It’s been a week since the Academy’s documentary branch selected its long list of 15 documentary finalists, five of which will go on to compete for the final prize, and already it’s looking like 2014 all over again.
Specifically, early signs are pointing to a runoff between Joshua Oppenheimer, artful revealer of war criminals hiding in plain sight, and a songstress — with the songstress in the lead.
Mr. Oppenheimer’s film, “The Look of Silence,” is an intimate companion piece to his harrowing and surreal 2014 Oscar finalist, “The Act of Killing,” which profiled men who were part of Indonesia’s anti-communist killing machine. That film lost the Oscar race to “20 Feet From Stardom,” about overlooked backup singers. This year, Mr. Oppenheimer is facing off against Asif Kapadia, whose “Amy” managed to reach beyond its “Behind the Music” narrative by making viewers privy to the intimate battles Amy Winehouse fought as well as the heartbreak of the friends she left behind.
Both films made the Academy’s long list, and both collected prizes this past weekend. “The Look of Silence” took the International Documentary Association’s top prize, while “Amy” swept a bunch of critics’ awards. Yet as solid a film as “Amy” might be, it’s hard not to feel somewhat cynical — or at least wearily resigned — when a film about a victim of show business bests one that brings to devastating light the wrenching reverberations of impunity. (The Bagger is admittedly biased, having studied international affairs.)
Anyhoo, speaking of that Academy long list, anyone else find it surprising that Crystal Moselle’s “Wolfpack” was left out? And/or gobsmacked that “We Come as Friends” — Hubert Sauper’s look at exploitation in South Sudan that, as far as the Bagger can tell, made no predictor’s list — was included? We alas have no comments but feel free to tweet me: @caraNYT.
Lastly, the Bagger shouldn’t really gun for anything, but was personally crestfallen that Louie Psihoyos’s “Racing Extinction” was overlooked. Sure it was a tough watch, but the “eco-thriller,” as it has been called, left its audiences inspired to do something — anything — to lessen their impact on our environmentally beleaguered world. The Discovery Channel did give it a global broadcast last week in time for the Paris climate change talks. Maybe cable will do what the Academy didn’t.