Saturday, November 21, 2009

What were these voters thinking???


Hoop Dreams was not only the best documentary of 1994, it was also that year's best picture. Just a little more than two weeks ago, film critic Roger Ebert called it "the great American documentary." Crumb, another magnificent documentary from that same year, was superior to four of the five of the films nominated for best picture (Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Quiz Show and The Shawshank Redemption). Yet neither film was even among the five finalists for the best documentary feature of that year.

The committee chosen to name the final five continues to be an embarrassment to the Motion Picture Academy and to film lovers everywhere. This year they did it again by not only announcing the 15 docs from which they will select the final five, but once again omitting the two of the best documentaries of the year from that list of 15. And, no, I'm not referring to Michael Moore's much talked- about Capitalism: A Love Story. I would put it ahead of some of the films on the current list of 15, but, unlike some film fans, I certainly don't think it deserves an Oscar nomination. (Some even went so far to say that since the best picture list was expanded to 10 nominations this year, Moore's film would make that list).

I'm convinced the omission of Anvil! The Story of Anvil and Tyson from the list proves just how out-of-touch these selectors how and just how irrelevant this category has become. Should a film be nominated for the social significance of its message or how effectively it delivers its message? I would argue the latter; the documentary selection committee obviously feels "redeeming values," however the hell you define that, trumps expertise in filmmaking. How else do you explain the sloppily made Under Our Skin making the shortlist, or Burma VJ or Mugabe and the White African? One wag told me he didn't think an Oscar committee came up with this list; she thought it came from Mother Teresa.

I'm not saying some very good films aren't on the final 15. The year's best documentary, Food, Inc., a horrific look at what we eat, and Every Little Step, an up-close-and-personal observation on casting Broadway's A Chorus Line revival, are both on there. But the omission of Anvil, the story of the best heavy metal band I never heard of (Metallica was an opening act for these guys), and Tyson, which puts viewers inside the head of the most frightening sports figure this country has ever produced, is absolutely shameful. A disgrace.

Somehow, some way, the Academy must come up with a new method for choosing the nominees in the documentary feature category.

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