Oscar History

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Lessons from the success of "It"

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Entries in Doc Corner (73)


Doc Corner: Tribeca's Big Winner, 'Bobbi Jene'

by Glenn Dunks

Who is worthy of a documentary about themselves is a question that comes up a lot when watching and occasionally writing about documentaries. A long life doesn’t necessarily make you any worthier of one, just as youth doesn’t imply unworthiness. Of course, who is a worthy subject is ultimately in the eye of the beholder so to speak and it is the film itself is what should be judged.

I am sure there was a reason that director Elvira Lind chose to follow Bobbi Jene Smith for a documentary. Beyond ‘she’s a great dancer’, of course...

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Doc Corner: Emmy Awards Go to Meryl Streep, Ava DuVernay, and Somebody Close to an EGOT

Like sand through the hourglass, the Emmys gave out far too many trophies. I actually forgot that the television Academy’s ‘you’re not famous enough’ ceremony was on last weekend – because who wants to see RuPaul win an Emmy? Hello, anybody? Good call, Emmy! – and so my planned pre-Emmy focus on some of the documentary/non-fiction titles proved poorly timed. However, I thought we might look through the winners of the unfairly forgotten ceremony since at least in these categories, the voters are often forced to choose new winners every year. Meanwhile, the televised telecast could be a repeat and, truly, would anybody actually notice?

O.J.: Made in America, Meryl Streep, and which winner is just a Tony away from en EGOT after the jump.

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Doc Corner: 'House of Z'

Fashion documentaries have been going downhill ever since Unzipped. Douglas Keeve’s 1995 portrait of Isaac Mizrahi, a box office smash and critical hit, remains the pinnacle of what so many since have attempted. Like Madonna: Truth or Dare, from which it took much inspiration, that riotously funny glimpse into Mizrahi’s world full of design, famous friends, creativity and wickedly self-depreciating neurosis was a perfect storm of sorts between personality, fashion and celebrity that a film about this sort of person ought to be.  

Every year brings us several of these sorts of documentaries. Like the majority of them, Sandy Chronopoulos’ debut feature, House of Z, is easily digestible and barely raises a sweat; a work of celebrity portraiture that fans won’t regret watching, but which offers little beyond what is promised on the tin. Taking the same narrative hook as Unzipped of a talented young designer’s comeback from the precipice of total failure, House of Z is an act of personality redemption for a man whose career nearly fell apart because of his outlandishness and brattish behaviour. This makes it a humble film in many ways, one that deliberately chooses to show its subject as one appreciative of his position.

That also means that it is a humourless one, too; sapped of the fun and the outrageousness and the glamour that should be natural.I can only imagine how fun this film may have been half a decade ago.

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Doc Corner: 'Icarus' Doesn't Fly

By Glenn Dunks

It is easy to see why Netflix purchased Icarus for a record five-million dollars. Charting director-and-subject Bryan Fogel’s attempts to prove how easily it is for athletes to dope and how easy it is to get away with it before getting sucked into the Russian Olympic doping scandal of 2015, it’s a premise that swings between two wildly popular forms of documentary. But blending the personality theatrics of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me with true crime, Icarus ultimately isn’t able to replicate the entertainment and the sheer chutzpah of that 2004 perfect storm of charming lead and grotesquely captivating experiment.

For starters, Fogel greatly overestimates the desire to watch somebody screw the system and (attempt to) get away with it. After all, we live in a world with Lance Armstrong already in it – and it takes Icarus just 58 seconds to feature him in archival sound and video – so there seems little need for a talented, but self-admitted amateur cyclist to muddy the waters and prove how scandalous it all is...

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Doc Corner: The Awe and Wonder of 'The Farthest'

by Glenn Dunks

There is a reason that filmmakers keep going back to space. The very concept of an ever-expansive mass of significant nothingness can inspire the mind in infinite ways. But whereas for many, the immediate idea is to resort to fireballs, aliens and standard hero versus villain storylines, I find myself far more attracted to those who turn towards the stars with a sense of wonder and awe. It is perhaps why I respond so well to documentaries like Roman Kroitor and Colin Low’s Universe (the short that inspired Kubrick’s 2001), Al Reinert’s For All Mankind, and now Emer Reynolds’ The Farthest, one of the year's finest.

Celebrating the 40-year anniversary of NASA’s 1977 mission to send two Voyager satellites into space, this Irish documentary is a work of stunning beauty. A film that grapples with the concept of not just what this giant science experiment is, but what it means to us, to the Earth, and to the very idea of humanity. It’s also just a whole lot of wide-eyed fun, a scintillating journey through the galaxy that is as illuminating as it is exciting...

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Doc Corner: 'Whose Streets?'

It has been 25 years since the L.A. riots, an overflowing of racial unrest spurred on by the not guilty verdicts of the police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King. To mark the anniversary, there have been a number of documentaries about it including L.A. 92 and Burn, Motherf*cker, Burn! – unfortunately uncovered by The Film Experience due to access issues. It would be sad enough to watch Sabaah Folayan and co-director Damon Davis’ Whose Streets? in the shadow of that event; a sad indictment that in a quarter of century not much of anything has changed.

However, I sat down to watch this film last night, my digital screener playing in one tab of my internet browser while in another sits a news article about the Charlottesville protests, while in another is Twitter and in another Facebook, both flooded with angry, sad and hopeless words by friends and strangers (some call it a liberal leftist bubble, I call it an oasis) alike not entirely capable of reconciling the fact that actual Nazis have not just made a cultural comeback, but that they have done so with more political and police approval than the Black Lives Matter movement has ever been granted.

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