Can’t tell the players without a scorecard?
So far, about 60 countries have submitted entries for Oscar’s foreign-language race, with the Oct. 1 deadline looming. Most of the titles are unseen outside their country of origin or the festival circuit. So Variety asked its critics and pundits for insights, to help get a little insight into some of the submissions.
General consensus: Poland’s “Ida” is a front-runner, while many of the other films are notable either for their quality or their oddness. Or both.
At this point, the tally is far below the record 76 submissions last year. But there are still several days to go, and powerhouses including China and Russia haven’t yet named their submissions. But Mauritania and Kosovo have proudly made their first submissions ever.
Here’s a look at a dozen entries that are building buzz.
Argentina: “Wild Tales,” Damian Szifron. Critic Jay Weissberg praised the film as “a wickedly delightful compendium of six standalone shorts united by a theme of vengeance.” He continued that “overall enjoyment rarely flags” during the six, praising their subversive humor “that manages to be both psychologically astute and all-out outrageous.”
Belgium: “Two Days, One Night,” Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. Marion Cotillard stars as a factory worker in this film, which chief critic Scott Foundas praised as a “typically superb social drama” from the brothers, which looks at their favorite topics: work, family and the value of money. Though this is a tale of the working class, it is handled with all the suspense of a thriller.
Canada: “Mommy,” Xavier Dolan. Chief international film critic Peter Debruge called it “a funny, heartbreaking and, above all, original work — right down to its unusual 1:1 aspect ratio — that feels derivative of no one, not even himself.” The Quebec-born filmmaker is only 25, and this is his fifth film; it debuted in Cannes where it took the jury prize.
Germany: “Beloved Sisters,” Dominik Graf. At the Berlin Fest, Foundas called it an “enthralling, gorgeously mounted” depiction of the relationships among philosopher Friedrich Schiller, his wife and her sister. Foundas said it was “an unusually intelligent costume drama,” and Debruge predicts a favorable reaction from the Academy, “which likes to reward foreign films that look like Hollywood movies.”
Hong Kong: “The Golden Era,” Ann Hui. The film closed the Venice Festival, where reviewer Guy Lodge called it an “ambitious, lustrously mounted biopic” of Chinese writer Xiao Hong, “played with gleaming intelligence by Tang Wei.” The pic opens in China on Oct. 1 and Lodge wondered if a re-edit of the 178-minute film might be needed for international distribution.
Israel: “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz. At Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, chief critic Justin Chang said the film “was easily one of the best-received films in any strand of the festival.” He adds that the country’s choice is itself an honor: “It was a highly competitive year for Israeli cinema, with Nadav Lapid’s ‘The Kindergarten Teacher,’ Shira Geffen’s ‘Self Made’ and Eran Riklis’ ‘Dancing Arabs’ also in the mix.”
Italy: “Human Capital,” Paolo Virzi. Lodge says “It is quite Academy-friendly, with its multi-stranded, issue-driven melodrama (reminiscent of Paul Haggis’ ‘Crash’) and financial-crisis context. A strategically smart choice, probably more up the Academy’s alley than Alice Rohrwacher’s artsier “The Wonders,” which many had predicted would be Italy’s entry.”
Latvia: “Rocks in My Pockets,” Signe Baumane. Debruge doubts it will make the shortlist, but says it’s worth mentioning because it is “a serious-minded animated movie hand-made by a female director about her family’s history of mental illness.”
Mexico: “Cantinflas,” Sebastian del Amo. The film did solid box office with $6 million in the U.S. and another $4.5 million in Mexico. Mexico has earned eight nominations, from 1960’s “Macari” through the 2010 “Biutiful,” but no wins yet.
Poland: “Ida,” directed by Pavel Pawlikowski. Debruge was less than glowing in his review, but is upbeat about the film’s awards chances, saying, “It has everything the Academy could possibly want: a Jewish nun unraveling her Holocaust past!” The black-and-white film played at the 2013 Telluride Fest, then went to Sundance and a bunch of other festivals. Poland has been nominated eight times, but has never won.
Sweden: “Force Majeure,” Ruben Ostlund. The avalanche movie world-premiered at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and won the jury prize. “Force Majeure” is the second Ostlund movie chosen to rep Sweden in the Oscar’s foreign-language race. Got raves from critics, including Debruge who praised his sly, dark humor and said the unsettling pic is “Visually stunning even in its most banal moments and emotionally perceptive almost to a fault.”
Turkey: “Winter Sleep.” Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The film won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, where Chang raved it is “a richly engrossing and ravishingly beautiful magnum opus that surely qualifies as the least boring 196-minute movie ever made.”