Who will bring back the golden statuette for their country?
Although there were no Asian films that made it to the nominations this year, nevertheless the Academy has recognised a list of deserved film to contest for the Best Foreign Film statuette. While there is a strong presence of war-time themes and settings in most of these contenders (except for one), they each use the beautiful medium of filmmaking to remind us that all are human with the strength to forgive, defy and accept each other, even when torn apart by the greatest of adversities.
So before one of these names is announced on Oscar night, let's see who are up for the 2015 Best Foreign Film.
During a communist Poland, young aspirant Anna is sent to visit her aunt Wanda, who is her last surviving relative, before Anna takes her vows to be a nun. When Wanda reveals Anna's real name and heritage as a Jew, they both embark on a journey to find the final resting place of Ida's parents who were killed during the Holocaust of World War II.
After years of making documentaries and fictional films around Europe, this is the first Polish film made by director Pawel Pawlikowski who returns to his native country. Shot in a mesmerising imagery of black-and-white, "Ida" is also the only film among this year's foreign film nominees to have another Oscar nomination (for Best Cinematography). Already sweeping wins at the 2014 European Film Awards, "Ida" was also nominated at the BAFTA and most recently the Golden Globes, which makes it a strong contender to win this category.
Kolia is a simple landowner on the frigid parts of Russia, when a corrupted mayor takes an interest on his land. While Kolia enlists the legal aid of an old friend from the military to defend the encroachment, the mayor seeks spiritual guidance on how he should take over the land; with power and divine providence.
Though "Leviathan" is director Andrey Zvyagintsev's third failed attempt to grasp at Palme d'Or glory (after "The Banishment" and "Elena"), it did come away with a win for the Best Screenplay at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. This dark and satirical reflection of the corrupted bureaucracy of modern Russia, with biblical influences, is looking to be a strong favourite in this year's Oscar race. Not just because it had secured a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Film, but its major competitor from Sweden "Force Majeure" (which took the Palme d'Or away from "Leviathan") won't be in this competition.
In the 1990s, two Estonian farmers are harvesting their latest crop of tangerines from their orchards, while getting caught in the crossfires of the Georgian-Abkhazia war. When two soldiers from both sides wound each other on their land, the Estonians decide to nurse both of them to health as both soldiers swear that they will kill each other as enemies.
"Tangerines" may have the lowest profile of the heavyweights on this list; being the only nominee to not have competed at Cannes. But it's not to say that director Zaza Urushadze is not award-worthy, having been awarded the Best Director from the Warsaw International Film Festival and the Tbilisi International Film Festival for his pacifist drama in a very violent and volatile region. This would be Urushadze's first Oscar nomination and the first to make it into the nominations shortlist for Estonia.
Set during the occupation of the Ansar Dine militant group in Timbuktu, a family of shepherds and fishermen live peacefully on the desert dunes outside of the city until the extremists arrives to impose their fundamentalist laws and carrying out cruel sentences on those who violates them.
Wild Tales (Argentina)
The third film to have come out from last year's Cannes to eventually land here for a rematch for the ultimate glory. Director Abderrahmane Sissako may not be a stranger at Cannes (his "Heremakono / Waiting for Happiness" won the Un Certain Regard in 2002, and he was a jury member in 2007), but this is his first Oscar nomination, along with his native Mauritania that "Timbuktu" is representing. While its depiction of how religious fundamentalism destroys a beautifully cultured land can sound like it is serving a bitter pill, "Timbuktu" has been known of mixing the tragedy with charms and humour, not mentioning the artistic visual style, to make a layered commentary on the state of his native Timbuktu that can only be done by the best of directors like Sissako.
An anthology of six shorts with different set of characters, all tangled in a web of circumstances to commit savage violence and vengeance.
This Argentinian black comedy hit may not have won a single award from its competition at Cannes, but it did get a 10 minute standing ovation at the festival, which should say enough about how director Damián Szifrón has managed to perfecly lead his ensemble cast. Whether that would be enough for Argentina to bring home another Oscar since 2009's "The Secret in their Eyes" would probably be up to how the Academy likes its sex, gore, and explosion to unleash their passionately savage side.
Cinema Online, 17 February 2015