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Entries in documentaries (125)

Thursday
Mar122015

Visual Index ~ Paris is Burning's Best Shots

For a film that's less than 80 minutes long, Paris is Burning contains at least that many worthy topics of discussion presenting quite a challenge for Best Shot participants. You could write 80 articles on it on entirely different subjects. The documentary was an instant sensation winning the Sundance Film Festival in January 1991, and opening that summer to big box office ($3.7 million... which was quite a lot for a documentary). It landed on top ten lists, won critics prizes and generated yet more press when it was horrifically snubbed by Oscar in the Best Documentary Feature category. The film documents NYC's ball culture in 1987 with a few scenes from 1989. By 1989 you can already feel the scene changing, being coopted, and about to be appropriated for one of Madonna's biggest hits. 

My choice and a few more words on this landmark film after this gallery of incredible images. PLEASE NOTE: Next week's topic for Tuesday March 17th (St. Patrick's Day) is the classic THE QUIET MAN (1952) set in Ireland starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. Like Paris, it's available on Netflix Instant Watch so I expect y'all here Tuesday night with your choices.

PARIS IS BURNING (1990)
Best Shots according to 21 Fine Cinephiles Round the Web

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Friday
Mar062015

Next Tuesday... a Ball 

We're multi-tasking again. Cinderella week has already kicked off here at TFE but don't forget to watch Paris is Burning on Netflix Instant Watch (or Amazon instant rental) this weekend so you can maximize the fun of Hit Me With Your Best Shot Tuesday night. Let Jenny Livingston's classic documentary school you on Ball culture. It's only like 70 minutes long so you'll have time. You might even wish it were 700 minutes long when the credits roll.

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Friday
Feb272015

Black History Month: Spike Lee's '4 Little Girls'

Our black history month coverage continues with Margaret on Spike Lee's 1997 nominee for Best Documentary Feature...

Spike Lee is famously an Oscar loser. With every passing year--25 of them now behind us--it makes less and less sense that Do the Right Thing lost its nomination for Best Original Screenplay, let alone that it failed to earn Oscar nominations in the Best Picture or Best Director categories. When one thinks of Spike Lee, what comes to mind is a distinct stylization, and a reputation for incendiary cultural commentary. His inflammatory style has often been implicated as the cause of his cool reception from the film establishment.

His less remembered brush with Oscar was a nomination for Best Documentary in 1997 for his film 4 Little Girls, and that loss is more mysterious. No less artfully crafted or emotionally gut-punching than the best of his filmography, the documentary is also more formally and stylistically straightforward: other than the title card up front identifying it as "A Spike Lee Joint" it's absent many of the colorful hallmarks of the Lee's work.

The historical events examined by 4 Little Girls should be familiar to anyone who caught the recent Best Picture contender Selma.  [Read more...]

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Tuesday
Feb172015

Best Documentary Short: Sad, Sadder, Saddest...

Glenn here to discuss the Oscar-nominated documentary shorts. Much gets made year in year old about how the short categories are typically the hardest to predict. It’s a sentiment that bodes true for many reasons, although with the recent boost in popularity of the theatrically-released Oscar-nominated shorts programs “nobody’s seen them!” has gone out the window as an excuse. We used to have little to go on with these films and usually, by default, most people would predict the most serious sounding of the lot. A movie about WWII? Sure! A movie about political conflict? Why not! A movie about children with AIDS? Gosh, how can it lose? It’s simplistic, but sometimes the best method.

It’s rather impossible to do that this year since all five nominees deal with subject matter that is extremely Important with a capital I. I mean, the most upbeat of the lot is the one about suicide amongst war veterans for crying out loud! PTSD, dying mothers, incurably ill babies, the oil fields of America's Midwest and death in slaughterhouses – it is a miserable collection of nominees, which makes sussing out the winner a tricky prospect.

I find myself gravitating towards HBO’s Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. For starters, it’s the glossiest and most watchable of the lot. Secondly, and most importantly, because it’s subject matter – suicide prevention hotline operators dealing with war veterans – ties in perfectly with that of Best Picture nominee American Sniper. If voters can’t give that immensely popular film any big prizes, they may as well give this one the statue. I certainly see it as a more likely winner than either of the two Polish entries, one of which – Our Curse – may just go down as one of the saddest films ever made. Likewise, The Reaper from Mexico, which obnoxiously parades its grotesquery around in such a fashion that I can see many voters turning it off before the end credits. The final film, the second American entry called White Earth is relatively low key compared to the rest and will likely find itself overshadowed. Maybe the fact that it’s not entirely soul-crushing like the rest will give it a boost, but this year’s prize feels like HBO’s to lose.

The Nominees:

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, dir. Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry (40mins)
Joanna, dir. Aneta Kopacz (45mins)
Our Curse, dir. Tomasz Śliwiński and Maciej Ślesicki (28mins)
The Reaper (La Parka), dir. Gabriel Serra Arguello (29mins)
White Earth, dir. J. Christian Jensen (20mins)

Will Win: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Could Win: Joanna
Should Win: To be honest, I'm not entirely sold on either, but White Earth (above) is my favorite

Apart from in select cinemas, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 is available on HBOGO.

Tuesday
Feb032015

In Conversation: Oscar's Documentary Class of 2014 (Part 2)

Welcome back to The Film Experience's look at this year's Oscar documentary nominees. Glenn Dunks is again joined by Daniel Walber of Nonfics in this second part looking at the once maligned and controversy-filled Best Documentary Feature category. If you missed part one then go read that first - our thoughts on Wim Wenders' The Salt of the Earth were not echoed by you, the readers, but that's what makes this all so fun. If you're a fan, check out discussion from last year about the 1989 winner, Common Threads.


Daniel: (cont'd) The way [Virunga director Orlando von Einsiedel] orchestrates it all, particularly in the thrilling climax, is what sets it apart. In a way that makes it not unlike Last Days in Vietnam (Glenn's review). Both films take a single sequence of events, in that case the 1975 evacuation of Saigon, and tell its story with several different perspectives. I’m not sure the strategy works quite as well for Last Days in Vietnam, which is also the only nominee this year made up primarily of archival footage. Do you think that has something to do with it?

Archival power, Roger Ebert and our own ballots after the jump

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Sunday
Feb012015

Sundance Award Winners: Slow West and Earl and That Diary Girl

Michael and Nathaniel are both safely back in New York but a few more Sundance reviews are forthcoming as well as an Oscar discussion about the first possibilities for the new film year. The festival closes up tonight for another year and last night, they announced the winners. As with last year when Whiplash one both the Jury and the Audience award, one film took both again this year: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, based on the best seller by Jesse Andrews. Can we expect a similarly Oscar friendly trajectory? 

THE WINNERS

U.S. DRAMATIC

Grand Jury Prize & Audience Award  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Michael's review coming later today. It's said to be a bit Fault in the Stars-ish young people and terminal illness only better. 

Directing Award The Witch, Robert Eggers 
Michael's rave review. A 1630s set horror film about a religious family in Salem. 

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award The Stanford Prison Experiment, Tim Talbott
Nathaniel's Review. This one is based on the infamous 1971 college psychology experiment that's inspired other movies before it.

Special Jury Award – Excellence in Cinematography Diary of a Teenage Girl, Brandon Trost
Michael's review & Nathaniel's quick take. Michael liked it a bit more but expect a lot of talk about it when it's released. With Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, and Kristen Wiig

Special Jury Award – Excellence in Editing Dope, Lee Haugen
Nathaniel's review. The editing has crackerjack timing and is deeply commendable for the first half but why is the second hour so much less taut?  

More after the jump...

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Saturday
Jan312015

In Conversation: Oscar's Documentary Class of 2014 (Part 1)

Once one of the Academy's most frequently frustrating branches, voters for the Best Documentary Feature category have been on an impressive run lately. In the lead up to this year's Oscar ceremony, The Film Experience's Glenn Dunks is joined by Daniel Walber of Nonfics and Film School Rejects for a discussion on this year's nominees (and some that aren't). If you missed their discussion about 1989's Common Threads then make sure you do and join us over the weekend for part two of this look at the doc class of 2014.


Glenn: Welcome back to The Film Experience, Daniel. Before we get into the individual films, I thought I’d ask how you thought 2014 stood up for the documentary form and whether the Academy’s did a good job of encapsulating the year with their nominations. I don’t see anywhere near as many docs as you do so correct me if my reading of the year in non-fiction is off, but I do think this year’s Oscar line-up did a good job of representing the year in documentary: solid, but not truly exceptional. Certainly, some of the best doc’s we saw weren’t even eligible so it was impossible they would show up – like, for instance, both of Team Experience’s best unreleased films, The Look of Silence and Silvered Water: Syria Self Portrait – but it was always going to be tough to beat 2013’s all-time great nomination list.

Daniel: Last year was certainly quite something. I wouldn’t necessarily say that 2013 was a much better year for documentaries in general, but rather that the top films were harder for the Academy to ignore. I don’t think anyone thought of The Act of Killing as a contender at first, but the overwhelming critical acclaim made the difference. Most of my favorites of 2014 were a little further from the Oscar radar. [More...

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