I’ve now seen all 10 films in contention at the Oscars for Best International Film, including “Parasite,” “Pain and Glory,” “Les Miserables” and more. And it was fun eavesdropping on other film fans and asking others about their reactions to these movies. All of this took place at the 31st annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, which is now coming to a close after screenings of 188 films from 81 countries in 12 days.
Though films from the U.S. and other English-speaking nations are well represented in the screening lineup, Palm Springs is primarily known as an international festival with the spotlight on foreign language films. Scheduled as it is in the height of Oscar voting season, the festival has taken on a huge role in raising the profile of potential nominees and see them all in one place.
Granted, these reactions from fans are anecdotal, but the demographic of audiences here may not be too far removed from Oscar voters, and what these audiences told me could be useful in making your final picks in the Gold Derby predictions center. The field will narrow down to five final nominees this Monday morning.
Let’s analyze the pros and cons of the final ten contenders for the 2020 Academy Awards, ranked from best to worst by their current Gold Derby odds:
1. PARASITE (South Korea); Current Gold Derby odds 16/5
More than any other film, I’ve probably talked with dozens of movie-goers and festival-goers about the Bong Joon Ho comedy/thriller, and I have yet to meet a single person who has offered any qualms about the acclaimed South Korean entry. Granted, front-runner status does not always translate into an Oscar win — remember 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” was the heavy favorite in this category but was upended by Germany’s “The Lives of Others.” Still, “Parasite’s” fans among festival-goers are passionate, and if they’re anything like Oscar voters (and I suspect that they are), it’s clear that “Parasite” is the film to beat.
PRO: Bong has made some great films in the past, but I’m not sure that anything he has previously done could prepare us for what he accomplishes here. Many voters may have heard something about class struggle with regard to the film, but I suspect that they may be unprepared by how laugh-out-loud funny the first half of the film is. Until it isn’t.
CON: Perhaps if Oscar voters presume it’s going to win, they might vote for another film they like. Maybe? Forget it, they’re going to vote for “Parasite.”
2. PAIN AND GLORY (Spain); Current Gold Derby odds 39/10
In any other year, Pedro Almodóvar‘s memory piece reflecting on his own life and career would likely be the runaway front runner for the Oscar. Almodóvar has long been a festival favorite here, and the spotlight on “Pain and Glory” only grew brighter when star (and potential Oscar nominee) Antonio Banderas flew from Spain to Palm Springs to accept the festival’s International Star Award for his performance in the film. In addition, Banderas stayed in Palm Springs to mingle among festival-goers as he conducted a Q&A session after the film’s screening. It’s likely that, should “Parasite” stumble, “Pain and Glory” stands ready to step up.
PRO: In what many see as a culmination of a remarkable career, Almodóvar offers a warts-and-all look at his life in a way that few film artists have done. Add to that a career-best performance from his male muse Banderas, and you’ve got a film whose win would make the Academy proud.
CON: It’s not “Parasite.”
3. LES MISÉRABLES (France); Current Gold Derby odds 9/2
Although I suspect a few festival-goers thought they were seeing yet another film version of the Victor Hugo classic, they were instead treated to director Ladj Ly‘s nail-biting contemporary police thriller set in the same Paris neighborhood as the classic novel. And like the book, the conflict here is between the economic lower classes (here set in a largely black neighborhood) and the authorities who are trying to maintain order. The film’s edge-of-your-seat tone sets it apart from the other shortlisted films, and speaking to several festival-goers, the film’s harrowing final 10-minute climax left some shaken as the film is still a major subject of conversation days later.
PRO: This “Les Miz” not only stands apart from the previous works that bear its name but also from the other less kinetic films in this category. It retains much of the themes of the Victor Hugo novel while bringing it absolutely up to date in a manner that’s one of a kind.
CON: If voters come into this expecting another version of “One Day More” and get a violent police thriller, this “Les Miz” might not get their vote.
4. ATLANTICS (Senegal); Current Gold Derby odds 5/1
Actress Mati Diop has turned to directing in a spectacular way in this slice-of-life story set in the Senegalese capital of Dakar. Ada loves construction worker Souleiman, whose boss refuses to pay him, so he and his fellow workers take a boat to Spain to find work there. Ada is engaged to rich dude Omar when she learns that Souleiman’s boat has capsized with no survivors. Resigned to her fate, Ada is ready to marry Omar when something strange begins to happen among her friends. Like “Parasite,” “Atlantics” takes an abrupt turn in Act 2, this time into the supernatural realm. It’s an impressive debut for first-time filmmaker Diop, one that won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Festival.
PRO: “Atlantics” reveals a filmmaker who is not afraid to take chances with audience expectations — she sets up a simple romantic triangle, then suddenly adds supernatural elements to it. This is one gutsy filmmaker.
CON: The romantic triangle set-up is so convincing that, when the film’s tone turns supernatural, it may be a challenge for some Oscar voters to follow.
5. HONEYLAND (North Macedonia); Current Gold Derby odds 9/1
This unexpected U.S. hit (grossing over $700K so far, terrific for a documentary of this sort) focuses on beekeepers in Macedonia whose entire income is based on the productivity on the bees they tend, a most unlikely subject for such a popular film. What makes it popular, I suspect, are the people that co-directors Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska have chosen to profile, especially head beekeeper Hatidze Muratova, who must contend with her ailing mother as well as those who help her collect the honey that her bees have provided. There’s a poetic element to “Honeyland” that is totally unexpected, but in hindsight, absolutely appropriate.
PRO: “Honeyland,” a July release, is still playing in theaters, so it is one of those titles that will be familiar to Oscar voters, Plus, if they choose to check it out, they will find that there’s weight to the film as well.
CON: Beekeepers in Macedonia? I can’t remember a time when Oscar voters embraced such a far-out subject, but there’s always a first time.
6. BEANPOLE (Russia); Current Gold Derby odds 30/1
Every great Oscar campaign has a story behind it, and Russia’s Kantemir Balagov has a dilly. His second directorial effort, “Beanpole,” has landed him on the Oscar shortlist at the ripe old age of 28 with a film that displays an assurance that directors twice his age would envy. Beanpole is the nickname given to statuesque nurse Iya who has returned from the frontline suffering from post-concussion syndrome, prompting sudden moments of paralysis, a condition that soon causes a tragedy. But like her home city Leningrad, Iya is trying her best to get over the trauma of the war. Gold Derby odds currently place “Beanpole” just outside the final five for a nomination, but, given the audience reaction here, this film has the stuff to crack through that barrier. And no matter what, remember the name Kantemir Balagov — we are likely to see his name in this category again.
PRO: One huge advantage of “Beanpole” is that it tells a story that we have never seen on the screen before. The writing and directing here are top-notch, and Balagov clearly has an Oscar-compelling story to tell, perhaps enough to get his film into Oscar’s final five.
CON: The aesthetic in Russian films is sometimes very different that what we are used to in the West. And the austerity of “Beanpole” might not play as well with Oscar voters as it might for hometown crowds.
7. CORPUS CHRISTI (Poland); Current Gold Derby odds 35/1
Audience reaction was strong for this Polish entry, inspired by real events, in which Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), a youth detainee, is mistaken for a priest in a small Polish town. Daniel, whose conviction for second-degree murder eliminates his dream of entering the priesthood, happily embraces the mistake and soon finds himself the pastor of a parish still grieving over a tragic loss in the town. Jan Komasa‘s film is as tough as it needs to be in the prison scenes and soars during its spiritual scenes in which Daniel tends to his flock with a kind of street faith that awakens many in town who had given up on the Church. The narrative might be a familiar trope, but it’s how Komasa fashions it that earns “Corpus Christi” its spot on the Oscar shortlist.
PRO: Komasa’s film creates a narrative that allows a good person (albeit a criminal in the eyes of the law) to put into practice his belief in the goodness of others, even though he is without blame himself.
CON: It’s a little tough to believe that Daniel’s deception as a priest could go so unchecked, particularly among his former jailmates whom he encounters along the way.
8. THE PAINTED BIRD (Czech Republic); Current Gold Derby odds 44/1
I must admit that Václav Marhoul‘s film of the controversial Jerzy Kosiński novel is a tough sit. Though exquisitely shot in crisp black-and-white and featuring expressive use of light and shadows, the brutal content of Kosiński’s story begins to wear on the viewer during the film’s 169-minute running time. The film follows Joska (Petr Kotlár), a young Jewish boy whose parents send him to live with an Eastern European aunt so that he can avoid antisemitism. But when she dies, Joska is forced to fend for himself on the road where he undergoes a series of hostile encounters from those he meets along the way. Though there were not as many walkouts here as has been reported at the Venice, Toronto and London festivals (I counted only 12 at my screening), this seems to be an unlikely choice to make the final five. But I’ve been wrong before.
PRO: The black-and white photography here is absolutely gorgeous, along with the expressive lighting in certain scenes. Technically, “The Painted Bird” is a marvel.
CON: “The Painted Bird” is a difficult film to endure over nearly three hours. The relentlessness of violence against a child, which seems to happen every time he steps into a new village, is really tough to take, and I question whether Oscar voters will want to reward that.
9. THOSE WHO REMAINED (Hungary); Current Gold Derby odds 75/1
Although deemed a long-shot by Gold Derby’s odds, Barnabás Tóth‘s Hungarian entry has proven to be one of the hotter tickets at this year’s festival. (I stood on stand-by and managed to get the next-to-last seat in the theater — how dare they?) Rather than presenting a tableau of those dealing with a large number of survivors of concentration camps, Tóth focuses instead on two unlikely characters — Aladár, a 42 year-old gynecologist who lost his entire family in the camps and Klára, 16 year-old girl who lost her parents. The two become close and interdependent as they must now face the growing threat of Communism in Hungary. Though a film that’s small in scope, “Those Who Remained” received a rousing response from festival screening audience, so don’t count it out from the final five quite yet.
PRO: By focusing on just these two characters, Tóth manages to make a subject that’s rarely filmed — reintroduction into society by concentration camp survivors — and make it relatable via this unusual relationship.
CON: Some Oscar voters may feel that reducing the issue of how concentration camp survivors cope to just these two characters minimizes the many traumas with which these survivors must contend.
10. TRUTH AND JUSTICE (Estonia); Current Gold Derby odds 100/1
Despite its rather bland title, Tanel Toom‘s adaptation of the much-beloved five-part Estonian novel turns into a very credible film. There’s a religious element to the film with a farmer (Priit Loog) as a devout man who tries to cultivate a piece of land that is not very hospitable to development and make it his own. The struggle that he has to stake his own piece of land may resonate with Oscar voters, and in such a diverse field as this Oscar season provides, there may be room for an unusual film such as this to slide through.
PRO: Despite its low-key set-up, this is a very solid story, very well-told and one that offers enormous satisfaction to its audience.
CON: A farmer, whose woes alienate him with his neighbors, may not be the most compelling reason for a 2020 audience to vote for it.
Be sure to make your Oscar nominee predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on January 13. And join in the fun debate over the 2020 Academy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.