Oscar Preview 2014 – Documenataries

Documentaries!

By Katy Cummings

Since Dan asked me to do a guest spot in honor of the Oscar season, I thought I’d take a crack at the two documentary categories.  I’ve tried to pick my favorite as well as the one I think will win (for the Oscar pools).  Enjoy!

First up, the Feature Length Docs:

The Act of Killing:  This has to be one of the most unusual documentaries ever made.  Men who had been members of Indonesian death squads in the 1960s (who are now in high positions of power in the government), reenact their war crimes as sources of pride.  It was very hard to watch.  I wish the director had provided a little more context (for us ignorant Americans who knew nothing about the conflict), and also provided a little more narrative structure. It was innovative but ultimately not compelling enough for a win.


Cutie and the Boxer:
   This one was my personal favorite.  The tale of Japanese artist Noriko Shinohara  and his (I would argue) equally talented, long suffering wife Ushio had a lot to say about love, resentment, sacrifices, and self respect without ever getting preachy or grandiose. I would love for it to win, but I think it may be too small scale to get the Academy’s attention.

Dirty Wars:  My least favorite of the feature lengths, this is what happens when a great topic gets in the hands of a terrible filmmaker.  This story follows the investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill as he uncovers information about drone strikes and America’s secret wars.  I could not stand Scahill’s overwrought and self-important narration.  Brace yourself for clichéd lines like “I knew investigating this story would put my life at risk, but I had to go deeper.” I will be actively angry if the Academy chooses this, but I think it may be too political for their taste anyway.


20 Feet from Stardom:
  This was another great one and the documentary I’ll be betting takes home the gold.  20 Feet shines a spotlight on the women who have supported some of the greatest music groups of the last 60 years.  This is another movie, like Cutie, that allows personal stories to say a lot about large topics like music history, race, gender, and stardom.  Makes you think and feel all at the same time.

The Square:     I thought I would get around to watching this one this week, but unfortunately I have not L  I hear that it’s a really great from-the-ground perspective on the Egyptian revolution. I will definitely be watching it when I can, but I’m still putting my money on 20 Feet for the win.

And now, the Best Documentary Shorts:

CaveDigger:    Go see this movie right now. Seriously, here’s the link to it: http://vimeo.com/ondemand/9849.  This movie rocked my socks.  It’s about a man pursuing what he loves (art and digging caves) in the face of almost universal indifference and misunderstanding. His work is spellbinding and beautiful and I hope he makes a million bajillion dollars because of this movie. It’s not An Important Topic so I don’t know if it will win, but I’m picking it anyway because gosh darnit, it should.

Facing Fear: As much as I just ranted about CaveDigger (have you watched it yet??), this movie was pretty amazing too, and may have a slight edge for the win.  It tells the tale of a reformed NeoNazi who randomly meets a gay man whom he beat almost to death years earlier.  An incredible story about what it means to forgive others and to forgive yourself.

Karama Has No Walls:  This movie was basically raw footage from the ground during the Yemeni uprising in 2011.  I wish I could say I liked it better, but frankly the pacing was slow and it was kind of like watching a 40 minute long YouTube video shot on a hand-held cameraphone. Not my favorite.

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life: I wanted to love this movie; I certainly loved the subject, 110 year old Alice, who at the time of filming was the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor (sadly, Alice passed away last Sunday). She was a remarkable woman with an amazing reserve of optimism and perseverance (she still played the piano every day!!).  I wish the documentary had let her story stand on its own more, instead of relying on heavy-handed narration.  Still, it was a pretty good one, and I recommend watching it if you can to check out Alice’s amazing perspective on life.

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall:  This movie made me want to commit suicide.  I guess I should say more about it.  It tells the story of a prison that runs a hospice for its oldest inmates primarily by using other inmates as volunteers.  We spend 40 minutes watching an old man die, with an extended shot of his corpse in a body bag at the end for good measure.  I could have skipped this one.  I don’t think it’s a winner.

That’s it.  Happy Oscar watching, everybody!

(c) 2014 Katy Cummings

Oscar Preview! Best Short Film Categories

By Katy Cummings

Hello, all of Dan’s readers and fans!  I’m so excited to be here, providing guest commentary on one of my favorite topics: the Oscars.  I like to think I am a bit of an Oscar buff; my nearest and dearest like to say I’m totally obsessed and should probably seek help.  After experiencing quite the existential crisis trying to pick a specific topic for this post, I’ve decided to run down the oft-neglected shorts.  At the very least, hopefully I will be able to help you all to victory in your respective Oscar night pools.  So here goes:

Best Short Film, Live Action

This is a category I frankly love to hate a little bit.  I am bothered by the fact that films in this category are usually about: 1) War (bonus points for WWII), 2) dying, 3) poor children or 4) some combination of the three.  Because everyone knows it’s not an Important Film without a dying war child!! Anyway, this year’s nominees were no exception:

Asad: Set in Somalia, this film is about a poor child dealing with war (and death).  Specifically, this child has to deal with feeding his family despite the ever-present military, and his own difficulty catching enough fish to survive.  Surprisingly, the movie ends on quite an upbeat note (involving a cute housecat, of all things), and is generally inoffensive, if not ultimately very memorable.

Buzkashi Boys:  Set in Afghanistan, this is about the friendship in a war-torn land between two poor children, one of whom dies.  In my opinion this film was the worst in the category, since the children were forced to be precocious to the point of obnoxiousness.  Interestingly, the credits inform you the film was financed by the US State Department.  That gave me the unsettling feeling I had just watched a propaganda film, although I’m not sure what for, since the film just confirmed my suspicion that Afghanistan is a poor, war torn country where young children die needlessly.  Hmm.

Henry:   Set in France, this film is about an old WWII veteran slowly losing his memory and dying.  For those of you who saw Amour, this film may fill you with an uneasy feeling of déjà vu (and also a strong urge to run screaming from the theater, if you feel the same way I do about Amour).  Not very original, not very interesting, yet quite depressing.

Death of a Shadow:  Despite being about a WWI soldier who dies, this is actually a really interesting and unique little film.  The soldier earns his life back by working for a “collector”, capturing people’s souls the moment they leave their body.  It was beautifully shot, very unusual, and very moving.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the movie that takes the statue.

Curfew:   My pick of the best of the bunch.  It’s about a down on his luck guy who spends the night babysitting his nine year old niece.  There’s no real way to capture how dark yet funny, original yet sweet this film is.  The child is really cool and funny, the music is really good, everything about the movie just works really well.  I hope this movie wins!

Oscar Pool Picks:  Death of a Shadow, or Curfew.

Best Short Film, Animated

As much as I usually dislike the live action shorts, I LOVE the animated ones!  They are so artistic and creative and full of whimsy! This year was not the best year, but there were still some standouts:

Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’:  I know everyone loves the Simpsons, and this is pretty funny and cute (gotta love the concept of Ayn Rand Day Care), but can we all take a minute and admit that the Simpsons have been doing the same thing for 20 years, and maybe it’s time to reward something new?  I realize I might be alone on that, but dammit, I’m sticking to my guns.

Paperman:  Pretty much everyone has seen this one on Facebook or Hulu by now, and again, I’ll admit, it’s pretty sweet and cute.  But as I argued above re: Simpsons, it’s DISNEY, people, COME ON.  The Shorts are supposed to be the categories where the little people have a chance to show us something we haven’t seen before.  Let Disney take the feature length statue home for Brave, and leave this one for the little guys.

Adam and Dog:  A beautifully drawn, very, VERY moving story about Adam and man’s best friend in the Garden of Eden.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried like a baby over this one.  The clear winner, in my book.

Fresh Guacamole:  If you want to impress people at your Oscar party, tell them that this is the shortest film ever to be nominated for an Oscar (because random trivia is how you impress people at parties, right?).  Go watch it on YouTube; it’s super fun, clever, creative claymation, and watching it will only take you 2 minutes!!

Head over Heels:  A claymation story about an estranged couple who live in the same house, but one lives on the ceiling, the other the floor.  The story is a cute concept, but I found the animation a little sloppy.

Oscar Pool Pick:  *sigh*, Paperman is probably your safest pick.  I’ll be going with Adam and Dog though, and grumbling to myself not-so-quietly when it loses.

Best Short Film, Documentary

Ok I have a confession to make: I’ve only seen 3 of the nominees in this category.  I went with my long-suffering mother and boyfriend to see these shorts this weekend, and during the intermission, they both threatened to kill me/themselves/everyone in Sacramento if I made them stay for the other two movies.  A brief rundown of the category makes it clear why they felt this way:

Kings Point:  This movie follows the lives of senior citizens in an assisted living community in Florida.  It is forty minutes of listening to people talk about how in the end your life is meaningless, you have no real friends and everyone dies alone.  I’m not even sure why the movie was made, except to make you scared to grow old and die.  My sobbing mother made me (and the poor boyfriend) promise to never let her end up in a place like that.

Mondays at Racine:  In this movie, a hair salon on Long Island opens its doors for free once a month to women undergoing treatment for breast cancer.  The movie focuses most on two of the customers: one, a woman who has been undergoing treatment for 18 years and has finally decided to stop, and another, a 36-year-old  with two small children facing her first round of chemotherapy.  My mother and I both fell apart completely during this movie, as we contemplated all the people we know battling cancer, while the poor boyfriend watched on helplessly.

Inocente:  This movie tells the story of Inocente, a 15 year old undocumented immigrant girl growing up homeless in San Diego.  Inocente is an incredible artist and, by the end of the movie, just had her first successful gallery showing, which earned her some money for college.  This was by far our favorite, if only because it wasn’t completely, soul suckingly depressing.

Open Heart:  Didn’t get to see this one.  It is apparently about Rwandan orphans with heart diseases who go to Sudan for treatment.  So, you know, another comedy.

Redemption:  The other one I missed.  This one tells the story of New Yorkers who survive on the money they make from collecting glass bottles and cans.  Another picker-upper I’m sure.

Oscar Pool Pick:  I’m going with Inocente.  I think the voters will appreciate the rags-to-riches aspect of the story, the girl’s beautiful art, and the chance to let the girl come up on stage and make everyone feel good.

That’s it!  Now you all can go in to your Oscar parties and talk the short films up like CHAMPS!  Thanks again to Dan for asking me to do this! I had fun :-).

(c) 2013 Katy Cummings