Oscar History

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Six Short Reviews

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Entries in documentaries (201)


Doc Corner: SXSW x3

Glenn here and welcome back to Doc Corner. Each Tuesday we're bringing reviews and features on documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand. This week we’re looking at films that screened at the just-ended SXSW about musical icon Gary Numan, self-helper Tony Robbins, and mature-age trans women.

Gary Numan: Android in La La Land

You know I hate to ask
But are 'friends' electric?
Only mine's broke down
And now I've no-one to love

Like many artists of Numan’s vintage who were experimenting with electronic music, there was a queerness to him, an otherness that the made him a symbol to hordes of young audiences who had never seen or heard anything like him before. He was a musician whose dark and complex lyrics were perfectly paired with the aloof roboticism of his performance – an android dreaming of the electric beeps and boops of a Moog synthesizer. But for a performer who made much of his early fame and success off of the obscure oddness of his lyrics and imagery, this documentary by Steve Read and Rob Alexander is awfully straight.

I can only wish that Read and Alexander had taken some of that electro-punk attitude as inspiration for while Gary Numan: Android in La La Land will be an enjoyable sit for fans of the 58-year-old British singer famous for songs like “Cars” and “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” (like myself), but as cinema it lacks something propulsive. This brand of musical comeback doc is certainly popular – recent examples like Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets and I Am Thor were mostly more successful thanks to meatier narrative hooks – and the two directors are wise to focus in on some of the more unique elements of Numan’s life such as his long-standing marriage to a fan and his anxious worry about an impending comeback record while on a family vacation. Still, Android in La La Land works best with it fuses Numan’s abstract lyrics and music with strange beautiful images rather than the musician-moves-to-LA narrative that forms its core. The musical sequences are as vibrant as you would expect, but the power of the songs and his genius doesn’t shine through any clearer than if simply listening to them.

Two more after the jump...

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Doc Corner: 'Videofreex' a New Angle on Old News

Glenn here and welcome back to Doc Corner. Each Tuesday we're bringing reviews and features on documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand.

The news is constantly changing, and never more so than in today’s evolving media landscape. Where once a story would unfold nightly on the broadcast network’s news programs, now it unfolds live and often unedited, captured by anybody, anywhere. Here Come the Videofreex is a new documentary by Jenny Raskin and Jon Nealon that examines the very beginnings of this shift in news reportage by going all the way back to the late 1960s and getting up close to the then breaking trend of grass roots video journalism that was birthed in the shadow of Sony’s first video recorder units. Focusing on the collective known as the “Videofreex”, this entertaining film charts how these documentarians – and that’s exactly what they were – captured daily life, beginning with the simple act of taking a personal video camera to Woodstock and in their first act of directorial voice ignored the music entirely and instead focused on the patrons.

Forged by a meeting of like-minded individuals with a passion in sharing their world experiences, the team quickly graduated to CBS news employees, but that was short-lived after an attempt at a television pilot was mooted and everyone was fired. More...

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HBO’s LGBT History - Back on Board: Greg Louganis (2015)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we looked at Remembering the Artist: Robert de Niro Sr. which looked at the father of the Oscar winning actor who, in case you didn’t know, was a well-regarded visual artist and a gay man. The doc was (sadly) more interested in the former assertion than the latter, despite sexuality having been central to his art—his most curious muse? Greta Garbo in Anna Christie. This week, we’re taking about another doc portrait though one clearly more centered on its subject’s sexuality.

“Who is Greg Louganis? What kind of question is that?!”

Louganis, still considered the greatest Olympic diver in the history of the sport balks at even having to answer such a question for Cheryl Furjanic in the opening minutes of Back on Board: Greg Louganis. But as he mulls over the question he has to admit he’s not quite sure who Greg is. After all, he retired from diving in 1989, spent much of the 90s coming to terms with himself—he publicly came out ahead of the release of his best-selling memoir, Breaking the Surface (which was later made into a TV movie starring Mario Lopez), disclosing at the same time his HIV-positive status—and finds himself at the start of shooting this HBO Sports documentary fighting with his bank over his mortgage. Yes, Louganis, once a household name synonymous with Olympic glory currently faces the prospect of losing his house and he hopes auctioning off his medals and memorabilia will be enough to keep him afloat. more...

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Doc Corner: 'Trapped' a Timely Reminder in the Supreme Court's Shadow

Glenn here and welcome to Doc Corner where we're going to bring you reviews of documentaries, hopefully on a weekly basis, from theatres, festivals, and on demand, as well as special features that shine a light on the medium's history and future.

Every few years a documentary about abortion comes along to soberly remind us just how backwards attitudes continue to be towards women’s reproduction rights and just how unbalanced the debate is regarding women’s bodily autonomy in America. Trapped is a new film by Dawn Porter – probably best known for her debut feature Gideon’s Army – and is just the latest on this volatile topic, but while it may lack the epic scope and cinematic power of Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire, it does work similarly to Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s After Tiller in the way it examines the more intimate details of the doctors, nurses, and patients and how they each navigate the hostile terrain that so frequently and strongly comes under fire (sometimes literally) from extreme religious zealots and government officials who seek to bring a round-about end to abortion through the only avenues they can.

Trapped– so named after the “TRAP” (aka Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws that figure most prominently throughout and which seek to place virtually insurmountable locational and financial burdens on doctor clinics that would see the number of clinics in Texas reduced from 42 to 10 – finds itself in an interesting position, being released this month. Abortion, sadly, remains a hot button topic and as of right now the case of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt is currently being heard by the Supreme Court. In fact, in the final title cards of the movie, this date with destiny is referenced. More...

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Pt 2: New Oscar Trivia, Stats, and Curiosities

Picking up where we left off after the headliner categories. But click not away. The below the line crafts and specialty categories are just as important and trivia-interesting. I promise.


Production Design: Colin Gibson, Mad Max: Fury Road
Makeup and Hairstyling
: Mad Max: Fury Road
Costume Design: Jenny Beavan, Mad Max: Fury Road

Jenny Beavan previously won the costume category for another perfect film A Room With a View. Not since arguably Dianne Wiest has a two time winner won for such polar opposite achievements. Yes both of Wiest's Oscars are from Woody Allen pictures but those star turns couldn't be more different stylistically / emotionally / pscyhologically. Mad Max Fury Road is also the first sci-fi winner EVER in this category... unless you count Star Wars (1977) though some people prefer lumping Star Wars into the fantasy genre rather than sci-fi... and there have been multiple fantasy winners.

I can't think of any interesting stats to go with the Makeup and Production Design Oscars but they were richly earned, don't you think?

More after the jump including further Star Wars coincidences...

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The entire history of the directors of the Best Documentary nominees

Tim here. Since Glenn already did such a great job looking at the films that would ultimately be nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar, I wanted to approach that category from a different angle. You might call it the auteur studies approach: I've decided to highlight one film made by each of the directors whose films are up for that award.

And the best part is, you can follow along! Each of these movies is available for streaming... 

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Short Film Contenders Pt 1. Who Will Win?

Eric Blume reporting for duty. We hadn't yet reviewed the short film Oscar nominees so I binged all 15 of this week. Many minds and bladders wander away from the Oscar telecast during these three categories.  Even those of us who claim we’ve “seen everything” have rarely seen all of the entries in the three shorts fields. But pay attention because these winners can bring some of the best moments of the show:  remember the 1991 show when producer Debra Chasnoff won for Documentary Short Subject for the General Electric expose Deadly Deception?  She got to the podium and said “boycott GE!” with a cut to Barbra Streisand smiling and clapping with Kevin Costner right behind her decidedly smiling and not clapping.  We Oscar lovers live for moments like this.

There’s a lot of quality among the three categories this year.  Here’s a quick overview as well as thoughts on who might prevail and why on two of the categories.

Documentary Short Subject

Body Team 12 follows the only female Liberian Red Cross member of a team which comes to remove dead bodies during the Ebola outbreak.  It’s the shortest of the five nominees at only 13 minutes, and therefore it doesn’t have a strong driving narrative, nor does it culminate in a larger meaning.  It simply follows the team while they gear up and remove the bodies, interspersed with an interview from its main subject.  It’s focused and lovely in its simplicity, but it suffers from its brevity. 

Pro:  Ebola.  Con: Uncomplicated.

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness follows Saba, a Pakastani girl who is shot and left for dead by her father and uncle in an “honor killing” once she marries the young man she loves.  It’d be hard for anyone with a feminist bone or beating heart in them to not get riled up by this story, and it’s told with restraint and intelligence. 

Pro:  Angry.  Con: Angry.

Eight more shorts after the jump

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