Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

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Mister Tee
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Feb 21, 2015 11:29 pm

I can't offer much informed commentary about this category, being under-educated -- a year after seeing all five nominees prior to showtime, I've only managed one this time around (the Vietnam film).

Seems to me the only question is, Citizenfour, up or down? Meaning: in terms of market penetration and critical endorsement, there's no question Poitras' film is the prime contender. But I think there will be substantial resistance to the film in certain circles, for the reasons BJ intimates. In fact, when Poitras pushed Glenn Greenwald forward at the Spirits today, I have to say it got my back up: I find Greenwald the smuggest of smug lefties, a guy who declared Obama a horrible president pretty much on Inauguration Day, and his participation in the entire Snowden affair is what made me stay away from the film in theatres. Many people I've heard championing the film have seemed to fall into a similar, shallow "screw the man!" demo; I obviously respect BJ's take more, and it makes me open to the film. I'd be happy to watch now (for free)....but, for reasons best known to them, HBO has opted to air it this Monday night -- which works well if it wins, but if it falls short they might wish they'd made it available earlier.

Anyway...if the old "must attend screenings" rules were in effect, I'd very much bet against the film, figuring the limited poll of voters would be more the group most skeptical of the entire Snowden incident. But the Academy-wide vote makes that pool younger/more receptive AND favors the film with the widest exposure. So, Citizenfour up is likely to be the outcome.

The Original BJ
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby The Original BJ » Fri Feb 20, 2015 4:38 pm

Greg wrote:
The Original BJ wrote:I haven't seen the Ebert doc yet to know whether or not it was grievously omitted, but I found all of the actual nominees I have seen pretty compelling.


I saw Life Itself on TV on CNN. I know they repeated it after the time I saw it, but I don't know if they are still repeating it.


About a half an hour of it was cut for commercials on CNN, so I decided to wait until DVD.

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby Greg » Fri Feb 20, 2015 4:07 pm

The Original BJ wrote:I haven't seen the Ebert doc yet to know whether or not it was grievously omitted, but I found all of the actual nominees I have seen pretty compelling.


I saw Life Itself on TV on CNN. I know they repeated it after the time I saw it, but I don't know if they are still repeating it.
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby The Original BJ » Fri Feb 20, 2015 3:46 pm

As in Foreign Film, I've seen four of the nominees, and that's the most I'll see before the weekend. I haven't seen the Ebert doc yet to know whether or not it was grievously omitted, but I found all of the actual nominees I have seen pretty compelling.

The Salt of the Earth is the one I'm missing -- it was the only Indie Spirit nominee I couldn't see before voting. (Side note: sorry, if you don't send a screener, and your movie isn't in theaters, and you don't offer up an online link when I e-mail your awards office, I don't feel that bad about voting in your category without seeing your movie.) All online buzz suggests that this isn't one of Wim Wenders's great achievements, and it seems like it would be a big surprise if it prevailed.

Finding Vivian Maier is a very engaging account of a man's search to uncover the mysterious woman behind a previously undiscovered treasure trove of dazzling photographs. I felt the movie tackled a lot of interesting questions: Why do people create? How do artists exorcise their own demons through their work? What's the point of creating if your art isn't shared with the world? It's a lot less heavy than the other nominees, which didn't exactly hurt 20 Feet From Stardom last year, but that film had quite a bit more popularity, and I ultimately think the weightier options will have more luck this year.

The remaining three movies all have a similar strength to me -- watching them, you think, "how does this footage even EXIST?" Last Days in Vietnam is the most traditional of the films, in that it's history-based, and features many talking heads -- it doesn't feel as immediate as Virunga or Citizenfour. But, in its account of a fairly limited time frame, it's quite gripping, and a good amount of the footage (the sequence featuring the helicopter on the not-actually-the-embassy, the shot of the helicopter crashing into the water and the pilot resurfacing) must be seen to be believed. I rate it a possible winner, due to these elements, as well as the innate power of the material (power which I imagine will resonate even more strongly with those who lived through the events depicted).

What's impressive about Virunga is that it balances so many different elements -- the history of the Virunga park and the work of conservation activists to protect the gorilla population, the corrupt actions of the oil company seeking to poach resources from the land, the militant guerrilla warriors whose conflict further threatens the peace of the park -- into a kaleidoscopic portrait of the environment under siege. Once again, I was amazed at some of the footage that appears here, this time not even archival images -- both the hidden camera accounts of the oil mavens' deals AND the you-are-there feeling of the war footage feel like pretty incredible pieces of investigative journalism. This is another one I rate as a possible winner, if voters are looking for an upset.

I know a lot of people have been predicting against the obvious frontrunner, and I can see where they're coming from. That comment from the Hollywood Reporter article, from the voter who didn't pick Citizenfour because Edward Snowden is "annoying," is a more outrageous version of an opinion that I imagine some voters will definitely hold: that Snowden's expose of the government's surveillance actions isn't the work of someone who deserves to be lionized. But I don't think the movie does that -- instead, it's a fairly astounding account of recent history being filmed as it is happening, and I think a lot of people will be impressed, as I was, by how Laura Poitras crafted such a probing narrative out of this incredible situation she all but lucked into witnessing, no matter what you think about Snowden's actions. I'd also point out that Oscar has recently been going for the more popular entries in this category, and this is by far the most buzzy, zeitgeist-y title on the list. I think the competition is qualified enough that it wouldn't shock me if voters went another way, but I still like Citizenfour's odds.

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Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby anonymous1980 » Fri Feb 20, 2015 8:17 am

I've actually seen three of the nominees so far (CITIZENFOUR, Finding Vivian Maier and Virunga). Knowing how voting works now, the odds seem to favor the huge critical hit CITIZENFOUR HOWEVER, I do think if voters take the time to watch all five, I think Virunga stands the chance of making it since it has more emotional impact than CITIZENFOUR (though personally, I think the latter is the better-made film but not by much).


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