Amir here. When it comes to the Oscars, one of the things I love to complain about each year is the Foreign Language category. That’s hardly a surprise since the category gets so much flak from everyone, but my concern this time is about something more specific than the usual “shocking” snubs.
Looking over past lists of nominees, you'll notice that the Foreign Language Film category has failed to showcase a documentary before. Like... EVER! (Unless you count Waltz With Bashir, which some do and some don't). The reverse has happened many times: the documentary branch has nominated and awarded foreign documentaries.
To be fair to the Academy, not many documentaries are submitted to begin with in foreign film. But even when they are submitted and happen to be as deserving as say, Finland’s Steam of Life in 2010, they still get ignored. So I did a little research and came to the conclusion that this problem is not really limited to the foreign category. Documentaries have always had a hard time breaking out of their box. Admittedly, the voters’ hands are tied when it comes to some categories (acting, costume design, etcetera.) but there’s no reasonable explanation for the absence of documentaries in editing, cinematography and even the sound categories.
Which brings me to my main point: the Academy has at least four shots at righting this wrong come January. It’s highly unlikely that any of these nominations will come to fruition but staying silent about them won’t help the cause, so here we go: these are my suggestions for documentary nominations in non-documentary categories. From my mouth to cinema god’s ears.
Pina (Foreign Film Category)
Several pundits (including Nathaniel) think the German entry has what it takes to make it to the top five. I’m not as high on the film as some critics seem to be, but considering what a delightful and remarkably unique nomination this would be should it happen, I can fully get behind it.
Jose & Pilar (Foreign Film Category)
Not quite as buzzy but even more deserving than the German submission is this Portuguese gem. This documentary is about one of my personal favourite writers, the Nobel Prize winning Jose Saramago, in the last years of his life with his wife Pilar. The film is rooted in Saramago’s ideology but also steps away to observe him from an external perspective. It succeeds both as an intimate portrayal of love between an older couple, and as a compelling character study of a man whose life is an endless source of fascinating political and literary ideas. I’ve only seen 12 of the submissions so far, but I have a hard time believing there are five better films among the rest. Nevertheless, I won’t get my hopes up. When there are films about children and WWII available to Oscar voters, what are Saramago’s chances?
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Cinematography)
Herzog’s film and Pina are the only two films I've seen recently that had me thinking “I’m glad I saw that in 3D” when exiting the theatre. In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Peter Zeitlinger’s cinematography brings Chauvet Cave to the big screen without losing any of its magic. Zeitlinger’s poetic vision conveys the experience of visiting the cave and etches an array of mesmerizing images in our minds.
Is there a chance of this happening? If Senna is nominated in the best documentary category, that will be a beautiful achievement, but Chris King SO deserves a nomination all his one. Snubbed just last year for his intricate work on Exit through the Gift Shop, he’s back with an explosive blend of F1 action and personal drama. Transitioning between racing footage, family videos and adding only sound clips (without the talking heads) Senna is an eclectic mix that gets our adrenaline going but leaves us in tears at the end. It owes so much to King’s editing. It’s been 17 years since the Editor's branch nominated Hoop Dreams and it’s about time they embraced another documentary film.
Your turn! Which documentaries would you like to see nominated? Do you believe in miracles that it could happen for any of them in an extra category?