Doc Talk: Oscar Winners vs. Classic Documentaries

Doc Talk is a bi-weekly column at Cinematical.com dedicated to non-fiction cinema.

Which film is more likely to become a documentary classic, ‘Inside Job’ or ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’? Regardless of our preference, we can all agree Banksy’s Oscar-losing fan favorite is a more timeless story and will likely be more enjoyable with repeat viewings. Charles Ferguson’s Academy Award-winning look at the financial crisis will certainly remain a great piece of historical document but probably won’t be revisited often for entertainment or artistic value. And sadly, like many timely docs, it could even one day be forgotten, like Lee Grant’s 1986 Oscar-winning Reagonomics critique ‘Down and Out in America,’ which is pretty obscure only 25 years later.

Before announcing the Best Picture winner Sunday night, Steven Spielberg made a comment clearly meant to appease Team ‘The Social Network’ by implying that losing the award still puts a film in good company (his examples being ‘Grapes of Wrath,’ ‘Citizen Kane,’ ‘The Graduate’ and ‘Raging Bull’). The same goes for the Best Documentary Feature award. ‘Inside Job’ joins the likes of ‘Woodstock,’ ‘Hearts and Minds,’ ‘Bowling for Columbine’ and ‘Man on Wire.’ ‘Exit,’ meanwhile, joins a group including ‘In the Year of the Pig,’ ‘Streetwise,’ ‘Capturing the Friedmans’ and ‘Encounters at the End of the World.’

Continue reading this column at Cinematical.

Should the Oscars Judge Documentaries on Cause or Craft?

I didn’t get to listen to this episode of “The Brian Lehrer Show” on the State of Documentary Film until after I’d written my “Kings of Pastry” review. Turns out, guest Matt Zoller Seitz (of Salon) also had something to say about the fact Frederick Wiseman has never received an Oscar (he also mentions the Maysles, noting they were finally nominated in 1974). Lehrer also mentions Pennebaker when addressing Direct Cinema, and this leads to Seitz reiterating that the Academy is always behind on what’s going on with the documentary mode. That’s why it’s surprising that “Exit Through the Gift Shop” was nominated (but not surprising why it will lose). Perhaps Banksy will be honored down the line if he continues making docs?

The initial discussion on the episode, which also features Slate‘s Dana Stevens, is what documentaries should be judged on, cause or craft. Entertainment value is added in there, too. I have to admit that while the Academy had gained a reputation for honoring films based on their cause, particularly in the days when it seemed to prefer Holocaust films and stuff like “Born Into Brothels,” but recently they’ve also been awarding stuff with greater storytelling craft, like “The Cove,” which is still a cause film, and “Man on Wire,” which almost lacks an issue altogether. But it is true, they don’t necessarily look at craft, not in the way of seeing what’s fresh and new to the mode. But then, do they really do that with any of their categories?

For my vote for and predictions of the doc Oscars, see my Doc Talk column at Cinematical.

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“Exit” Wins Eddie, Forecasts Oscar Success

Following their win at the Cinema Eye Honors last month, Exit Through the Gift Shop editors Tom Fulford and Chris King picked up the Eddie for best editing of a documentary last night. As I’ve always said, it’s really the editing that makes a great doc, and while I don’t love Exit (I like it) I can assume why it is as good as it is has a lot to do with Fulford and King shaping the story out of Thierry’s initial pile of tapes (surely a thankless assistant deserves recognition for logging all that material) and Bansky’s amateur direction (amateur as in first time, not weak). So kudos to them!

Now it seems more likely Exit will get the Oscar for Best Documentary (Feature). Of the last five Academy Award winners in the category, only one did not first win an Eddie — Taxi to the Darkside had not received a nomination from ACE, so Sicko won the Eddie in 2008. The stats going further back, however, show only 6 out of the last ten Oscar winners pregaming with an Eddie win.

I still expect Exit to lose, and not just because its title kind of sounds like Taxi’s. But I also still want it to win, and not just because it is edited well. See my Oscar prediction at Cinematical for more about that.