We could make a case for Ciro Guerra’s visually ravishing Embrace of the Serpent, a black-and-white allegory of paradise lost shrouded in the dark shadows of colonialism, about two white scientists and their 40-year relationship to an Amazonian shaman, but you would laugh at us. Or Tobias Lindholm’s schematic but well-acted A War, for how one man’s frenzied nosedive into the muck of war is put under a court of law’s vigilant microscope, except it rarely strikes the overwrought motions that are typically anointed here. Two coming-of-age films set in the Middle East, Theeb and Mustang, may benefit from stoking voters’ righteous emotions, but then we remind ourselves of Son of Saul’s existence here and even Mustang’s fairy-tale-like exhibition of five sisters literally and figuratively imprisoned by Islamic orthodoxy begins to feel like a hard sell.
Because we hinted at this prediction last week, we won’t drag this out and just call it for Son of Saul, which so forcibly checks off the boxes of an Oscar-winning film that it suggests the surest of all bets. It also doesn’t hurt that László Nemes’s film, the harrowing account of a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando at the Auschwitz concentration camp trying to ensure that a dead boy he believes to be his son receives a funeral prayer from a rabbi, was also one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2015.
We won’t tempt fate, but we would also be remiss if we didn’t point out that rumors have circulated about Nemes’s film almost failing to make the Academy’s shortlist of contenders. If true, and the film’s hyper-sensorial simulation of the Holocaust death machine is too much for some voters, then maybe Mustang, given its more easily digestible aesthetics, is on much stronger ground than even most pundits believe.
Will Win: Son of Saul
Could Win: Mustang
Should Win: Embrace of the Serpent