MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland

Doc Committee Embarrasses Self Again

You know… I like a lot of films on the Academy’s doc shortlist. I even love a few of them.

Hell & Back Again and Pina really break new ground. Buck and Bill Cunningham: New York offer the kind of pleasures that are not about the filmmaking details so much as the humanity.

Personally, I adore Project Nim and still feel it was the best film at Sundance – full stop – this year.

And I don’t want to say anything negative about the other films. Some are very, very strong… some less so. But it’s the absences that are shocking.

This committee has a long history of pissing on Steve James… so as absurd as the absence of The Interrupters is, I am less shocked.

Senna? What’s the argument against? Non-original footage? Did they watch Paradise Lost 3, which intentionally uses – according to its co-director – outtakes of the first 2 films to qualify for Oscar… so this greatest hits doc wasn’t DQed for this year’s awards.

Herzog? Morris? Spurlock? Page One?

Every year, people ask who I think will be shortlisted. And every year, I say, “No idea.” Why? It’s not a legitimate meritocracy.

Sure, there are a few titles I haven’t seen. God bless them. It’s a big list. But every year, this committee seems to pull this or that out of their collective ass, an indecipherable series of bizarre choices.

I’m sure they mean well. So do the Tea Partiers.

Be Sociable, Share!

39 Responses to “Doc Committee Embarrasses Self Again”

  1. Keil Shults says:

    You can’t even get through a single blog entry about the documentary branch without taking a shot at the Tea Party. You and your site are becoming a total joke. I’m not even a conservative, but it’s braying sheep like you that prevent me from calling myself a liberal either.

    This site is supposed to be about movies, not your sophomoric political agenda. At least rag on what a joke the Occupy crowd is while you’re at it. Or if you really want to get a laugh, tell us again how Anonymous may prove a dark horse in this year’s Oscar race.

    Pathetic. I don’t know why I even come here anymore anyway. The site’s no better than an Entertainment Weekly Twitter feed. No wonder you can’t attract anyone better to write for you than hacks like Wilmington. And the guy who supposedly runs this site spends his time praising mediocre movies and getting into petty blog disputes with other laughable online critics and oafish readers like LexG.

    Stop preaching to a choir that’s barely even showing up for practice anymore. Your site is over. Give up.

  2. Paul MD (Stella's Boy) says:

    I have seen nothing as riveting, heartbreaking, and powerful as The Interrupters this year. A travesty.

  3. JoeLeydon'sPersonalPornStar says:

    No Into the Abyss, either. What is wrong with these people?

  4. David Poland says:

    Wow, Keil… that was dramatic. Thanks for the opinion.

  5. Peter says:

    The Interrupters is a shocking omission. Hoop Dreams was infamously snubbed in 94, I can’t believe they are doing this again to Steve James.

    They never nominate any Morris less serious films so omission for Tabloid doesn’t surprise me. Senna is another shocker, they probably don’t like that it doesn’t fit into a conventional Doc structure.

    I would like to know who is in this committee and what’s their explanation for omitting these picks. It’s just embarrassing.

  6. Keil Shults says:

    I’m sorry, but an impartial observer would have to agree that the unnecessary political jabs are off-putting. I suppose seeing that ridiculous last minute Tea Party insult, coupled with the deplorable omissions in the doc shortlist, temporarily sent me over the edge.

  7. Tofu says:

    Dude, this is a blog. Opinions are gonna happen, no matter the context.

  8. Krazy Eyes says:

    Actually, a truly impartial observer wouldn’t give a shit that DP bagged on the Tea Party. I think you need to take an Internets break.

  9. anghus says:

    “The site’s no better than an Entertainment Weekly Twitter feed”

    Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

    Let’s not say something you can’t take back.

  10. Krillian says:

    And now a Seasame Street newsflash:

    “Hi ho, this is Kermit T. Frog with this newsflash that David Poland is indeed a liberal. Yes, evidence was culled earlier today, but first, a word from the letter Q…”

  11. Edward says:

    I don’t know why anyone who has been following the Academy as long as Mr. Poland has can even be remotely shocked by the actions of the Documentary Branch Screening Committee. They seem to be determined to make sure they get written about every year by leaving off some of the best and most seen documentaries for lesser known unseen quantities that never turn to be as good as the ones left off the short list. Why honor Herzog, whose beautiful and haunting 3D masterpiece is as close to a religious experience as my wife and I (both apathetic agnostics) will ever have, when he was already nominated for a Documentary Oscar a mere four years ago? They can go for Wim Wenders, whose last Documentary Oscar nomination was twelve years ago. See, they aren’t ignoring respected German filmmakers who occasionally trot over to the documentary side!

    I was hoping the appointment of Dawn Hudson as the Academy’s chief would result in some much needed changes in how the Academy handles certain aspects of their nominating process. Hopefully, this cock-up will help nudge those reforms in the right direction.

  12. EthanG says:

    Where the HELL are “My Perestroika” “Circo,” “Beats Rhymes and Life,” and “Being Elmo!”

    “Page One” and “Greatest Movie” stretched their subject matter to the point of breaking for me so not surprised there.

    Agree that Herzog, “Tabloid” and “Interrupters” omissions are a tragedy.

  13. EthanG says:

    Gotta add: anyone who thinks this is the “Sarah Palin” doc Undefeated is mistaken. It’s a doc about an urban football team…zzz

    I will say though, I know everyone loves Jane Goodall but “Jane’s Journey” SUCKED. Worst inclusion on this list.

  14. F Willard says:

    Uh, Paradise Lost 3 is an amazing movie all on it’s own. All the “old” footage in it is never-before-seen material that retell the story from the beginning for people who have never seen it. It’s a mind-blowing and completely new movie w/ tons of footage shot in the last couple of years. I was blown away at NYFF. And it’s got 3 guys out of jail and Berlinger and Sinofsky have made some of the best docs of all time and never even been shortlisted…

    Senna and the Interrupters shoulda been included though!

  15. Don R. Lewis says:

    I know there’s always alot of talk about the money needed to buy a spot on Oscar shortlists, maybe that’s the case here? Although SENNA did pretty well in theaters so I can’t see how they didn’t have the cash to mount an awards season push. Fantastic film too, I loved it.

    Speaking of docs, you can now pre-order my award winning documentary WORST IN SHOW! Makes a great holiday gift for the dog lover in your life.

  16. Joe Leydon says:

    Speaking of Tea Baggers: What Would Jesus Do? Well, I’m pretty sure He wouldn’t be a heartless bastard.

  17. Daniella Isaacs says:

    I think Poland was being pretty generous to the Tea Party, actually, by claiming they “mean well.”

  18. movieman says:

    I would have shortlisted “Searching for Bobby Fischer.”
    Terrific film, and HBO did give it some theatrical play for (Oscar) eligibility’s sake.

  19. chris says:

    Good call on “Circo,” EthanG but I wonder if that one was eligible. In fact, has anyone seen that list of 128 or whatever eligible docs?

  20. Keil Shults says:

    The point is not what Poland said, but that it obviously had no place in this article. It felt embarrassingly desperate and tacked on, not to mention unnecessary. It would be interesting to see if readers would be so blasé towards — and keen to justify — his comments if they were attacking the left instead.

  21. Don R. Lewis says:

    Are any of the HBO playing docs on that list? I don’t think so and maybe there’s a correlation to a rule there?

    Also- I liked the first 3/4 of “Searching for Bobby Fischer” but I felt the legwork that had been so prominent throughout disappeared as did the will to have a solid ending.

  22. movieman says:

    The whole thing worked for me, Don.
    Like many of my favorite docs, it took a subject I had virtually zero interest in–Bobby Fischer and the world of competitive chess–and made it fascinating.
    I’d love to see Ryan Gosling tackle Fischer in a biopic.
    I know HBO tried the same limited theatrical strategy with the Roman Polanski doc a few years back, and I don’t think it worked that time either.

  23. Don R. Lewis says:

    Oh, I TOTALLY loved those parts movieman. It just felt like they didn’t follow up with (for instance) the woman who later married him and other things later in his life. Granted, that woman may have said NO to being interviewed, but there was no “So and so declined to be interviewed” title card or anything. To me (and this is just MY thought) it felt like they were trying to make a festival deadline so just wrapped it up early and thus, the closure was missing. It petered out. But yeah….that first part was enthralling!

  24. scooterzz says:

    this was a great year for hbo docs and i’m really surprised scorsese’s george harrison film (among others) didn’t make the cut….
    along those same lines, robert weide’s woody allen film probably couldn’t actually win but certainly deserves to qualify and jason cohn & bill jersey’s definitive film on charles & ray eames is the best documentary i’ve seen all year….. i really don’t understand how these couldn’t have made the list….

  25. movieman says:

    I appreciate your frustration with certain (latter) parts of the movie, Don.
    But it was one of those increasingly rare instances where I didn’t want the film to end. I could have easily sat through an add’l hour or more. And that’s coming from someone who didn’t give two shits about Fischer beforehand.
    You’re right about it being an exceptional year for original HBO films, Scooter: not just their docs, but “Mildred Pierce,” “Cinema Verite” and “Too Big to Fail” as well.
    If it was eligible, Haynes’ “Pierce” would be a lock for my 10-best list.

  26. Hallick says:

    “The point is not what Poland said, but that it obviously had no place in this article.”

    It’s an op-ed piece, not an article, and Poland’s analogy, offensive to you or not, falls well within the scope of an “op”, thus its place here isn’t as arguable as the merits of his point itself.

  27. EthanG says:

    Agreed it’s been a great year for HBO. I even loved the faith vs. reason adaptation of “The Sunset Limited” with Samuel L Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones. Riveting.

  28. Keil Shults says:

    I suppose the blog argument is a valid one, but it does grow tiresome running into so much liberal bias in film articles over the years.

    In other news, both the Fischer and Harrison docs were enjoyable but not Oscar-worthy…by any stretch of the imagination.

  29. EthanG says:

    Just as it becomes tiresome to experience almost nothing but complete incompetence when it comes to conservative film-making. Sometimes I wonder if the inability to create right leaning films that aren’t a total mess and/or accidentally humorous leads film critics and cinephiles to become more left-leaning.

  30. JS Partisan says:

    Ethan, it’s the whole “no great art is created by conservatives” thing. Which is the truth. Now, if Keli wants to get so bent out of shape about the Tea Party, then maybe he should go over to HE. You know, the site ran by a crazed conservative? The fact that you think the Occupy movement is stupid, is why you fail.

  31. Danella Isaacs says:

    The humanistic values that fill most of the history of cinema tends to attract progressives. One can point to a number of films with a Right Wing attitude: Dirty Harry movies, Top Gun, Braveheart, My Son John, but the majority tend to be more readable as liberal. They encourage compassion, empathy, and ethical reflection. In other words, liberal.

  32. Bitplayer says:

    Shults go to another blog your attention whoring is over the top. It’s his blog and he can express himself however he wants. I hate his blood feud with Finke but I still read this site. Why shouldn’t I it’s free. BTW I think the Tea Partiers are hypocrites and a good example of head in sand decision making. Zero protests when Bush was doling out tax cuts to the wealthy, doling out entitlements and giving everyone stimulus checks while simultaneously waging two wars. Not fiscally sound. Obama gets out of office and the “party” will disappear, no changes in policy needed. Total bullshit. Project Nim and Tabloid rocked.

  33. LYT says:

    Art is inherently political – look at how all repressive societies try to ban music, censor filmmakers, tell people how to dress, etc.

    Insisting that criticism be apolitical, therefore, is bullshit. There are plenty of right-leaning film sites nowadays if you don’t like this one, and many of them make massive leaps in logic way beyond a Tea Party namedrop.

  34. LexG says:

    Biggest movie fan IN THE WORLD, and I’d vote for RICK PERRY THE GOD AMONG MEN in an instant, and I was a huuuuuuge GWB fan.


  35. film fanatic says:

    Lex: Watch this video and tell me if you still feel the same way about voting for Perry:

  36. movieman says:

    Ethan- I thought “The Sunset Limited” was terrific as well: the very model of how to adapt a stage play to another medium without diluting its inherent theatricality.

  37. movieman says:

    “Sunset” reminded of the very best stage-to-screen adaptations from Ely Landau’s American Film Theater: “The Homecoming,” “Butley,” “The Iceman Cometh.”

  38. MDOC says:

    Lex, you have a much better chance of finding a hot young white girl to sleep with tonight than convincing anyone here to vote for any Republican. And you probably have a better chance of having cardinal knowledge of K-Stew than getting the folks to consider Perry.

  39. EthanG says:

    Getting off topic here, but the most absurdly awesome political film I’ve seen ads for in a long time has to be “The Politics of Love” a Bollywood/Hollywood mashup of the 2008 election in which “a beautiful, idealistic local Obama volunteer reluctantly falls for her Republican counterpart: a sexy, savvy, African American conservative.”

    It also has the best political poster of the year by FAR:

The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon