Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

For the films of 2013
Greg
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby Greg » Sat Mar 01, 2014 4:41 pm

Weren't there some years in the past where the documentary and short subject categories were the easiest to see, in that they were all shown on PBS?

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby FilmFan720 » Fri Feb 28, 2014 9:09 pm

Tee, I remarked to some people a while ago that it is a sign of the times we live in that this was actually the easiest category to check off this year. A few days after the nominations, four of the five nominees were streaming on Netflix and the fifth was easily rent-able. I got through all of them early on in the season.

In last place here, I think, is Dirty Wars. I won't question the importance of the subject matter, but the way that it is presented is pretty rote. It does nothing much that dozens of other documentaries before it have done stylistically, and fairly quickly blends into the genre pretty unremarkably. Except that the film is less about what America has done wrong, and more about what this one journalist did awesomely. I found it way too self-congratulatory that it needed to be.

Cutie and the Boxer is a really lovely film, and one of the bigger surprises of Oscar completing for me this year. A nice, touching film that tells a lovely story in an interesting, but not distracting way.

The Act of Killing is the biggest achievement here thematically and in terms of what it got its subjects to reveal on camera. And there are a lot of really striking moments in the film. You can't question that it feels like a major work, but my guess is that of those voters who choose to watch the film (the subject matter itself got me to procrastinate it further than it should have) will, like me, have some problems with what the film is doing and whether we really should be giving these people the microphone it gave them.

I think The Square is the best of these films. I am a sucker for documentaries told more through an assemblage of unexplained, first person footage (I loved Burma VJ a few years ago) so this is right up my alley. It feels the most urgent, the most necessary but is also maybe the most narratively compelling of all the films too. I will be rooting for it on Sunday.

The winner, though, will most certainly be 20 Feet from Stardom. That isn't a bad thing, as it is a very well-made documentary, and just as important (in a more life-and-death way) than its competitors. Of the light-weight winners of this for the past few years, this is the most accomplished, and I don't begrudge it anything. It is also the easiest to digest, so in this expanded voting pool, should go down the easiest.
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby ITALIANO » Fri Feb 28, 2014 6:05 pm

I've seen only two, and of these two The Act of Killing is certainly the best, and would be a deserving winner - though it's possible that the Academy will pick something more familiar and even easier.

But Dirty Wars should be seen by everyone in America. It won't make them change their mind - they'd still go out and celebrate Osama Bin Laden's murder - but, I don't know, maybe they'd have some doubts. I believe that people CAN change. But anyway, it's good that these "alternative" (though VERY understandable) views can find their space in the US - though, I guess, in a limited way. It's an interesting, solid documentary - and the accusation (which I haven't heard only here) that it's mostly about how heroic Scahill is, well, probably - I repeat: probably - more the result of guilt feelings and discomfort than of anything else.

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Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Feb 28, 2014 5:45 pm

Unless there’s some year I’m forgetting, this is the first time I’ve ever seen all five documentary nominees prior to the Oscars – thanks of course to the miracle of VOD.

The nominees:

The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square
20 Feet from Stardom

I liked all of these, to one degree or another, which makes pinpointing the winner even more difficult.

Probably last on my list -- and I’m guessing on voters’, as well – would be Dirty Wars, which covers some interesting ground, but in the end is a bit too much about how pure Jeremy Scahill is, rather than about the facts he’s unearthing.

Cutie and the Boxer is probably too minor an effort to win, but it covers a lot of ground in a subtle way. It’s about an avant garde artist, and how he needs to struggle in the big city, but also about the wildly shifting roles of women in American society (both domestic and workplace) over the past four decades. Some points are hit squarely, but others emerge only obliquely – I wonder how many audience members are as warily befuddled at the end as the husband is. A really nice piece, even if it won’t win.

I think any of the remaining three could win. The Square seems to be getting the fewest predictions around the web, but I found it a riveting piece (even watched on my computer), ranging from the high of Mubarak’s departure to the disillusionment of the Muslim Brotherhood takeover. Might it help that, during the very peak of voting, a similar scene was being played out via worldwide TV in Ukraine?

The Act of Killing is probably the most ambitious/deserving of the five (Note: I saw the two-hour version, not the much longer earlier cut). A deadpan camera watches veteran killers not only recollect but re-enact their grisly killings, at first with a shrug, but ultimately, for some, with a sense (for maybe the first time) of what they’ve perpetrated. No other film on the slate has as much moral content; it’s like a small-scale version of The Sorrow and the Pity.

But voters may go for the less-challenging though also quite wonderful 20 Feet from Stardom, which attempts to gives background singers their long-standing due. There are a lot of great stories in the film, some of them edifying in the end (Darlene Love’s), but also some sad through-and-through, as not every singer was able to emerge from the shadows. The drawback this film may have in the race is feeling too similar in subject to last year’s winner. On the upside, though, is the fact it’s one of only two films in the category in English (this is almost a second foreign-language film category). You hear stories about members watching the DVD’s at home while multi-tasking; this is the candidate that makes that easiest to do. Plus, on the whole the film is more upbeat than the others, for those looking for that.

Under the old limited-to-screenings system, I might have predicted The Square to upset, or The Act of Killing to pull it out, but, considering the whole membership will be voting, I’m leaning toward 20 Feet.


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