Another year, another collection of wonderful films to watch. Have you seen the nominations for the 2022 Oscars yet? Other than the critically acclaimed film Dune (2021), a Japanese film, Drive My Car (2021) has also been nominated for Best Picture, beside Best International Feature Film. Did you know? Films from Malaysia have also been sent to the Oscars to be nominated for Best International Feature Film. The process is not as easy as sending the film and waiting to be nominated.
There are actually three stages altogether when it comes to the final nomination list. The National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS) is the one responsible for hand-picking which Malaysian film is suitable to be a representative to the Oscars. Once they have chosen which film, they will send it, consequently going through the first stage of the process. The second stage is when the film will be short-listed, and the third and final stage is the nomination list, which will be represented at the award ceremony, waiting for the moment whether the film will win or not.
A few of the films listed under this article have been sent by FINAS to be representative of Malaysian films to the Oscars. Unfortunately, all of them have never reached the second stage of the process, which is the shortlisting. The only Malaysian film that reached the short-listed stage is Upin & Ipin: Keris Siamang Tunggal (2019) for Best Animated Feature Film. Even though no Malaysian film has ever reached the final stage of the process, many aspiring Malaysian filmmakers are on their way to create beautiful films in the future. Perhaps one day, we will be able to witness a Malaysian Film to receive Best International Feature Film (or more!)
10 Oscar Worthy Malaysian Films To Watch
Most of the films listed in this article have become representative to the Oscars, but the others are critically acclaimed, and a few are hidden gems that have both wonderful acting and story-telling. Some films might not be your cup of tea, but it would not hurt to at least watch it once in your lives. Perhaps the film might end up being one of your favourites. Here are 10 Oscar worthy Malaysian Films for you to watch. You can read the article here if you are also interested in Literature written by Malaysian writers.
Prebet Sapu (2021)
Prebet Sapu (Hail, Driver!) is a Malaysian drama film directed by Muzzamer Rahman and released on December 16, 2021. The film follows Aman, a colour-blind illegal e-hailing driver, through his experiences delivering passengers in the late hours of the night in Kuala Lumpur, as well as his friendship with Bella, a mystery escort.
The picture is shot entirely in black and white, which emphasizes the fact that the protagonist is colour-blind. Despite not being nominated for an Academy Award, the picture garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews. Aside from the stunning photography and superb performance by Amerul Affendi, this is a must-see film for its message on the difficulties of life in a major metropolis.
If you enjoy horror movies, you will enjoy this one. This indie folk horror film, directed by Emir Ezwan, is modest in production yet rich in symbolism and cinematography. The film is set in the past and follows the tale of a family living in the woods who are visited by a strange little girl who brings with her a terrifying prophecy.
The film earned positive reviews from critics all around the world, including praise for its use of Malay mythology. Roh has also been hailed as a standout in Malaysian filmmaking and as part of a new movement of low-budget folk horror films from Southeast Asia. Roh was shot in a Dengkil forest, south of Kuala Lumpur, over the course of two weeks. It had an RM360,000.00 budget. Malay mythology, Islamic traditions, and black magic are all featured in the film.
M for Malaysia (2019)
This documentary is well worth your time if you enjoy documentaries. It records the 2018 Malaysian general election and was released on September 12th, 2019 in Malaysia, by Dian Lee and Ineza Rousille. From campaigning through election night, the film chronicles the 14th general elections (GE14) in May 2018, which saw historic milestones such as Pakatan Harapan taking control of the government and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad becoming Prime Minister for the second time.
The film also deals on delicate themes and scandals that arose during Mahathir Mohamad’s first term as Prime Minister, such as Anwar Ibrahim’s Operation Lalang and the Reformasi movement; Najib Razak’s corruption; and Mahathir Mohamad’s personal life and family. Several politicians, including Wan Azizah and Lim Guan Eng, are interviewed.
Mencari Rahmat (2019)
Mencari Rahmat is a 2017 Malaysian adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), written and directed by Al Jafree Md Yusop. The adaptation process took 10 years, from 1991 to its eventual performance at The Actor’s Studio in Kuala Lumpur. The adaptation process from the original play was never intended for a film, instead it was an attempt to localize the story into contemporary society that can be performed for the Malaysian audience.
The idea of turning the adapted play into film came about in 2016. It was later premiered at the 2017 Kota Kinabalu Film Festival as a representative among other 18 countries. The film was described by the organizer as a “sophisticated and witty” black comedy. If you are curious about the Malay adaptation of the famous play, this is one that deserve your attention.
Quek Shio Chuan’s Guang (Chinese: 光) is a Malaysian drama film released in 2018. The film depicts the challenges of an autistic young man with a secret musical skill, as well as his connection with his brother, as he tries to find work. It is published to great praise and was released in China on November 6, 2020.
It is based on the director’s 2011 short film of the same name. This film took home four awards at the 30th Malaysian Film Festival, notably Best New Director, Best New Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction, all of which were well-deserved. Gather your tissues and prepare to be wowed by this visually attractive and gorgeous flick.
Ola Bola (2016)
Chiu Keng Guan directed the 2016 Malaysian sports football film Ola Bola. The glory of the Malaysian national football team, who qualified for the 1980 Summer Olympics, was the inspiration for the film. On January 28, 2016, the film was released in Malaysian theatres. Surprisingly, the film was excluded from the 28th Malaysia Film Festival because it did not meet the 70% national language criteria, which is Bahasa Malaysia.
However, due to public outcry and a boycott by celebrities and the public, FINAS reversed the disqualification and instead created a new category, Best Film in the National Language (for films that fits the 70 percent requirement). Personally, I think it’s important to view a film advocating unity regardless of colour in order to battle prejudice in real life. As the saying goes, life imitates art.
Lelaki Harapan Dunia (2015)
Men Who Save the World (Lelaki Harapan Dunia) is a comedy film written and directed by Liew Seng Tat that was co-produced worldwide in 2014. The film was chosen as Malaysia’s entry for the 88th Academy Awards‘ Best Foreign Language Film category, although it was not nominated. The film, however, had its international debut on August 6, 2014 at the 67th Locarno International Film Festival.
On September 4, 2014, it had its North American premiere at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. The film received mixed reviews, including appreciation for its humour and beautiful cinematography. Critics were also more focused on the lack of actresses in the picture, as well as the homosexuality and racism. Regardless, this is a film worth seeing for its beauty as well as the hilarious and insightful message about traditional “kampung” superstitions.
KIL is a Malaysian mystery drama film directed by Nik Amir Mustaph that was released in 2013. The title of the film is a pun on the words “kill” and “Akil,” the latter of which is the name of the main character, a timid and melancholy young man who views suicide as his only option. After multiple failed suicide attempts, Akil engages the Life Action Bureau (LAB) to assist him in his suicide. As his death date approaches, he falls in love with Zara, a girl he meets.
However, as a result of this contact, he begins to have second thoughts about dying. Redza Minhat and Cristina Suzanne feature in the film. Aside from the well-written tale, the film’s cinematography alone makes it worth seeing. The film received four awards from seven nominations at the Anugerah Skrin 2013 (including Best Film) and five awards from eleven nominations at the 26th Malaysian Film Festival (including Best Picture).
Bunohan is a Malaysian drama thriller film written and directed by Dain Iskandar Said, which was released on March 8, 2012 in Malaysia. The film joins a few previous Malaysian films that focus on the lives of people from the East Coast state of Kelantan, whether they live there or have relocated elsewhere in the nation. In February 2013, the film was chosen as Malaysia’s official entry for the 85th Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film nomination, although it did not make the final shortlist.
Bunohan, on the other hand, received the NETPAC Award at the 2011 Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. Bunohan also had its international premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, where it received critical acclaim for its strong, visceral storytelling and captivating visuals. For its dramatic performance, gorgeous cinematography, and 100% amazing usage of the Kelantanese language throughout the film, this film is absolutely worth watching.
Puteri Gunung Ledang (2004)
Saw Teong Hin directed Puteri Gunung Ledang, a Malaysian epic fantasy period film released in 2004. The story is based on a Malay tale about the Gunung Ledang princess, who is claimed to have dwelt on the summit of Gunung Ledang, and a Malaccan sultan’s attempt to woo her. With a production budget of $4 million, it was Malaysia’s first big-budget picture. This was Malaysia’s first official Academy Award submission, although it was not selected for the long list.
However, during the Malaysian Film Festival in 2004, Puteri Gunung Ledang took home five honours, including Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Music Score. Tiara Jacquelina received Best Actress and Best Producer at the first Asian Festival of First Films in Singapore, as well as Best Actress at the 50th Asia Pacific Film Festival (2005). Because of its outstanding acting and cinematography, this beautiful and emotional film based on a well-known Malay legend is absolutely one to watch.