Why it’ll win: Octogenarian director Andrzej Wajda, whose mantel holds an award from just about every prize-giving body known to filmdom, has called this his most personal film, dealing as it does with the Soviet massacre that killed thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals, including the filmmaker’s own father.
Maybe not: With a Berlin Film Festival screening slated as “Katyn’s” first major playdate outside of Poland (where it was both a massive box office success and a political flashpoint), there may be precious little time for the film to gain momentum.
Why it’ll win: A lavish, historical epic from a nation that seems suddenly determined to corner the market on lavish historical epics (admirably undeterred, in that regard, by the fate of national treasury-sapping “Nomad”), Kazakhstan’s Genghis Khan biopic was well received in Toronto, and marks the second chance at an Oscar for director Sergei Bodrov, whose Russian film “Prisoner of the Mountains” was previously nominated.
Maybe not: Given the topicality of the other films in this category, “Mongol’s” 12th-century setting might make it seem a comparatively peripheral work.
Critical quote: “This Central Asia-set historical epic from Russian helmer Sergei Bodrov (‘Nomad’) boasts breathtaking landscapes, dazzling cinematography, bloody battles and unique traditions,” says Alissa Simon, Variety.
Why it’ll win: Veteran filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov uses Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men” as a template to explore ordinary Russians’ complicated relationship with the surrounding Chechen immigrant population, crafting a voluble morality play that reportedly drove even Vladimir Putin to tears.
Maybe not: While they may admire its political engagement, the Acad’s sizable non-Russian contingency might find the film’s intensely endemic subject matter a little too … foreign.
Critical quote: “Expansively, dramatically, magnificently Russian, Nikita Mikhalkov’s loose remake of ’12 Angry Men’ plays like vintage jazz from a veteran band,” says Ronnie Scheib, Variety.
Why it’ll win: An intimate study of Israel Defense Forces soldiers holed up in the titular castle shortly before the country’s 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, the film moves beyond simple “war is hell” tropes to explore the listlessness and emotional dissonance of military life. Israeli audiences (as well as last year’s Berlin jury) have vouched their support.
Maybe not: The film is Israel’s second Oscar pick, after its first selection, “The Band’s Visit,” was disqualified late in the game. While that shouldn’t detract from “Beaufort’s” merits, the film may unfairly absorb the brunt of any lingering resentment over that decision.
Critical quote: “Even if it does not entirely rise above cliche, ‘Beaufort’ has an earnest, sober intelligence that makes it hard to shake. It suggests that, for those who fight, the futility of war is inseparable from its nobility,” says A.O. Scott, the New York Times.
THE COUNTERFEITERS (Austria)
Why it’ll win: Austrian film about Jewish forgers who win special privileges from the Nazis worked up a great deal of positive traction following a marathon run through the festival circuit. And with “4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days” surprisingly out of the running, it could become the well-traveled cineaste’s choice.
Maybe not: While the Acad has often honored tales of World War II survival, voters might find little to love in the film’s ethically compromised protagonists.
Critical quote: “This is an ambitious account of institutionalized evil. … Its dehumanizing environment can be read as a kind of corrupted ‘Schindler’s List’ in which the success of the few could indirectly lead to the death of countless others,” says Xan Brooks, the Guardian.