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« Happy 50th to Julia Roberts! | Main | Tweetweek and the Wonder Women »
Saturday
Oct282017

170 Documentaries to Compete for the Oscar (Yup, That's a Lot!)

By Glenn Dunks

Turkish cats, white supremacist terrorists, underground artists, climate change activists, controversial politicians, hackers, ballerinas and YouTube celebrities. These are just some of the subjects of the ONE-HUNDRED-AND-SEVENTY films that have been submitted for the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award. Yes, that 170 figure is a record and no, you probably haven't heard of a lot of them. Not even I had, and I write a weekly column on the subject.

We have tried to cover as many as possible, but trust me there's only so much we can do! Of course, on one hand, the number of titles listed here is daunting and massive. On the other hand, I must admit that a number this large actually somewhat puts my guilt at not covering enough to rest. It's simply too many! And it ought to be even longer! It's disappointing to see award season-worthy titles like In Transit, All This Panic and Antarctica: Ice and Sky not even submitted, but that's how this thing always goes.

I have included links to any TFE reviews, but also included bite-sized snippets to give you a snapshot and even a few one-sentence reviews for films I have seen and will not be doing a full write-up on. Nobody can say we don't attempt to cover as many as possible!

The Academy's doc branch will soon whittle this list down to 15 soon before we find out, as always, what the five nominees will be on Oscar Nomination Morning...

THE LONG LIST OF 170 TITLES

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

James’ film could easily come across as too minor (or at least minor-key), but I felt it worked a sort of simple quiet magic. - Glenn Dunks

Aida’s Secrets
Al Di Qua
All the Rage
All These Sleepless Nights
AlphaGo
The American Media and the Second Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
And the Winner Isn’t
Angels Within
Architects of Denial
Arthur Miller: Writer

Brilliant in spurts and tender as a whole, it’s sure to be a must-watch for Miller fans - Manuel Betancourt

Atomic Homefront
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography
Bang! The Bert Berns Story
Bending the Arc
Big Sonia
Bill Nye: Science Guy
Birthright: A War Story
Bobbi Jene

Consider this: I watched the film and only afterwards did I realize that Smith is considered one of the world’s best contemporary dancers. - Glenn Dunks

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

The tragedy of Lamarr’s story, such as it is, is never overplayed nor treated as camp farce. Grace in filmmaking...  - Glenn Dunks


Born in China
Born to Lead: The Sal Aunese Story
Boston
Brimstone & Glory
Bronx Gothic
Burden
California Typewriter
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story
Casting JonBenet

It’s no surprise that it took an Australian to go somewhere truly out-of-the-box with this newfound resurgence in exploiting true crime for entertainment. - Glenn Dunks

Chasing Coral

As a work of eco documentary filmmaking, it offers the sort of visual details that make it essential viewing for anybody on the fence. - Glenn Dunks

Chasing Trane
Chavela

The rise and falls and rise of the titular Mexican lesbian chanteuse is a great story, but this standard-issue bio-doc does little with it worth getting excited about. - Glenn Dunks

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

Chock-full of footage and imagery that will sing to architecture nuts while telling a story of monstrous gentrification that remains relevant today. - Glenn Dunks

City of Ghosts

...there is the tendency for this filmmaker to overdo it in a way that feels self-consciously aware and even manipulative. - Glenn Dunks

Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives
Cries from Syria
Cruel & Unusual
Cuba and the Cameraman
Dawson City: Frozen Time

 a haunted film and a haunting one.  - Glenn Dunks


Dealt
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

It’s not just her memory that lingers over The Death and Life, its her legacy both fulfilled and unfulfilled. - Glenn Dunks

Destination Unknown
Dina
Dolores
Dream Big: Engineering Our World
A Dying King: The Shah of Iran
Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends)
Earth: One Amazing Day
11/8/16
Elian
Embargo
Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars
Escapes
Everybody Knows… Elizabeth Murray
Ex Libris – The New York Public Library
Extraordinary Ordinary People
Faces Place

A joy from start to finish. - Murtada Elfadl

The Farthest

It’s also just a whole lot of wide-eyed fun, a scintillating journey through the galaxy that is as illuminating as it is exciting. - Glenn Dunks

The Final Year
Finding Oscar
500 Years
Food Evolution
For Ahkeem
The Force

Does a remarkable job of playing the line that many in the public have with 'the force' of desperately wanting the police to be and to do better, but being frustrated and angry at their seemingly endless disappointments. Handsomely shot, too. - Glenn Dunks

The Freedom to Marry
From the Ashes
Gaga: Five Foot Two

...a rather amateurish production that wallows in bio-doc clichés both in dramatics and in craft where scene after scene feels set up to be A Moment for a film about Gaga. - Glenn Dunks

A German Life
Get Me Roger Stone
Gilbert
God Knows Where I Am

[The narrations] provide the framework of a film that its directors and cinematographer Gerardo Puglia use to hang a series of evocative and frequently haunting tableaus. - Glenn Dunks

Good Fortune
A Gray State
Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All
Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story
Hearing Is Believing
Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS
Human Flow

Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow is the result of a truly enormous undertaking... If that sounds like far too much, that’s because it is. - Daniel Walber

I Am Another You
I Am Evidence
I Am Jane Doe
I Called Him Morgan
Icarus

[Director Bryan] Fogel greatly overestimates the desire to watch somebody screw the system and (attempt to) get away with it. - Glenn Dunks

If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast
The Incomparable Rose Hartman

That lashful tongue serves the film well - Glenn Dunks

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

This is a better film than its predecessor, but [directors] Cohen and Shenk are glorified worker ants, pointing and shooting their camera. - Glenn Dunks

Intent to Destroy
Jane
Jeremiah Tower The Last Magnificent
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

...solid and perfectly serviceable as a straightforward documentary but it feels like an important document if only because it does capture some of that truth. That importance. - Jason Adams

Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower
Karl Marx City
Kedi

Even if it was just about the cats – what cats they are! - Glenn Dunks

Keep Quiet
Kiki

While much of the documentary focuses on the first-person perspectives within this tightknit scene, the film understands how integrally tied those expressions are to their identities. - Daniel Crooke

LA 92
The Last Dalai Lama?
The Last Laugh
Last Men in Aleppo

This is a film that is at its best when following the old chestnut of wisdom that is show don’t tell. - Glenn Dunks

Legion of Brothers
Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982 – 1992
Let’s Play Two
Letters from Baghdad
Long Strange Trip
Look & See
Machines

...captures images of striking colour explosions juxtaposed against the soot and the decay of a factory in India’s Gujarat region - Glenn Dunks

Man in Red Bandana
Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance

Tomer Heymann captures the otherworldliness of the dancer, as well as issues of cultural censorship and the impact of loss. - Sean McGovern

Motherland
Mully
My Scientology Movie
Naples ’44
Neary’s – The Dream at the End of the Rainbow
Night School
No Greater Love
No Stone Unturned
Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

A film that sadly reflects the gutter within which we live. - Glenn Dunks

Nowhere to Hide

Because you'll want to feel even more hopeless and destraught about the world - Glenn Dunks

Obit

We watch these journalists talk about the responsibilities of obit reporting and how important it is that these people should be remembered for the mark they chose to make on the world, yet we learn not a single thing about them until the closing credits. - Glenn Dunks

Oklahoma City

That Oklahoma City is timely isn’t the only reason why it works - Glenn Dunks

One of Us

So much remains unresolved that when coupled with an inability to delve into the interior world of the Hasidic community makes for an unfinished, unsatisfying film. - Glenn Dunks

The Paris Opera

Middling Wiseman-esque documentary that then swerves into the bizarre once it starts spending a whole lot of time on a woman who uses her wealth to teach students classical music. The woman, it turns out, is one of The Paris Opera's executive producers. For real! - Glenn Dunks

The Pathological Optimist
Prosperity
The Pulitzer at 100
Quest
Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman
The Rape of Recy Taylor
The Reagan Show

At times seemingly a glowing celebration of his achievements, at other times a comedy made up of his bumbling errors, The Reagan Show never finds a personality of its own amid the footage. - Glenn Dunks

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
Risk

In many ways, Poitras’ film goes against all the rules of a documentary. In many ways, that’s why it works. - Glenn Dunks

A River Below
Rocky Ros Muc
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World

...unfortunately flat presentation that makes little to no effort to place its stories into anything but the most basic of introductory formats.

Santoalla
School Life
Score: A Film Music Documentary
Served Like a Girl
The Settlers
78/52

A glorified DVD extra that made me laugh hardest by using Scream Queens as Jamie Lee Curtis' more prominent under-the-name-card title. - Glenn Dunks

Shadowman
Shot! The Psycho Spiritual Mantra of Rock
Sidemen: Long Road to Glory
The Skyjacker’s Tale
Sled Dogs
Soufra
Spettacolo
Step
Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex-Trafficking
Strong Island

...exhume is exactly what first-time filmmaker Yance Ford has done with this film about the death of his older, 19-year-old brother, William, at the hands of a white man who the courts sort little interest in seeking justice for. - Glenn Dunks

Surviving Peace
Swim Team
Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton
Take My Nose… Please!
They Call Us Monsters
32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide
This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous
Tickling Giants
Trophy
Twenty Two
Unrest
Vince Giordano – There’s a Future in the Past
Voyeur
Wait for Your Laugh
Wasted! The Story of Food Waste
Water & Power: A California Heist
Whitney. “Can I Be Me”

it's the lapses in simple documentary common sense that make this film feel like one more indignity to her legacy. - Glenn Dunks

Whose Streets?

Whose Streets is a film that comes to us with the worst best timing. - Glenn Dunks

The Work

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Reader Comments (8)

Thank you for your dedication to the subject. It adds pleasure to my documentary viewing. So many to choose from!

Re: Oscar I’m gonna be mean and hope cute cats clips called Kedi won’t get in despite popularity. Looking forward to see Faces Places which seems to be a delight. Honorary AND competitive Oscars for Varda, maybe?

October 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJija

Jija -- that would be something (with Varda) but don't knock the cats doc. It's the one i'm most eager to see! :)

October 28, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Jija, I saw FACES PLACES at a film festival here and the film I compared it to to friends was... KEDI. Obviously the subject matters are wildly different on the surface, but they're both cute travelogue style docs that tell the story of a country through that of its citizens (humans and cats respectively). They both have adorable central figures with the ability to turn feral (Varda's scene with Godard in FACES PLACES was a hoot). So it amused me to hear you mention them both.

Kedi's box office could definitely help it, but it's a very atypical doc for the branch.

October 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Also, thank you very much Jija. Always a pleasure to hear people enjoying it. I always hope readers go back and check them out when they finally get the chance to actually see the movies or use them as guides.

October 28, 2017 | Registered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I thought LA92 was incredibly well done (the editing was first rate) and very moving.

October 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

Surprised with the no show of I am Heath Ledger.

October 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

Wait for your Laugh -the movie about Rose Marie!

October 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy.

Wait for your Laugh -the movie about Rose Marie!

October 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy.

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