home. The film has won plaudits at Sundance, Berlin, Sarajevo and more fests. Brazil was last up for the foreign Academy Award for Walter Salles' 1998 "Central Station." Read More: Fest Hit "The Second Mother" Brings Success, and Pain
See full article at Thompson on Hollywood »

Film Review: 'The Second Mother'

  • CineVue
★★★★☆ Anna Muylaert's heartwarming The Second Mother (2015) stars Regina Casé as Val, a live-in housekeeper for a wealthy family in São Paulo, has helped bring up their 17-year-old son Fabinho (Michel Joelsas). She loves him as her own and he adores her. But Val's work comes at a price. She was forced to leave behind her young daughter Jéssica with her estranged husband in order to be able to afford the money for her upkeep. Now 17, Jéssica (Márdila) contacts Val as she is coming to São Paulo to sit her university entrance exam. Val welcomes her daughter with love and trepidation but is mortified when Jéssica outright refuses to conform to or accept the hierarchies in the family's home.

Instead of sleeping on a mattress in her mother's tiny back room, Jéssica asks if she can sleep in the opulent guest bedroom complete with en suite bathroom. She's quick-witted, smart,
See full article at CineVue »

The Second Mother review – master and servant roles under scrutiny

The delicate relationship between employer and servant is skilfully subverted and scrutinised in this funny, serious study of class in modern-day Brazil

The perennially fascinating and tactless subject of 21st-century servitude is the theme of this well acted and absorbing film – to be compared with Sebastián Silva’s 2009 gem The Maid, and, from much further back, Joseph Losey’s 1960 classic The Servant.

What happens when the live-in help get above themselves? And how does the supposedly liberal and relaxed employer class find a way of expressing its fastidious distaste and unease? It is the story of a rich Brazilian family in São Paulo and their housekeeper Val, wonderfully played by Regina Casé. She has been a nanny to the son of the house, as well as all her other duties, earning enough to send money home to pay for the care of her own daughter Jéssica, whom she has not seen for 10 years.
See full article at The Guardian - Film News »

The Second Mother Uses Little Moments of Humiliation to Open Our Eyes

  • Vulture
The Second Mother Uses Little Moments of Humiliation to Open Our Eyes
We’ve all heard of humiliation comedy, but is there such a thing as humiliation drama? The new Brazilian film The Second Mother certainly makes a case for it. (The film is Brazil’s official submission for the Academy Awards this year, and it probably has a strong chance at a nomination.) It follows Val (Regina Casé), a longtime maid for a posh Sao Paolo family. She’s a boisterous, loving woman who dotes over her boss’s teenage son, Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), doing everything from cleaning the overgrown kid’s ears to helping save his pot stash when his mother tries to throw it away. The laziness of privilege is everywhere, like a poison: When the languid, weak-kneed man of the house, Juan Carlos (Lourenco Mutarelli), wants a soda from the fridge at lunch, Val goes and gets it for him, even though it’s clearly just a few feet away.
See full article at Vulture »

Review: 'The Second Mother' Is A Gleaming Cinematic Treasure

Like a Brazilian version of domestic whack-a-mole, as soon as one figure scuffles out of a room in Anna Muylaert's "The Second Mother," there's another that scuffles in, carrying with them new baggage full of locked contempt. The one doing the whacking is Val (Regina Case), a live-in housemaid working for wealthy middle-class parents Barbara (Karine Teles) and Dr. Jose Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli), and their fragile teenage son, Fabinho (Michel Joeisas). House dynamics get shaken up when Val's estranged daughter, Jessica (Camila Mardila) — the most stubborn of the four moles — comes to stay with her mom in Sao Paulo, and turns out to be less accommodating than expected. The unwritten rules of class distinction get stepped on and broken in ways that make "The Second Mother" charmingly immersive. Thanks to its gradual minimalist nature, a dynamite lead performance, and Muylaert's sharp screenplay and sedative direction, the film has the fun,
See full article at The Playlist »

The Second Mother | Review

An Other Mother: Muylaert Scores International Breakout with Class Conscious Character Study

Brazilian director Anna Muylaert gets her first crack at international renown with her fourth narrative feature, The Second Mother, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival where it snagged a special jury prize for acting before taking home an audience award on its next stop at the Berlin International Film Festival. Walking a fine line of between character study vs. social class soap box, Muylaert successfully avoids potential contrivances with a heartfelt portrait of its central character, allowed a significant arc presented with great eloquence from its leading performer, Regina Case, a local Brazilian icon now in her fifth decade as a celebrated actor.

Val (Case) is a domestic worker who lives with her wealthy employers Dona Barbara (Karine Teles) and Carlos (Lourenco Mutarelli) in Sao Paulo, tending to all the domestic chores associated with the house and
See full article at IONCINEMA.com »

Exclusive Clip: In 'The Second Mother' the Class Divide is Delicately Explored

The most acclaimed Brazilian film of the year opens today in L.A. and New York and we have an exclusive clip. Directed by Anna Muylaert, "The Second Mother" (Que Horas Ela Volta?)  premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January where it won a Special Jury Prize for both of its leading actresses: Regina Casé and Camila Márdila. The film went on to screen at numerous major festivals around the world including Berlin, Seattle, and Sydney.

Muylaert's film centers on Val (Casé), a hardworking housekeeper who works for a wealthy São Paolo family. Her devoted routine is disrupted when her estrange daughter Jéssica (Márdila) comes to visit her and is invited by Val's boss to stay with them. Evidently, Val's responsibilities as the live-in housekeeper remain the same, but now she must add the trouble of enduring Jéssica's discontent with the obvious class divide between the elite and those, like her mother, who work for them.

In this exclusive clip this conflict within Brazilian society is delicately explored as Val's daughter takes a tour of her mother's boss house. Is she a guest or just the daughter of their employee? 

"The Second Mother" is playing in L.A. at the Laemmle Royal Theater  and in NYC at the Angelika Film Center and the Paris Theater
See full article at SydneysBuzz »

A Gem from Brazil: The Second Mother

When a movie captivates you within seconds, you know you’re watching something special. The opening of The Second Mother—a simple scene of a housekeeper taking care of a young boy after he’s had a swim, while juggling a phone call to her own daughter—encapsulates everything the movie is about. It’s honest, observant, and unaffected, and writer-director Anna Muylaert never falters from that moment on. No wonder this Brazilian import won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for its two leading actresses. Regina Casé plays a self-effacing woman named Val who has devoted herself to a prosperous family in Sao Paolo as their housekeeper and nanny—while her own...

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See full article at Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy »

Anna Muylaert on Why the Protagonist of 'The Second Mother' is a Super Hero

One of the most accomplished, sure-handed films of the Sundance Film Festival, "The Second Mother" is straightforward, socially aware and deeply rooted, not only in Brazilian but in world society class structures. That it It is also deeply rooted within the psyches of the actors and the director is what makes it so powerfully effective upon the audience.

Writer-director Anna Muylaert wrote the first version of this movie twenty years ago when she had her first child. It was called "The Kitchen Door" and was a magical realism story of a domestic servant who was a magician in her own village who could read the future of people

Twenty years ago when she had her first child, "normal" meant you brought in a nanny to care for your child and do all the housework. Anna was working and her boss assured her she would barely be able to manage three months at home when Anna informed her that she planned to take a year off to care for her child.

Her circle of friends was also aghast at the idea of her doing everything for her child And cooking dinner for them as guests. They persuaded her to bring in help at least twice a week. When the help came and told her to go relax, and closed the door on her, she began to write this script. For a year she had stayed at home to care for her child and during that time she had written books for television which earned her enough money to buy the house next door which became her office.

For herself, the idea of having a full time caretaker was confusing. When she was seven, her family hired a nanny. Anna recalled that at her school she was told to draw a picture of her family and she didn't know whether or not to include the nanny in the picture. Her younger sister was three and was so attached to the nanny that she is now the nanny of her children.

When Anna was 20 and moved out of her home, she realized she didn't know how to keep house, to clean, to cook, to do anything on her own. How stupid the middle and upper classes were, knowing nothing about life. She realized the power of the poor who knew how to cope with their own as well as their employers' lives.

Nineteen years after having her first child she returned to this script. Brazil had changed by this time. Brazil elected a president from the Workers Party. Labor laws were enacted that practically eradicated live-in labor. Maids no longer lived at their bosses' home because labor laws required paying them overtime.

Anna sat down and rewrote the script just as it was going into production. She made the nanny's daughter Jennifer, noble and strong enough to stand up to separatist social rules, throwbacks to the colonial past. She is full of curiosity and force of will, and she demands her due, her citizen rights. She offers a character model, a role model to be discussed after watching the movie. Anna considers her a super hero.

Val is a live-in housekeeper who takes her work seriously. She wears a crisp maid's uniform while serving perfect canapés; she serves her wealthy Sao Paolo employers day in and day out while lovingly nannying their teenage son whom she raised since toddlerhood. In order to do this to earn a living, she had to leave her own child in others' hands.

Everyone and everything in the elegant house has its place until one day, Val's ambitious, clever daughter Jessica arrives from Val's hometown to take the college entrance exams. Jessica's confident, youthful presence upsets the unspoken yet strict balance of power in the household; Val must decide where her allegiances lie and what she's willing to sacrifice.

Val herself has an inner strength which reveals itself in the course of the movie. In real life, this actress, Regina Case, is very strong, very influential, famous and wealthy. With a career of more than forty years, she is known for her work on stage, film and television. She is one of the most important artistic talents in Brazil today. She will soon be seen in the upcoming Emmanuel Benbihy franchise, "Rio, I Love You."

She produces For television and has a huge television following on TV Globo's "Esquenta!" which brings popular cultural personalities to the public. As an actress, she is like an anthropological museum, says Anna. She can display the characteristics of every sort of human being, recreating their gestures and personae exactly from a lifetime of research and re-creation.

When Anna directs, she likes the actors to suggest variations to the scripted words. Shooting digitally makes this even easier, and in this regard, the actors help write the script. Regina, with her broad range of experience and her own great reservoir of talent was a great resource.

I asked Anna what were her favorite films that she had directed. After some thought she said her first film, "Durval Discos" (2002) and this one. "The Second Mother" is more mature and a result of years of struggle. It has great actors and the cinematography by Uruguayan Dp, Barbara Alvarez_ ("Whisky") has created a particular look. The songs are also special. The crew worked very well together and the producers, brothers Caio and Fabiano Gullane, Débora Ivanov and Gabriel Lacerda were great. Caio worked with her on her last film, "Chomado a cobrar," as well. Gullane produced "A Wolf at the Door" and "Amazonia 3D".

It was not at all easy making this film. The star was so big; she is very critical and very forceful. But everyone was giving their best. She herself was totally devoted to the film for nine months, from July 2013 when she rewrote it to its completion in March 2014.

Anna's next film has been shot in November and December of 2014. She will go to the Berlinale where The Match Factory will offer it in the market and then home to rest for ten days before editing it. Its title, coincidentally is "There's Only One Mother". It's about two teenagers who don't know each other...the same actress plays both their mothers.

Perhaps we will see the new film in Cannes 2015.
See full article at SydneysBuzz »

Fest Hit 'The Second Mother' Brings Success--and Pain

Fest Hit 'The Second Mother' Brings Success--and Pain
Oscilloscope opens the film this Friday. Brazilian Anna Muylaert started as a critic and television and film writer; she originally wrote the script for "The Second Mother" 20 years ago, intending to direct it as her first feature. But she went on to shoot "Durval Discos" (2001) instead, and seven years later, made "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," followed by "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation" and finally, she overhauled and updated the script for her fourth film, "The Second Mother." The Brazilian Oprah, Regina Casé, wasn't willing to smoke cigarettes for "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," but was happy to take on the juicy role of Val, a live-in domestic in São Paulo whose life is thrown into disarray when her grown daughter Jessica arrives from Val’s hometown to study for her college entrance exams. The understood boundaries that rule Val's life with her employer Bárbara (Karine...
See full article at Thompson on Hollywood »

35 Films That Could Become Foreign Language Oscar Submissions

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.
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