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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Countdown To Oscar: Best Documentary

Every year, it is inevitable that the Oscars will come around and I will have had the chance to see, at most, one of the nominated documentaries. This year is no different, as I’ve only had the chance to see Man On Wire, so I can’t personally attest to the cinematic value of 4/5s of the nominees, though I’ve heard nothing but good things about Trouble The Water and Encounters At the End of the World.

Looking at past winners, it’s hard to really find a pattern that illuminates the direction in which the Academy might go this year. Judging by the past, the Academy likes documentaries about the Holocaust (not applicable this year) and about the lives of Americans (very applicable this year).

The Betrayal

Directors: Ellen Kuras, Thavisouk Phrasavath

A chronicle of one family’s forced emigration from Laos during the Vietnam War. The film won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and is nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.

Encounters At The End of The World

Director: Werner Herzog, Henry Kaiser

This film comes from that great, mad genius Werner Herzog, who has taken his camera to Antarctica to meet the men and women pursuing scientific endeavours there. The film is also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.

The Garden

Director: Scott Hamilton Kennedy

A David and Goliath story about a community garden in South Central Los Angeles under threat of being bulldozed so that a developer can build a warehouse in its place. I’m a bit surprised that this one is eligible to be nominated since it appears that it hasn’t been released in theatres yet, just screened at a film festival (then again I'm usually pretty baffled by the rules governing nominations for Documentary and Foreign Features).

Man On Wire

Director: James Marsh

This year's critical darling about the man who wire-walked between the Twin Towers has been cleaning up in awards thus far, which would suggest that it’s the front runner. I think, however, that this may actually work against it with the Academy, which may go a different way simply to avoid being derivative.

Trouble The Water

Director: Tia Lessin, Carl Deal

A first-hand account of survival in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I think that if any film is going to steal Man On Wire’s thunder, it’ll be this one. Trouble The Water and Man On Wire are the only two nominees also nominated for the PGA for Best Documentary.

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