A Run at Oscar

I have recently seen all of the Oscar nominees for Best Documentary:


Cutie and The Boxer

Cutie and the Boxer

Grade: C

Dirty Wars

Dirty Wars

Grade: C-

The Square

The Square

Grade: A

20 Feet from Stardom

20 feet from stardom

Grade: B+


Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell

Grade: A

I realize, of course, that the Academy didn’t nominate this one; I’m just editorializing. They should have.


The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing

Grade: A+

38 thoughts on “A Run at Oscar

    • I like Blackfish. A lot. I think it’s the 4th best documentary I’ve seen this year. But Stories We Tell, in my opinion, is the biggest Oscar snub in any category.

      • See, I tried reading up on “Stories We Tell”, and it just does not sound appealing on paper. I know, I know, I should not be judging a film by its summary. But I guess it is just a in-depth look at human nature, using one family as an example? I just got to shut up and watch it.

      • I had the same reaction, upon reading the summary. It sounded stupid, so I was going to skip it.

        I don’t remember why I changed my mind, but I’m glad I did. Was glad in the first couple minutes, actually, when the on-screen personalities acknowledge the silliness of a feature length documentary about one family. They pull you in and make you care. So yeah. Just watch it already. 🙂

    • Blackfish is really good, too (I think I gave it an A-). I think Stories We Tell the bigger Oscar snub in any category, so I highlighted that one instead.

      I would have nominated The Square, 20 Feet from Stardom, The Act of Killing, Stories We Tell and Blackfish.

    • Thank you for being willing to do so. (Remember you’ve already read my reviews of Cutie and The Boxer and Stories We Tell, from the first time I posted them). 🙂

    • Blackfish is really good, too, worthy of a nomination. But I think Stories We Tell is the biggest Oscar snub, in any category, so I opted to highlight that one instead.

  1. Good stuff James. Lots of people still loving Blackfish. It was well made but so manipulative with the facts and the emotions of the audience. Really anxious to see The Square. The Act of Killing is chilling stuff!

    • I think we talked about Blackfish before. I think it was very, very good, and probably not more manipulative than The Act of Killing.

      But while I personally would have nominated Blackfish over Cutie And the Boxer, Dirty Wars or 20 Feet from Stardom, I think Stories We Tell the even bigger Oscar snub.

      • Oh there is a huge difference between Blackfish and Killing. Blackfish has a pretty hardline agenda and is fairly misleading on several points. Killing is from their own words. In fact the finished film was viewed and applauded by Anwar himself. Creepy stuff.

        And I still need to see Stories We Tell. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.

      • I hear what you’re saying in the comparison of the two. (And, obviously, I agree Killing is better.) I’m just saying Killing is plenty manipulative – lingering on faux-victims faces to make us feel their feigned grief, shooting a scene through fire, the set up to begin with, etc. Does Blackfish manipulate some emotions, as well? Of course. But I don’t think it nearly as a big a flaw as you.

      • You’re right. Emotions aren’t as big a deal for me either. In some sense all films of all kinds do that. It’s the loose handling of the facts that makes Blackfish feel more like an activist video than an enlightening documentary (for me).

    • :-).

      Now I need to get my hands on two of the Animated Feature nominees, and four of the Foreign Film nominees. If I can do that, I will have seen every feature length nominee on the Academy’s docket this year, except The Lone Ranger (which I am not going to watch). The foreign movies are going to be the hardest to see, I expect. But I’m not giving up yet.

  2. I’m very impressed that you’ve managed to see all of them. I always think I spend too much filling out gaps in my “back catalogue” of viewing at the expense of watching new films. The Act of Killing sounds like something I should seek out.

  3. Great picks here. I have yet to see some of them but I will come back to your post in order to make sure I see them all. I, too, really enjoyed “Blackfish.”

    I gave it high praise and it’s manipulations (they seem to affect some differently on different levels), though apparent in some places, did not really deter me from being moved by it.

    I’m looking forward to The Square and Dirty Wars. Good post. Very helpful! Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you much.

      Totally agreed on Blackfish. The Square is awesome (my third favorite documentary of the year, at least of those I’ve seen).

      I’ll look forward to reading more of your thoughts once you’ve seen the movies in question. 🙂

  4. I’m not a huge, big or even small fan of Documentaries – so I can safely say my vote shouldn’t count for this category. It’s time for me to take the dogs for a walk (it’s nice today) and then I’m making a pot pie for dinner so I’ll go hit these posts tomorrow –

  5. Great stuff James! I have a lot to catch up on here, really want to see 20 Feet from Stardom and Stories We Tell. Glad to hear you think The Act of Killing deserves to win, I absolutely concur!

    Btw, I’ll share this post via Twitter 😀

      • No I haven’t. I’m so behind on docs. Btw, speaking of great doc, you should see The Armstrong Lie if you haven’t already. That’s a great one as well.

      • I haven’t seen Armstrong Lie, mostly because I find myself completely unconcerned about Lance Armstrong. I do really like that movie’s director, Alex Gibney, though, so I will probably see it at some point.

        Thanks for the reccomendation!

  6. I haven’t seen all of these, but I must say I agree Act of Killing is deserving of all the praise, I just hope it isn’t too dark for the Academy to vote it as the winner.
    Stories We Tell actually made me feel uncomfortable too, for different reasons, in that it felt like eavesdropping on a family matter. It was interesting to watch, though.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      I’d be surprised if The Act of Killing doesn’t win, but not shocked, per se. The Square is also deserving of victory, and 20 Feet From Stardom is about as good a music documentary as you will see. Both could give Killing serious competition.

      As to Stories . . . interesting. I never felt that way, but then I decidedly sided with Polley throughout, maybe just because she is the director. Sounds as if you agreed more with Harry.

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