The race for the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film fell just shy of setting a new record, with 80 countries qualifying for a competition that hit a record 83 submissions last year.
Initially, 81 countries were announced as qualifying for the award, but an AMPAS committee later determined that the Afghan entry, “Utopia,” contained too much English dialogue and disqualified that film.
Producer Mark Johnson has been re-appointed to head the Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee, which verified the eligibility of all the submissions and will oversee the three-step nominating process. This marks the 14th time in 15 years that Johnson, an Oscar winner for “Rain Man” and one of the architects of the current system, will run the committee.
All the eligible films will be screened for voters during October, November and December, with the top six vote-getters advancing to a shortlist along with three films chosen by a special executive committee.
The nine shortlisted films will then be screened for three special phase two committees, which will choose the five nominees.
An asterisk indicates that TheWrap has seen the film. Films without asterisks (obviously, most of them) are described on the basis of outside reviews and film-festival listings.
Directors: Iris Elezi, Thomas Logoreci
Directed by a husband-and-wife team, “Bota” is set in a café in a remote area that had been used by Albania’s communist government as an exile for political opponents. The film won a critics’ award in the East of the West competition at this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival.
Trailer (no subtitles)
“Twilight of Shadows”
Director: Mohamed Lakhdar-Hamina
One of the most respected filmmakers to come out of Algeria, Lakhdar-Hamina is best known for his 1975 Palme d’Or winner “Chronicle of the Years of Fire.” “Twilight of Shadows” is his first feature in decades, a drama about a soldier who sides with an Algerian rebel over his French commandant.
Director: Pablo Trapero
Based on the case of a family who kidnapped four people in Buenos Aires between 1982 and 1985, and murdered three of them, “The Clan” was made with the cooperation of some victims’ families and set box-office records in Argentina when it opened in August. Trapero’s 2010 film “Carancho” was Argentina’s Oscar selection that year, but did not make the shortlist.
Subtitled film clip
“Arrows of the Thunder Dragon”
Director: Greg Sneddon
Australia’s submission is one of the oddest films in contention: Its director is a composer who was briefly a Buddhist monk before turning to filmmaking, and he financed the $350,000 film himself and shot it in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan in the Dzongkha language. The lead character is a young woman with aspirations of becoming an Olympic archer.
“Goodnight Mommy” *
Directors: Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz
It’s not often that countries submit a horror movie to the Oscars, but Austria has done just that with a disturbing drama about a woman who undergoes cosmetic surgery and returns home to find that her twin sons believe her to be an impostor. Stylish and creepy, the film is also graphic enough to alienate all but the bravest Oscar voters.
Director: Abu Shahed Emon
Emon’s directorial debut is a three-part story about a boy who is set adrift on a river – or maybe it’s three different boys, with the film’s timeline deliberately elusive. The film uses the different stories to comment on poverty, political corruption and women’s rights in Bangladesh.
Trailer (no subtitles)
“The Brand New Testament” *
Director: Jaco Van Dormael
Religion takes a beating in van Dormael’s crowdpleasing black comedy, which played in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight section and features God as a grumpy old man living in Brussels. Tired of putting up with her Father’s abusive nature, his 10-year old daughter breaks into his computer and releases the database on which he has stored the dates on which everyone on Earth is destined to die.
Trailer (no subtitles)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
“Our Everyday Story”
Director: Ines Tanovic
An intimate drama about a middle-class Bosnian family – father, mother, grown son and absent daughter – learning to bond in the aftermath of war and tragedy, Tanovic’s film had its world premiere in August at the Sarajevo Film Festival. The director’s prior experience came mostly in documentaries.
Trailer (no subtitles)
“The Second Mother” *
Director: Anna Muylaert
Regina Case and Camila Mardila shared the Sundance Film Festival’s jury award for acting this year, playing a mother and daughter who are reunited 13 years after the mother left her daughter in her hometown while she went to Sao Paulo for a nanny/housekeeper job. Based on director Muylaert’s own experience, the film presents a touching, occasionally painful and in the end satisfying look at family ties and class divisions.
“The Judgment” *
Director: Stephan Komandarev
Immigration is a hot topic among international filmmakers these days, and Komandarev’s touching drama focuses on a father whose financial problems in the wake of his wife’s death force him to turn to smuggling refugees from Turkey into the European Union. Kondarev also directed the Bulgarian Oscar submission in 2009, when his film “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner” made the nine-film shortlist.
“The Last Reel”
Director: Kulikar Sotho
First-time director Kulikar Sotho, one of the few female feature directors in Cambodia, explores that country’s troubled past in “The Last Reel,” in which a long-lost film buried beneath the “killing fields” reveals conflicting truths about the days when the Khmer Rouge regime was in power. The film won the Spirit of Asia award at the 2014 Tokyo International Film Festival.
“Felix and Meira” *
Director: Maxime Giroux
Last year’s winner of the Best Canadian Film award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and one of the three Canadian films that TIFF brought to L.A. for a mini-festival in July, “Felix and Meira” is a drama set in the Hassidic community in Montreal. Canada has had four Oscar nominees in the past six years – and last year’s submission, “Mommy,” drew the biggest outcry of any film that didn’t make the cut.
“The Club” *
Director: Pablo Larrain
Three years after his political film “No” won an Oscar nomination, Larrain has returned with a darker, more measured film about a group of Catholic priests who have been exiled to a house in a small beach town for unspecified transgressions. The arrival of a new priest threatens to expose secrets in this brilliantly quiet and chilling drama of repressed desire and the protective instincts of a threatened church.
“Go Away Mr. Tumor”
Director: Han Yan
China initially submitted the epic “Wolf Totem” from French director Jean-Jacques Annaud, but that film apparently ran afoul of Academy rules requiring dominant creative input from the country of origin. Its replacement is a romantic comedy based on a webcomic that itself drew from real experiences of the late cartoonist Xiong Dun.
“Embrace of the Serpent” *
Director: Ciro Guerra
A striking and stylish black-and-white drama about separate expeditions on the Amazon by white scientists accompanied by a native shaman, Guerra’s film won the Art Cinema Award in the Directors Fortnight section at this year’s Cannes. The mystical and alluring film is based on the diaries of two real explorers who journeyed up the river several decades apart in the first half of the 20th century.
Director: Esteban Ramirez
This drama deals with a young woman who becomes involved in a clandestine friendship with a prison inmate. Ramirez represented Costa Rica in 2005 with “Caribe,” the country’s first Oscar entry ever.
Trailer (no subtitles)
“The High Sun” (“Zvidzan”) *
Director: Dalibor Matanic
A kind of “Romeo and Juliet” set in the Balkans, Matanic’s film deals with three couples in successive decades who are drawn together despite being on opposite sides of the region’s ethnic conflicts. The film, which won the Jury Prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section earlier this year, is dark and poetic, with a sadly realistic view of the seemingly unending strife that divides the former Yugoslavia.
Trailer (with English titles)
“Home Care” *
Director: Slavek Horak
Premiering at this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival, “Home Care” is a quiet character study of a private nurse who’s forced to begin thinking of herself instead of everyone around her. Lead actress Alena Mihulova was named Karlovy Vary’s best actress for her performance.
“A War” *
Director: Tobias Lindholm
The engrossing story of a Danish soldier stationed in Afghanistan begins in the heat of battle, with harrowing combat footage–but its second half moves to a courtroom back home, where a commanding officer is put on trial to answer for a decision made while his squad was under attack. Director Lindholm directed “A Hijacking” and wrote the Danish Oscar nominee “The Hunt.”
Directors: Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas
Issues of class, sexuality and immigration come together in this story of a European woman (played by Geraldine Chaplin) who visits the Dominican Republic and falls in love with a poor local girl who is willing to go along if it will afford her the opportunity to leave the country and find a better life. Breaking Glass Pictures plans a U.S. release for November.
Director: Elmo Nuganen
As the title suggests, Estonia’s entry is set in World War II, long one of the favorite arenas for Oscar foreign-language contenders. The film deals with the Battle of Tannenberg Line, at which Estonian soldiers had to choose whether to fight for the Russian or German armies, and then had to battle their countrymen who chose differently.
Director: Yared Zeleke
“Lamb” screened in the Un Certain Regard section at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it was the first Ethiopian film to be accepted in the 68-year history of the festival. The film is the coming-of-age story of a nine-year-old boy who is sent far from home after the death of his mother, his only companion a sheep named Chuni.
“The Fencer” *
Director: Klaus Haro
This straightforward, inspirational fact-based sports drama tells the story of Estonian fencer and coach Endel Nelis; as a teenager he was conscripted into the Germany army in World War II, and in the war’s aftermath he taught fencing in a small town while hiding from the Soviet secret police. Haro’s “Letters to Father Jacob” was Finland’s submission in 2009.
Director: Deniz Gamze Erguven
Something of a surprise pick over the Palme d’Or winner “Dheepan,” “Mustang” is set in Turkey and deals with five pre-teen to teen girls whose playful antics with a group of boys cause such outrage in their small community that their family essentially turns them into prisoners. As the treatment of women in the Islamic world continues to grab international attention, this is a timely subject, though the end of the film comes across as more of a fairy tale than the horrifying indignities that precede it.
Director: Levan Tutberidze
Due to premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival, this year’s Georgian submission tells the story of an ex-convict determined to make an honest living after his release from jail. The film is set in a poor seaside down, where the lead character borrows enough money to buy a fishing boat he names Moira.
“Labyrinth of Lies” *
Director: Giulio Ricciarelli
Ricciarelli’s drama, which debuted at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and will be released by Sony Classics in September, concerns a public prosecutor in the late 1950s who tries to lift the veil of secrecy around Auschwitz and Nazi Germany by prosecuting former SS members. Based on actual characters but adding a meet-cute love story in an attempt to make history more commercially appealing, the film stars Alexander Fehling, who will appear as Claire Danes‘ love interest in the upcoming season of “Homeland.”
Director: Panos H. Koutras
The country that sent “Dogtooth” to the Oscars plays it straighter with Koutras’ drama, which played in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2014 and then was released in theaters around the world. It deals with two brothers who travel across the country looking for their Greek father, anxious to confirm their Greek citizenship after the death of their Albanian mother.
Director: Jayro Bustamante
Forbidden love and the collision between indigenous ways and modern civilization are at the heart of “Ixcanul Volcano,” which follows a young Mayan woman from her remote jungle community into the big city. The film premiered at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, where is drew comparisons to the 2009 Peruvian film “The Milk of Sorrow,” a surprise Oscar nominee that year.
Trailer (Spanish subtitles)
“To the Fore”
Director: Dante Lam
Sports dramas haven’t done well in the Oscars foreign-language race recently, but each year typically brings a couple of them. Dante Lam’s drama is about professional cycling, and is reportedly at its best in its spectacular action scenes set in picturesque locations across Asia.
“Son of Saul” *
Director: Laszlo Nemes
The winner of the Grand Jury Prize (essentially, second place) at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, actor-turned-director Laszlo Nemes’ debut feature is a harrowing World War II movie shot in a daring style: Using a nearly square aspect ratio, the camera rarely leaves the face (or sometimes the back of the head) of a Jewish prisoner who is part of a unit of inmates who assist the Nazis in their mass killings at Auschwitz. By focusing on a man who is doing his best not to see the horrors around him, Nemes finds a new and disturbing way to capture the Holocaust on film.
Brief clip (no subtitles)
“Rams” (“Hrutar”) *
Director: Grimur Hakonarson
A dispute between two brothers over sheep threatens the livelihood of an entire valley in this blackly comedic drama, which won the top prize at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section this year. Its look at stubborn old men living off the land is reminiscent of “The Last Farm,” an Icelandic short that was nominated for an Oscar in 2006.
Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
Judging by its string of film-festival awards and its almost unanimously positive reviews, Tamhane’s courtroom drama is one of the strongest of India’s recent submissions. It follows the trial of a folksinger who is charged with a crime for what appear to be political reasons, and is a strong indictment of India’s labyrinthine justice system.
“Muhammad: The Messenger of God”
Director: Majid Majidi
The biggest-budget film ever made in Iran, “Muhammad” recreates 6th century Mecca and depicts the prophet’s life from his birth until the age of 13. The film has been in the works for the last eight years, and its cinematographer is the legendary Vittorio Storaro, a three-time Oscar winner whose classic films include “Apocalypse Now,” “Reds,” “The Last Emperor” and “Last Tango in Paris.”
“Memories on Stone”
Director: Shawkat Amin Korki
A dark and brutal subject – Saddam Hussein‘s massacre of the Kurds at Al Anfal – gets a different spin in this film, which follows a film crew trying to shoot a movie about the massacre in post-war Kurdistan. The exploration of cultural, political and religious barriers standing in the way of the filming is reportedly leavened with humor.
Director: Paddy Breathnach
“Viva” is only the fourth film submitted to the Oscars by Ireland – and though it’s made by an Irish director, the Spanish-language film is set in Cuba and deals with a teenage boy who works in a drag club where he has ambitions to become a performer. Benicio del Toro signed on as an executive producer when the film screened in Telluride.
“Baba Joon” *
Director: Yuval Delshad
This Farsi-language story of Iranian immigrants in the Negev recently played at the Toronto Film Festival, and became Israel’s submission by winning the top honor at Israel’s Ophir Awards over the crowd-pleasing hit “The Kind Words.” It will attempt to become Israel’s fifth nominee in the last nine years and 11th overall, though the country has
Subtitled film clip
“Don’t Be Bad” (“Non Essere Cattivo”)
Director: Claudio Caligari
This drama set in Rome’s drug-infested nightclub culture of the mid-1990s was a surprise choice over Nanni Moretti‘s well-received Cannes film “Mia Madre.” Caligari died in May of this year, after he finished editing the film but before it debuted out-of-competition at the Venice Film Festival.
Trailer (no subtitles)
Director: Philippe Lacote
After killing his country’s prime minister, a former militia member wanders the city trying to elude capture, his life coming back to him in a series of flashbacks. The film screened in the Un Certain Regard section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
“100 Yen Love”
Director: Masaharu Take
After she’s kicked out of her parents’ home, a young woman who frequents a discount store (hence the film’s title) takes up kickboxing. The film mixes comedy and sentiment, and won raves for lead actress Sakura Ando.
Director: Naji Abu Nowar
The Jordanian entry premiered in Venice in 2014 and won a number of awards at film festivals last year. Through the character of a young Bedouin traveling across the desert in 1916, it explores the Bedouin “law of Dakheel,” which obliges a host to protect his guests no matter who they are or what cost that protection brings.
Director: Ermek Tursunov
Director Tursunov made the Oscar foreign-language shortlist in 2010 with “Kelin” – and like that film, “Stranger” deals with nomadic life on the steppe, a harsh region in Northern Kazakhstan. Its central character is a young man who lived in a cave to survive Stalinist purges and World War II, but must readjust to life in the community he left.
Trailer (no subtitles)
Director: Visar Morina
Morina won the Best Director award in Karlovy Vary this year for his drama, which follows a 10-year-old boy who travels with his father from their impoverished life in Kosovo to an equally tough new life in Germany. It is the most expensive film
Trailer (no subtitles)
“Heavenly Nomadic” *
Director: Mirlan Abdykalykov
The life of a nomadic horse-herding family on the plains of Kyrgyzstan is the subject of this drama, which has received attention for its spectacular settings. First-time director Abdykalykov began his career as a child actor, starring in a number of films directed by his father.
Director: Juris Kursietis
The 17-year-old boy who gives this film its title is a disaffected teen whose single mother struggles to keep him off the path that she said led his father to prison. Kursietis cast non-professional Kristers Piksa in the lead role and surrounded him with professional actors who largely improvised their way through unrehearsed scenes shot on real locations.
Directors: Tarek Korkomaz, Zeina Makki, Jad Beyrouthy, Christelle Ighniades, Salim Habr, Maria Abdel Karim, Naji Bechara
“The Summer of Sangaile” *
Director: Alante Kavaite
A coming-of-age lesbian love story about a 17-year-old Lithuanian girl and a slightly older dress designer, film won praise for its subtlety and grace when it screened on opening night at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde called it “visually and emotionally beautiful,” and said it also deserved consideration in the Oscar cinematography race.
Director: Donato Rotunno
This coming-of-age story follows two 13-year-olds trying to discover themselves in the affluent but troubled community where they routinely encounter drugs and violence. The film is based on the novel “Amok” by Tullio Forgiarini.
Director: Ivo Trajkov
An adaptation of the 1970 movie “The Ear,” which was banned by Communist authorities when it was released, “Honey Night” follows a government minister and his wife on the night of their 10th wedding anniversary. The film mixes the personal and the political; Trajkov represented his country in the Oscar race with “Wingless” in 2009.
Trailer (no subtitles)
“Men Who Save the World”
Director: Liew Seng Tat
A comedy about a “haunted” house being moved from the Malaysian jungle into the city, this film was a big winner at the Malaysian Film Festival. But its appeal to a Western audience is more questionable, with some critics complaining about its homophobic and racially insensitive humor and almost total absence of female characters.
Director: Gabriel Ripstein
The Mexican entry deals with a hot-button topic, as Tim Roth stars as an American ATF agent who kidnapped by a gang of Mexican drug and arms smugglers. It is the directorial debut of former Columbia Pictures Mexico executive Ripstein, who won the award for best first feature at the Berlin Film Festival.
“You Carry Me”
Director: Ivona Juka
Juka’s directorial debut is a two-and-a-half hour drama with three separate stories, each of them dealing with fathers and daughters and focused on the women. The characters include a young girl who wants to become a football manager, a daughter trying to cope with her father’s Alzheimer’s disease and an expectant TV producer who must reconcile with her estranged father to fix her failing marriage.
director: Driss Mrini
A Jewish music teacher in France returns to Morocco to come to terms with her childhood in Mrini’s drama. The issue of “Jewish-Muslim biculturalism” was a factor in the film’s selection, said a member of the committee that chose it.
Film clip (no subtitles)
“Talakjung vs. Tulke”
Director: Nischal Basnet
Basnet’s last film, the crime drama “Loot,” was a huge hit in his homeland; his new one, based on the Chinese novella “The True Story of AhQ,” is set during the Maoist revolution in Nepal. Its central character is a laborer looking for revenge against those who robbed him of his former position.
“The Paradise Suite”
Director: Joost van Ginkel
Another entry focusing on European immigration, van Ginkel’s drama follows six different immigrants struggling to adapt to life in Amsterdam. The immigrants range from a Bulgarian woman forced into prostitution to a Serbian war criminal hoping to escape his past.
Trailer (some English dialogue, no English subtitles)
“The Wave” *
Director: Roar Uthaug
Last year’s Swedish entry, “Force Majeure,” dealt with an avalanche as a way to explore human behavior; this film uses a rockslide that triggers a tsunami in a Norwegian fjord in a more straightforward way, as the trigger for a large-scale action movie that tells a family story but also contains spectacular action sequences. The film recently screened in Toronto after enjoying a huge opening in Norway.
A product of Pakistan’s “Lollywood” system, “Moor” is a drama that takes place in the remote Balochistan province, where a station master fights not to close down a railway station that helped bring the community its livelihood. Director Jami has said he chose to focus on the decline of Pakistan’s railroads, an event that happened in the 1980s, because the country’s censors would never approve a film about the region’s current problems.
Trailer (no dialogue)
“The Wanted 18”
Director: Paul Cowan, Amer Shomali
Palestinian entries virtually always deal with the tense relationship that country and Israel, but this one features a blend of live-action and animation as it tells the story of a Palestinian village that used a herd of cows to undermine Israeli authority. Co-director Shomali says it was important to find the humor in the story: “I believe that a nation that can’t make fun of its own wounds will never be able to heal them,” he told the Guardian.
Director: Arami Ullon
One of a handful of documentaries in the race, Ullon’s film is about the director’s relationship with her aging mother, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. Paraguay has never before submitted a film to the Oscars.
Director: Hector Galvez
The title stands for “no nombre” (“no name”), and the film follows a forensic specialist in charge of identifying bodies found in mass graves. When one of the corpses is found with a photograph of a woman, the man sets out to track her down and give her news of her husband’s fate.
Trailer (no subtitles)
Director Jerrold Tarog
Epic biopics about national heroes are a staple of Oscar foreign-language submissions, though few get very far. (Venezuela’s “The Liberator,” which made the shortlist last year, was an exception.) “Heneral Luna” is about General Antonio Luna, the leader of the Philippine Revolutionary Army during its war with the U.S. in the late 19th century.
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
The defending champion in the Oscar foreign-language race, Poland tapped “Ida” director Pawel Pawlikowski to head this year’s selection committee, which unanimously selected the film-festival favorite “11 Minutes.” Skolimowski’s drama follows 11 minutes in the lives of a number of different people, including a Hollywood director, a drug runner, a hot dog vendor and a group of nuns.
Trailer (no dialogue)
“Arabian Nights: Volume 2 – The Desolate One”
Director: Miguel Gomes
One of the boldest choices was made by Portugal, which selected the middle part of arthouse auteur Miguel Gomes’ three-part, six-hour reimagining of the “Arabian Nights.” The director brings the classic stories together with the concerns of modern Portugal, with the central segment of this film a lengthy, absurd trial in which everyone is implicated in the wrongdoing.
Director: Radu Jude
Set in the early 19th century, a brutal period in Romanian history, “Aferim!” follows a policeman and his son hunting down a runaway Gypsy slave. Jude won the Silver Bear award as the best director at this year’s Berlin Film Festival for his dark, stylish black-and-white drama, which packs an emotional punch and will be released in the U.S. by Big World Pictures.
Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
This is Mikhalkov’s sixth film to be chosen by the Russian committee, on which he is reportedly the dominant member. (He’s won once and been nominated twice more.) He’s also known as a voice of conservatism in Russian cinema (as opposed to, say, Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose “Leviathan” was surprisingly chosen, and nominated, last year), and his new film is a love story set against the backdrop of the Russian civil war in the 1910s and ’20s.
Director: Goran Radovanovic
The director says he wants his film “to explore the essence of the Serbian/Albanian dispute,” and the possibility of co-existence when two sides wracked in conflict still live in separate enclaves. Its central character is a young boy living in a United Nations-protected Serbian community in Muslim-dominated Kosovo, who is driven to school each day in an armored car.
Directors: Royston Tan, Kelvin Tong, Eric Khoo, Jack Neo, Tan Pin Pin, Boo Junfeng, K. Rajagopal
This anthology film contains the work of seven of Singapore’s top directors, who made short films to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their country’s independence. The film picked up strong reviews at its festival screenings for being richer, deeper and more nostalgic than what you might expect from a state-sanctioned anniversary project.
Director: Ivan Ostrochovsky
Peter Balaz represented Slovakia in the boxing competition at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and almost two decades later he plays himself in a fictionalized version of his life after the Olympics. The film debuted at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and recently screened in Toronto.
Trailer (no dialogue)
“The Tree” (“Drevo”)
Director: Sonja Prosenc
“The Tree” tells the same story three times from three different perspectives. In the aftermath of a tragic accident, a mother and two sons can’t leave their house – and Prosenc uses separate chapters to examine the story from each of their viewpoints.
Trailer (no dialogue)
“The Two of Us”
Director: Ernest Nkosi
The Zulu-language drama is set in South Africa’s largest township, Alexandra, where two siblings attempt to build a live in the toughest of circumstances. Filmed on a low budget and an extremely short shooting schedule, the film won awards at the Pan African Film Festival, the Rwanda Film Festival and the Jozi Film Festival.
Director: Lee Joon-ik
A period epic set in 18th century Korea, “The Throne” tells the tragic story of King Yeongjo, who had such a troubled relationship with his son, Crown Prince Sado, that he sentenced the prince to death by being locked in a wooden rice chest. The film takes place over the eight days that the prince spent in the chest before dying, with flashbacks filling in the story.
Subtitled trailer (but the subtitles are jumbled)
Directors: Jon Garano and Jose Mari Goenaga
The first Basque-language film to be nominated for the Goya Award, Spain’s version of the Oscar, is a subdued drama about a woman in her 40s whose life changes when she begins to receive bouquets of flowers from an anonymous sender. The winner of the Cine Latino award at last year’s Palm Springs Film Festival, the film has won raves for its gentle meditation on love, loss and memory.
“A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” *
Director: Roy Andersson
Weird and arresting … and did we mention weird? Andersson’s deadpan film, which uses the filmmaker’s typical technique of long takes with a stationary camera, is very funny and very disturbing, with humorous scenes of two hapless novelty salesmen mixed with odd, disquieting tableaus. It’s probably so strange as to require a “save” from the executive committee, but there’s a surreal brilliance to it that deserves serious consideration, even if it’s the only entry in recent years that could make 2011 nominee “Dogtooth” seem conventional.
Another documentary in the race, “Iraqi Odyssey” is an attempt by “Forget Baghdad” director Samir to follow his immediate and extended families as they are forced out of their homeland to Switzerland, France, Russia, England, New Zealand and the U.S. The film is subtitled “a global family saga in 3D,” and has a running time of almost three hours.
“The Assassin” *
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Hou Hsiao-Hsien won the best director award at Cannes for this film, a deliberate and hypnotic 9th century martial-arts drama far more contemplative and idiosyncratic than usual films in the genre. Exquisitely detailed and gorgeously shot, “The Assassin” is also more challenging than works like Ang Lee‘s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which won in the category in 2000.
“How to Win at Checkers (
Director: Josh Kim
Another of the
Director: Kaan Mujdeci
Last year’s Hungarian submission, “White God,” dealt with dogs who were trained to fight, and by many accounts prompted mass walkouts at its official Academy screening. Turkey is hoping to fare better with this film, which deals with a preteen boy and a fighting dog and won a special jury prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival.
“Under Milk Wood”
Director: Kevin Allen
Rhys Ifans and singer-actress Charlotte Church star in this adaptation of the Dylan Thomas BBC radio play from 1954. Though the 1972 Richard Burton version was considered definitive, director Allen won kudos for his energetic and dreamlike approach to the material. Though Welsh poet Thomas wrote the material in English, Allen filmed two different versions, one in English and one in Welsh, the latter of which was submitted to the Academy.
“A Moonless Night”
Director: German Tejeira
Tejeira co-wrote the 2013 Uruguayan entry, the animated feature “Anina,” and made his directorial debut with this year’s entry, which won the Golden Eye Award at the Zurich Film Festival last year. The film deals with three different characters who cross paths in a small town on New Year’s
“Gone With the River”
Director: Mario Crespo
Spoken almost entirely in the indigenous Warao language, Venezuela’s selection mixes live action with animation in its story of a girl torn between studying in the city and returning to the Orinoco delta where she was raised.
“Jackpot” (“Trung So”)
Director: Dustin Nguyen
Nguyen, who also acts in this film, based it on the true story of a poor delivery driver who ordered lottery tickets from a seller, promising to pay and take the tickets at a later date; when the seller realized that one of the unpaid tickets was a $300,000 winner, she brought it to the driver instead of keeping it for herself. The director said he was trying to make a comedy with “a serious message about humanity and kindness.”