Friday, October 31, 2014

A Look at the 134 Best Documentary Eligible Nominees

Alejandro Jodorowsky in Jodorowsky's Dune
With the recent announcement of the Best Foreign Film nominees, it seems like the Academy isn't taking its time to get any and all information out regarding potential nominees. Up next is the field that is clogged with potential and a lot of familiar names: Best Documentary. The list of nominees were released and an impressive 134 entries are eligible for the top honor. But what will make the cut? Read on to see what all of the nominees are and my brief thoughts on the films that I have seen and the few that look to be runaway stars.

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq
Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case
Alive Inside
All You Need Is Love
America: Imagine the World without Her
American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs
Antarctica: A Year on Ice
Art and Craft
Awake: The Life of Yogananda
The Barefoot Artist
The Battered Bastards of Baseball
Before You Know It
Bitter Honey
Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity
Botso The Teacher from Tbilisi
Captivated The Trials of Pamela Smart
The Case against 8
Cesar’s Last Fast
Citizen Koch
Code Black
Concerning Violence
The Culture High
Dancing in Jaffa
Death Metal Angola
The Decent One
Dinosaur 13
Do You Know What My Name Is?
The Dog
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
Evolution of a Criminal
Fed Up
Finding Fela
Finding Vivian Maier
Food Chains
The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
Getting to the Nutcracker
Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me
Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia
The Great Flood
The Great Invisible
The Green Prince
The Hacker Wars
The Hadza: Last of the First
Hanna Ranch
Happy Valley
The Hornet’s Nest
I Am Ali
If You Build It
The Immortalists
The Internet’s Own Boy
Ivory Tower
James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge
Jodorowsky’s Dune
Journey of a Female Comic
Keep On Keepin’ On
Kids for Cash
The Kill Team
La Bare
Last Days in Vietnam
Last Hijack
The Last Patrol
Levitated Mass
Life Itself
Little White Lie
Llyn Foulkes One Man Band
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles
Merchants of Doubt
Mission Blue
Mistaken for Strangers
Monk with a Camera
Nas: Time Is Illmatic
National Gallery
Next Goal Wins
Next Year Jerusalem
Night Will Fall
No Cameras Allowed
Now: In the Wings on a World Stage
Occupy the Farm
The Only Real Game
The Overnighters
Particle Fever
Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes
Pelican Dreams
The Pleasures of Being Out of Step
Plot for Peace
Point and Shoot
Poverty Inc.
Print the Legend
Private Violence
Rabindranath Tagore – The Poet of Eternity
Red Army
Remote Area Medical
Rich Hill
The Rule
The Salt of the Earth
Shadows from My Past
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry
A Small Section of the World
Smiling through the Apocalypse – Esquire in the 60s
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
The Supreme Price
Tales of the Grim Sleeper
Tanzania: A Journey Within
This Is Not a Ball
Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence
Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People
True Son
20,000 Days on Earth
Under the Electric Sky
Underwater Dreams
Waiting for August
Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago
Warsaw Uprising
Watchers of the Sky
We Are the Giant
We Could Be King
Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger
A World Not Ours

As opposed to the Best Foreign Film category, I have seen a lot of these. Even then, there's plenty that I haven't and express curiosity in. I will be getting into those towards the end of this piece. Overall, I think that there's a lot of strong contenders on here and plenty that are worth giving a look. But first, here's my thoughts on the few that I have seen (in alphabetical order, as the list is).

The Battered Bastards of Baseball - Did you know that Kurt Russell's dad Bing Russell used to own a baseball team that was rather wild? It happened. The story itself outstrips the actual content, which is the standard mix of talking heads and archival footage mixed with a loving homage. For fans of old school baseball, this is likely a decent use of time. However, it isn't high quality documentary film making. Absent documentary No No: A Dockumentary about Dock Ellis is far more interesting and one that I felt should have been on this list.

Ivory Tower - A documentary focusing on the alternatives to high priced college learned. In an unbiased approached, it follows various paths that are informative and likely will open up audience's mind to the ways that finances and education don't always overlap. I saw it at Sundance and thought that it was excellent and given its broad overview, is probably one of the front runners off of my list based on what I have seen. 

Jodorowsky's Dune - I love this documentary. It's my favorite story about a film that doesn't exist. The artistic quality of the sketches is only topped by director Alejandro Jodorowsky's eccentric personality. It is a love letter to the craft of film making and an exemplary example of how creativity can be a negative in Hollywood. If you haven't seen it and want an enjoyably strange making of a making of documentary, please see it. Even if you don't like sci-fi, this tale of the film that could have been bigger than Star Wars is one worth noting.

Life Itself - I already reviewed it and give it high marks for its portrayal of Roger Ebert. However, it has faded in my memory not from effort, but because it was sentimental and straightforward in ways that haven't left a lasting impression. Sure, this will probably get nominated based on how much the Academy loves Ebert, but I personally am not wild enough to recommend it. Also, the later day footage, while significant, was a little too much for me.

Llyn Foulkes One Man Band - I reviewed this documentary last year on CinemaBeach and I am surprised that it still exists. I enjoyed it and Llyn Foulkes is an interesting man, but the conventional nature didn't do him much justice. In fact, it kind of detracted. I am simply surprised that it actually came out. It was just so complacent that I didn't feel like it mattered in any awards discussion.

Mistaken For Strangers - A documentary focusing on the band The National as they go on tour. It has plenty of memorable moments and a slight twinge of humor  underlying everything.I enjoyed it and I am glad to see it on this list. However, I don't think that it stands much of a chance in the race, even if I do plan to see it on the best of the year lists for various people in two months.

Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger - Most people know about Whitey Bulger, who influenced Jack Nicholson's character in The Departed. This documentary is about him finally having trial and facing the results of his action. With a lot of Boston citizens giving a tell all of the man's exploits in crime, it is horrifying, fascinating and a little bit long winded at times. Again, this is an example of the subject being more interesting than the documentary that is built around him.

Here's a few eligible titles that I have a few opinions on (again, in alphabetical order):

The Case Against 8 - It is a documentary about California's Proposition 8, which would have prevented gay marriage. When it passed, people protested. From what I gather, this is a hard hitting look at the importance of this law and why it needs to be passed. I'm not entirely sure, but considering its subject matter, I wouldn't be surprised if it stood any chance of a nomination.

Citizenfour - It's the lock. No question.

Rich Hill - It is one that I have been curious about but never really sat down and rented. It follows a group of low income children as they live their lives in rural America. From what I have heard, it is a compelling, authentic look at American society today and with compelling subjects, it is something far more interesting and relevant.

There you have it. That's the Best Documentary nominees. Who stands out to you? What do you need to catch up on? Of my disappointments, I wish that Maidentrip was on this list, as it was very good. Nonetheless, I am impressed that I have seen as many as I have already and look forward to seeing how this plays out.

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