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2014 Oscar nominations for Best Documentary analyzed

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For many people the Oscar’s Best Documentary category is one of the hardest to predict. Documentaries are not as widely available as most of the feature films that get nominated. So many people don’t get a chance to see them. The five films nominated this year are all excellent. Of course a film doesn’t get nominated unless it’s good. So if you get the opportunity, then you should definitely check them out. However, if we’re being realistic that may not happen before the Academy Awards on March 2nd.

The nominees are varied with subjects ranging from back up singers to the Egyptian revolution. Each has the potential of taking home a statue, but some may have a better chance than others. If you examine the award winners of the past few years some clues emerge, but which one will win?

The following is a list of the nominees ordered from least likely to most likely to receive the Oscar this year. Included is a brief synopsis of each film and a list of reason why the film might not win, and why it may. You can also check out the trailers to get a better idea of what they’re all about.

20 Feet From Stardom
20 Feet From Stardom Amazon.com

20 Feet From Stardom

This film is a tribute to the careers of many back up singers, who sang on some of the most popular tracks of all time. “Millions know their voices, but no one knows their name,” is the tagline. There are portions that are inspiring, and portions that are heartbreaking. Each singer has an interesting story to tell about what happens outside of the spotlight.   

Why it may win -  It has a great cast of interesting characters, and interviews with many popular musicians, such as Stevie Wonder, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, and Mick Jagger. It was widely loved by critics, and it was able to garner a 99% rating on rotten tomatoes. It also has a fantastic soundtrack.  

Why it might not – While this film is certainly powerful, frankly, it doesn’t have quite the same lasting impact as the rest of the nominees. It seems doubtful that it could stack up with the competition.  

See a trailer here

Cutie and the Boxer
Cutie and the Boxer Amazon.com

Cutie and the Boxer

Cutie and the Boxer is a profile of two elderly artists living in New York City. It is about love and sacrifice. The poverty stricken pair have been together for 40 years, and their relationship has seen it’s share of ups and downs. They share a unique bond realized through their mutual creative spirit. The film challenges us to rethink our idea of love and commitment.    

Why it may win – Ushio and Noriko Shinohara make for compelling subjects, and the film’s focus on their relationship is both interesting and relatable. It won Zachary Heinzerling a best director award at Sundance, and has had success at many film festivals around the world. 

Why it might not –  Zachary Heinzerling is an excellent young filmmaker, but he’s relatively inexperienced compared with the other directors. In past years the academy has tended to favor veterans, particularly in this category.

Cutie and the Boxer is currently available on Netflix streaming.

See a full review here

See a trailer here

Dirty Wars
Dirty Wars Amazon.com

Dirty Wars

Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill narrates this gritty documentary about America’s role in the war on terror. According to the film’s central thesis it is a largely hidden war which has resulted in overly limited congressional restraint. Scahill acts like a private detective reminiscent of Bogart’s character in The Maltese Falcon. He investigates mysterious incidents where the U.S. may be overstepping it’s bounds throughout the world. 

Why it may win – The academy tends to appreciate films that take risks and challenge the system, and this certainly does that. It tells a gripping story, and sheds light on some extremely interesting facts.   

Why it might not – While it is garnering plenty of attention,  it has not received the same level of notoriety as many of the films it is competing against. Also this film is very political. Though the academy does tend to favor liberal ideology, this may be too polarizing even for their tastes.

Dirty Wars is currently available on Netflix streaming

See a trailer here

The Act of Killing
The Act of Killing Amazon.com

The Act of Killing

In the mid 1960’s Indonesia experienced a failed coup. Death squad leaders carried out the murders of over a million. These same men are now viewed as local heroes. In The Act of Killing director Joshua Oppenheimer has the murderers reenact these mass executions in any way they wish. The results are chilling and surreal.    

Why it may win – The film has already won countless awards from numerous film festivals around the world. It is an incredibly original view into a killer’s psyche. No one can deny it’s powerfully thought provoking effects.  

Why it might not – It is disturbing. It is very disturbing. The other film’s in the category are at least somewhat inspirational. They celebrate triumphs of human spirit. Meanwhile this film has a mostly pessimistic view of one segment of humanity.

The Act of Killing is currently available on Netflix streaming

See a trailer here

The Square
The Square imdb.com

The Square

The square is a detailed examination of the ongoing Egyptian revolution that started in early 2011. We see the atrocities from the perspective of Egyptians on the ground. The characters come from all walks of life in Egypt, and they are all struggling to overcome the ways of the past and to achieve freedom and democracy. Progress is slow however. Several times they manage to topple corrupt rulers that are then replaced with other corrupt rulers. Despite these less than desirable results, they never give up their fight. Their determination in the quest for freedom is truly remarkable.    

Why it may win –  It is extremely current, and has an impact on events happening today that will shape the future of the globe. The film’s subjects are extremely impassioned, and it is impossible not to connect with them in their plight. It even features Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla  from the academy award nominated film The Kite Runner  

Why it might not – It has been updated on several occasions, and thus it has not had as much time as some of the other films for promotion. Also it is produced by Netflix, which many in the movie industry see as the cause for decreasing blu-ray and DVD sales.  

It will be available on Netflix streaming starting on Friday

See a full review here

See a trailer here

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