On December 21, the list of 88 contenders got reduced down to 15. It's a near impossible task to reduce the field down to just 15 but this is the case every year. This year, the following films have advanced to the next round:
Before we begin with our analysis we want to congratulate these films that were shortlisted in other categories:
Documentary Feature: Four Daughters (Tunisia), 20 Days in Mariupol (Ukraine)
Original Score: Society of the Snow (Spain), The Zone of Interest (United Kingdom)
Make Up and Hairstyling: Society of the Snow (Spain)
Sound: The Zone of Interest (United Kingdom)
Visual Effects: Society of the Snow (Spain)
This year, we correctly predicted 13/15 films compared to 12 last year.
We feel that The Academy played it safe again, like last year.
The two films that we didn't predict were Amerikatsi (Armenia) and The Mother of All Lies (Morocco). The two films that we thought would be shortlisted were The Peasants (Poland) and Shayda (Australia). The Polish film met all the criteria to be shortlisted as it debuted at Toronto, it was listed as one of the top 15 best rated films on Letterboxd and it's playing at Palm Springs. The other film that missed out on being shortlisted that met all the criteria was About Dry Grasses (Turkey).
European films take up nine of the slots. Asian films have three. African films have two. And North America has one.
Palm Springs Film Festival continues its run to be the strongest predictor for the shortlisted 15 films. 14/15 films are playing in the festival, along with 26 other films. Amerikatsi (Armenia) is the only film not playing at the festival.
Amongst Letterboxd top 15 reviewed films, 11 of them were shortlisted keeping up with the statistics as well. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (Estonia), Pictures of Ghosts (Brazil), along with The Peasants (Poland) and About Dry Grasses (Turkey) were the other four films.
High profile films continue to dominate the shortlisted list as well. As members of The Academy only need to meet a minimum viewing requirement to vote in the first round, debuting at Cannes Film Festival or Venice Film Festival, playing at the North American film festival circuit, having Amazon and Netflix backing the film, having the money to spend on a campaign, has proven to be essential.
It's very interesting to note that 14 of the 15 films debuted at one of the top festivals around the world:
Venice (4): The Captain (Italy), The Mother of All Lies (Morocco), The Promised Land (Denmark), Society of the Snow (Spain)
Cannes (6): Fallen Leaves (Finland), Four Daughters (Tunisia), Godland (Iceland), Perfect Days (Japan), The Taste of Things (France), The Zone of Interest (United Kingdom)
Telluride (1): The Monk and the Gun (Bhutan)
Berlin (2): The Teachers' Lounge (Germany), Totem (Mexico)
Sundance (1): 20 Days in Mariupol (Ukraine)
This shows that films need to debut early in the season in order to have a shot at getting shortlisted. And it makes the appearance of Amerikatsi (Armenia) even more impressive that it made it to the final 15. Sadly, this makes it extremely hard for films like Blaga's Lessons (Bulgaria), Excursion (Bosnia and Herzegovina), and The Missing (Philippines) to breakthrough in an already extremely competitive category.
The great part of advancing to the final 15 is that all members of The Academy who want to vote for the next round need to watch all 15 films. This levels the playing field now.
Ok, so let's take a look now at these incredible 15 films:
1. AMERIKATSI (ARMENIA)
The film is about Charlie, who escaped Armenia, which was then Turkey, as a four year old during the Ottoman Empire in 1915. 30 years later, in the aftermath of World War II, Joseph Stalin offered to pay survivors of the Armenian Genocide money to return back to Armenia, which was still under Soviet control. In 1948, Charlie decides to come back home, despite being an American citizen, as his wife just passed away, and he longs to hopefully be re-united with family and learn more about his culture. Just having arrived back to Armenia, Charlie meets a young boy and his mother Sona. She’s the wife of a powerful government official. As a result of his innocent flirting with her, he is imprisoned on bogus charges, citing public displays of religious propaganda and glorifying materialism as the reasons for his arrest. He is sentenced to ten years in jail. At first, he is extremely despondent, but after an earthquake hits the jail, and part of the prison collapses, Charlie realizes that he can now observe the day-to-day life of a young couple, Tigran and Ruzan, living in an apartment that’s located across the street from his cell. This now gives him an opportunity to observe this couple as they dance, play music, play games and entertain family and friends with dinners. Charlie is about to learn the Armenian way of life.
2. THE MONK AND THE GUN (BHUTAN)
The film begins in 2006. The King of Bhutan has decided to abdicate and introduce elections for the very first time in the country’s history. Democracy is now a part of the country and the citizens are unsure what to think of it, let alone understand how the process works. As the country prepares to abandon its traditional monarchy, democracy activists travel to the most remote villages to teach its largely uneducated citizens on how to vote. The Monk and the Gun is a brilliantly made political comedy intertwining two key elements on Bhutan’s history: political modernity and economic modernity. This clash between tradition and progression is at the forefront of this film, providing insightful moments on Bhutanese culture, but also how the legitimacy of political systems is lived, practiced and can be transformed in everyday life. While the introduction of elections may be seen as an empowering step in Bhutan, it also can’t be imposed on a nation if the people don’t want it yet. This democracy is being forced on people that don’t understand why they can’t keep doing things the way that’s always worked for them. Instead, the citizens of the country has taught the rest of the world how to live in a peaceful, safe, loving country without the need for guns nor the need to change their way of life, not yet anyway.
3. THE PROMISED LAND (DENMARK)
Set in the 18th century, the king has been trying to turn and develop the wild heath of Jutland into a productive, prosperous and tax-paying territory of the kingdom. In 1755, Ludwig Kahlen has come up with an idea of how to upstart this wild territory and after much convincing, the Royal Treasury agree to let him attempt to do the impossible. All he wants in return is to become a noble, own an estate, and have servants. Ludwig is the illegitimate son of a maid and her master. And his determination is driven by earning himself a proper title and a glorious home. This drive sets him off for Jutland, and the harsh environment that awaits him. This classic Scandinavian drama is about human frailty. It is also a deep-etched picture of a vicious past where the poor had no rights and were subject to the unjust laws of the people in power. The rich could do whatever they wanted from raping their servants, from killing workers, from claiming land, to changing the laws so that it benefited them entirely. They would only get richer, while the poor got poorer. Ludwig is so hard headed in his mission to get his dreams fulfilled that he slowly begins to perpetuate the chaos around him. He squashes his relationships with his newfound family in Jutland. He unintentionally has his workers killed. He prolongs his battle with Frederik. And all of it for the sake of fortune. Is it all worth it in the end?
4. FALLEN LEAVES (FINLAND)
The film is about Ansa and Holappa, two lost souls in Helsinki who live simple lives and who are struggling to make ends meet. Ansa currently works at a supermarket but she’s fired when she steals expired food. Holappa struggles to stay sober long enough to get through an entire shift at work. Like Ansa, he is also fired. As both of them try to rebound to find new jobs, they meet by chance at a karaoke bar. It’s love at first sight. The film dances around the love of these two lonely people, who are both struggling to stay afloat in an expensive city like Helsinki. Ansa and Holappa search for warmth, within each other, and the light in the darkness. Life doesn’t have to be so bleak just as long as one can escape it and find comfort in the things that one enjoys the most. It is a comedy that is sweet without ever tipping into sentimentality. It is a romance between two lonely people who, for a time, appear to have no hope of finding happiness. It is, occasionally, a musical. It is, at time, a sobering reminder of the war in Ukraine, as heard throughout the radios in Helsinki. And, most importantly, it’s a film about alcoholism and the dangers of it.
5. THE TASTE OF THINGS (FRANCE)
This film is a story about love and food, which it presents as the same thing. It captures mouthwatering dishes like edible, gorgeously realized paintings. Eugenie has been working for acclaimed chef Dodin for the past twenty years. Together they prepare the most lavish meals at their restaurant where they’ve become famous for their Michelin star food. The attention to detail in preparing all the dishes is what makes this film so extraordinary. The use of natural light, whether it’s the sun streaming into the kitchen, or whether it’s the candlelight at night, it sets the atmosphere for every meal we get to witness. Set almost entirely in the picturesque rustic kitchen, or in the dining room, or the neighbouring vegetable garden, we all leave hungry, desiring the opportunity to taste the food. The pressure to maintain a high level of culinary excellence can lead to long hours and immense stress. Chefs sacrifice their personal lives, their relationships and their health in pursuit of the Michelin glory. We can only appreciate the dedication it takes to be able to taste such excellence that brings us so much joy.
6. THE TEACHERS' LOUNGE (GERMANY)
Director Ilker Catak’s latest film is a physiological warfare set in a classroom led by teacher, Carla Nowak. The film is set in a school where the've been having problems with theft and the other teachers and staff have reached their limit. They think it’s one of the students in Ms. Nowak’s class. This powerful film touches the themes of authority, power, justice, judgement and truth. What starts out as a story about theft turns into something bigger. The Teachers’ Lounge isn’t a film to find out who committed the crime. It isn’t a film to find out who’s innocent or guilty. It’s about the actions of people and the spiralling effects that it has on everyone it reaches. In this situation, if what happened in the teachers’ lounge actually stayed in the teachers’ lounge, things could've been resolved. But as things go, rumours have a way of branching out so that eventually it reaches everyone, in this case the students, the teachers, the staff and the parents. Everyone has their own opinions. Everyone has their own versions of the truth. And more importantly, everyone is convinced that they are right. This begins a cycle of lots of talk while nothing is being said. Questions remain unanswered and everyone involved is angry about the unsatisfactory resolution to the problem. Despite having the best intentions, some situations are practically impossible to resolve.
7. GODLAND (ICELAND)
The film is set in the late 1800’s. Lucas, a Danish priest, has been instructed to head to Iceland to build a church and to save the souls of the few residents who live in this godforsaken corner of Denmark’s empire. He is told by his bishop that he must adapt to the circumstances of the country and its people. Under-equipped for the task but extremely eager to get started, Lucas sets sail on a boat ready for his adventure, carrying his heavy photographic apparatus and way too many books. After a bumpy sea journey, Lucas lands in a remote part of Iceland where he is greeted by Ragnar, and a few other locals. They are tasked with bringing the priest to the site where the new church is to be built. Surrounded by the immense and often terrifying beauty of the landscape, Lucas wants to do it the hard way, by walking from the west coast of the island to his final destination so that he gets to know the land, photograph it and its people. The expedition begins and the group of islanders set off on their journey, all the while Lucas is completely naive to what awaits him.
8. THE CAPTAIN (ITALY)
The film is about two young teenagers and cousins, Seydou and Moussa. They live in Dakar, Senegal. They’ve been secretly working odd jobs for the past six months saving money to leave their city and families behind to move to Europe. They dream of becoming hip hop stars where they can earn even more money to support their families and to give everyone a better life. Despite locals warning them not to do the impossible journey, the young men escape one morning and jump on the bus to head to Mali. Their illegal migration has begun. After securing fake passports, their first goal is to head west to Agadez, Niger. And from there to head across the Sahara Desert up north to Tripoli, Libya until they reach the small town called Zuara. The final leg of the journey is the boat ride to Italy. Their destination. Their dream. But nothing goes as planned. Checkpoint guards ask for money. Drivers leave them stranded in the desert. The Libyan mafia ambush and torture them until every single cent they own is given to them. Bitterly regretting their decision, wanting to go back home, but knowing that they can no longer turn back, Seydou and Moussa fight for survival where dead bodies lay all around them.
9. PERFECT DAYS (JAPAN)
The film follows Hirayama, a toilet cleaner on the outskirts of Tokyo, as he lives his quiet life one moment at a time and one day at a time. Everyday he wakes up before the sun rises to the sounds of a woman sweeping the leaves. He washes up, lovingly takes care of his plants and then jumps into his van to start his day at work cleaning toilets. He ends his day at the same restaurant every evening before reading a book just before his bedtime. He loves his routine and at this moment in his life he wouldn’t want it any other way. Hirayama’s daily routine becomes the structural backbone of the entire film. Perfect Days is a film about the power of being present. It’s a beautiful and moving depiction of how we can find clarity, acceptance, and joy by embracing the current moment and allowing our lives to unfold one day at a time. There are no flashbacks, no exposition dumps, no cutaways to another time or place. We never leave Hirayama’s side, and Hirayama himself never strays from being truly present in every single moment. The film offers a much more layered and realistic depiction of how presence can be the basis of a life with purpose, one where you have complete agency over who you are and how you move forward in life.
10. TOTEM (MEXICO)
The film is about Sol, a seven year old girl, who is headed to a birthday party for her dad, Tona, who’s extremely frail and ill. Today is his 27th birthday and, despite his reluctance, all of his family and friends are coming together to what might be his final celebration of life. On the morning of the gathering, Sol’s theatrical-performer mother drops her off at the family home where Tona is in the care of his sisters Nuri and Alejandra. His father, Roberto, also lives in the house, along with Tona’s nurse Cruz. Cancer seems to run in this family as Roberto’s wife died of the disease several years earlier and now Tona is about to have a similar fate. Sometimes one event, one day, can force a girl to grow up. It’s that simple realization that however close one is with their family, with their friends, with their bonds of affection with others, one will always be alone. One can be in a room filled with the clattering and the cheering and the energy of a family united, yet one can feel completely on their own. It’s like a held breath. It’s like becoming fully aware that not all wishes come true. And that everyone’s time on Earth is short lived.
11. THE MOTHER OF ALL LIES (MOROCCO)
The film is about Asmae, and her family, her friends, her neighbours and her experiences growing up in Casablanca under a strict household. Using a scale model of her childhood neighbourhood and little figurines to represent all the characters in her film, this moving documentary explores the tragedies of the 1981 Bread Riots and the aftermath that it had with the entire family. To add on top of it, a personal tragedy that occurred to Zahra as a young mother, involving a photograph, is the reason why she is as strict and emotionally hurt when it comes to pictures. The problem is that Asmae, up to the age of 12, never had a photograph taken of herself. While it can be said that this generation takes too many pictures of themselves, there’s something to be said about having precious moments accessible as a reference for later on. It’s proof that they existed. It can be difficult to build an identity, when one’s memories become unreliable. If someone doesn’t have any visual references as a child, as a teenager, as a parent, how can someone remember the past, if one’s memory isn’t trustworthy anymore?
12. SOCIETY OF THE SNOW (SPAIN)
The film takes place in 1972 in Montevideo. The members of the Old Christians Club rugby team have decided to charter a plane to a match in Chile. This trip feels like a final hurrah, as many of the team members are in their early 20s and are now moving onto their next stage in life, either furthering their education, or moving into new jobs, new relationships and into adulthood. It is their final trip together as a team, as classmates, as friends. 19 members of the team have decided to board the plane, along with their families, supporters and friends. They have set their trip for October 13, 1972, Flight 571. Before boarding the plane, the 45 passengers and crew members pose for a photo in front of the plane. They’re vibrant, excited, energetic and ready for their next adventure. It isn’t long after takeoff where things start to grow wrong. From the moment turbulence consumes the rugby team’s aircraft, their physical and emotional anguish takes center stage. The plane crash is shown in terrifying detail, cutting between shattered limbs, ankles breaking and punctured organs at the moment of impact. The plane has fallen apart and has crashed in the middle of the Andes mountains in western Argentina, just east of the border with Chile. With the dead surrounding the survivors, the remaining passengers must now fight for survival.
13. FOUR DAUGHTERS (TUNISIA)
Based on a painful true story, the film is about Olfa Hamrouni, a divorced mother of four daughters from the coastal town of Sousse. They made the headlines seven years ago when two of her daughters, Ghofrane and Rahma, fled their home and country to join ISIS in Libya. Neither a documentary or a feature film, Four Daughters showcases the lives they lived, the pain they’ve had to endure and the agonizing personal stories that they share from their memories as children to where they are now. It’s impossible to ever find out the main reasons why Ghofrane and Rahma left everything behind to join the Islamic State. It could be due to feelings of alienation, feelings of inequality, and perhaps the search for a father figure, maybe even love. It’s scary to realize how quickly these two young girls were radicalized by what they heard in their communities and on the news. It all began slowly when they were essentially forced to wear a niqab. And their lack of religious knowledge and their unstable home life made them vulnerable to extremists. They were easy prey.
14. 20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL (UKRAINE)
This film begins in February 24th, 2022. Vladimir Putin announces that a “special military operation” in “self-defence” was starting due to threats that Ukraine might attack Russia. Mstyslav Chernov, and two of his colleagues, photographer Evgeniy Maloletka and producer Vasilisa Stepanenko decide to head to Mariupol, knowing full well that this key port, just 30 miles from the enemy border would be Russia’s first target. They were right, within hours, bombs begin to fall and this documentary showcases the next twenty days in the city. There aren’t enough trigger warnings to prepare someone for what’s to come in this unflinching, never compromising documentary. From its opening frame, the film doesn’t shy away from the most harrowing scenes, including graphic depictions of violence, bloody deaths, and the aftermath of destruction. 20 Days in Mariupol gives one a sense of life during wartime that isn’t an abstraction. It conveys the true cost of armed conflict and the human lives that it swallows along the way. Lives are shattered as family members are killed, homes destroyed, neighbourhoods blown away, and hope gone.
15. THE ZONE OF INTEREST (UNITED KINGDOM)
The film takes place around 1943 and it’s about a German family: Rudolf, a long-serving commandant, his wife Hedwig and their five children. They live in a large country house, impeccably maintained by a handful of Jewish women, with a beautiful garden and right by a lake, where they frequently spend their time to relax. This could be any loving, ordinary German family. But they’re not. Right next door is the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp. The signs of horror are subtle yet always constant. The black smoke in the distant is always present. There’s ash in the lake. Gun shots are frequently heard, followed by screams. At night, the redness of the gas chambers glow. This is the place where more than one million Jews were murdered, tortured and forced into the most inhumane forced labour. But it’s never shown. Instead, Rudolf and Hedwig, and their children enjoy lavish parties. They spend time gardening their plants. They have business meetings and lunch gatherings with their friends. This is their dream home and they’re happy here. The film is a meditation on evil. It gives us a different perception on what evil can look like. And the scary part about it is that it looks very familiar.
Now, who do we think are the current favourites to be nominated for the Oscars? It's an impossible task picking 5 out of these 15 films. We've feel that the two frontrunners are The Zone of Interest and Society of the Snow. They've been shortlisted in other categories so they have the backing already from other branches within The Academy.
So who will be the other three films?
Fallen Leaves and The Captain were nominated at the Golden Globes. Perfect Days and The Taste of Things were nominated at the Critics Choice. Fallen Leaves, The Teachers' Lounge and Totem were nominated at NBR. And 20 Days in Mariupol and Four Daughters have been getting nominated for best documentary in these awards shows as well. That's eight films for three slots.
Since Fallen Leaves has been nominated twice, we'll pick it as the third film right now.
We think that Perfect Days might be the fourth film.
And we think that 20 Days in Mariupol will get nominated for documentary at the Oscars and it'll get in for International Feature as well.