Here is a list of the likely five nominees for Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Academy Awards. Too bad you probably won’t get to see any in theatres – and good luck finding them on DVD. (Don’t you love the rules of obscure film distribution?)
Project Nim: Probably no other movie I saw all year made me laugh and cry so much or experience disparate emotions so quickly and in such rapid succession. If you love animals (as do I), this will be the kind of movie that will make you feel that you belong to the wrong species. It tells the story of Nim, the chimpanzee who gained notoriety in the 1970s for being the subject of an experiment in which he was essentially raised as a human. Don’t be surprised that it didn’t turn out so well. Also don’t be surprised if the film leaves you haunted with the look of terror and helplessness in Nim’s eyes.
Hell and Back Again: Before I get flamed for espousing “liberal talking points”, be assured that this film about the tragedy of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan is not really about what happens in Afghanistan or what atrocities U.S. forces have committed against the Afghani people (that in itself would only be a film that played in the Middle East . . . or Western Europe). This documentary tells the story of Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris who returns home from duty in Afghanistan where he suffers grievous physical injuries from the Taliban. When he returns home to North Carolina, the psychic pain and suffering he experiences makes the viewer realize that the most terrifying scars of war and combat are those that cannot be seen.
We Were Here: Every year, while watching those wretched red carpet shows on television before the Oscar show, I roll my eyes in revulsion at the parade of obtuse movie stars paying lip and lapel service to the AIDS plight with their proud display of red ribbons on their tuxedos and skimpy gowns. This year, I will forgive said display because academy members seem poised to nominate this documentary about the early days of the AIDS plight and the way it ravaged the gay community in the early 1980s. From what was first called the “Gay Plague” to what has forced the creation of support groups and communities across the world incorporating health care, medical services and social and community outreach programs, the AIDS plague continues in ways that we are only beginning to understand.
Undefeated: Not exactly sure why, but the buzz in Tinsel Town is that this fairly run-of-the-mill documentary about a down-and-out high school football team that does its darndest to win its first playoff game in the school’s 110-year history is poised for an Oscar nod. The point of the whole thing is of course that what happens in the lives of the players off the field is what affects what happens on the field. I think it’s getting as much buzz at is purely because it’s being distributed by the Weinstein Company.
Buck: If you weren’t quite won over by the sentimental portrayal of the relationship between a boy and his horse in War Horse, you might like this documentary about a cowboy and his stallion. Buck Brannaman is a real life cowboy who sojourns across America helping horses and people understand each other. He is the Horse Whisperer, you see, and in the end you might think he’s more horse than human. A truly endearing and fascinating portrait of the kind of person we rarely get to see on screen: someone who embraces compassion, love and gentility in place of force and emotional violence.