Saturday, March 4, 2006

Oscars Central: Very realistic

I've been putting the documentaries off for way too long, but it's now clear that I'm not going to have a chance to see any of the shorts before the Awards, and may never have a chance to see one of the features. Oh well, we do what we can with what we've got.

Documentary Short Nominees: The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club, God Sleeps in Rwanda, The Mushroom Club and A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin

Who should win: I'm not even going to pretend to go there. Neither will I take a flying guess as to who was robbed in this category. But I will take this opportunity to let you know that Capitol Hill's Northwest Film Forum (1515 12th Ave) will be screening all four of the Oscar-nominated shorts March 10-16, in two programs running back-to-back. Program 1 is The Mushroom Club and A Note of Triumph, and it runs 75 minutes; the second program, The Death of Kevin Carter and God Sleeps in Rwanda, runs 60 minutes. If you're interested in seeing films that will never make it to a multiplex, I recommend you bookmark NWFF's calendar page and keep up with their schedule of independent, non-mainstream movies.

Who will win: This would be easier to figure out if we were to take an in-depth look at each of the films. Yes it would, but then you'd stop reading, wouldn't you? Instead I'll encapsulate the already short synopses (found on the Oscars list of nominees, natch) using three little letters with a big, timely message: w-a-r, from genocide to the long, dark tea-time of the soul. (Apologies, Douglas Adams.) The Mushroom Club, about survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima, and God Sleeps in Rwanda both deal with the aftermath of battle, while A Note of Triumph reflects Americans' turmoil on the eve of VE-Day, supspended between rejoicing over our troops' victory in Europe and preparing for the continuing battle with Japan in the Pacific. But my pick is The Death of Kevin Carter, which won the Student Academy Award. This 27-minute documentary asks whether a photographer's first duty is to observe his subject or do something to help. Kevin Carter struggled -- unsuccessfully -- with that question after winning the Pulitzer for his photo of a starving Sudanese girl being stalked by a vulture. This movie stands out because, aside from examining Carter's work to show the rest of the world the brutality of the Apartheid system in South Africa, the film questions the role of the journalist and, by extension, our own responses when faced with a horrific choice. Grain of salt: I'm making this prediction without having seen any of the shorts. I'll be among the first in line at the Northwest Film Forum next weekend to find out if I was right.

Documentary Feature Nominees: Darwin's Nightmare, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, March of the Penguins, Murderball and Street Fight

Who should win: I'm on slightly firmer ground with this category, having seen all but one of the feature-length docs (Street Fight, which although it was only released on February 22nd is already available on DVD). All of these have won numerous festival awards, but my favorite was Murderball. It's ostensibly a sports film about the American Paraplegic Olympic Rugy Team and their showdown with Team Canada. It's really about the triumph of the spirit over the physical, maybe even the triumph of the spirit because of the physical. The game's called Murderball, baby, and these guys would knock you on your ass if you started to feel sorry for them. Knock you down, back up and run you over. A couple-three times.

Who will win: Those effing cute Penguins. They're irresistable. And when you consider that the film was nominated for 2 guild awards -- Writers and Cinema Editors -- and has already won Critics' Choice and National Board of Review awards, you'll probably agree that it's a slam dunk.

Who was robbed: I'll forget for the moment that the documentary at the top of most film critics' lists wasn't even on the Academy's shortlist (Grizzly Man; Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard would be turning over in their graves. If they hadn't been digested by a bear). Too bad that when the Discovery Channel broke ground by airing the documentary, they also put in so many commercials that the film lost its continuity. Ugh.

No, instead I'll sing the praises of another film not on the shortlist, my second-favorite documentary from 2005: the outrageously funny The Aristocrats. This movie is so much more than a bunch of comedians telling the same filthy joke. It's what comes between the set-ups ("A guy walks into a talent agent's office...") and punchlines ("The Aristocrats!") that will have you gasping, first in shock, and then in delight as the stories become more and more elaborate. Even if you've already heard the joke told you can't begin to imagine the permutations that comic geniuses like Sarah Silverman and Gilbert Gottfried add. That's right, I said "Gilbert Gottfried" and "comic genius" in the same sentence and I wasn't struck by lightning. The joke becomes so disgusting you'll begin to wonder if you should be laughing. Then you'll wonder if you'll make it to the bathroom before you wet yourself from laughing so hard. It's out on DVD now with 2 additional hours of extras.

I'll blog one more time before the Oscars, trying to make some sense of the technical categories. I hope you've picked up your print copy of today's SGN to see if your choices for best film/director and the acting categories match mine.... I have a feeling we're pretty sympatico, with maybe one or two exceptions. It's hard to believe that in less than 48 hours the Oscars -- and Manray's Oscar Party -- will be over. I'm not sure if I can stand the suspense!

The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club photo courtesy of Apollo Cinema; The Aristocrats stills of Sarah Silverman and Gilbert Gottfried courtesy of ThinkFilm.

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