And the Oscar Goes To… Not a Clue

Currently browsing the "Documentary" tag.

Oscar Nominees — Documentary [Feature]

I’ve seen all of the nominees this year, thanks to attending the AFI DOCS and Full Frame festivals and Netflix. If you’re filling out your Oscar ballot, here are my somewhat edited down reviews of the nominees. It was a great year for docs, though I think they missed a few, but I’m sure they had a hard time whittling down the field. And the nominees are…

Trailers for all the films are at the end of this post.

AFI DOCS 2014 (Days 3&4)

The last two days of the festival I spent in AFI’s Silver Spring theaters. All the films were shown in both the downtown DC venues and at the AFI home base. It was easier in Silver Spring with everything in one building, but seeing films at the National Portrait Gallery or the Naval Heritage Museum or the Goethe Institute’s theaters and being in town was a lot more interesting between screenings. Next year, I hope to be a bit more organized so I can see everything! Trailers for all the films are at the end of this post.

AFI DOCS 2014 (Days 1&2)

As Arty Chick, I am a great lover of the documentary genre and this year’s AFI DOCS in Washington, DC sated my docu-hunger quite well. As with any festival, there were standouts and there were films that raised interesting topics, but did not meet my expectations in terms of filmmaking/storytelling. And an even larger problem was that the festival was spread between Silver Spring, MD and downtown DC, making the logistics a bit of a conundrum for an out-of-towner like me. The sheer number of films I wanted to see was simply impossible, but I can honestly say, I gave it my all.

Here’s what I thought of the first two days.

The Act of Killing

Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar nominated The Act of Killing has got to be one of the most unsettling documentaries ever made. In it, men who murdered thousands (some estimates are 1 million) of Communists back in the mid-1960s in Indonesia are asked to reenact their crimes, and rather than show any remorse for the horror they inflicted, they act as if they were doing something great and fun, and they take pride in showing the filmmakers how and where they murdered their countrymen. It is surreal and bizarre and unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

20 Feet From Stardom

20 Feet From Stardom is one of those documentaries that’s just plain fun, and interesting to watch – for the music and the story. It’s not quite as good as 2002’s Standing in the Shadow of Motown (about the backup musicians “The Funk Brothers”), or as focused as last year’s Searching for Sugarman, but it does give some incredibly talented, mostly female backup singers their due… their long overdue due!

Venus and Serena

The poster and the trailer for this documentary promise to reveal “the truth behind the legends”. That’s a bit of a stretch, but the film does offer an interesting, if uneven, glimpse into the Williams sisters’ rise from the gritty streets of Compton, California to the Center Courts of the championship tennis circuit. I still can’t tell them apart. But I now know that Venus is the older one – by 15 months. And together, they are one fierce, super-talented, competitive, intimidating and inspiring pair.

(My) Tales from the Warner Bros. Lot

Sometimes a film finds its value – or added value – in the memories it stirs. Such is the case with a new documentary commemorating Warner Bros.’ 90th Anniversary. It’s called Tales from the Lot and it’s basically an extended marketing video that traces the evolution of the legendary studio from its humble beginnings to the entertainment behemoth that it is today. It’s not a great film. But it did bring back memories of a time, circa 1995, when I, um, sort of snuck onto the WB lot to snag a pic of myself in front of The Daily Planet. Yes Chief, The Daily Planet. After all, I was a young journalist harboring a crush on SupermanI couldn’t just walk across the façade of Lois & Clark‘s Metropolis without paying homage! Thus my own tale from the Warner Bros. lot:


Of course a documentary about Bob Marley would be released on 4/20 and if you don’t get why, this might not be the movie for you. That’s a joke actually — if you have any interest in Bob Marley and his music, the movie “Marley” is definitely worth seeing. From Last King of Scotland director Kevin MacDonald and backed by the Marley family it’s a an engrossing and extensive look at the singer’s too short life.

Using archival footage and a ton of interviews, the film paints a portrait that goes far beyond the pot-smoking reggae musician most people see him as.


Dumbstruck is an okay documentary that suffers from poor execution of a good premise. If you’re into dummies, then by all means, check it out. But if ventriloquists creep you out, take a pass. I really wanted to like this movie, especially because I like to see TV people succeed in their attempts to break into film (the writer/director is Mark Goffman, executive producer of the USA series White Collar; plus, I spotted the name of one of my favorite Top Model editors and former co-workers, Alyssa Clark, as the credits rolled.) Heck, I’d even voted for ventriloquist Terry Fator to win America’s Got Talent a few years back – and I hardly ever vote on that stuff! So really – I wanted to like it! But the film just never came together for me.

Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) is selling out! Well – sort of. His latest documentary is entirely bankrolled by advertising and product placement. But that’s okay, because the film is all about the proliferation of branding, advertising and product placement in our society. So companies are actually paying him to expose their people and their products to potential ridicule. The movie’s tagline sums it up best: “He’s not selling out. He’s buying in.”