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Lead Commentary

Best Documentary Shortlist

Of all of the Oscar categories the Best Documentary is the weirdest. They are almost infamous for selecting the most random films for its nominees. Critical and audience favorites like Grizzly Man will get snubbed for something that only played at one film festival. That’s not necessary a bad thing, it’s just goofy.

It is also one of the categories that unveiled its shortlist of nominees months before the official selection. Sure enough it has its good and bad marks as well. I’ve seen 9 of the 15 so here is the full list and my comments.

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. I haven’t seen this one, but this expose of the former New York Governor is getting a lot of good buzz. The DVD comes out in January.

Enemies of the People. I haven’t seen this one. It’s about the genocide of two million people in Cambodia. This sounds insanely depressing which means it has a chance.

Exit Through the Gift Shop. This is one of my absolute favorite films of the year. It’s so much fun as a puzzle and an examination of street art. It is on DVD on December 14th.

Gasland. My review for this film will be up on Sunday but I will say this is another very good entry. It’s a bit controversial, especially since Mark Ruffallo’s name is now on a watch list because of his public support of this film.

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould. Haven’t seen this one either. It’s about the beloved pianist. This is just one story, not 32.

Inside Job. Another one of my top films of the year. This one is getting a lot of attention for its intelligent and biting attack on those who may have caused the economic crisis. This is still in theatres across the country.

The Lottery. This is an amazing and well-made look at the poor state of the American educational system. This is far better than Waiting for Superman in every way. This is currently on DVD and Netflix Streaming.

Precious Life. Another one I have not seen. This is about an Israeli pediatrician and Palestinian mother trying to find a cure for her dying baby. It’s topical, but I haven’t heard anything about it.

Quest for Honor. I haven’t seen it but it’s an investigation into the killings in Kurdistan. Again very depressing.

Restrepo. In my review for the site, I praised this movie for being one of the best war documentaries in a long time. It’s now on DVD and Netflix Streaming.

This Way of Life. This played at this year’s Heartland Film Festival. It’s a charming movie about a family’s simpler and peaceful existence and what is happening to it.

The Tillman Story. Very well made movie about Pat Tillman and the political cover-up that followed his death. The DVD will be out in February.

Waiting for Superman. Incredibly overrated and simplified take on the educational system. Unfortunately it’s the frontrunner.

Waste Land. This one sounds really good. It’s about art and a landfill outside of Rio de Janeiro. The DVD will be out in March.

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe. This one is all right. Kunstler’s daughters made an interesting documentary about their father the famous civil rights lawyer. It’s on DVD and Netflix Streaming.

So what’s missing? Here are 15 films and somehow they still missed a lot of favorite documentaries from this year. Some people noted that Catfish and I’m Still Here didn’t make the list because there’s too much doubt on whether they are real or not. I think it’s just because they’re terrible movies. I think it’s more shocking that Best Worst Movie, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, and Waking Sleeping Beauty didn’t make the list. I don’t know why Hollywood doesn’t like documentaries about Hollywood. All of those had high praise and they were really innovative. Documentaries don’t have to be insanely depressing and it’s a shame they didn’t even make the shortlist.

So who will make the final five? Sadly Waiting for Superman is probably going to win which is a complete shame. Inside Job will be there and could pull an upset. Exit Through the Gift Shop and Client 9 has enough appeal to grab two spots. I want to say Restrepo will take the final slot but since this category is so freakin’ random it could really go to most of them. Just not The Lottery because they won’t do two education movies even though it’s incredibly deserving.

Are there any more documentaries you liked this year that should have been recognized? Do you have other predictions for what will be the final nominees? Are there any documentaries you still want to see?

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5 Responses to “Best Documentary Shortlist”

  1. [...] year I wrote about the shortlist for the documentaries for the Oscars. It’s a subject that puzzles me every [...]

  2. Janet Harrington says:

    I totally agree with this review. Waiting for Superman was very overrated, especially compared to The Lottery. The Lottery was amazing, and a beautiful piece of work. I believe it should be the winner for Best Documentary personally. At the least, it should lose to Waiting for Superman!

  3. Andrew Doehrman says:

    I wish the Joan Rivers documentary had made the cut.

  4. Nick Rogers says:

    Helen: I think at the very least, it’s a documentary of a very elaborate prank and thus still counts. SPOILER ALERT Even if Mr. Brainwash is a figurehead construction of Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Thierry Guetta, I think it still works as a documentary – one that, regardless of its face value, still makes salient and satirical points about the art world. END SPOILER ALERT.

  5. Helen says:

    But is Exit Through the Gift Shop a documentary?

    I didn’t think Best Worst Movie was eligible since it played at festivals last year (including the Indy Film Festival). However, I don’t pretend to understand the arcana of Oscar qualifying regs.