Once again I had an opportunity to view all five nominated films. All of them were deserving; though, I’m sure I would have voted on Making a Murderer had that documentary series been nominated. First a brief introduction to each film:
Amy – Directed by Asif Kapadia. This film tells the tragic story of Amy Winehouse. I wasn’t a fan of Amy Winehouse before this movie. I knew her mostly from her Grammy winning song Rehab. I never liked the song and didn’t think it deserved to win the Grammy. But after watching this film, I have a new-found respect for her and her music. Turns out that she put out the very kind of music that I enjoy. I saw her as the media portrayed her–always drunk and high on drugs, with a boyfriend in prison. This film shows through archival footage, interviews, and home movies how this talented young artist spiraled out of control thanks to an overly aggressive media and the wrong choice in boyfriends.
What Happened, Miss Simone? – Directed by Liz Garbus. This is the story of a popular, at the time, jazz musician and singer. I had not heard of her before the film. Nina Simone was a classically trained pianist who drifted into jazz and singing only because it offered more opportunities. It is a great companion piece to Amy. If I had to choose between the two, I would go with Amy. Miss Simone had an antagonistic personality that made it hard to root for her.
Cartel Land – Directed by Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin. You can’t watch this movie and not think about the TV show Breaking Bad and Walter White. There’s even a scene where some meth cooks talk about an American coming down to teach them how to cook meth. The film has a protagonist, a medical doctor, who takes on the drug cartels by preaching to locals to defend themselves. But he loses some credibility when he is shown cheating on his wife. The film also tackles the issue of border security.
The Look of Silence – Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. This film is the second part of the Oscar nominated documentary The Act of Killing. The latter film was my choice to win last year’s best documentary. It did not. This film covers the same story of the killings of over a million people in Indonesia in the mid 1960s, but this time it tells it through the eyes of the brother of one of the people murdered. This is a hard film to watch, just as the previous film was hard to watch. You get a peek into the minds of those who kill without any remorse or guilty conscience. You see what it is like to live in fear; the same people who overthrew the government and murdered millions, are still in power. They are arrogant; self centered, egotistical maniacs, who get angered when anyone questions them about their roles in the killings. I imagine that the people living under ISIS rule share the same living situation. They should all be tried for crimes against humanity, stripped of their power, and sent to prison for the rest of their useless lives.
Winter of Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom – Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor. This is a Netflix original that describes the student protests in Kiev’s Maidan Square in the winter of 2013. This is an up-close-and-personal look at a population going up against a powerful, militaristic government. The protestors eventually do get the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, to flee the country. But it is at a high cost, and, like many of the other spring uprisings, the results are not quite as desired.
My pick for best documentary is The Look of Silence. I felt that he should have won last year. The fact that he was nominated again this year, while telling the same story, bodes well for a win this time around. My second pick goes to Amy, a very good film about a life cut short.
While the focus of this post is on the Best Documentary nominated films, I do believe that a nonfiction film will also win Best Picture. My pick for this year’s Best Picture is The Big Short, a totally inventive film from beginning to end. Who would have thought that the financial crisis could be so entertaining?