But this is a category that tends to be very unpredictable. Last year, for example, there were three films that made the shortlisted top 15 that most critics didn't predict: Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, Playground and Plaza Catedral. This week we're taking a look at the films that are flying under the radar. The films that have mostly skipped the North American film festival season. The films that most critics aren't predicting because they haven't yet seem them.
We've now watched 70 of the submissions so we've had the opportunity to watch these films before most of the public. The Academy members are now watching these films as well. So these are the top ten films that we feel might be shortlisted and take critics by surprise. These are some of the best films, and definitely contenders.
BEAUTIFUL BEINGS (ICELAND)
Beautiful Beings is one of the most violent films of the year. And one of the best. The film is focused on a group of boys, Addi, Konni and Siggi who bring a new member into their gang, Baldur. Director Guomundur Arnar Guomundsson has created a sad, raw portrayal of tough masculinity set in a tough environment. It’s a brutal, tender, honest, emotional film about male affection and male bonds in a cruel neighbourhood where all of these boys are carrying the burden of their unfortunate upbringings. Beautiful Beings is loaded with violence but the most striking moments of the film are the small moments of complete delicacy and beauty between male friendships. Especially in a world that is cruel and dark.
The four talented actors who play Baldur, Addi, Konni and Siggi make this film truly special. They’re all beautiful beings set in a world that isn’t always so beautiful. The film is one of the gentlest and at the same time one of the most violent films to be screened this year. Our hopes for these four men is that they’re all able to break free and find peace.
Beautiful Beings is utterly and completely heartbreaking, and yet strangely optimistic.
Narcosis took us by complete surprise. It's a moving universal story about life, love and loss. The film focuses on a family of four: a loving married couple and their two kids. When an unexpected death occurs in the family, they're forced to deal with intense grief. How can a family possibly move on with their lives when something so shocking occurs? Without ever having the chance to say goodbye?
Martijn de Jong has created one of the most poignant and stirring films of the year. From the first shot of an upside down world. To the beautiful score being played just at the right moments. To all the attention to details. To fully developing and showcasing each and every character as complex individuals. To the perfect amount of flashbacks. To the brilliant Thekla Reuten and the rest of the cast. It’s impeccably done.
Narcosis draws you in from the opening shot to the final perfect ending. What a film!
Last Film Show is a film about the celebration of storytelling and cinema. And even more, it’s a film about chasing one’s passions and dreams. The film takes place in the tiny village of Chalala in the Gujarat region of India, close to the border with Pakistan. It’s about a young boy named Samay who lives close to the Chalala train station where his father sells hot chai tea to passengers during a stopover. After watching a movie in the theatre with his family, his passion for films begin.
Director Pan Nalin has created a masterclass film filled with childlike curiosity for the love of cinema that we all share. The look in the eyes of Samay as he watches every film possible inside the theatre is one of the most breathtaking moments to see this year. And his determination to make his dreams come true. No matter what.
Cinema has no boundaries. Stories need to be told. And everyone has a unique story.
Lo Invisible is the latest movie directed by Javier Andrade. Starring Anahi Hoeneisen, the film begins with Luisa being released from psychiatric care after three months of treatment from allegedly trying to harm her second child. She attempts to resume her life in her mansion, which is set in the stunning region of Puembo, surrounded by emerald mountains, the forest, and golf courses.
Luisa puts on a bold front for her husband, her teenage son and her brigade of staff. She bravely has to endure endless conversations with guests at parties and lunches with friends. But underneath she is fragile, unstable, and detached. She screams in the shower when no one is around, she steps on broken glass repeatedly, she cuts herself on her thighs and she becomes intoxicated frequently. Everyone around her continues with their work and lives, while she struggles to regain hers.
The film deals with postpartum depression as a mother who struggles significantly to continue living. She self mutilates herself to be seen but she feels unseen by the entire world. It’s a hard film to watch seeing a woman lose herself completely.
Mediterranean Fever is a film about depression. And it focuses on a man, named Waleel, who's married and has a family. Even the most mundane tasks like getting out of bed is difficult for him. He doesn't feel like socializing and he rarely leaves his home. When a new neighbour, Jalal, moves in next door, it sparks a newfound curiosity within himself and it re-energizes him. Suddenly he's more active and he wants to talk to this new neighbour. He wants to do activities with him. But will this ultimately help him with his depression?
People who have never dealt with depression think it’s just being sad or being in a bad mood. But depression is falling into a state of greyness and numbness. Waleel expresses to Jalal that it’s like waking up and feeling that there’s no point to anything. Depression is living in a body that fights to survive, with a mind that tries to die. And we just hope that Waleel, and everyone else suffering from this illness, will find the help to one day regain their life back.
It's a fantastic black comedy with hard-hitting themes and a near perfect ending.
Safe Place is a film that moved us deeply, as it’s an autobiographical story from the director Juraj Lerotic. It's a tough film to watch. It starts out with a man, Bruno, desperately trying to smash down a door in an apartment building. His brother has attempted suicide. And he is trying to save his life. He’s able to get the door open to see his brother, Damir, covered in blood, dripping down his arm. The ambulance arrives and Damir is taken to the hospital. It follows the next 24 hours of a family having to deal with a loved one who wants to end their life.
Individuals affected by suicide feel like they are waging a war invisible to everyone else. All they want to do is keep their loved ones safe. Is that safe place at the hospital? Or is it at home? Or is the psychiatric ward the best place to stay? The paranoia and indecisiveness of future actions are always on the top of their minds. It’s impossible to know what’s truly on someone’s mind or why they have decided to take such a drastic action. Only Damir will ever know. And the loved ones are left standing trying to pick up the pieces of their broken hearts.
The impact of the film after it ends stays with you long after the credits are running. We can’t stop thinking about it.
One of the most moving films of the year is Harvest Moon, the submission from Mongolia. As the least dense country in the entire world, the film takes place in a gorgeous remote rural village. A man, Tulgaa, is returning back to his isolated hometown because his father is passing away. Tulgaa decides to stay a little longer to help with the hay harvest, after being asked by the school director. He ends up meeting a local boy named Tuntuulei and their amazing bond begins.
Director Amarsaikhan Baljinnyam has created an impressive, beautiful and touching film exploring fatherhood. And the bonds that are created due to absent fathers. It’s a simple, but achingly tender film about new relationships being formed in the most unexpected places. And lives forever changed as a result. The film is a tribute to anyone who takes a role as a father. This incredible special film will melt one’s heart when it’s all over.
The Exam is one of the best films of the year. And it's one of the most unique stories too. Set in Kurdistan, the film is focused on two sisters: Shilan and Rojin. Shilan is trapped in a loveless marriage and so she is determined for her younger sister to avoid the same fate. Rojin faces two options: pass the end of the year exams and head to college or get married to a man arranged by their father. As Rojin struggles to study and learn the material needed to pass the exams, her older sister goes to great lengths to try to ensure her sister's future success.
The Exam is a suspenseful drama that shows the domestic terrors that occur in oppressive patriarchal societies. These two sisters want to have the choice to decide what they want to do in regards to their education, their marriages and their day to day lives. This hard-hitting, distressing film shows the vulnerabilities that women face in Iraq.
Director Shawkat Amin Korki has created an intense, very focused drama about desperation and how far people are willing to go to try to escape their trapped lives. Or their future lives.
A Piece of Sky is one of the most beautiful and hard to forget films dealing with two young lovers who fall in love instantly and get married. But their world changes instantly when one horrible incident will forever change their lives. Can a woman forgive such a horrifying act? Is she supposed to move on when she loves her husband so much?
Director Michael Koch has deliberately created a slow paced, absolutely breathtakingly beautiful film. Every frame is like moving photographs. Every shot lingers just a little longer than expected. We see the beauty in the simple things, like rocks, and the trees, and the snow. Life isn’t always all action but it can be slow, especially in a rural small village. This film leaves you thinking a lot about life and love and unfortunate situations that are without our control.
Return to Seoul is a masterful film focused on Freddie, played brilliantly by Park Ji-Min, who was born in South Korea but was dropped off at an adoption agency when she was a baby. After a few years she was adopted by a family and taken to France. The film deals head on with the difficulties of having dual identities and the repercussions that comes with not really fitting in. It isn’t always so simple to figure out who you are or what you want. The film constantly jumps ahead into the future, and every time we see a new glimpse into Freddie’s life. Nothing is certain in this life. Places change. People change. And tomorrow might be different. For Freddie, she doesn’t know what the future will hold for her, but for now, as she searches to feel complete and whole, she’ll continue her life as if something is missing. And it’s a part of the painful healing process of being adopted.
This film is such a superb film on the adoptee experience and the challenges of having two completely different nationalities.