Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby nightwingnova » Sat Feb 25, 2017 4:48 pm

We should probably consider whether voters may think the OJ story has been done too many times.

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby The Original BJ » Wed Feb 22, 2017 8:08 pm

Life, Animated was a bit more interesting than I expected it would be. The movie clearly adopts the position that Disney movies saved this kid's life, a take which I'm assuming will flatter many in Hollywood who hope their work has resonance for people beyond entertainment. But I also thought the film wasn't oblivious to the downsides of having one's entire worldview shaped by Disney animation, particularly in the thread that follows Owen's challenges with his romantic relationship. I do think the movie is a bit out of its weight class here -- certainly the struggles of living with (or caring for someone with) autism are worthy of exploration, but placed alongside the other films, it seems lightweight.

Fire at Sea (which is available to rent on iTunes for anyone wanting to catch it before the ceremony), has some very moving footage of refugees fleeing mostly North African countries en route to a small Italian island. I imagine this subject matter (also on display in numerous Doc Short nominees) will have obvious resonance at the moment for any voter seeking to make a statement about the U.S.'s involvement (or increasing lack thereof) in our world's current refugee crisis. But I also wonder if the movie's other half, which follows the daily life of a young boy on this island whose existence is only tangentially affected by refugees, will strike some voters as off-topic, or at least less compelling than the genuinely heartbreaking portion of the film.

I'm not sure that Sonic was necessarily wrong to assume that 13th had this prize in the bag when it opened, simply because in many years, a film this timely, from a well-known director, which really struck a chord with people, WOULD be the easy winner in this category. (I saw plenty of enthusiastic posts on Facebook about this movie, most of which came from people who I wouldn't remotely call documentary enthusiasts.) I think the movie has a compelling thesis, and covers an impressive bit of ground as it details how various periods in American history led to the current situation with America's prison system. I don't think the movie, which features a lot of talking heads, quite kicks into the "I've never seen anything like this before" terrain, my own personal rubric for judging a documentary great-great. But it's certainly a worthy effort.

I Am Not Your Negro struck me as an overall more innovative piece of work, and the way Raoul Peck constructs almost an essay film using Baldwin's voice-over, clips of the activist, and a whole cornucopia of cultural images is dazzling, creating a whole flurry of meanings out of the juxtaposition between images and sound, and from one image to another. The film's box office success this last weekend suggests it's connecting with people on both an emotional and academic level, and it certainly feels like a timely film for America's current racial moment.

O.J.: Made in America is really a staggering piece of work, using the O.J. Simpson trial as a jumping off point for a kaleidoscopic portrait of race in America over several decades, the rise of news-as-entertainment, and the culture of celebrity that seems to have reached its zenith (or nadir, depending on your point of view) in recent years. The question, of course, it TV or is it a movie?

It's an interesting conundrum. One could certainly make the argument that because it was produced by ESPN, and aired in five segments on ESPN, it's television, no matter the Oscar-qualifying release. And yet, most everyone I know who watched 13th saw it on Netflix while sitting on their couches -- should that also be considered unquestionably television? Or, one could make the argument that, at nearly eight hours, O.J. is clearly well beyond the scope of a traditional movie. But there have been other long films -- notably documentaries -- all of which people widely consider movies, regardless of length. At the same time, I've read arguments from people making the case that O.J. is a movie because of how qualitatively GOOD it is, which strikes me as nonsense -- there's plenty of impressive television these days, and I don't think it demeans O.J. to consider it part of that medium. Regardless, the vagaries of documentary release strategies seem to have created this perfect storm -- I doubt people would consider The People vs. O.J. Simpson a movie if FX had dropped all ten hours into a theater for a week, but the more varied ways in which documentaries reach audiences these days make ESPN's project more fuzzier in terms of perception.

I guess my take would be, the rules are the rules, and if the rules allow you to qualify for an Oscar by screening in theaters for a week, then O.J. played by the rules, and should be eligible. (If I were pitching rule adjustments, I'd want to make the argument that the same project shouldn't be eligible for BOTH the Oscar and the Emmy -- if you want to be considered a movie, you shouldn't also be able to make the argument that you're a tv show too.)

So I guess we'll see whether or not this controversy sinks O.J. My hunch is, it won't, given how enthusiastically film awards groups have lined up behind O.J., establishing it as a consensus pick for Best Documentary of the year. But if enough voters think it's gaming the system, then I could definitely see I Am Not Your Negro or 13th surprising.

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Feb 22, 2017 5:48 pm

Four-of-five seems to be my theme this year: it's what I've seen among foreign, animated and documentary films. Fire at Sea is my missing credit here.

Life, Animated felt the tiniest bit like a vanity project to me: if Ron Suskind weren't a semi-prominent DC writer, I'm not sure he'd have been able to stir up interest in the project. I also have a stylistic objection: the film faithfully covers the kid's life up to a point where he's asked to leave the school he's been attending -- but then it never tells us what happened after that; it just moves on to the older/young adult-group, followed by the successful move out that provides the reasonably happy ending. Maybe I missed something, but it felt like a big gap.

I recounted my issues with The 13th in the review thread. It's got political heft, but might not go over well with people still nursing grief over Hillary's loss.

I Am Not Your Negro is just as challenging to the white status quo, but, for me, more consistently powerful. The film has unexpectedly taken off at the box-office: it looks to become the big financial success of the group, and its success has come at just the right time.

But then there's OJ -- a very impressive piece of filmmaking whose only obstacle to winning will be the question, is it really a film, or an extended TV show? Getting past the documentary branch nominating committee may have been it's toughest hurdle, but maybe not -- there are at least some people griping it's a carpetbagging effort...and others who are just unwilling to sit through the entire 8-plus hours.

The again: we don't know how many people even bother to vote in this category...and whether some of those that do just echo the critical consensus, which is OJ by a wide margin.

My feeling: it's OJ unless these issues drown it out...and if they do, it's I Am Not Your Negro.

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Feb 22, 2017 3:53 am

Though I'm predicting O.J. as well, I also agree that Life, Animated or I Am Not Your Negro could be 'surprise' winners. I some respects the running times of O.J & 13th might actually work against them.
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Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby anonymous1980 » Wed Feb 22, 2017 3:38 am

The nominees:

Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
OJ: Made in America

This is another interesting race. Even though OJ is probably the de facto front-runner here, I hear there are some Academy members who think its inclusion here is bullshit and that it is a TV miniseries who only got in here due to a technicality. But what can beat it? Fire at Sea is about the refugee crisis in Europe so it wins points for relevancy but having seen it, the film has a structure which may not appeal to voters. People dismiss Life, Animated because it is the lightest and the most feel good of the group. But that's precisely why I think it has a shot at winning. But I think if anything can take down OJ it's the other two documentaries about the African-American experience. I saw 13th last night and though as a film it wasn't perfect, I can see its IMPORTANCE getting a lot of checks from voters. But I'm still predicting OJ.

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