Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oscar Doc Shortlist Snubs—or Considers and Discards—Big Names

It's hard to say whether certain high-profile films missing from the Best Documentary Oscar shortlist were snubbed or if they received their due consideration. I've only seen six of the 15 shortlisted films, so I'm in no position to judge where the missing big-name docs fit in the quality spectrum. (Of the films that I missed, "Food Inc." is the only one that I had an opportunity to see.)

The omitted titles include: "Tyson," James Toback's one-on-one discussion with the peculiar, emotionally fragile boxer; "Capitalism: A Love Story," Michael Moore's attack on big business's control of the U.S. government; "The September Issue," about the making of an issue of Vogue; the touching "Anvil! The Story of Anvil", about an '80s metal band that never gave up the dream of making it big; and Davis Guggenheim's "It Might Get Loud," a multi-generational character study of three rock guitarists who did make it big. Of course, Moore (for "Bowling for Columbine") and Guggenheim (for "An Inconvenient Truth") already won Oscars in the category, although most people say that Al Gore won Guggenheim's statuette. What's the deal, Al? Two Nobels aren't enough for you?

Anyhow, the films I have seen are all worth watching. Here's a quick rundown:

The Beaches of Agnes (Agnes Varda): The best of the bunch. A beautiful autobiography by French New Wave icon Agnes Varda.

Burma VJ (Anders Ostergaard): An uneven but extremely engaging tale of brave, undercover citizen journalists.

The Cove (Louie Psihoyos): The story of dolphin abuse in Japan distilled into a thrilling heist movie.

Every Little Step (James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo): Explores both the making of "A Chorus Line" and the auditions for the Broadway revival of the famous production. The film loses track of some of its subjects through its ambitious structure, but is nevertheless a touching ode of the drive to perform.

Sergio (Greg Barker): Telling the story of Iraq through one life, Barker's documentary crosscuts between the life story of United Nations Comissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello and the mission to rescue him after the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad.

Valentino The Last Emperor (Matt Tyrnauer): Along with "The September Issue," "Valentino" is one of two documentaries this year that aim to convince the viewer that they should take fashion more seriously. It might not convince us of that, but it is a great study of the relationship dynamics between the great, egomaniacal fashion designer and his business and life partner.

And then the majority I haven't seen:
Facing Ali (Peter McCormack)
Food, Inc. (Robert Kenner)
Garbage Dreams (Mai Iskander)
Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders (Mark N. Hopkins)
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers (Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith)
Mugabe and the White African (Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey)
Soundtrack for a Revolution (Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman)
Under Our Skin (Andy Abrahams Wilson)
Which Way Home (Rebecca Cammisa)


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