Team Experience is teaming up to discuss each Oscar category. Here’s Glenn Dunks and Baby Clyde…
GLENN: Hi Baby Clyde, are you ready to talk documentaries? I just published my best documentaries of the year feature here at The Film Experience so I am ready to tie this year’s world on non-fiction in a bow.
Will Laura Poitras win a second Oscar to go with her Golden Lion?
First things first, what do you think of this year’s batch of nominees for Best Documentary Feature? As is pretty common for this category as of late, I don’t think there’s a bad film in the bunch, with a good coverage of American and international fare. It’s a line-up that even has the added bonus of featuring the best documentary of the year in its ranks (that would be Laura Poitras’ All the Beauty and the Bloodshed). Last time that happened was just two years back with Collective so the category, for me, continues to remain strong and getting stronger as the number of contenders rises and rises…
BABY CLYDE: Wotcha Glenn, I’m such an Oscar nerd that I not only watch all the nominations but spend much of Jan and Feb watching all the shortlists as well. I’m a bit obsessed with the Documentary Feature category. My personal year end list is always full of docs. In recent years Free Solo, American Factory, The Edge of Democracy, For Sama, Summer of Soul, Flee and the aforementioned Collective, all ended up on my list of faves. Honeyland was my choice as best film of the entire year and they are just the ones that ended up nominated (aside: here is Glenn discussing Honeyland on the One-Inch Barrier podcast). Again, this year my list is littered with informative, entertaining, heart-breaking docs, but only a couple that the Academy also chose.
I very much enjoyed Navalny and Fire of Love. The former illuminating a familiar story at a time the world needs heroes more than ever (The barely credible telephone call scene is one of the great movie moments of the year). While the jaw-dropping volcanic footage of the latter must be seen to be believed. I was blown away by the visuals even if the storytelling was a trifle lacking. But All The Beauty and the Bloodshed didn’t quite work for me. There’s fascinating documentary to be made from this material, or in this case two. It’s not often I want a film to be longer, but each half of this doc deserved more time to tell its individual story effectively. Nan Goldin’s rise in the 1980’s art world and her more recent fight against big pharma are both subject matters that are right up my strasse but here they feel incomplete. A full-length documentary on both would be warranted.
As an admirer of the film are you expecting to triumph on Oscar night and if it doesn’t what would you deem a worthy alternative?
GLENN: Unfortunately, I am not actually predicting a win for Laura Poitas and Nan Goldin this year. While we can assume Julianne Moore will be voting for it (she was the Jury President in Venice where it won the Golden Lion), I suspect most voters will err towards either Fire of Love or Navalny. Both would be worthy winners (I predicted a Navalny win way back in May). But All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is my personal number one movie of the year, so it would have been a nice rarity for such a win. Although, fun fact: Poitas became the first documentary filmmaker since Michael Moore and Sicko to receive a nomination after a win. A pretty wild stat that shows this branch as one of the most open to new talent, and the medium as one that thankfully never rests of the laurels of certain names.
The thing with this category is that winners as of late tend to be more on the populist side (or as populist as you can get for documentaries). Titles like Free Solo, My Octopus Teacher, Summer of Soul, O.J. Made in America, Amy… even American Factory with its Obama affiliations and Netflix platform was by far that year’s most accessible and commercial nominee (it was also the only American title, which does help: see –>). This does unfortunately mean that international productions are not as likely to win. Sadly then, I think the titles we can totally rule out from the win are All That Breathes and A House Made of Splinters, which is definitely not an indictment of the movies themselves, particularly the latter which is raw and potent and also far less attention grabbing than we’ve come to expect from the branch.
But let’s quickly go back to the shortlist since you said you like to indulge through that list, too. Is there one title you really wanted to hear announced on nomination morning?
Will Sara Dosa follow up her win at the Director’s Guild of America awards?
BABY CLYDE: The notoriously elitist Doc Branch has the perennial problem of knowing that the wider Academy voting body will always go with the populist choice, which is why they are notorious for culling those films at the nomination stage. And they’re not even subtle about it. Frontrunners like Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Jane, Three Identical Strangers, Apollo 11, The Biggest Little Farm, All In: The Fight For Democracy and Julia were all struck down at the final hurdle. This year Good Night Oppy didn’t even make the shortlist. I’m not mad at this trend because for every Amy or 20 Feet From Stardom that does go on to win there’s a My Octopus Teacher that should have been stopped at the earliest opportunity.
This year’s line up is decent if unspectacular. I was interested in the subject matter of All That Breathes but it’s glacial pace and insistence on long slow panning shots of rats, rivers and rubbish dumps rather than telling the story at hand left me frustrated. A House Made of Splinters takes this year’s mandated misery porn slot. Fine film making but not really want I want to watch in these dark times. Having said that I haven’t stopped thinking about Kolya since. I know he’s a little git, but he loves his brothers and sisters.
There were no outrageous snubs on nomination morning. I would have loved to see The Territory—a damning but nuanced indictment of Bolsonaro’s disastrous environmental policies in the Amazon rainforest—make the cut (Viva Lula). I also I had high hopes all year for Last Flight Home, a wonderful film I watched by mistake. I’d somehow convinced myself it told the life story of a plucky, independent airline company in 1970s Florida. Turns out its it’s a devastating portrait of a family accepting their elderly father’s wish to die. It seemed like exactly the type of thing the Academy would go for, but never gained any traction.
While I’d choose both of those over any of the nominees my actual favourite never stood any chance of making the cut. Nothing Compares celebrating the legacy of incomparable Sinead O’Connor and The Return of Tanya Tucker Featuring Brandi Carlile, documenting the sensational comeback of the undervalued country icon. Both brought me so much joy that I’m smiling now just thinking about them.
The one that surprised me the most was The Princess. Despite being British I’ve never had the slightest interest in the Royal family. I remember the wedding and the birth of the princes. The trips to Australia and the dancing with John Travolta. I lived through the marriage breakup. Never watched the tacky interviews or read any of the books. Never understood why on earth I should care about any of it. I remember exactly where I was when Diana died but wasn’t upset by it. I found the collective meltdown that the British public had to be embarrassing. Haven’t followed any of the recent scandals about her sons. I have no opinion whatsoever about Harry and Meghan. I was lucky enough to leave the country the day The Queen died, so missed all of that nonsense. Didn’t see a single second of the funeral. Couldn’t care less if Camilla becomes Queen. Abolish the lot of them I say. This film was absolutely fascinating.
It seems that my 2022 documentary jam was basic fodder for pop culture obsessed, middle aged homosexuals and I’m completely ok with that.
So, do you think the Russian dissident, or the barmy volcano couple are taking the prize??
Could the Navalny team be on stage again after BAFTA?
GLENN: I’m not sure it makes total sense to call A House Made of Splinters misery porn and then decry My Octopus Teacher (which is not the worst winner of this past decade; that would be Icarus). But as somebody who watches a lot of these, it can definitely wear you down. You mean you want me to watch another movie about a sad children in an orphanage in a wartorn country?
I thought Navalny would win all season, and that BAFTA win is encouraging. But then I was also betting on Fire of Love not being nominated at all, and its win with the DGA suggests industry love. I’m going with the latter at this stage. I would be happy with either. And just for those playing along at home, Werner Herzog also had a film out last year about Katia and Maurice Krafft and it was just as good. It’s called The Fire Within and if I can’t use this to plug a movie that most people don’t even know exists then what am I doing here? 🙂
BABY CLYDE: I think I’m predicting Navalny for the win. It’s timely nature, ‘important’ subject matter and potential to create an Oscar moment will prove irresistible, but I’m not remotely ruling out Fire of Love or even All The Beauty and The Bloodshed. Like many other categories this year we have a race on our hands and seems that for the first time in ages the Documentary Feature winner isn’t a foregone conclusion