Denmark – Queen of Hearts
Dir. May el-Toukhy
The Scandinavian country holds one of the best track records with four nomination and one win this decade alone, which should make voters at least curious to know what the Danes have to offer every year. El-Toukhy’s superbly acted and morally complex drama about the forbidden attraction between a married woman and her teenage stepson received raves at home despite its controversial subject matter. Acclaimed actress Trine Dyrholm (In a Better World, A Royal Affair) delivers a powerhouse performance as a woman unraveling that’s impossible to ignore. At Sundance 2019, Queen of Hearts won the Audience Award in the World Cinema – Dramatic category.
France – Les Misérables
Dir. Ladj Ly
Chosen to represent France instead of critical favorite Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Ly’s timely social thriller stands as one of the most acclaimed first features of the year after receiving the Jury Prize at Cannes. Tackling racism, police brutality, and economic inequality, Les Misérables follows three police officers tasked with patrolling marginalized neighborhoods. Faced with a multitude of incidents, including one caused by their biases and negligence, the trio becomes the target of a segment of the population that has felt alienated and oppressed for far too long. Often exhilarating and occasionally insightful, Ly’s debut is accessible with an edge. Amazon Studios picked up rights for the film and has been strongly campaigning it.
Germany – System Crasher
Dir. Nora Fingscheidt
The effectiveness of this social realist work hinges on the stunning turn by young star Helena Zengel. She plays 9-year-old Benni, a girl whose excessive energy and psychotic episodes have deemed her a problematic child for Germany’s child protective services system. Fingscheidt, who is poised to direct Sandra Bullock in an upcoming Netflix drama, crafted a moving portrait of a young life whose mental state is in shambles as result of trauma. Compassionate and naturalistic, System Crasher connects on an emotional level without suffering from empty sentimentality. The film premiered at the Berlinale where it too home Alfred Bauer Prize.
Israel – Incitement
Dir. Yaron Zilberman
Zilberman’s follow up to the star-studded, English-language A Late Quartet takes him into a much darker path. His political saga focuses on Yigal Amir, a religious fanatic who murdered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. The tense character study sees Amir, who came from an Orthodox Yemenite Jewish family, slowly become radicalized and isolating himself from those who didn’t share his extreme views. Although the killer serves as protagonist, Zilberman refrains from absolving or denouncing him and instead attempts to analyze his dangerously misguided motivations. Incitement won the top prize at Israel’s Ophir Awards, which automatically qualified it as the country’s Oscar submission.
Italy – The Traitor
Dir. Marco Bellocchio
Mafia infighting and courtroom drama make the veteran auteur’s latest crime epic a candidate with Oscar-friendly qualities. Based on the life of real mobster turned informant Tommaso Buscetta (played by Pierfrancesco Favino), who was part of the Sicilian illicit organization Cosa Nostra, the expansive movie begins just as the high-ranking offender becomes aware that his fall from grace is imminent. Bellocchio, who also co-wrote the screenplay, trails Buscetta from Italy to Brazil to the United States as he chooses to testify against his former accomplices. Working with a large ensemble cast, the director showcases the accumulated experience that positions him as a modern master. Another advantage is that The Traitor is a Sony Pictures Classics release.