Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Oscar Documentary Challenge

I’m not the first blogger to catch this, but I’ll blog away. Netflix has four out of the five documentaries nominated for the Oscars available for streaming. I am committing to watching these four before Oscar night on March 2nd.

I’ve heard great things about The Act of Killing and the seriousness of the subject matter makes it a strong contender for the prize. Lacking a documentary about THE Holocaust, which usually means an automatic victory in the documentary category (unless a film is up against another Holocaust doc), a film about genocide would seem to be the closest thing we have this year. The synopsis on IMDB just sounds insane: “A documentary that challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.”
I’ve mentioned this Netflix exclusive before. The Square draws its name from the site of the unrest in Cairo, Egypt. The documentary could be a contender because it’s topical and current, and quite possibly relevant and relatable than the others in the category. The IMDB synopsis: “A group of Egyptian revolutionaries battle leaders and regimes, risking their lives to build a new society of conscience.” I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it should be interesting.

I had never heard of this one before the nominations had come out. The IMDB synopsis: “This candid New York love story explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of famed boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband’s assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own.” Well, I’m not sold on this one. It could very well be interesting, but if I don’t appreciate their art, or find it all pretentious, this one might be tedious. I don’t see this one winning, but I’m keeping an open mind about it.
This is also not a title I’ve heard of, but the director, Rick Rowley, has a familiar face.Dirty Wars also deals with the Middle East and terrorism: “Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill is pulled into an unexpected journey as he chases down the hidden truth behind America’s expanding covert wars..” 
The one documentary that I have seen is only available on DVD from Netflix. 20 Feet From Stardom shines the light on the singers in the background who have the most amazing voices, have recorded some of the greatest moments in rock and pop history (The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, for example), and have been criminally ignored and practically stolen from by the music industry. “Backup singers live in a world that lies just beyond the spotlight. Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we’ve had no idea who these singers are or what lives they lead, until now.” A well done documentary, but will the subject matter be “important” enough for the Academy? It was definitely a crowd pleaser when I saw it in the theater.
My IMDB Rating: 8/10
My Netflix rating: 4/5
So I have enough time to watch the other four documentaries over the next 5 weeks, and post the reviews here. I’ll have my winner before March 2. Right now of course, 20 Feet From Stardom is in first place!

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