Japan – Weathering With You
Dir. Makoto Shinkai
For the first time since Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke back in 1997, Japan has chosen an animated feature as its Oscar entry. Revered anime icon Makoto Shinkai follows the global success of 2016’s Your Name with another magical romance involving a pair of teenagers whose lives are upended by forces beyond their control. His use of color and light, particularly to depict water, make for an awe-inspiring experience filled with heartening moments and a highly memorable soundtrack. GKIDS, the most prominent distributor of international and independent animation in the U.S, is behind Weathering With You and also campaigning it as Best Animated Feature.
Luxembourg – Tel Aviv on Fire
Dir. Sameh Zoabi
One of the few comedies in contention, Tel Aviv on Fire is set in the Middle East by way of Luxembourg, and parodies the entertainment industry to dissect the volatile geopolitical conflict between Palestine and Israel. Shot mostly in the minuscule European nation with a local crew, including Luxembourgish producer Bernard Michaux, Zoabi’s quick-witted movie centers on a Palestinian writer working on a soap opera who becomes forcefully acquainted with an Israeli soldier deeply invested in the plot. Avidly walking a fine line between humor and social commentary, the result is an entertaining ride. Cohen Media Group, often a strong player in this race, released the film earlier this year.
Mexico – The Chambermaid
Dir. Lila Avilés
It must not be an easy feat to break through as the Mexican representative in the aftermath of an awards behemoth like Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, and yet Avilés’ debut has carved out its own path through its own artistic merits. Unassumingly enthralling, the intimate story of am diligent chambermaid in a luxurious Mexico City hotel has garnered major acclaim around the world for its humanistic storytelling and star Gabriela Cartol’s miraculous performance. A strong push to get it seen over the past couple months may have generated enough buzz to the trick. The Chambermaid currently holds a perfect Rotten Tomatoes score based on rave reviews
Netherlands – Instinct
Dir. Halina Reijn
Dutch actress Halina Reijn makes her directorial debut with a psychosexual drama that’s reminiscent of Paul Verhoeven’s Elle in tone, but adds a layer of moral ambiguity with the protagonists being a therapist working inside a prison and the serial rapist she’s been assigned to evaluate. Carice van Houten gives life to Nicole, the mental professional who finds herself sexually attracted to a depraved criminal and must reckon with her own desire. Aside from premiering at this year’s TIFF, Reijn’s film hasn’t been widely seen but the acting prowess on display and the director’s handling of the difficult material could impress.
North Macedonia – Honeyland
Dirs. Tamara Kotevska and Ljubo Stefanov
The most awarded film at Sundance 2019 immerses the viewer in the grueling and humble existence of Hatidze, a middle-aged bee-hunter who supports herself and her elderly mother selling the honey she mindfully collects. Gorgeous cinematography soaked in natural light paired with a quietly powerful account about a dying way of life in a profit driven world have turned Kotevska and Stefanov’s documentary into their country’s highest profile production sinceMilcho Manchevski’sBefore the Rain was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.If Honeyland doesn’t make it into the international short-list, it could still get far as Best Documentary Feature.