Categories One by One: Documentary Feature

For the films of 2015
The Original BJ
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Re: Categories One by One: Documentary Feature

Postby The Original BJ » Sun Feb 14, 2016 10:43 pm

Thanks to Netflix, this category has become significantly easier to complete prior to the Oscars in recent years. Of course, part of that has to due with the fact that an increasing number of nominees are Netflix productions. But I remember many times over the past decade having to trek to odd corners of Los Angeles at strange times to catch the rare screening of some of these nominees, a practice the past few years have all but obliterated.

I can't say I rate this a stellar crop of nominees -- I'd probably have voted for In Jackson Heights over any of the actual options, though Wiseman hasn't ever been (and likely never will be) Oscar's cup of tea.

Winter on Fire has some obviously powerful moments -- how could it not, given the subject matter? But I view it as more of an important historical document than a great piece of filmmaking. I found it, structurally and in terms of content, very reminiscent of The Square, and I tend to value documentaries that show me something I've never seen before more over those that feel familiar to other works.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is another documentary that feels very traditional to me. The portions dealing with Simone's relation to the civil rights movement (both musically and in life) were the ones that felt like they got at some interesting ideas about an artist's role in activist movements. But a lot of the rest of the movie struck me as a pretty typical music doc, and I don't think it's actually much concerned in coming up with any kind of answer to the central question posed by its title.

Cartel Land has some amazing footage -- the fact that the filmmakers were able to tag along with this group of Mexican vigilantes as they went about administering their own form of justice against the cartel members results in some truly startling moments captured on film. But I agree with anonymous that the movie is problematic, because the comparison it makes between the Mexicans defending their home towns from drug violence and the American tea party brigade out to protect the American border is a bit questionable. (Plus, the American half of the movie just isn't nearly as compelling as the Mexican half.)

I think The Look of Silence is by far the best nominee here, though I can't say I think it's as much of a wow as The Act of Killing. The earlier film truly fell into that "I've never seen this before" category -- by focusing on a group of individuals gleefully recreating the murders they actually committed, the filmmakers essentially handed their protagonists a giant rope with which to morally hang themselves, and the result was horrifying and spellbinding to watch. Look of Silence is definitely more traditional in concept -- a lot of it amounts to talking heads interviews -- but those conversations between the film's central character and the individuals directly responsible for the death of his brother are full of wrenching moments, as well as a pretty wide range of responses to the protagonist's questions. I rate this easily the most complicated and vital of the films on the ballot.

But just as Oppenheimer's earlier film lost to a music-themed documentary, I think Amy (which even the National Society of Film Critics certified) will just about run away with this prize. In the context of the other nominees, I think Amy is actually one of the better films on the ballot -- it's surprising just how many raw moments in Winehouse's personal life were caught on camera, and the film makes for a solid document of a gone-too-soon talent. But I don't think the movie is all that revealing thematically -- stories about troubled artists done in by drugs are (sadly) not especially unique. And, as someone who was quite a fan of hers, I found the fact that I was pretty familiar with the timeline of events depicted in the film -- at least beginning with the release of Back to Black in the U.S. -- made it feel even less revelatory. Not a movie without merit, but I'm pretty surprised it has just about run the table in this category this year.

Franz Ferdinand
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Re: Categories One by One: Documentary Feature

Postby Franz Ferdinand » Tue Jan 26, 2016 1:05 pm

I've seen Winter on Fire and Miss Simone thanks to Netflix, but if Look of Silence is even half as devastating as Oppenheimer's previous companion piece (and I've heard nothing to say it isn't), then it really should win. Tragic as Amy Winehouse's story is, there have been too many feel-good musical documentaries to win recently, and Act of Killing was an astounding work that didn't get its just recognition.

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Categories One by One: Documentary Feature

Postby anonymous1980 » Sun Jan 24, 2016 12:45 pm

I've officially seen all five Best Documentary Feature nominees (Thank you, Netflix Philippines free one-month trial!). Here's how I would rank them in order of personal preference:

01. The Look of Silence
02. Amy
03. Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom
04. What Happened, Miss Simone?
05. Cartel Land

Switch Silence and Amy for my rankings based on chances of winning. The Look of Silence, hands down, is the best and really SHOULD win. Although I think Amy will win since it's the most popular and most talked about in the group. Winter on Fire COULD get some underdog votes. I'd be shocked if the last two won. The Nina Simone doc is good but a far more conventional music doc compared to Amy. Cartel Land, I think, is problematic and most likely won't win either.

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