Those Oscar Missed: Best Documentary Feature

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CONTRIBUTED BY JAKE THOMPSON

Best Documentary Feature can be an excellent showcase for documentaries that should not be missed.  I admit that I don’t get to see as many as I would like to, but when I do get to see a documentary on the big screen, it’s always a rewarding experience.  Strangely, the docs I do get to see are rarely nominated for the Oscar (Werner Herzog’s Encounters At the End of the World and Charles H. Ferguson’s Inside Job are the only docs I’ve seen in the last five years that actually got nominated).  Even this past year (2012, a year in which I saw a personal record-breaking 11 documentary features), it turns out that I’ve only seen two of the shortlisted documentaries for the Oscar (Five Broken Cameras and Bully).  There have been some major snubs for this award in the past (and some of the most famous documentaries ever weren’t even nominated).  Let’s check out these major snubs.

One major snub is 1975’s Grey Gardens, is a documentary feature directed by Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, and Albert and David Maysles.  It depicts the everyday lives of two reclusive socialites, a mother and daughter both named Edith Beale (the aunt of first cousin of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis).  Both women lived at Grey Gardens, a decrepit mansion at 3 West End Road in the wealthy Georgia Pond neighborhood of East Hampton, NY.  It’s such a shame that Hovde, Meyer, and the Maysles brothers weren’t nominated for their work here.  The Maysles brothers are one-time nominees (1 Documentary Short Subject nod for 1974’s Christo’s Valley Curtain).  Hovde and Meyer have never been nominated.

The actual nominees at the 48th Academy Awards were:
The Man Who Skied Down Everest – F.R. Crawley, James Hager, & Dale Hartleben (*Winner)
The California Reich – Walter F. Parkes & Keith Critchlow
Fighting For Our Lives – Glen Pearcy
The Incredible Machine – Irwin Rosten
The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir – Shirley MacLaine

Another major snub is 1988’s The Thin Blue Line, a documentary feature directed by Errol Morris.  It depicts the story of Randall Dale Adams, a man who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.  A series of interviews about the investigation and re-enactments of the shooting based on witnesses and detectives are presented.  It’s too bad Morris wasn’t nominated for this film.  Morris is a one-time nominee (1 win for 2003’s The Fog of War).

The actual nominees at the 61st Academy Awards were:
Hotel Terminus – Marcel Ophuls (*Winner)
The Cry of Reason: Beyers Naude- An Afrikaner Speaks Out – Robert Bilheimer & Ronald Mix
Let’s Get Lost – Bruce Weber & Nan Bush
Promises To Keep – Ginny Durrin
Who Killed Vincent Chin – Renee Tajima-Pena & Christine Choy

One major snub that definitely comes to mind is 1994’s Hoop Dreams, a documentary feature directed by Steve James.  It follows tow black high school students, William Gates and Arthur Agee, in Chicago as they dream of becoming professional basketball players.  It raises a number of issues regarding race, class, education, economic division, and values in America at the time while offering an intimate view of inner-city life as the boys struggle to achieve their dreams.  The Academy should be ashamed for not nominating this film in this category, although strangely enough the film did get a nomination for Best Film Editing.  James is a one-time nominee (1 Film Editing nod for 1994’s Hoop Dreams).

The actual nominees at the 67th Academy Awards were:
Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision – Freida Lee Mock & Terry Sanders(*Winner)
Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter – Deborah Hoffman
D-Day Remembered – Charles Guggenheim
Freedom On My Mind – Connie Field & Marilyn Mulford
A Great Day In Harlem – Jean Bach

Another major snub would be 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11, a controversial documentary feature directed by Michael Moore.  It takes a critical look at the George W. Bush presidency, the war on terror, and its coverage in the American news media.  It contends that the corporate-owned American media didn’t provide an accurate or objective analysis of the rationale for the war or the resulting casualties (in essence, they were “cheerleaders”).  It’s a shame Moore wasn’t nominated for his work here even though he technically didn’t even submit it for this category (he actually aimed for a Best Picture nod).  Moore is a two-time nominee (1 Documentary Feature nod for 2007’s Sicko, 1 Documentary Feature win for 2002’s Bowling For Columbine).

The actual nominees at the 77th Academy Awards were:
Born Into Brothels – Ross Kauffman & Zana Briski (*Winner)
The Story of the Weeping Camel – Luigi Falorni & Byambasuren Davaa
Super Size Me – Morgan Spurlock
Tupac: Resurrection – Lauren Lazin & Karolyn Ali
Twist of Faith – Kirby Dick & Eddie Schmidt

One final major snub would be 2008’s Religulous, a controversial documentary feature directed by Larry Charles.  It follows comedian Bill Maher as he looks back at his own history with religion as well as traveling to various holy places to talk to regular people, as well as clergymen/theologians, about their religion/faith.  He contends that religion is mostly b.s. and that it’s bad for us.  This film was so controversial that it was banned in most of the southern United States.  It’s too bad the Academy didn’t nominate this terrific work, for Charles and Maher have yet to receive a single Oscar nod.

The actual nominees at the 81st Academy Awards were:
Man On Wire – James Marsh & Simon Chinn (*Winner)
The Betrayal- Nerakhoon – Ellen Kuras & Thavisouk Phrasavath
Encounters At the End of the World – Werner Herzog & Henry Kaiser
The Garden – Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Trouble the Water – Tia Lessin & Carl Deal

Other films that were considered include 1982’s Koyaanisqatsi, 2005’s Grizzly Man, and 2012’s The Central Park Five.

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