eisenstein-in-guanajuatoGuessing the award winners of the annual Berlinale Film Festival is a prognosticator’s dream – but not because the selections are obvious or easy. No, quite the opposite. The announcements that come at a grand ceremony on the penultimate evening of the event can be so random that no one – critic or casual observer – can be faulted for failing to see it coming. “Example?” you might ask, channeling your inner Samuel L. Jackson. Well, just like John Travolta replied, in Europe, it’s the little differences. Last year, the International Jury could have chosen between two eventual Academy Award nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood for the Golden Bear for Best Film. Instead, the nod went to a rather average Hitchcock wannabe film noir from China, Bai Ri Yan Huo (Black Coal, Thin Ice).

Whether that decision was a matter of compromise, competence, or corruption will never be determined. In other years, the winners have been equally curious, but their selection could be attributed to an overall weak field. That does not appear to be the case with the 65th edition of Berlinale that begins this Thursday, February 5. Among the 23 directors in the Competition category are Kenneth Branagh, Peter Greenaway, Wim Wenders, Terrence Malick, Werner Herzog, and Jafar Panahi. (Note that Branagh and Wenders are not eligible for awards as their films, Cinderella and Every Thing Will Be Fine, are among the four films in the category that are being shown out of competition.)

Let’s begin with Malick, who will premiere what is only his seven feature film, Knight of Cups. Unless the entire film is as impenetrable and alienating as the Sean Penn sequence from The Tree of Life (hey, even Penn admitted he didn’t know what the hell was going on), it’s hard to see this one leaving town without some hardware. Could be best film, could be best director. Christian Bale stands a decent chance of getting some love as best actor, although his slumming in comic book movies may be too recent for this crowd.

Herzog is another contender for the director honors, although his film, Queen of the Desert, a biopic based on the life of Gertrude Bell, the female Lawrence of Arabia, looks too conventional to contend. Still, Nicole Kidman could be in the running for best actress as she gets to bounce off of a considerable amount of male eye candy including Damian Lewis, Robert Pattinson, and James Franco. (And, yes, James Franco does appear in every single one of the nearly 400 films screening at this year’s festival. The guy works like he’s got Nicolas Cage’s tax bill).

Panahi’s new movie, Taxi, looks more like a poke in the eye to the Iranian authorities who have unsuccessfully tried to muzzle him than a fully developed project, and while his ongoing bravery and artistic integrity deserve continuing recognition, he’s already bagged a couple of Bears in his day (Pardé in 2013 and Offside in 2006). No, the wild card here is Greenaway with his work, Eisenstein in Guanajuato. This movie could have the combination of artistry and politics that the Berlin judges traditionally go for.

Hometown sentiment rests with Als wir träumten (As We Were Dreaming), based on a popular German novel depicting life in Leipzig, Germany, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of East and West. That landmark event had its 25th anniversary last autumn, and the reverberations are still felt every day in the capital city. The Polish film Body could sneak in and snare the screenwriting award, while actress Alba Rohrwacher could provide a similar surprise by winning best actress for her work in Vergine giurata (Sworn Virgin).

The likelihood of any this coming to pass will be only slightly clearer once screenings begin, but in the meantime, let’s enjoy a unfettered opportunity to speculate. Here then are one critic’s predictions best guesses:

Golden Bear for Best Film – Knight of Cups

Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize – Als wir träumten

Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize for a feature film that opens new perspectives – Eisenstein in Guanajuato

Silver Bear for Best Director – Werner Herzog

Silver Bear for Best Actress – Alba Rohrwacher (Vergine giurata)

Silver Bear for Best Actor – Elmer Bäck (Eisenstein in Guanajuato)

Silver Bear for Best Script – Body

Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution in the categories camera, editing, music, score, costume or set design – Yi bu zhi yao (Gone with the Bullets)

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