Monday, January 30, 2012

The Real World on Films

Before I take a look back at some other Oscar years, I thought I'd ponder over the Documentary offerings a bit. Those who care about such things might know that this category has been historically fraught with some sort of controversy.

Even given my status as "interested party", I know relatively little about what makes this category a controversial one. I do know it has to do with the rules of academy voting which are, apparently, different than the other major categories. Those eligible to vote are also different. This year's big stink revolves around new requirements that a film wishing to be considered for a Best Doc nom must have been reviewed by both the NYTimes and LA Times. Seems reasonable to me, but then again, I am unfamiliar with the nuance objections to the other side.

And I'm glad.

I'll admit I've acquired a large arsenal of critical baggage that often ruins casual movie-going. While I wouldn't change it, I kinda like that I can't assume what constitutes a traditional Best Documentary nominee. More than generally speaking, I'm in synch with how the film critic collective feels about the year's nominated films. In fact, just today I was listening to archived episodes of Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR and thrilled when David Edelstein explained the split in critical opinion on 2004's Best Pic Winner, Million Dollar Baby, calling the film, "a crude and obvious melodrama dressed up in moody art-house clothes."

But I digress...

I first became aware of the disconnect between "popular" and "nomination committee" documentaries back in 1994 when the media was predicting that Hoop Dreams would not only win the Best Doc category, but would be likely be nominated for Best Picture (which would have been the first). It ended up being nominated for neither. This year, I managed to see one doc in the theater (Buck, which I loved and highly recommend). I wanted to see the Interrupters (a film by the Hoop Dreams team that I'd heard about on NPR but missed the week-long run it had as a special feature at the Wexner Center). Both were speculated to be Oscar contenders but neither were nominated

As far as the documentary category at the Oscar telecast, I can remember the year Michael Moore won and invited the other nominees up on stage and proceeded to oppose the Iraq war that had just been declared the week before. The topic of whether political statements are appropriate at the ceremony aside, I was amused by the reaction of some of the other nominees who clearly did not expect this. Of course, it could be argued that it would be foolish to follow someone like Michael Moore's blind lead if were not at least vaguely familiar with his agenda. But still...

I can only hope for some kind of interesting display this year.