World Cup 2022 Preview: Group G

Before I get into my preview of Group G of the FIFA World Cup, I just want to inform of something. There has been a lot of talk over the issue of human rights in Qatar. This is especially in concern of foreign visitors coming to Qatar with tickets. FIFA has not ignored this. In fact FIFA makes public on its website that it has developed a Human Rights Grievance Mechanism. If a visitor notices a concern, the information of what to do is on this link: https://www.fifa.com/social-impact/human-rights/grievance-mechanism

And now, my review of Group G of the 2022 FIFA World Cup:

-Brazil (1): It’s easy to believe that Brazil is the best. No other team has played in all 21 previous World Cups. No other nation has won the World Cup five times. They’ve also won the Copa America an impressive nine times. Despite all their victories, it can be a mistake. Ever since their last World Cup win back in 2002, they’ve gone out sooner than expected thanks to bad mistakes on plays, blown chances and sometimes a lack of top talent or team unity. Their best World Cup finish since has been fourth in 2014 as host nation, and it was quite humiliating.

Since the 2018 World Cup where they were out in the quarterfinals.,the Seleção have showed improvements. They won the 2019 Copa America and were runners-up to Argentina last year. The national squad is coached by Tite, manager since 2016. Neymar is back, as well as Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Casemiro and goalkeeper Allisson. Since Copa America 2021, they have not lost a game since. Wins include Ghana, Tunisia, Japan and Uruguay. They’ve had a win and a draw against Colombia, and they’ve drawn against Argentina and Ecuador. The whole world is looking forward to how Brazil will performi in Qatar 2022. No doubt they will be ready.

-Serbia (21): Serbia is a team that’s full of surprises. Ever since they’ve been competing and playing on their own, they’ve never qualified for a Euro, but they’ve qualified for their third World Cup out of four tries! Even now, they rank 19th in the UEFA Nations League. As for World Cup play, The Eagles are hoping to relive the glory days when the Yugoslavian team would go far in world football.

The current squad is coached by Dragan Stojkovic who played for the last two Yugoslavia teams that played in the World Cup: 1990 and 1998. The team’s players play in clubs in various European leagues with the most common being Italy’s Serie A. Team captain Dusan Tadic plays for Ajax Amsterdam. In recent play, they’ve had wins over Sweden, Hungary and Portugal. They’ve had a win and a draw against Slovenia. They’ve also had a win and a loss to Norway and endured an additional loss to Denmark. Qatar is the stage for Serbia to show the world what they’re made of.

-Switzerland (15): Switzerland is a team that should be admired for its consistency. This will be their twelfth World Cup and fifth consecutive. But the problem is the Nati always have a problem with getting ahead. They’ve never progressed passed the second stage and they’ve never won a knockout game. That would include Round-of-16 exits in the last two World Cups. Recently they achieved a breakthrough at Euro 2020 when they won their first-ever knockout match, albeit on penalty kicks. Right now in UEFA Nations League play, they rank 9th in the A-league.

Since Euro 2020, the Swiss team is coached by Murat Yakin who played for Switzerland in Euro 2004. Most of the team plays for teams in the European leagues with the Premier League and the Bundesliga being the most common. Captain Granit Xhaka plays for Arsenal. Interestingly enough, vice-captain Xherdan Shaqiri plays for the Chicago Fire in the MLS. Four of Switzerland’s players at the World Cup rank among Switzerland’s Top 10 most capped. Recent play has been a mixed bag. They’ve had a recent win against Bulgaria. draws against Italy and Kosovo, and a recent loss to England. In Nations Cup play, they’ve had a win and a loss against Portugal, Spain and Czechia. The stage is set in Qatar and a chance for the Swiss team to prove themselves.

-Cameroon (43): Cameroon used to be seen as the leaders in African football. It seems like the glory days of the Indomitable Lions were so long ago. Their quarterfinal finish was back in 1990. They failed to qualify for 2018, and they lost all three matches in the two previous World Cups. Lately things have been making improvements for Cameroon. They finished third at the most recent African Cup of Nations. They also finished fourth in the 2020 African Nations Championship.

Cameroon is coached by Rigoberto Song who played for Cameroon in four World Cups. Song was named Cameroon’s head coach in February of this year replacing Toni Conceicao of Portugal. The players mostly play for leagues in European or Arabian nations. Captain Vincent Aboubakar plays for Al-Nassr in the Saudi Pro League. Recent play has them with wins against Burundi, Ethiopia and the Ivory Coast. They’ve had draws against Jamaica and Egypt. They’ve had a win and a draw against Burkina Faso and a win and a loss against Algeria. 2022 is a chance for Cameroon to regain their old glory and pave the way for a new generation.

My Prediction: Here we go. Now it’s time to make the prediction of the two most likely to advance. For this group, I will have to go with Brazil and Serbia. I pick Switzerland as the team most likely to surprise.

And there you go. My review of World Cup Group G. Hard to believe there’s only one group left to do! The excitement doesn’t end, does it?

VIFF 2022 Review: Love Will Come Later

Samir El Hajjy is a young Moroccan man dreaming of love and a better life in Europe in the documentary Love Will Come Later.

DISCLAIMER: I know VIFF ended on October 9th. I’m still posting my film reviews as they can either be streamed or will be released at a later date.

It’s not that often I go to see a documentary, never mind see one during the VIFF. The first film I saw at the VIFF was a documentary entitled Love Will Come Later. It’s an eye-opener of a story as it focuses on a topic that is quite common, but not too many people are aware of.

The film begins with Samir El Hajjy, a Moroccan male in his early 20’s, having a text conversation with a woman. The woman lives somewhere in Europe. The conversation is intimate. Soon we hear from Samir himself. He tells of his dreams and ambitions. He dreams of marrying a European woman, particularly one in France, and dreams of a better life for himself. This may be difficult as he has an arranged fiance.

As the documentary continues, we learn more about Samir and his family. We learn that Samir has attempted to apply to European Universities without success. We learn that he has an older brother whom has married a European woman and is starting a family. We learn that he has sisters who are very religious and very tradition-minded, especially when it comes to the subject of love and marriage.

The subject of love and marriage is one that comes very much in conversation. We hear frequently from Samir’s friends of what they have to say about it. We hear from Samir’s barber of how he married. We heard from other men telling their stories of how they married. Sure, they were arranged, but love came over time. We hear from Samir’s sisters and how they have a negative opinion of marrying a European woman. We even see a scene when Samir’s brother flies into Marrakech with his family. It becomes evident this is the life Samir aspires to have. We also see how Samir faces the pressure to marry a woman he’s arranged to marry.

The film also focuses on Samir’s daily life and the city he lives in. We see Samir as he’s having fun with friends. We see Samir as he’s getting his hair cut. We see Samir ride his motorcycle slowly across the narrowest of streets of old Marrakech. We see Samir as he is in his prayers to Allah. We see frequent celebrations in Marrakech. Some celebrations are national. Some are more local, like weddings or neighborhood festivals.

The film doesn’t stray away from his marriage goals. Many times, we get a focus on the conversations he has with the European women. Some are through messenger, some are text message, some are Zoom meeting where by Islamic morals she is not to have her face shown. We see one case of an actual phone conversation with one of the women Samir is pursuing. During the time, Samir reveals his beliefs. In one of his conversations, he talks with the woman of his beliefs of the roles of the man and the woman. He reveals he’s not as tradition minded and doesn’t side with the man dominating. He believes in 50/50. That becomes increasingly apparent as he gets into a religious discussion with someone and even points out that in the Koran there’s no mention a woman should wear a burka.

Eventually the frustrations weigh down on Samir and he feels he should forget his dream, ‘grow up,’ and marry the woman he’s arranged to. The film ends with Samir in his latest pursuit. She’s a woman from France. In the final scene, of Samir in a bus, he tells of his dreams of love and marriage. This appears to be the love pursuit he is committed on making work. As for love itself, he feels it’s something that will come and grow over time.

The story of Samir pursuing love in Europe is a common thing in African countries. French-language countries like France and Belgium have a high number of immigrants from Congo, Cameroon, Morocco and Algeria. Even one documentary I saw at the VIFF years ago showed how in many African countries the belief is to pursue Europe or die trying. It seems to be a common belief of the young in Africa that they have a future, but they can’t see it happening in their own countries. They feel their future is in Europe. It would not be uncommon to see cases where they will want to marry into Europe. Samir is possibly thousands of young men in African countries who want to do just that.

However the film is not just about a Moroccan trying to pursue love in Europe. The story is about Samir. They story paints an intimate portrayal of Samir El Hajjy himself. He wants to marry, but he doesn’t devalue marriage. He knows marriage is as much about love as it is an institution. As the cameras follow him, his life and make his conversations visible, we get a good sense of his life and his desires. We get a sense why he is not too interested in the woman he’s arranged to marry, or any woman in Marrakech. We get a sense of daily Moroccan life for families like killing a lamb for dinner and daily prayers to Allah.

On the subject of marriage and tradition, we get a sense of his family situation. We see how his brother who married in France is quite comfortable, but the sisters are disapproving. They feel it’s against Islamic traditions and they have a negative attitude towards European women. We get a sense of Samir’s loyal faith and we also see Samir’s own beliefs about the role of women and how it correlates with Islamic faith. Samir is not naïve in his Islamic faith and his beliefs. We see how many people view his goals of marrying in Europe to be a sign of immaturity. We also see how the pressure does come down on him. There are scenes near the end where he’s tempted to give it all up and marry his arranged fiancé. Tradition and the modern world frequently clash in the film. It’s not the type of clash that’s heavy on action but heavy on emotion.

Top respect to Swiss director Julia Furer for putting this documentary together. Her film allows Samir to tell his own story and allow the cameras follow him along in his story telling. With a topic like this, it’s best to let the subject tell the story than the director to send their message. Julia also shows a lot of shots that first appear to be irrelevant to the film, but eventually do add to the story when you look back. Shots of Samir on his motor bike show what living in Marrakech is like with its homes and bazaars. Shots of festivals show of the common traditions and celebrations in Morocco. Julia focuses on the good and the bad of life in Marrakech. One thing she shows as she showcases Samir’s story is that there are two different Marrakeches: the Marrakech tourists see and the Marrakech of daily life that only residents know. Shots of airplanes flying off may first appear to just add time in the film, but as the story progresses, each plane taking off from the airport appears to be another missed dream for Samir. Furer does a very good job of making this as much of a story of Morocco as it is the story of Samir.

Love Will Come Later is an intriguing story that first comes off as a story of a Moroccan man searching for love. If you look closer, it says a lot more. Not just about him, but of his family, his town, his faith, his country, and even about what being a young man in Morocco is all about.

UEFA EURO 2020 Revised Quarterfinal Predictions

The field has been narrowed from 24 to eight. For most, like myself, not the eight we expected!

Normally I don’t concoct a blog of quarterfinal predictions of a major football tournament if it has a Round of 16. Normally I predict the winners of the Round of 16 matches, then make quarterfinal predictions based on my picks of Round of 16 winners and leave it at that. However those that read my blog of my Round of 16 guesses are undoubtedly laughing at how I only got three right. That explains my rewritten predictions for the quarterfinals. I feel they deserve a redo. So here goes my predictions:

Switzerland vs. Spain – Here is the big irony. Switzerland beat out reigning World Cup holders France on penalty kicks to qualify, and Spain beat out World Cup 2018 finalists Croatia in added extra time to qualify! Additional irony is both teams here had Round of 16 matches that ended with 3-3 after regulation time! Interesting!

This is Switzerland’s first-ever win of a knockout game at a Euro ever, and their first in a major tournament since the 1938 World Cup. For Spain, they’re in familiar territory as they’ve won three Euros and a World Cup in the past. Also in the 22 times the two countries played each other, Switzerland has only won once. Switzerland could come alive in soring prowess like they did against France, but I will predict Spain to win here.

Belgium vs. Italy – Two different teams. One is the result of years of teamwork and perfecting that has taken them to the rank of #1 in FIFA’s World rankings. The other is a fresh team with a history of a legacy that’s making a comeback after failing to qualify for the most recent World Cup. Both teams have one thing in common. They both all have straight wins in this Euro tournament.

This is the one quarterfinal lineup I predicted correctly! Hard to choose. The goal scored by Austrian Sasa Kalajdzic was the first goal Italy conceded not just in Euro 2020 but since their match against the Netherlands in October! Belgium only conceded one goal in Euro 2020 in their group game against Denmark. It’s tough to pick a winner in a quarterfinal of two teams with straight wins in this Euro. I know Italy has beaten Belgium more often in head-to-head matches but I pick Belgium because they are the powerhouse of the moment and this Italian team is a rising power.

Czech Republic vs. Denmark – Another quarterfinal of teams that surprised in their Round of 16 match. Most people would have touted the Netherlands over the Czech Republic. However the Czechs delivered a surprise win of two goals. Also many would have predicted Wales to beat Denmark as they have the more lauded players. Denmark surprised them with four goals!

It’s interesting in these past two games, Denmark scored four goals each game. Their group match against Russia was do or die for them to qualify and it became a case where the Danish Dynamite finally exploded! The Czechs are also a team that appear to be showing their best traits in only their most recent games. For this match, I will predict Denmark because they’re best at pulling surprises. Also if this is a possible draw, which is quite likely with the head-to-head record, I think the Danes will take it in penalty kicks.

England vs. Ukraine – Tuesday was a case where the eventual winners were not the favorites going into their Round of 16 matches. England has been known in recent decades of losing to Germany. How easy we forgot they beat Germany to win the 1966 World Cup. And in the old Wembley Stadium. However it was a case of one of the best English teams ever against a struggling German team and it resulted in a 2-0 win! And in the new Wembley Stadium. Their first win of a knockout game since Euro 1996, which England hosted! And current coach Garreth Southgate was a player for the team back then!

For Ukraine, Sweden had the bigger expectations to win considering they topped their group with two wins and a draw, while Ukraine squeaked in with just a win and two losses. Anything can happen in a match. The game drew 1-1 after regulation and then in the stoppage time of added extra time, Ukraine’s Artem Dovbyk scored the winning goal!

England have not yet conceded a goal during the Euro 2020 tournament. Ukraine have lost games during Euro 2020, but have also delivered some surprise moments. In football, anything can happen. England have won four of the seven head-to-head matches while Ukraine has only won once. I will have to go with England on this. Even though they won’t be in their home country for this quarterfinal, it won’t rob them of their luck.

And there you have it. My revised predictions of the Euro 2020 quarterfinals. Interesting that the quarterfinals is the last round that will have the teams play in alternating cities and countries. The semis and finals will all be held in Wembley. Stay tuned for some exciting play!

UEFA Euro 2020: Knockout Round Predictions

Well the Group Play has just been conducted. There were a lot of surprises and there were a lot of expected results. Whatever the situation, the sixteen qualifiers have all been decided. And after their two days of rest, the Round of 16 starts the knockout part of the Euro en route to deciding the winner of the Cup. So in the meantime, here are my predictions on how I think the games will go:

ROUND OF 16

First off the Round of 16. This is only the second Euro ever to have such a round. One good thing that time around is there isn’t as much huge traveling around from place to place. And here are my predictions with my picks for the winner in bold.

Wales (Group A 2nd) vs. Denmark (Group B 2nd): Wales showed their strength with a win against Turkey and a draw against Switzerland. Their 1-0 loss to Italy showed they are able to rival the best. Denmark is a team that was visibly shaken after the cardiac arrest of Christian Eriksen. However it was in their last group game against Russia that they finally came out of their shell and won. For this match, I predict Wales as they’ve been more consistent in team unity and delivery.

Belgium (Group B Winner) vs. Portugal (Wildcard: A/E/F): Belgium finished third at the 2018 World Cup. Portugal is defending Euro champions. Belgium have shown their dominance since the start of the tournament. Portugal’s biggest success in Euro 2020 play is their 3-0 win against Hungary. However Cristiano Ronaldo keeps on breaking Euro scoring records! This is a tough one. Belgium’s team prowess against Cristiano Ronaldo’s scoring. I will have to go with Belgium to win.

England (Winner Group D) vs. Germany (Group F 2nd): A classic rivalry with landmark moments and moments of infamy such as in both the 1966 and 2010 World Cup. And to make it a bonus, it’s right in Wembley Stadium! This is the only Round of 16 match which has a home team playing!

England has been performing very well as a team and only suffered a scoreless draw against Scotland. Germany show great scoring ability in their games, but their team unity which normally is what takes them far in World Cups and Euros is missing here. Also England is in one of its best eras of team play ever, but their two wins were 1-0: both times scored by Raheem Sterling. A tough one but I’ll go with England in added extra time.

Italy (Winner Group A) vs. Austria (Group C 2nd): Italy came to Euro 2020 with redemption and the chance to show a new Azzurri in mind and they have been excellent. They’ve one all three of their group games scoring seven goals and not conceding one. Actually the last game Italy conceded a goal was against the Netherland way back in October! Austria have reason to celebrate as they achieved their first-ever qualification to the Euro knockout round: one of two Group C teams to make it their first ever. However this is where Austria is going to be brought to an end here. Italy are practically unanimous favorites here, and my pick too.

Netherlands (Winner Group C) vs. Czech Republic (Wildcard: D/F): Like Italy, Netherlands is another powerhouse that failed to qualify for World Cup 2018 and looked to Euro 2020 as a shot of redemption. And like Italy, they won all three of their games. They scored eight goals and conceded only two against Ukraine. The Czechs have also played very well too with Patrik Schick scoring all three of the team’s goals. I’ll predict the Netherlands and their team play.

France (Winner Group F) vs.  Switzerland (Wildcard A/C): France comes out of a tough Group F with two draws and a win that came thanks to a German own-goal. Switzerland has had mixed results but has done a good job in play and scoring. In fact they did a good job scoring in their match against Turkey. France has still shown the better team unity. I predict France to win this match.

Sweden (Winner Group E) vs. Ukraine (Wildcard B/C/D): This marke Sweden’s first time to the knockout round since 2004 and Ukraine’s first time to the knockout round ever! Sweden appeared conservative at first with just having draws but performed very well in their win against Poland. Ukraine is a team that’s unpredictable. It won against North Macedonia. However their 3-2 loss to the Netherlands showed they can contend with the best. Ukraine is a team that can do the unexpected. I predict the win to go to Sweden in added extra time.

Croatia (Group D 2nd) vs. Spain (Group E 2nd): This is a case of both teams playing substandardly their first two games and then pouring it on in their final games. Spain drew against Sweden and Poland, but was spectacular against Slovakia. Croatia first lost to England and then drew to the Czechs, but was brilliant against Scotland. Their win against them here during the Euro is their first victory over the Scots ever! This is a tough one and could be the one Round of 16 match that could be decided on penalty kicks. I’ll go with Croatia.

QUARTERFINALS:

Unlike group play and the England vs. Germany match of the Round of 16, none of the games will have a home team. Here’s my bonus quarterfinal predictions. For each quarterfinal, I assume each prediction I make for the Round of 16 is true, though you know it won’t always be the case. Whatever the situation, here goes:

Belgium vs. Italy – Should this match-up result, it would be interesting. Two teams who won all three of their group games. One team has a reputation for consistency, the other is making a comeback. The Round of 16 games they play in could tell more about them. For now, I think this could go into a draw in which Belgium would win on penalty kicks.

France vs. Croatia – This would be a rematch of the World Cup final. However both teams are not playing as the teams they’re reputed to be. Croatia struggled at first and finally came active in their last group game. France topped Group F, but not without three tough bouts. One important statistic. Croatia has never beaten France in the eight times they’ve played each other. So I’m picking France to win.

Sweden vs. England – This would be exactly like it was during the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals. England have been playing well, but conservatively while Sweden has been delivering better than expected. Despite it, I anticipate that England will take this.

Netherlands vs. Wales – Both teams are unpredictable. Remember that Wales made the semifinals at the last Euro. Netherlands however just qualified for their first Euro knockout stage since 2008. The Dutch have shown their dominance so far and that’s why I think the Netherlands will win this, should this quarterfinal result.

And there are my predictions for the first two knockout rounds. It’s not an easy job as things can change from the Group Stage to the knockout rounds. It should all result in a lot of excitement. And I’ll see you all again in the semis.

UEFA EURO 2020: Group Stage With One Game To Go

To be among the 16 to qualify, it takes two wins to guarantee. The only way it could ever be possible for a team with two wins not qualifying is if all six groups had three teams with two wins and a loss. And that’s extremely unlikely. Whatever the situation, all four teams of each of the six groups have played two games and there are a lot of telling stats. Three have qualified already while twenty others still have the last game as one last chance, and only one is officially out. Here’s how the groups look so far. Those who have already qualified are bolded:

GROUP A:

Italy came to Euro 2020 with the hope of redeeming their reputation in the football world. They delivered 3-0 wins against Turkey and Switzerland to guarantee themselves qualification for the Round of 16. Wales’ 2-0 win over Turkey and 1-1 draw against Switzerland put them in very good chances of qualifying.

For the next game, Italy could lose to Wales and they’d still qualify, but I’m sure they’d want to win or at least draw so that they can keep their #1 status. Wales’ chances of qualifying are healthy, but they would have to win to take the lead in Group A, draw to guarantee 2nd place, or rely on their game stats and goal differentials if they were to lose to Italy. Switzerland will have to win over Turkey if they want to qualify. A draw won’t cut it as game stats and goal differentials decide the four third-placers that qualify. And Turkey will need nothing less than a win for them to have a chance. They’ve lost to Italy and Wales. Only a win against Switzerland will do if they are to have any chance of qualifying.

GROUP B

Many touted Belgium as the team most likely to win Group B based on their third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup. With two wins, they’ve already guaranteed a qualification no matter how bad their game against Finland goes. They haven’t completely guaranteed the #1 spot. If Finland beats Belgium they will be the #1 team as a result of head-to-head play.

With Russia and Finland having a win under their belts, drawing can guarantee a 2nd place for Russia and a 3rd-place for Finland which would have to rely on their wildcard stats to qualify. However I’m sure Neither of the teams simply want to draw in their last matches on Monday. Denmark is in the uncomfortable position that they will need to win against Russia if they are to have any chance to qualify. It would not surprise me if the Danish team has been shaken since the collapse of Christian Eriksen. That’s a shocker he was dead for five minutes. It’s very good fortune that the first aid on the field did all the right stuff to resuscitate him and have him taken to a hospital. Actually since Eriksen’s cardiac arrest, it’s a reminder to us all that living is more important than winning.

GROUP C

Most groups would normally have a simple qualifier if they have two wins by now. Group C has an official first-place with the Netherlands! It was their two wins and big goal differential that did it! And I doubt if they will want to lose to North Macedonia in their last game!

The game of Ukraine vs. Austria will be the game for second-place in the group. If there’s a draw, Ukraine will have the advantage because of bigger scoring. Austria could qualify due to the combination of game results and goal differentials. If both qualify for the Round of 16, or either one, it will be their first time ever at the Euro that they do. As for North Macedonia, they have the misfortune of being the first team eliminated. Even if they win against the Netherlands and by a big margin, it won’t matter because of their head-to-head losses to Ukraine and Austria.

GROUP D

Interesting that Groups A to C already have a qualifier guaranteed while Groups D to F don’t have anything decided and it will take Matchday 3 to not just decide it all but decide anything. If if any team in those groups is guaranteed a Top 3 finish, that still doesn’t completely guarantee them qualification. Focusing on Group D, Both first-matches for the group’s teams resulted in wins, but both second-matches on Friday resulted in draws. That means with two teams having a win and a draw and two teams with a loss and a draw, none of the four have secured qualification and all four still have a chance in their third-matches on Tuesday.

In the match of the Czech Republic vs. England, the winner will naturally claim the #1 spot of Group D. If there’s a draw, the Czech Republic has the advantage with better goal differentials. However I’m sure both teams want to win. Croatia and Scotland both have a win and a draw. Croatia leads because of goal differentials and a draw would solidify Croatia to finish in third place, but that most likely won’t be enough to qualify. The six third-place teams will be ranked by game stats and goal differentials. Only the top four will qualify for the Round of 16, and two draws and a loss will most likely make Croatia one of the two third-place packing sooner than they hoped. So either Croatia or Scotland will have to win and nothing less if they want to secure qualification.

GROUP E

Like Group D, Group E has the difficulty of two draws causing the statistics to remain completely undecided for who will qualify. One thing that is certain is that all four still have chances to qualify and it’s up to Matchday 3 to decide it. Sweden has the best luck so far with a 1-0 win over Slovakia despite their scoreless draw against Spain. Despite the loss, Slovakia is second in ranks thanks to their 2-1 win over Poland. Spain, normally a powerhouse, has just two draws while Poland looks like their still waiting to deliver. They’re lucky they saved themselves against Spain 1-1.

Sweden has the luxury that they can qualify simply by drawing, but I doubt if they want a simple draw. Especially since Poland will be hungry for the win. The winner of Slovakia vs Spain will definitely qualify, but Slovakia will have better qualifying chances if they lose because of their win over Poland. You can be sure Spain want to win this. Attempting to qualify on a wildcard with three draws is pushing it. Possible, but pushing it. Also Poland requires nothing less than a win if they want to qualify. Two draws and a loss has very low chances of cutting it. Plus they’d have the added bonus that is they win over Sweden, they’d overtake Sweden in standings because of the head-to-head result!

GROUP F

Group F looked to be the Group Of Death. However a lot of lopsided play has turned a lot of things around unexpectedly. France is one team that has underperformed. One would usually expect a lot of big play from the team that are the reigning World Cup holders. However their 1-0 win over Germany came thanks to an own-goal from Germany’s Hummels and they drew 1-1 to Hungary. Drawing against Portugal will guarantee them qualification, but they will have to win if they want to prove themselves a worthy winner. Isn’t that something? A rematch of the Euro 2016 final happening in group play?

Germany has had it most interesting. They got a loss to France because of an own-goal, but a 4-2 win over Portugal thanks to two own-goals from the Portuguese! A draw against Hungary will guarantee them qualification, but Hungary won’t make it easy as they will want to win. Despite the loss, Portugal are still in good contention after their 3-0 win over Hungary. They can still qualify if they lose to France, but they would have to rely on goal differentials to see if their stats are good enough for the wildcard berth. Finally Hungary proved themselves strong players by drawing 1-1 against France, but they need nothing less than a win against Germany if they want to qualify. That’s how it is for them with just a loss and a draw.

And there you go. This is how things look right now with the teams of Euro 2020 with only one game to go. Matchday Three will finalize everything to decide the thirteen others who will advance and the seven others who will be packing for home sooner than they hoped. Looking forward to it!

UEFA EURO 2020: Intro and Group A and Group B Focus

Euro 2020 which starts on Friday the 11th will be a multi-nation event contested in eleven stadiums in eleven countries.

The 2020 UEFA European Football Championships, or Euro 2020, were one of many big sporting events of 2020 that had to be cancelled out because of the pandemic. The Euro was relocated to 2021 in hopes that conditions would improve and that the tournament would be contested. The UEFA Euro will take place in 2021, with the first game to start on Friday, June 11th, but will still keep its original name Euro 2020.

For the 2020 tournament, Michel Platini intended back in 2012 not to have a single host-nation for the tournament’s 60th anniversary. Instead he decided to have multiple host stadiums in multiple nations as a ‘romantic’ one-off event to celebrate the tournament’s anniversary. The event was originally planned for 13 stadiums in 13 nations. It eventually was reduced to 11 stadiums in 11 nations.

The 2020 Euro is the first major multi-nation sporting event to take place since the pandemic started. UEFA wants crowds for the tournament, but is well aware of the precautions they will need to take during this pandemic. This is what led to Aviva Stadium in Dublin to withdraw from the tournament as they couldn’t guarantee spectators could attend. Spain also relocated their site from Bilbao to Seville as there was a bigger guarantee there spectators could attend matches. Also worth noting is that this is the first Euro in which VAR (Video-Assisted Referee) technology will be included.

All stadiums except Puskas Arena will have limited crowd sizes to prevent the spread of the pandemic. However Puskas Arena organizers say it will maintain stadium entrance requirements. One note about the stadiums is that the host country of the stadium would not guarantee their national team’s qualification. Nine of the eleven nations hosting games were successful in qualifying their team for the tournament. Here’s a list of the stadiums for the tournament. Asterisk (*) denoted national team did not qualify:

Final, Semi-Finals, Round of 16 Matches and Group Matches
Wembley Stadium – London, England
Quarterfinal and Group Matches
Baku Olympic Stadium – Baku, Azerbaijan*
Stadio Olimpico – Rome, Italy
Allianz Arena – Munich, Germany
Krestovsky Stadium – St. Petersburg, Russia
Round of 16 Match and Group Matches
Parken Stadium – Copenhagen, Denmark
Puskas Arena – Budapest, Hungary
Johan Cruyff Arena – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Arena Nationala – Bucharest, Romania*
Hampden Park – Glasgow, Scotland
La Cartuja Stadium – Seville, Spain
Group Matches
Friends Arena – Stockholm, Sweden
Millennium Stadium – Cardiff, Wales

And now to get with my common tradition every World Cup or Euro, my group-by-group review of the teams competing at the Euro. For my blogging, I decided to review two groups in each post. Note that this might be harder than in most years: both blogging two groups and making predictions altogether. It’s quite possible the pandemic may have changed a lot of team statures. It’s quite possible teams that didn’t have such a high expectation the first time around could be better this time or teams with a high standing before the pandemic can end up being worse. Anyways here’s my review and prediction with the most recent FIFA ranking in brackets:

GROUP A

Overall Group A is a mixed bag. They have a traditional powerhouse in Italy and three teams that could pull a surprise. It can go any which way.

Turkey (29) – Turkey is a nation with a proud football legacy. They have a third-place finish at both a World Cup and a Euro as their best-ever results. Their current roster is full of good players. Four play for England’s Premier League, four for French teams, four for Italian and one each in Spanish and German leagues. However Turkey’s success has been known to have a yo-yo effect. They do very well in the years leading up to the Euro but struggle during the year before the World Cup. That may explain why they’ve only qualified for three World Cups.

These past two years, Turkey has played very well only losing to Hungary. They’ve drawn against top-ranked teams like Germany and Croatia and even won against the Netherlands in World Cup qualifying. Chances look good that the Crescent-Stars could defy all expectations this Euro and come out better than most expected.

Italy (7) – The Azzurri have normally been one of the most admired and most feared football teams in the world. Their reputation took a beating during the 2018 World Cup qualifying when they failed to qualify for the tournament. Russia 2018 was only the third World Cup ever where Italy was not present! The coach was subsequently fired and the President of the Italian Football Federation resigned in response.

Here in Euro 2020, the Azzurri come as a team with a lot to prove. All was not lost to Italy in 2017. The same year they failed to qualify for the World Cup, Italy’s under-20 men’s team finished third at the Under-20 World Cup. Their last loss came to Portugal in September 2018. Italy had an excellent 2019 in Euro qualifying winning all of their games. Their biggest win was 9-1 over Armenia. They’ve also proven themselves with wins over teams like the Netherland, Poland and the Czech Republic in recent years. Italy knows it has a lot to prove and Euro 2020 is the perfect domain for the new Italian team to prove itself.

Wales (17) – Many people the success of team Wales due to Gareth Bale. However the success is a team effort. In fact Bale isn’t the most capped member of the current Welsh team. Defender Chris Gunter is. Also goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey has more caps than Bale. Eighteen players play for the Premier League and one plays for Juventus. Back at the last Euro, The Dragons surprised everybody when they became semifinalists. And that was their first-ever Euro! However their prowess at the Euro didn’t carry over for World Cup qualification.

It’s interesting Cardiff is one of the Euro 2020 venues but team Wales won’t play any of their Group games there! Recently Wales has shown a mixed bag of results in terms of their play. They’ve achieved wins over Mexico and the Czech Republic. However they’ve also had losses to England, Belgium and France. This group looks to be a good group for Wales to play in and their chances to advance are good. Euro 2020 will give them the chance to prove themselves again.

Switzerland (13) – Switzerland has always been a team that is full of talent but doesn’t seem to reach high. These last twenty years, they qualified for the last four World Cups, but the furthest they ever got was the Round of 16. 2016 was the first Euro Switzerland made it past the Group Stage, but it ended at the Round of 16 match against Poland there.

Switzerland’s play since World Cup 2018 has been mostly up and down. They’ve had wins against Iceland and Belgium, but they’ve had losses against England, Portugal, Spain and 2022 World Cup host nation Qatar. They have had a great 2021 winning all five of their pre-Euro matches. Euro 2020 can be an exciting time for team Switzerland to prove what they have.

My Prediction: Judging how things look, I predict Italy to top the group with Wales coming in second. I anticipate Turkey to be third and to be a wildcard qualifier.

GROUP B

It’s easy to assume certain teams of Group B will do better than others, but don’t be too fooled. Surprises could come and the big favorites may not come out on top.

Denmark (10) – Denmark is known for mixed success. One quadrennial, they’re there. Another quadrennial, they’re in a slump. They failed to qualify for Euro 2016 but they were successful in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup where they made the Round of 16. The current team consists of six members in the Premier League, seven players in Italy’s league and four in Germany’s Bundesliga.

Since 2020, Denmark’s only lost games came to Belgium. They’ve won against England and Sweden and even drew against Germany. Their biggest win was 8-0 over Moldova. Chances look good for The Red And White to be able to prove themselves. They may not have the same form as they did when they won in 1992 but Denmark could have their best result since.

Finland (54) – Many regard Finland as one of the least successful football teams in all of Europe. Finland is the biggest European nation never to qualify for a World Cup. This will be the very first Euro Finland has ever qualified for. The players play for various leagues throughout Europe and in the MLS.

The current Finnish team will surprise you. Since the start of 2020, they’ve had wins against Greece, Sweden and France. 2021 however has been a difficult year for them. They haven’t had a single win and have lost to Switzerland, Finland and Estonia. Finland comes to Euro 2020 as possibly the biggest underdog. However anything can happen during the total 270 minutes of Group Stage play.

Belgium (1) – Possibly the biggest change of football in the last ten years has to be the mega-success of team Belgium. The 2010’s saw a turnabout where The Red Devils went from delivering substandard play to suddenly performing as one of the best team units in the world. With players like Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Vincent Kompany, Belgium wen from underachievers to a third-place finish at the 2018.

As for Euro, Belgium’s best result is runners-up in 1980. Belgium definitely want to do better than the quarterfinal finish they had at the last Euro. Belgium have continued their winning ways since the World Cup. They’ve had wins over teams like Switzerland, Russia and England. England is also the only team they lost to, during a Nation’s League match in October 2020. Euro 2020 is a good chance for Belgium to show Europe what they’re made of. Possibly even clinch their first-ever win.

Russia (38) – Russia’s abilities and prowess as a team was always very questionable leading up to the 2018 World Cup which they were host nation. During the World Cup, Russia sent a message to the world just how good their team really is by finishing in the quarterfinals. All but four of the team’s current players play in the Russian Premier League. The other four play in leagues in France, Spain, Italy and Turkey.

Since 2020, Russia has had a mixed bag of results. They’ve won against Serbia and Hungary. However they’ve also endured losses to Sweden, Serbia and Slovakia as well as draws to Turkey and Poland. In football anything can happen. And Russia could just end up going further in Euro 2020 than most people expected.

My Prediction: I’m tempted to say Belgium will top this group with Denmark being second. I expect Russia to be third, but I don’t know if their stats will hold up for their qualification.

And there you have it. That’s my first review of the groups for Euro 2020. More reviews of the groups coming your way. Remember that the tournament is just three days from starting!

VIFF 2020 Review: Reel Youth Film Festival

Has it been five years since I last saw the Reel Youth Film Festival? It’s been a long time. Nevertheless having VIFF online gave me the chance to see it again.

This year’s films were a mix of films that looked like they were done by youth and films that were obviously directed by 20+. Some looked very professionally done while some make the amateurishness obvious. All of them did have themes and messages that appeared to be directed to the youth or would be of youth interest.

This year, there were eighteen films. There were five Canadian films, but only two local. Film entries for this year came from the United States, Brazil, India, Bulgaria, Spain, Australia, Romania, China, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Iraq and the UK. Films were a mix of animation, documentary to live-action fiction. They ranged from drama to comedy to informative.

Topics were of a wide range. Even with this pandemic, there was one Canadian film by a teen girl about the struggles of physical isolation and only being able to reach out through a computer. There was another from India of a woman using her creativity to work from home. There were other themes of focus like breaking social barriers, generation gaps, regaining silence in a world full of noise, choices that can change one’s life, a future of pollution, overcoming loneliness with your passion, dealing with post-war trauma, and dealing with autism. There were also some light-hearted films like an animated film about monkeys and baby aliens.

The two themes that most stood out among the short films were themes involving racism and racial identity, and sexuality. With racism being a hot topic in 2020, the Fest didn’t stray away from it this year. One film was about a black girl admitted into an all-white private school and made to feel inferior. Another is of a Mexican-American girl and how she deals with the identity of herself and her people at a time with calls of ‘build the wall’ from Trump and his supporters. There were two films of Inuit people. One was of an elder from Nunavut who passes down to the younger generation hunting skills, cultural traditions and the language. Another film focuses on Inuit youth and what culture means to them. The film ends with them doing traditional throat singing.

As for films about sexuality, there were three. One was a documentary about a Vancouver drag performer who performs by the rule “Don’t do drag for free.” Another was a drama of a girl from China returning home after her grandmother’s death; a grandmother who rejected her after she spoke of her orientation. The third was a comedy about a girl who never had a first kiss from a boy. She realizes she’s a lesbian and gets her first kiss from a girl during the first snowfall.

They again had the ballot for the three favorite films of this year. This year’s ballot was completely online. I had lots of problems trying to access the online ballot. So it looks like I will have to post the picks of my Top 3 here:

  1. Monochrome – The story of Essence, a 17 year-old girl who’s the only black student in an all-white private school. The teens and students don’t hesitate to make her feel like a misfit. She feels like the only way to fit in is to assimilate herself. It’s a very powerful message about the racism we don’t always notice.
  2. Little Swallow Coming Home – A Chinese film about a young girl who returns home after her grandmother died. The memories of how her grandmother rejected her when she came out as a lesbian flood her mind and make her nervous. Then she notices a photo with a message from her grandmother saying she always loved her. It’s a reminder that LGBT struggles are universal. Not just at home.
  3. Dayo – A man named Dayo is lonely at home. But when he walks into the kitchen, he’s an artist and beloved for his culinary confections by the customers and his co-workers. It’s a brief three-minute animated film, but it packs in the charm in its time.

This year’s Reel Youth Film Festival didn’t offer too much in terms of local film. Nevertheless the Festival was very good at providing a wide variety of films from around the world with common themes relating to young people.

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group E

With the World Cup getting ever so closer, it’s time for another group review, along with another stadium review. Also this blog will give you an added bonus feature. Anyways lots to anticipate. Lots to focus on here.

Brazil-Brazil (2)- I’m not going to bring up the humiliation Brazil went through during the 2014 World Cup. I will say it has been an interesting four years since. The first two years were the hardest, but also very hopeful. Dunga had assumed the role as head coach and things looked promising, until the 2015 Copa America. There, they were ousted in the quarterfinals. For the next year, they struggled in international play and were even ranked low in World Cup qualifying. Then at the 2016 Copa America, another early ouster: in group play. With the Olympics coming soon, they changed to coach Tita, who was most experience in play and coaching with Brazil’s Campeopnato Brasiliero league. The change has worked to success. Brazil won gold at the 2016 Olympics and won every World Cup qualifying game since. Brazil would become the first team to qualify for this World Cup.

The  Seleção’s success continues. It has not lost a game since the 2016 Copa America and even won a friendly against Germany 1-0. Brazil is one team coming to Russia not simply for victory, but redemption as well.

Switzerland-Switzerland (6)- Switzerland is one team that’s been waiting long and hard for their big breakthrough. They have a lot to prove, but have often come up short. The last time they won a knockout game was back in 1938. Their best ever result is the quarterfinals which was last achieved in 1954 which they hosted. They’ve grown in talent and prowess in recent years. At the last World Cup, Xherdan Shaqiri delivered a hat trick en route to qualifying to the Round Of 16, but their trip to the Cup was ended by Argentina.

The Swiss team has had its strongest years in this past while. This is the fourth straight World Cup they’ve qualified for. The team features defender Stephan Lichtsteiner, midfielders Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka and striker Haris Seferovic. The team is coached by Bosnian Vladimir Petkovic. The Swiss team come to Russia with a good track record in this past year with wins against Hungary and Greece and a 1-1 draw against Spain. However they also had to endure a 2-0 loss to Portugal. Switzerland comes to Russia with a lot to prove.

Costa Rica-Costa Rica (25)- Costa Rica is a team that will surprise you when you least expect it. At the last World Cup, the team wound up in Group D where they would have to play Italy, Uruguay and England. Just about everybody, including myself, thought Coast Rica would be the team least likely to qualify. Instead they topped the Group with wins against Italy and Uruguay and drew against England. A win against Greece on penalties in the Round of 16 took them to the quarterfinals for the first-time ever. Despite losing to the Netherlands on penalties, Costa Rica defied all expectations and set a new standard for the team.

This year’s team features a new coach in Oscar Ramirez. Their star striker Bryan Ruiz from Sporting CP is back. Many of the team’s top players play for MLS. In the past year, Costa Rica has had good wins against Northern Ireland, Scotland and the US. However it’s had to endure losses to Hungary, Spain (5-0) and Tunisia. Who knows? 2018 could be another Cinderella story like 2014.

Serbia-Serbia (35)- Serbia is a national team that’s rather young: only 12 years old. Its national team may not have the experience as most of the teams present in Russia. However they’re a team of surprises. If you remember the 2010 World Cup, they won against Germany 1-0. The team of the former Yugoslavia has had way better success in the past; even going as far as fourth. Serbia hopes one day to emulate the past success. The team does show promise as they won the under-20 World Cup in 2015.

Possibly as a result of their win in 2015, seven players of the Serbian team were born in 1995 or later. The team also features top veterans like defenseman Branislav Ivanovic and goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic. In the past year, they’ve acquired notable wins against China, Ireland and Nigeria. However they’ve had notable losses to Morocco and Chile. Don’t rule Serbia out for 2018.

And there’s my rundown of the teams from Group E. As for who will qualify for the Round of 16, I believe it will be Brazil and Switzerland.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Moscow: Spartak Stadium (Okritie Arena)Otkritie

Year Opened: 2014

Capacity: 45,360

World Cup Groups Hosting: D, E, G, H

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16

Spartak Stadium is one of two venues in Moscow that will be hosting matches for this World Cup. Its current name is Okritie Arena after the Russian Okritie Bank, but will be known as Spartak Stadium during the World Cup.

The stadium cost $430 million to build. Actually the second Moscow stadium that was planned for the World Cup was VTB Arena, which was to combine a soccer stadium and ice hockey rink all in one. Instead Spartak Stadium was build first and won the right to be an official venue. It was even one of the four venues that played host to last year’s Confederations Cup. After the World Cup, the stadium will be the host venue for FC Spartak Moscow and the Russian national team.

BONUS FEATURE

Stadiums aren’t the only thing I will be focusing on in this World Cup. I will also focus on other things unique to the World Cup. For this first bonus, I will be focusing on the official World Cup Ball.

Official Match Ball: Telstar 18Telstar 18

It’s a given that with each world Cup, Adidas delivers a match ball that is designed to take football technology to a new level. Some like 2014’s Brazuca are welcomed well. Some like 2010’s Jabulani hit a sour note with the players. For 2018, Adidas launches Telstar 18.

The ball was unveiled by Adidas on at its official presentation in Moscow on November 9, 2017 and it was Lionel Messi that announced the name. Telstar 18 plays tribute to the original Telstar ball (from 1970) which was Adidas’ first ever official World Cup ball. This Telstar ball features six textured panels that aren’t sewn together, but seamlessly glued together. The ball has an embedded near-field communication chip which allows the consumer to access information personalized from the ball and including interactivity themed on the upcoming World Cup.

And there you have it. That’s my review of the Group E teams. Only three more groups to go! Time sure does pass fast! Stay tuned!

VIFF 2017 Review: Animals (Tiere)

Animals
Birgit Minichmayr (right) is caught between a troubled marriage and disturbing images in Animals.

The Altered States series at the VIFF provide for a lot of films that cross into the genres and subject of horror, paranormal and the supernatural. Animals is a Swiss film that taps into the supernatural with mysterious results.

The film begins with a suicide outside an apartment building in Austria. A young woman falls to her death. Soon after, a couple by the name of Nick and Anna are to leave on a long trip in the Swiss Alps. Nick rents his suite out during the trip. The taker is a woman named Mischa, who looks very similar to the woman from the floor above.

The two then go on their vacation. Nick is a celebrity chef and Anna is a children’s book author. You can tell the marriage has been going through a lot of difficulties. Some things, like how Nick doesn’t want to have children, are said, but some aren’t. Then all of a sudden, Nick accidentally hits a sheep on the road. The collision kills the sheep and damages the car, but the two aren’t hurt seriously. Later that night, Nick receives the dead sheep wrapped up.

Back at the apartment, a man comes knocking to win back the love of Andrea. He keeps insisting in tears that he wants her back terribly and that his life is nothing without her, but Mischa keeps insisting: “I don’t know you.”

Nick and Anna try to go on with their lives and their marriage after the collision. However Anna is very suspicious of infidelity. Especially after she sees Nick get too friendly with a waitress by the name of Andrea. An attack by a robber on Anna from their car late at night seems to reconfirm Nick’s love to Anna. However Anna had a dream days earlier that Nick was the one who pulled her out, which is why she’s uncomfortable. Nick keeps notes of recipes that he is to use for some of his shows, but Anna is suspicious. Anna gets what she suspects; there is another woman in Nick’s life. When she tells him the news, it appears that Nick hears something completely different. It’s like he’s deaf and in another world.

Back at the apartment, Mischa is in love with another man. Two men are outside her apartment how they were both loved and neglected by her. Days pass and Nick comes across a news article about a ‘horrific sheep collision’ on a country road. The picture of the incident shows Nick looking distraught with a woman being carried away in an ambulance. Nick is shocked. That can’t be since they both survived the incident. They next day, another collision with a sheep happens. This time Anna is taken away in an ambulance. The film ends with a surprise, albeit too rushed.

The film focuses on a wide variety of common themes in a thriller. It focuses on the supernatural, a case of image versus reality, the power of dreams, and even the foretelling of the future. Nick and Anna are living out a slow but intense personal drama in their lives. However things intertwine right after they rent the house to Mischa. There are images of the future, not all pleasant. There is a barrier of communication, or Nick could be in another world of his own. There is a housesitter who either looks like a person who used to live at the apartment or is the same person with a completely different identity. Plus there are the animals that appear to tell something about what will happen in the future. There’s the sheep on the road, the birds that hit the house, and the cat that talks in French. The film can often be seen as including many thriller elements Alfred Hitchcock included in his films. It’s not just the birds reminding one of The Birds. It’s even the feel of the unknown, the mysterious and even the feel of being chased down that adds to the Hitchcock feel in this film.

The problem with this thriller is that it sometimes moves too slowly. The film has a lot of moments that create suspense, but it drags on in a pace that can be too slow for a thriller of such. I can understand why directors would want to slow scenes down for the sake of creating the intensity of the moment, but it appeared to take too long. The film creates intrigue, but it doesn’t keep its feel of the thriller consistent. It also seems like Swiss-born Polish director Greg Zglinski is trying to pack too many elements into the film. It’s impressive that it uses a lot of common thriller elements like the supernatural, the power of dreams, and the future happening in the moment, but it gives a sense that something’s missing. On top of it, Zglinski and co-writer Jorg Kalt appear that they don’t have the story stitched together properly. It’s a film that like a puzzle set that needs to be pieced together, but it doesn’t feel like it’s pieced together well. Even the ending that shows two completely different emotions on Nick gets one wondering.

The film’s actors are the highlight of the film. Birgit Minichmayr does a very good job of playing the wife caught between a fading marriage and this mystery happening before her eyes. Philipp Hochmayr is not given very much range in his role, but he does a good job in what he is given. Mona Petri also does a good job with her multi-personality role as Mischa/Andrea. In addition, the music by Bartosz Chajdecki adds to the drama of the film when it’s there.

Animals is a thriller that shows a lot of potential at first, but comes off as slow, not all together and even incomplete at the end.

Oscars 2016 Shorts Reviews: Animation and Live-Action

Cinema

I’m lucky to be living in Vancouver. It’s one of the few cities one can be able to see the nominated shorts in a big-screen theatre. Gives me a chance to review them myself and even make a should-win pick for myself. This year is quite an array of nominees in both animation and live-action. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the nominated shorts:

ANIMATED:

-Blind Vaysha (Canada/France): dir. Theodore Ushev- This is a unique 2D animation story of a Bulgarian folk-tale. A story of a girl with one eye that can see the past and one eye that can see the future and cannot live in the present. The story also shows the attempts of others to fix Vaysha’s blindness. The linocut-style animation, however, was unique and had a lot of style and flare to it.

The story doesn’t really end. Instead the film ends asking the audience their perspective. It has a unique narrative point and I get why it’s done that way, but I often wonder if the film ended on the right note.

-Borrowed Time (USA): dirs. Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj – At first you’ll think this is a family-friendly story at the beginning but soon learn it’s not such as you move on. It’s a dark Western story of a man returning to the spot of a family tragedy from his childhood. The hurt comes back from it and he decides to do something drastic but something happens.

I have to admire Pixar animators Coats and Hamou-Lhadj for making a brief departure from their traditional family fare and doing something more mature under Quorum Films. No, it’s not R-rated like Pear Cider And Cigarettes but it’s dark enough to be adult. I think this short is most likely to upset my pick for the winner.

-Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada): dirs. Robert Valley and Cara Speller- Now this is a refreshing R-rated alternative. It sometimes reminds you of a Grand Theft Auto video game or the film Waltz With Bashir. However it is a personal story from director Valley. It’s a story that makes you wonder how far would you go for a friend? Especially if that friend is selfish, conniving, irresponsible and manipulative?

It’s a story that entertains and charms and even gets you to hate Techno too. Sometimes I wonder why was he friends with that jerk? I don’t know if it’s because it was set in Vancouver or because it was an R-rated alternative but it won me over and I make it my Should Win pick.

-Pearl (USA): dir. Patrick Osborne- This is the first VR short to be nominated for an Academy Award. A musician and his daughter travel in a hatchback with a song as a bond between the two. We see the two age, the daughter mature into a musician of her own and have her own version of the song. The viewer gets a 360 degree view of the whole 5-minute story.

Looks like something Richard Linklater would do. Actually it might remind you of Waking Life. An excellent short that’s entertaining and will touch you too. Might even make you go to iTunes and download No Wrong Way Home.

-Piper (USA): dirs. Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer- This is the short shown before Finding Dory. A baby bird looking for food on the beach with her mother looking on and guiding her. Pixar does it again by delivering a clever, charming, and entertaining short with the dialogue absent and the animation as detailed to a tee as it gets. It’s excellent, but it’s something we’ve come to expect from Pixar even with their shorts. Nevertheless this is my Will Win prediction.

And those are my thoughts for the Animated Shorts up for the Oscar. A lot of styles of animation between Canadian and American companies. All five were very entertaining. We’ll see who wins.

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS

This year there are no films with English as the language of the majority. All five are from European countries. Here’s the rundown:

-Ennemis interieurs (France): dir. Selim Azzazi – A man from Algeria seeks to be a French citizen but the interrogator at immigration has big questions for him about meeting with a group of Algerian men back some years ago which led to him being arrested and imprisoned for two years. The interrogator keeps insisting he answers but he’s very reluctant to do so. Even to the point of neglecting his chances of French Citizenship. Why? What will make the man give his answers?

It’s a story that appears boring at first but grows with intrigue with each minute and with each new detail. The interest builds over time. It even makes you wonder why is he withholding the names of the other men? Feelings of brotherhood? Fear of retaliation from them? Also this may be about an incident in the past but it’s very relevant, especially with the Paris bombings happening in November 2015. This is my Will Win pick.

-La Femme et le TGV (Switzerland): dirs. Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff – Elise is a woman who wave her Swiss flag at the passing TGV train to Zurich every time it passes her house at 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening . After that she bicycles to her job at the town patisserie. It’s her daily routine for 30 years; a routine she doesn’t want to change. One day, she comes across a letter that was thrown to her by a man who goes on that daily TGV. He’s a man from France looking for work. The two develop a friendship only by mail and packages. Over time she hopes to meet this man. Then one day the train stops coming. It’s changed route? How will she deal with the change? Will she ever see the man?

It’s a charming comedy that has you engaged with the character (based on a person who has existed and did wave her Swiss flag at passing TGV trains). Gets you thinking about the woman. Is she an eccentric? Is she naive? Lonely? Unpredictable ending but a happy one.

-Silent Nights (Denmark): dirs. Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson – Inger is a young Danish woman who helps at the Salvation Army during the day and looks after her ailing mother at night. Kwame is a Ghanian immigrant who came to Denmark for a better future and to support his wife and children at home. However he’s been left homeless and makes money from recycling.

They both meet as Kwame agrees to help. The two develop a mutual friendship and even progress into something more. However it’s put to the test when Kwame steals money from the charity to pay for his daughter’s malaria treatments. Even though Kwame is banned for life, Inger forgives him and still loves him. Then Inger’s mother dies and she learns about Kwame’s family in Ghana just as she learns she is pregnant. It’s over between the two. However Inger sees Kwame one last time where she gives him advice, and something else.

It’s obvious that this story is about the immigrant situation in Denmark and the difficultly of the times for all. It presents both Inger’s side and Kwame’s side. However it’s more. It’s about a love that’s true. Inger loves Kwame so much, she’s willing to forgive him for all the terrible things he did. It makes the choice she makes for her and her baby look like the right thing. This is my Should Win pick.

-Sing (Hungary) dirs. Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy – Zsofi is the new girl at a school. She most looks forward to singing in the choir. However on her first rehearsal, the instructor talks of a choir competition where the prize is a performance in Sweden. She also tells Zsofi her voice is not ready for the choir and tells her to lip sync. Along the way, Zsofi finds a friend in star singer Liza. The two become good friends. However Liza notices Zsofi not singing but others. When she brings this up with the instructor, she not only admits it but tries to convince the children it’s the right thing for the competition. All of which leads to a surprise ending and the ending you think is right.

Often I question what the point of this film is. Is it about competitiveness to the point the ‘lesser’ singers are not allowed to sing for the sake of the big prize? Or is it a reminder of Hungary’s past communist regime; of how those that fit in are allowed to and those that don’t aren’t, but make like everything’s okay?  Even the choir director could remind you of a communist dictator on retrospect. Whatever the point, the story was entertaining and sweet. Reminds you of the joys of childhood and the right thing paying off in the end.

-Timecode (Spain) dir. Juanjo Gimenez – It starts as a check for a woman on a security job during the day. One day she learns of a broken car light. Upon viewing the video of what happened, she sees the worker before her dancing before hitting the car. She decides to give him a dancing video of her own. Video after video follows. Then on their last day, magic happens.

At first you think the man is something eccentric but this story builds into something that ends on a bizarre note. A very good film.

And there are my thoughts on this year’s nominated shorts. Now remember both categories are the hardest to predict the winner. For example, last year the consensus of critics ranked Stutterer the least likely to win Best Live Action Short and it won. Even Annie wins for Piper and Pear Cider and Cigarettes are not a guarantee that either will win.

With my shorts predictions out of the way, I just have my main predictions for all the categories to deliver. But not before my last Best Picture summary. Coming up tomorrow morning.