The Academy Awards are this Sunday night and though we have constantly voiced our disapproval of the Oscar selection process in our genre, we'd be remiss not to give our official opinion on who will win the best documentary award.
The issue with documentaries is the lack of access fans have to the features. In fact, only two of this year's 5 nominees had a national theatrical run. Because of this it is harder to gauge the winner because you have to weigh "access" into the equation. So with that in mind we break down for you our picks and our process.
Winner: The Cove - besides The Cove being the best film of the group, there's other reasons why it should win. First, it had the largest release and greatest amount of press. Only 2004's Born into Brothels and 2007's Taxi to the Dark Side beat out more publicized or widely seen nominees, and both had fairly successful runs themselves. Second, The Cove features controversial/political subject matter. The Academy likes their documentaries to be divisive, or at least stir up debate and only Food, Inc matches it in this category. Finally, whenever possible, feature animals. The Academy loves animals and The Cove takes our love of Flipper and twists it just enough to churn our stomachs. This is a film running on full Oscar cylinders and should easily streak across the finish line.
Dark horse candidate #1: Burma VJ - if the American public were even remotely adequate at remembering modern international history (ok any sort of history), Burma VJ would easily win. Even today, this groundbreaking documentary not only tells a fascinating story, but does so in an innovative way and at great risk to the people filming that its hard to ignore it sneaking under the radar and claiming victory. However, it will most likely fall short because few people remember the uprising in Burma and even fewer people have seen this film due to it's insanely limited release.
Dark horse candidate #2: The Most dangerous Man in America - this is another candidate to win because it covers the pentagon papers and the exposing of a major government scandal. It has also received a lot of praise in the media recently, which means it could be fresh on the minds of voters. But, like Burma VJ, it had such a limited run that it will be hard pressed to overcome the odds.
Unlikely to win: Food, Inc. - when the nominees were first announced, Food, Inc. was considered a dark horse, but has since fallen on my list for two reasons. One, it's just not that great of a film. Sure, it's good, but it doesn't compare to the quality of the other documentaries and really probably doesn't even deserve this nomination. Two, despite a fairly large theatrical run and decent press early on, there has been practically nothing in the media about Food, Inc. which is surprising since it was meant to be a controversial film. Even the farming industry it attacks has avoided being too outspoken until recently, which means even they don't think the film is going to get much praise. With that said, there's always a slim chance this sneaks in and steals the show (and I do mean steal).
No shot at winning: Which Way Home - probably the least discussed nominee. Though the few people who have seen this film have praised it's work, it misses on all the marks necessary for winning the Oscar: unknown to the public and it avoids controversial topics. Its nomination is a testament to the quality of the film making, but this would be a huge shocker if it wins.