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Foreign Film Oscar Handicapping: The 5 Sure Bets for 2008

This year there will likely be no omissions or screw ups such as last year’s mistake of leaving the Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days out of the process and there won’t be the usual favoritism towards already established directors.

Last year’s fiasco over the Academy award Foreign Film nominations proved that: the voting process and those who were placing X’s on the ballot form were running a system that was as faulty as New Orleans’ levees. This year there will likely be no omissions or screw ups such as last year’s mistake of leaving the Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days out of the process and there won’t be the usual favoritism towards already established directors.

The task of watching 67 films will be made a lot easier because 2008’s batch include a fivesome of films that stick out like a sour thumbs because of their style, substance and beauty. I don’t care how old these Academy voters are: they’ll end up seeing the same thing that I and thousands of other critics saw. Predestined to be represented come Oscar night in February, the five films all made their presence known via world premieres at the Cannes film festival last May. Before I start unveiling the five that Vegas book keepers would consider odds-on favorites, here are the some dark horse picks that could crack the top ten and make it along the 1st and 2nd rounds of the ballot voting process.  

Containing much of the same visual lyricism as in his previous efforts, I’d say that adultery-drama with dire circumstances in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 3 Monkeys is perhaps his most accessible film for the mainstream voters – a great showing at Cannes (and win for Best Director) and multiple festival showings including TIFF might help this title along. A Cannes win and popular fest circuit title also applies for the controversial, but very logical decision from Slovakia to include Juraj Lehotsky’s Blind Loves in the mix. I’m not sure how the jury will digest the short in run time mix between fantasy and documentary – but it’s a film with plenty of heart about the day-to-day life of the visually impaired. Iran may not fair well in public opinion when it comes to politics, but filmmaker Majid Majidi is a mainstay in the hearts of cinephiles and this year he produced The Song of Sparrows which has had a good festival circuit life and plenty of supports. I’ve hear so great things about Russia, entry in Anna Melikyan’s Mermaid which has the weight to carry it into the top 10 and I’ve heard some positive buzz for titles like Austria’s Revanche by Gotz Spielmann, Sweden’s Everlasting Moments by Jan Troell, popular Cannes title in Belgium’s Eldorado by actor-turned-director Bouli Lanners and the feature version of the harrowing documentary film in Bruno Barreto’s Last Stop 174 for Brazil. One picture that will sadly not be a contender and is easily among my favorites of the year is a product from Chile in Pablo Larrain’s Tony Manero – a chilling portrait that pits disco dancing with the paranoia of the Pinochet dictatorship. 



In what should be the first of the five nominees, we find a drama that in some portions you get a sense that this might become a button pusher, but director Aida Begic ever-so-gently refrains from being overly moralistic or sympathetic. While displaying its cards early on (the matter-of-fact details that the Serbs contributed to something bigger than a simple malaise) Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entry Snow speaks volumes about how difficult it is to give up on hope and start the rebuilding and healing process in the face of ethnic cleansings and genocide. Academy voters are bound to vividly remember the faces of these widows and orphans stuck against the difficult mountainous region terrain. 



Animation always gets the short end of the stick and while Persepolis was mysteriously left off last year’s ballot, this should be a second consecutive year where a film from Israel has a shot at being a final nominee. Animated-documentary film Waltz With Bashir is a unique, colorfully inventive venture from Ari Folman which has played extremely well since being buzzed about on the Croisette and though Academy voters are sticklers for traditional dramatic fair, this one is simply too evocative to dismiss.


And speaking of films that are trippy and are void of tear-jerker value, we have the bullet-riddled picture from Italy. In the end it wasn’t even a close race with Il Divo, as Italy unanimously chooses Gomorra as its candidate. Matteo Garrone’s well-structured narrative is an incendiary depiction of corruption on a multitude of levels in a portion of Italy that no guidebook would bother sending tourists towards. Hyper-violent crime dramas with a disregard for life and without a safe landing usually don’t fair too well with the Academy – I’m still peeved from a couple of years back at not seeing City of God get any form of consideration, and was even more peeved that copycat Tsotsi ended up collecting Best Foreign film less than a decade later.  


They left the Palme D’or winner out of contention last year, but history will be different this time out with a film that has tremendous upside and universal appeal. Laurent Cantet’s The Class should be ahead of the 67 film class since it touches upon a reality that is not unique to one part of the globe and it does it in a fashion that is intimate, and strikingly does so a realism that simply bolts the viewer down to their seat and makes them wanting to continue for one more school year.



Kazakhstan saw Sergei Bodrov’s Mongol grab a top 5 spot last year, but this year, if I had to put money on it, the Best Foreign picture of the year would go to a miracle of a film, one that has collected trophy and top film prizes from more than a dozen film festivals since it won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes. Sergey DvortsevoyTulpan is a little bit more conventional when compared to the previous three that I’ve mentioned, but once again – a generous dose of realism, the simplified narrative, all encompassing spatial value and the heartfelt humor will please the segment of viewers that are thirty-five an up.

Here is the complete list of nominations:…           

Afghanistan, “Opium War,” Siddiq Barmak
Albania, “The Sorrow of Mrs. Schneider,” Piro Milkani and Eno Milkani
Algeria, “Masquerades,” Lyes Salem
Argentina, “Lion’s Den,” Pablo Trapero
Austria, “Revanche,” Gotz Spielmann
Azerbaijan, “Fortress,” Shamil Nacafzada
Bangladesh, “Aha!,” Enamul Karim Nirjhar
Belgium, “Eldorado,” Bouli Lanners
Bosnia and Herzegovina, “Snow,” Aida Begic
Brazil, “Last Stop 174,” Bruno Barreto
Bulgaria, “Zift,” Javor Gardev
Canada, “The Necessities of Life,” Benoit Pilon
Chile, “Tony Manero,” Pablo Larrain
China, “Dream Weavers,” Jun Gu
Colombia, “Dog Eat Dog,” Carlos Moreno
Croatia, “No One’s Son,” Arsen Anton Ostojic
Czech Republic, “The Karamazovs,” Petr Zelenka
Denmark, “Worlds Apart,” Niels Arden Oplev
Egypt, “The Island,” Sherif Arafa
Estonia, “I Was Here,” Rene Vilbre
Finland, “The Home of Dark Butterflies,” Dome Karukoski
France, “The Class,” Laurent Cantet
Georgia, “Mediator,” Dito Tsintsadze
Germany, “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” Uli Edel
Greece, “Correction,” Thanos Anastopoulos
Hong Kong, “Painted Skin,” Gordon Chan
Hungary, “Iska’s Journey,” Csaba Bollok
Iceland, “White Night Wedding,” Baltasar Kormakur
India, “Taare Zameen Par,” Aamir Khan
Iran, “The Song of Sparrows,” Majid Majidi
Israel, “Waltz With Bashir,” Ari Folman
Italy, “Gomorra,” Matteo Garrone
Japan, “Departures,” Yojiro Takita
Jordan, “Captain Abu Raed,” Amin Matalqa
Kazakhstan, “Tulpan,” Sergey Dvortsevoy
Kyrgyzstan, “Heavens Blue,” Marie Jaoul de Poncheville
Latvia, “Defenders of Riga,” Aigars Grauba
Lebanon, “Under the Bombs,” Philippe Aractingi
Lithuania, “Loss,” Maris Martinsons,
Luxembourg, “Nuits d’Arabie,” Paul Kieffer
Macedonia, “I’m From Titov Veles,” Teona Strugar Mitevska
Mexico, “Tear This Heart Out,” Roberto Sneider
Morocco, “Goodbye Mothers,” Mohamed Ismail
The Netherlands, “Dunya & Desie,” Dana Nechushtan
Norway, “O’Horten,” Bent Hamer
Palestine, “Salt of This Sea” Annemarie Jacir
Philippines, “Ploning,” Dante Nico Garcia
Poland, “Tricks,” Andrzej Jakimowski
Portugal, “Our Beloved Month of August,” Miguel Gomes
Romania, “The Rest Is Silence,” Nae Caranfil
Russia, “Mermaid,” Anna Melikyan
Serbia, “The Tour,” Goran Markovic
Singapore, “My Magic,” Eric Khoo
Slovakia, “Blind Loves,” Juraj Lehotsky
Slovenia, “Rooster’s Breakfast,” Marko Nabersnik
South Africa, “Jerusalema,” Ralph Ziman, director;
South Korea, “Crossing,” Tae-kyun Kim
Spain, “The Blind Sunflowers,” Jose Luis Cuerda
Sweden, “Everlasting Moments,” Jan Troell
Switzerland, “The Friend,” Micha Lewinsky
Taiwan, “Cape No. 7,” Te-Sheng Wei
Thailand, “Love of Siam,” Chookiat Sakveerakul
Turkey, “3 Monkeys,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Ukraine, “Illusion of Fear,” Aleksandr Kiriyenko
U.K., “Hope Eternal,” Karl Francis
Uruguay, “Kill Them All,” Esteban Schroeder
Venezuela, “The Color of Fame,” Alejandro Bellame Palacios


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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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