Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

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Precious Doll
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby Precious Doll » Sun Mar 04, 2018 3:16 am

Mister Tee wrote:I agree with BJ, that Abacus seemed so firmly in the family's corner, so set on making the "Cy Vance is doing this to punish a little guy" case, that I didn't feel it sufficiently explained the (clearly) illegal things that WERE going on inside the bank, and why the family was so patently innocent. I found it mostly absorbing despite that -- and could hardly begrudge Steve James a win after so many years of being ignored -- but this did nag at me.



Basically that bank had two failings:

1) Reporting an employee who was acting illegally - actually a very noble thing as they could have swept it all under the mat, but they did the right thing, reporting the said employee and opening themselves rather unfairly to shocking abuse;

2) They had some sloppy compliance issues but relatively minor compared to most. Virtually every private company and government organisation operating today all over the planet, and at the time of the GFC, has a shockingly lack of compliancy. That is still no excuse for Abacus but compared to all the large banks that got off scot free post GFC, Abacus was a beacon of decency and accountability.

Basically they deserved a smack of the wrist but nothing more. They were made an example of because they were small and Asian.
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Mar 04, 2018 12:54 am

Cramming for this category by watching three of the nominees in two days isn't ideal, but here are my thoughts:

I agree with BJ, that Abacus seemed so firmly in the family's corner, so set on making the "Cy Vance is doing this to punish a little guy" case, that I didn't feel it sufficiently explained the (clearly) illegal things that WERE going on inside the bank, and why the family was so patently innocent. I found it mostly absorbing despite that -- and could hardly begrudge Steve James a win after so many years of being ignored -- but this did nag at me.

I'm afraid Strong Island didn't work for me the way it did for you guys. I'm a huge fan of true crime stories, and I waited patiently for Ford to reveal why this was a particular miscarriage of justice...but I never felt he pulled it off. The parts of the story that went unexplained (who brought that limo onto the chop-shop lot, and what happened inside?) were far more tantalizing than the relatively weak story Ford told. There were elements unrelated to the crime -- the parents' move to a more affluent but more segregated neighborhood, Ford's sexual identity crisis -- that were interesting on their own, but, I'm sorry to say, felt to me like they had nothing to do with the event at hand, but were grafted on to try to make more of this story than was actually there. This may have been the most disappointing of the four films here I watched. (Couldn't find time for Last Men in Aleppo.)

I had some of the same issues both of you did with Icarus. In fact, for the opening half-hour, I was confused about what I was even watching. What, exactly, was the cyclist's scheme with his personal doping, and why would it have been in the doctor's interest to help him with it? I was so addled by this, I was grateful when the story shift came, but even then it only seemed like half a movie. (And those original whistle-blowing athletes seemed to get dropped from the story pretty summarily' they're the ones who truly kicked the probe into gear.) I guess this could win, but it wouldn't be a very exciting victory.

Faces Places is a joy, easily the most pleasurable movie of the bunch. But I could definitely see documentarians not just lamenting the film's lack of serious-enough subejct matter, but questioning whether it's a documentary at all. The film is kind of a hybrid -- as much about the Varda/JR relationship as it is about the people they cover -- and that may strike some as not adhering to form. Now, it may be be that simply getting it past the nomination bar was the highest hurdle -- that general admission voters will simply respond to the film's pleasures and not care about strict definitions of documentary. We'll find out in the next 24 hours, I suppose.

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Mar 02, 2018 8:02 pm

dws1982 wrote:It looks like Faces, Places is going to turn out to be the only one of these I won't get to see before the Oscars. It doesn't hit DVD until March 6, so that's no help, and Amazon doesn't have it available for rental yet.

Don't know if this helps you, but it is available for purchase on iTunes. I opted to go for it, but then it cost no more than it would have cost me to see it at a NY downtown theatre (not counting subway fare).

I'm doing a crash-cram on this category -- Faces Places this afternoon, Icarus tonight, and at least one of Strong Island or Last Men in Aleppo tomorrow (I've already seen Abacus). I'll try and weigh in on this after I've done all that.

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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby FilmFan720 » Sun Feb 25, 2018 10:50 am

This is one of the more interesting races, mostly because the perceived front-runner was left off the nominations ballot and also because there are a lot of interesting films on the list that I can see voters going for.

Icarus is the only film on this list I really don't like, but I certainly understand why it has done so well. I found the two distinct halves of the film jarring and found the first-person telling of the film annoying. I can see it winning, but I hope it doesn't.

I like Abacus a lot, and I think its chances are a tad above BJ's, but not by a whole lot. It is the most traditional documentary on this list, and Steve James is a legendary documentarian who you would think the Oscars would want to honor, but this category has rarely gone to the most well-known director and that won't factor in here. I wouldn't mind seeing it win, but I know it won't.

I would have thought Last Men in Aleppo had little chance here -- it is very good (though not the best Syrian documentary we got this year) -- but if voters watched last year's documentary shorts (and I have a hunch that the percentage of people who vote in those two categories overlap quite a bit) then this feels like such a retread of The White Helmets that I would think they wouldn't really bite. Then we got news that some of the filmmakers are stuck in Syria and won't be able to get out to the awards, and you have to wonder if that will play a part in voting. It hasn't gotten the attention that Ashgar Farhadi's boycott got last year, but at a time when we are thinking that voters are looking to make political statements along with their honors, that could be a factor.

Faces Places is one of my favorite films of the year, and maybe I am being cynical about its chances, but I can't go along with all of the predictions being thrown this way. Has a film this light ever won this prize? I know films like 20 Feet from Stardom have won, but they always have a whiff of "telling a story that needs to be heard," whereas the joy of Faces Places is that the film never really takes itself seriously at all. Then again, has a film this esoteric (good description of the film, BJ) even been nominated before? Maybe the fact that it overcame that huge hurdle means that the next hurdle is not too big. I can see this being a lot of voters favorite film, if they watch all five nominees, but not what they consider the best.

I'm going to guess that voters go with Strong Island, not only because it is perhaps the most gripping of the films story-wise but also because it has the whiff of political statement in making Yancy Ford the first openly transgender winner. Like JR for Faces Places, Ford has been campaigning hard for this film and seeing him on stage, for a film that feels more in tune with the type of film that wins here, will probably be what voters will go for.
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby Greg » Mon Feb 19, 2018 2:55 pm

The Original BJ wrote:The one I have a hard time seeing emerging as the winner is Abacus: Small Enough to Jail. It's not as emotionally affecting as some of the other nominees, nor does it feel like the timeliest politically, now that the banking crisis is a decade in the rear view.


Until the current tech (dot.com 2.0) and cryptocurrency bubbles burst and another financial crisis happens all over again.
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby dws1982 » Mon Feb 19, 2018 10:07 am

It looks like Faces, Places is going to turn out to be the only one of these I won't get to see before the Oscars. It doesn't hit DVD until March 6, so that's no help, and Amazon doesn't have it available for rental yet.

Although I'm not always a huge fan of the distribution models they (especially Netflix) employ, I will say that Netflix and Amazon have made the nominees in this category very accessible over the past few years. Four of the five nominees are available to watch on Netflix and Amazon, and several others that were on the shortlist are available as well.

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Categories One-by-One: Documentary Feature

Postby The Original BJ » Sat Feb 17, 2018 1:12 am

I'm not sure Jane would have necessarily won this outright if it had been nominated, but it definitely might have -- I'd guess the fact that so much of the film relied upon found footage (genuinely fascinating found footage, it must be said) probably irked the documentary branch enough to box it out.

Still, voters came up with a pretty solid list of films, I think. Even after seeing all of them, I don't have a strong idea for which way voters might lean.

The one I have a hard time seeing emerging as the winner is Abacus: Small Enough to Jail. It's not as emotionally affecting as some of the other nominees, nor does it feel like the timeliest politically, now that the banking crisis is a decade in the rear view. (Though the movie's exploration of the struggles of immigrant communities could offset that). I found the movie compelling, but slightly muddled in certain areas -- the film seems (rightfully) outraged that this small bank serving New York's Chinatown was the only one prosecuted, but it also seems to pretty easily excuse some of the bank's questionable practices because of this. I'm certainly not opposed to a complicated take on the Abacus bank, but I think the filmmakers could have navigated the gray areas a little more carefully.

Last Men in Aleppo plays a lot like the feature version of last year's doc short winner The White Helmets (with multiple versions of that film's baby rescuing scene playing out throughout the film). I think the film's win potential depends on whether voters respond to the obvious power of the film (both in its horrifying images and the clearly heartbreaking epilogue), or if the sheer number of recent documentaries on Syria might make the film seem less unique (in addition to White Helmets, voters might also have sat through last year's other doc short nominee Watani: My Homeland, as well as this year's qualifying feature City of Ghosts).

Icarus is the kind of documentary whose sheer existence seems insane -- it began as one thing (honestly, a sort of self-absorbed doc about one man's attempt to chronicle his own doping) and through sheer kismet became something far more significant (an on-the-ground expose about the Russian athletic doping scandal). This certainly is a movie that feels hugely timely, given both the context of the Olympics and an avalanche of horrifying news about Russia's attacks on American democracy, and I could definitely imagine some voters using a vote for this film as a protest of sorts against Putin. I'm not sure the two halves of the film quite gel together -- much of the first part feels like filler once you get to the second -- but there's some pretty eye-opening stuff here regardless.

If I had a vote, it would be with Faces Places, which I think is a thoroughly lovely movie -- funny, creative, and very poignant. I actually wasn't prepared for how emotionally affecting the film would be, with its undercurrent of the impending mortality of one artist at the end of her life contrasted with the youthful energy of an artist still quite near the beginning of his. And as always, Varda the personality is a delight. The critics were obviously in its corner, and in the year of Varda's honorary prize, as well as fun stunts like her cardboard cutout appearance at the nominees' luncheon, perhaps there could be enough of a groundswell of enthusiasm to give her a competitive prize as well. But, I also think it could lose for the very reason I didn't think it would get nominated -- "serious" subject matter tends to carry the day in this category, and I think many voters could just find this too esoteric.

Strong Island is just as personal a film as Faces Places is, as one man tells the story of his family, his upbringing, and the tragic murder of his brother that changed his family's life forever. I think much of the film is an emotional knockout, tackling a lot of timely issues, from racial discrimination in housing, to the disposability of black bodies in America, to the filmmakers' own journey as a trans man and how that shaped his relationship with his family. In its story of one family, it manages to encompass a lot more than that, and I could see it hitting a sweet spot of both the personal and the political that could appeal to voters. Still, it's smallish in scope compared to some of the other films, and that "personal essay" quality could work against it compared to some of the more traditional docs on the ballot.

As I said up top, not sure which way I'm leaning for a prediction just yet, but wanted to lay some thoughts down.


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