Once again the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences have baffled me. Over the weekend they released their shortlist of the 15 features which will be vying for the oscar for Best Documentary Feature. They are…
Battle for Brooklyn
Bill Cunningham New York
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
The Loving Story
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Semper Fi: Always Faithful
Sing Your Song
Under Fire: Journalists in Combat
We Were Here
Now first of all, I am absolutely thrilled to see Hell and Back Again in there. It was the best film I saw at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival last spring, and the film-maker Danfung Dennis was a true gent as well as an incredibly talented man. Dennis is a stills photographer who shot Hell and Back Again on a Canon 5D Mark II with a custom-built rig (see his twitpic), creating the most immersive shots I’ve ever seen be they in a feature film, documentary or computer game. It’s well worth watching the trailer if you have a minute to spare.
While I’m sad to see Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss, Susan Saladoff’s Hot Coffee and Constance Marks and Philip Shane’s Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey ommited from the list, there is no omission more glaring than that of Asif Kapadia’s Senna.
The movie tells the story of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna’s life from Sao Paolo to his fatal crash in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Whether you’re a fan of Formula One or not, this is an absolutely flawless documentary with more heart and emotion than any scripted movie. Its “characters”, “plot” and structure could have made for a really solid biopic, but the wealth of archive footage and interviews available meant there was no need. If you haven’t seen this, then see it. Laugh at his ladies. Boo the Frenchman. Marvel at his driving. Cry at the crash.
It did well at the box office and scored incredibly well with the critics and yet it looks like once again this has no bearing on the Academy’s choices. There had even been talk of Senna receiving a nod in other categories like editing and sound, but this now seems unlikely after its omission from the list for documentaries
It has happened before, with Grizzly Man, Hoop Dreams, Why We Fight and King of Kong all being notable examples that have failed to find any traction.
Now and again a film like Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop, Murderball or Supersize Me sneaks in there, but nowadays it seems they like to have this as Oscar night’s “ISSUES” category. Last year alongside Banksy’s film we saw films about war (Restrepo), the environment (Waste Land and Gasland) and the economic crisis (Inside Job).
This longlist of 15 comes from a longer list of 124 entrants which the Academy’s documentary branch screening committee then whittle down. We’ll find out which five make the nominations list on January 24th.
We’ll complain about that too.