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.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Most of you know Spike Jonze for his wonderfully creative fictional films (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are), but Jonze is hoping documentary lovers will love the recent release of Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak.
The 40 minute documentary focuses on Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are. Jonze developed a relationship with the writer 15 years ago and have remained close friends ever since. Like most documentaries, the film came from a simple desire to capture Sendak's thoughts on the adaptation of his book and quickly spiraled into a lengthier project on his life.
Personally, I'm a big fan of the short story Where the Wild Things Are and Spike Jonze, so I can't wait to see this film. There's no official website, so I can't point you to a trailer, I can however point you to a fascinating interview about the documentary over at New York Magazine.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Modern dance isn't exactly a fan favorite for most people in the world. Oh sure, people love to dance, but when it comes to watching a modern dance show? Well maybe I just don't know the right people, but I think people would prefer to see something else.
Perhaps that rational should be changed though. Especially considering the recently released documentary Breath Made Visible about dance pioneer Anna Halprin. Now I know most of you may not know who she is, but her influence on modern art and belief that dance can heal, transform and teach anyone at any age is reason enough to be intrigued.
Head on over to the film's website to watch the trailer and then sashay your way over to your nearest theater to catch this entertaining and inspiring documentary. In case you are curious, the film is directed by Ruedi Gerber.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Despite only passing away in January, it's already been announced that J.D. Salinger, the author who penned Catcher in the Rye, will be the subject of a soon to be released documentary this spring. Though this is not a Michael Jackson like parallel.
According to Hollywood Insider, screenwriter Shane Salerno (Armageddon and Shaft)(... wait, what?!?) spent the past five years secretly filming a documentary about the author. It started as a five month project but turned into an obsession featuring 150 interviews ranging from those close to Salinger to people influenced by his writings. It isn't known if Salerno was able to interview the reclusive author directly, but there is word that several never-before-seen photographs and footage will be featured.
Even more astounding then the documentary being released is the fact that it has remained such a well kept secret for so long. Rumors are that anyone connected with the project had to sign non-disclosure agreements and post production facilities were only able to handle 20% of the footage at a time. Needless to say, that is some impressive lockdown for any film, much less a biographically based documentary.
Salerno is aiming for a premier at Cannes in May so that should give you just enough time to re-read Salinger's classic novel Catcher in the Rye to brush up on your literary lingo. I for one have dug up my old, dusty copy from underneath my uneven table to do just that.