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Entries in documentaries (364)


Doc Corner: Final Oscar Predictions – A Big Year For Box Office Hits?

Editor's Note: We're turning over the final nomination predictions in Documentary to our resident doc expert. Take it away, Glenn -- Nathaniel R

By Glenn Dunks

It’s always somewhat impossible to gauge just what direction the documentary branch will go in. In the past, they have often been criticized for ignoring big non-fiction hits while the next year they're equally criticized for just nominating the documentaries that people have heard of and ignoring the smaller titles that haven’t the benefit of famous subjects or popular themes (WWII, for instance).

2019 was an unusually spectacular year at the box office for documentaries with four titles all reaching seven figures at the cash registers of cinemas in the US. It has been great to see documentaries enter the zeitgeist in such a way. Unfortunately that has meant that most awards organizations have defaulted to a standard list of those top four box office champs: Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Free Solo, RBG and Three Identical Strangers. Maybe with Netflix’s Shirkers or Hulu’s Minding the Gap thrown in for good measure. Will Oscar follow suit?

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The Art of History and Peter Jackson

Please welcome guest contributor Kate Imy to talk about Peter Jackson's WW I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old which is currently screening in the UK, and has an encore Fathom Event scheduled for US cities on January 21st

by Kate Imy

When historians insert themselves into discussions of popular culture it is usually to spoil the fun. I once read a real, straight-faced takedown of Downton Abbey that objected to the horses as ahistorical. Of course, historians can and do bring much-needed context to many discussions of recent films. For example, some have furthered discussions of Dunkirk to bring attention to the presence and involvement of colonial troops throughout World War II. As a film-lover and a historian, I tend to prefer films that throw the pretense of historical accuracy out the window. I’ll take voguing in The Favourite and chanting “We will Rock You” in A Knight’s Tale over a reverential insistence on “accuracy.”

Films that maintain a veneer of historical fact, often distort the truth without admitting that they do so. These often hit the audience over the head with dubious history and overt political messaging (I am thinking of a few recent movies about Kings and Prime Ministers). Some of these will even claim to tell a story “Not in the History Books” (What this usually means is that they don’t bother to read history books). In reality, art and history—when done well—often perform similar goals on different stages. Good art and good history are about finding inspiration and truths about humanity from the past...

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Doc Corner: From the Short List - 'The Distant Barking of Dogs' and 'Communion'

By Glenn Dunks

The Academy’s documentary shortlist often throws up a few left of field choices – titles that really do earn their primary flutter of American attention simply by being chosen among the 15-wide selection. A 2018 rule change for the category no doubt helped two such films from Europe, austere portraits of youth that are among the shortlist’s most accomplished albeit small scale choices.

The Distant Barking of Dogs was the most unexpected addition this year and was for me the title that I was most happiest to see. It is, after all, the best work of contemporary non-fiction that I saw all year (give or take a Yours in Sisterhood, which will hopefully appear on next year’s eligibility). It is a film that took me completely by surprise when I used it to fill a vacant morning slot at the Sydney Film Festival in May of last year thinking if nothing else I could at least nap. Lo and behold, this remarkable film from the rural warzone of Ukraine has lingered with me longer than probably any other documentary of 2018...

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Doc Corner: From the Short List - 'Free Solo'

By Glenn Dunks

Easily queasy viewers beware – Free Solo can be a daunting prospect to watch. And not just for the extraordinary climb that the film is all about, but if even just the poster churns your stomach, it’s probably not for you. Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin follow up to Meru (of which I was less a fan for reasons I honestly don’t even remember – I watch too many movies to remember these things, apparently) charts Alex Honnold, the world’s most famous free solo rock climber, as he sets out to conquer his biggest feat yet: El Capitan, the 3000-foot vertical rock face, a granite monolith that has loomed over Yosemite for millennia.

The why of Alex’s mission remains a tantalizing carrot that dangles in front of the audience through his death-defying stunts.

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Top 30 Documentary Hits of 2018

Each day a different year in review topic. Here's Glenn Dunks...

Documentaries had one of their biggest years on record in 2018. In fact, the upper realms of non-fiction at the North American box office started to look like what the foreign-language charts once looked like. There was at least one major cross-over smash, several very impressive eight-figure grossers, a selection of not insignificant titles that did over one-million, and a long list of niche titles that did business anywhere from respectable to disappointing depending on expectations and release size. The year even started strong for docs with 2017 hits Bombshell the Hedy Lamarr Story and Faces/Places continuing to earn tidy sums buoyed by word of mouth and an Oscar nomination respectively.

My column Doc Corner will continue in 2019 so here’s hoping the new year offers just as bountiful a crop. It's been good to see documentaries reaching the mainstream, zeitgeist conversation.

Domestic Box Office Grosses Only - Figures as of December 23rd. 🔺 = the film is still in theaters

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Doc Corner From the Short List - 'Won't You Be My Neighbor'

By Glenn Dunks

Now that the 15-wide documentary short list has been announced, we're going to be looking at some of the titles we've missed throughout the year (primarily due to access issues - this particular column is written from Australia) in the lead up to our top ten documentary list and more Oscar talk in the new year. Up first, the crowned champion of 2018's doc class: Won't You Be My Neighbor?.

Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? has proven to be one of the hardest films I’ve had to write about all year. It’s not a film that throws up thorny issues that demand one’s full attention or a documentary that challenges the mind. Instead, it’s the documentary that America has embraced to the tune of some $23-million box office and the title of the 12th most successful documentary ever made (!) It’s a film that people have taken to their heart and yet I sat here with my Word documentary open on a blank page for far too long...

What about this movie failed to inspire me in any way good or bad? Is Neville’s film my own personal answer to the long-quipped mystery of “can you ever just be whelmed?” (yes, but it turns out not just in Europe).

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