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Did the Berlin Film Festival Kick off the 2019 Oscar Race?


The Berlin Film Festival ended yesterday after a strong competition lineup and a shocking Golden Bear win for Touch Me Not, an explicit film about intimacy and sexual desires.

Last year, the Berlinale played a considerable role in launching several Oscar hopefuls, having screened four of the 9 eventual Foreign Language Oscar shortlisted films in addition to Best Picture contender Call Me By Your Name (though technically that premiered in Sundance first but it’s international premiere was at Berlin). On Body and Soul and A Fantastic Woman premiered in Berlin and are now in the Oscar race. Can the festival replicate its success this year?

Let’s take a look at the five strongest Oscar candidates that premiered at the festival and we may very well hear about them by the end of the year.

  1. Best Animated Feature: Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson’s animated marvel was the first animated film to ever open the Berlin Film Festival and was also the best reviewed film of the festival. (We gave it an A). Moreover, the film became the first ever animated film to earn a Silver Bear for Best Director at the festival. The film is almost assured a nomination for Best Animated Feature but can it actually win? That will depend on The Incredibles 2 and it’s too early to tell – but it appears the film will inspire a lot of passion. This return of Wes Anderson after his Oscar-winning hit The Grand Budapest Hotel is already one of the most anticipated films of 2018.

  1. Best Foreign Language Film – from Poland: Mug

Poland’s Twarz (Mug) by Malgorzata Szumowska scored the runner-up award to the Golden Bear, earning the Grand Jury Prize in what is a major win for this Polish film that offers stark and honest critiques of Polish society. Much like Loveless but with brilliant comedic chops, this will be a very accessible and strong FLF contender if submitted by Poland. That remains to be seen but it’s a film that Oscar watchers need to watch out for.

  1. Best Foreign Language Film – from Mexico: Museum

One of the most accessible, crowd-pleasing and impressively made films of the competition was Mexico’s Museum by Alonso Ruizpalacios– a film that is incredibly entertaining and offers an innovative examination of the Mexican identity. Gael García Bernal helps bring star power to the film and it never loses momentum and becomes much more than just a heist film. A formidable contender that’s perfect for Sony Pictures Classics if the company acquires it. With a savvy campaign and the film itself being very fresh and engaging, this can be this year’s The Square among more serious, grim FLF contenders.

  1. Best Foreign Language Film – from Norway: U – July 22

Erik Poppe’s previous film (The King’s Choice) surprised Oscar watchers and showed up on the FLF shortlist 2 years ago. His new film, U – July 22, was somewhat controversial in Berlin but it earned a large margin of support and passion particularly among American and UK critics and less so among European contingents. The film is incredibly timely as it reflects on the harrowing impact of mass shootings and it has the gravitas of depicting one of the largest mass shootings in European history (events that shocked Norway back in 2011). Shot in one single take, the film is Norway’s Birdman but with a political undertone, a timely subject matter and an appeal that can’t be denied: it fits what AMPAS voters in this category usually go for – true stories, harrowing viewing experiences and gravitas.

  1. Best Foreign Language Film – from Paraguay: The Heiresses

One of the very few films that garnered a consensus in Berlin was Marcelo Martinessi’s The Heiresses. It’s superbly made, straightforward albeit a bit slow and it’s an empowering film with a fantastic lead performance by Ana Brun. The film won the FIPRESCI, Alfred Bauer and Best Actress prizes in Berlin and was lauded by critics and beloved by audiences. It’s more Gloria than A Fantastic Woman in a sense that it’s a female empowerment story but without clear social statements – but that’s its strongest aspect: quietly it depicts the awakening of an elderly woman who finally gets out of her comfort zone and rediscovers herself. It’s also one of the most artsy films in Berlin and should appeal to the highbrows in AMPAS. Marcelo Martinessi ties all loose ends in the film so the film never leaves room for ambiguity or unanswered questions – something that will help it among voters who prefer straightforward films.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Germany’s IN THE AISLES: This was the TONI ERDMANN of the festival, an incredibly touching story of German workers in a supermarket and a very deep reflection on consumerism, capitalism and loneliness. Germany rarely submits films like these though, but if it does end up being submitted, watch out. It will have wide appeal to voters and it’s the only film in competition that was acquired by a US theatrical distributor: Music Box.
  • Spain’s SUNDAY’S ILLNESS: acquired by Netflix but now showing in Spanish cinemas, this is a stunning, Almodovar-style story of motherhood, spite and anger filmed in exquisite style and a very powerful screenplay. Berlinale’s most cinematic film this year. Spain may not submit it and choose to go with Farhadi’s Everybody Knows but keep an eye on this one.
  • Italy’s BOYS CRY – this is Italy’s A Prophet of sorts – a captivating gangster-style story that is truly raw, convincing and tense. It’s also superbly acted and incredibly well directed. If Italy goes with this over Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro, it could stand a chance.

Mina Takla

Mina Takla is a foreign correspondent for AwardsWatch and the co-founder of The Syndicate, an online news agency that offers original content services to several film brands including Empire Magazine’s Middle East edition and the Dubai Film Festival. Takla has attended, covered and written for multiple film festivals online including the Dubai International Film Festival, Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Annecy Film Festivals. He has been following the Oscar race since 2000 with accurate, office-pool winning predictions year after year. He writes monthly in Empire Arabia, the Arabic version of the world’s top cinema magazine and conducts press junkets with Hollywood stars in the UK and the US. He holds a Master’s degree in Strategic Marketing from Australia’s Wollongong University and is currently based in Dubai, UAE.

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