Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Welcome to our special OSCAR WEEK SERIES of reviews. This series will go through the seven categories in which an award is given based on the entire film (rather than any one constituent element). This fourth review in the series will go through the DOCUMENTARY FEATURE nominees.


Fire at Sea is a documentary feature directed by Gianfranco Rosi. The film shows life on the small Italian island of Lampedusa. The island is located in the Mediterranean Sea and is a major frontline for the European migrant crisis with immigrants escaping war zones in Africa and the Middle East. Overall, I thought this was a fine documentary and worth watching to get some experiential perspective on an international issue.

What struck me most about this film was that it felt very experiential. We were very much in the business with the people on this island and on the rescue missions to acquire the fleeing refugees. This felt like a really strong way to tell this particular story because it let the audience decide for themselves how to feel about what was going on and just gave good information to that effect. What didn’t work in this film was how it was shot and how much it dragged as a result of editing and otherwise. I liked the realism but this felt really barebones and, moreover, wasn’t edited in a way to keep the audience engaged. I think this works overall but is certainly imperfect.

Ryan’s Score: 7/10


I Am Not Your Negro is the latest documentary feature from director Raoul Peck. The film works from the unfinished final novel of noted Civil Rights activist James Baldwin. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the film tells a variety of stories about Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X in combination with other modern events to paint Peck’s picture about being black in America. Overall I thought this documentary was interesting, especially stylistically. I did think it felt on the nose at times and not really in service of its message as a whole.

What is great about this documentary is that it is really intelligently written and shows a lot of comparing and contrasting takes on the same thing to paint a broad and interesting picture. I also thought there was a great injection of life into the project through the black and white color palette choices and the shifts from actual text on screen being read to images in very particular moments. No question, this documentary is exquisitely made. That said, I thought there were several points at which the film saw and made the most obvious point sitting on the table even when there were more nuanced points presented and glossed over. Race in America isn’t a simple subject. I don’t think that one can necessarily accuse this documentary of oversimplifying things as a general matter but it certainly does so in specific instances that felt tonally jarring. Overall, I thought this was worth watching and it gave me some things to think about, but overall I thought it left a lot to be desired.

Ryan’s Score: 7/10


Life, Animated is a documentary about a young man who grew up and struggled (and continues to struggle) with severe autism who learns to connect with others and the world through Disney movies. The documentary is directed by Roger Ross Williams. This film hit me like a freight train and I really thought it was interesting and effective as a documentary piece overall.

I really enjoyed Life, Animated. I can’t say I necessarily learned much from it. Nor can I say that this is something I would necessarily be looking for in a documentary. What I can say is that it impacted me emotionally and engaged me throughout. The strength in the documentary is its ability to get you to care about its subject, Owen, and to understand the perspectives of everyone in his life and what they are doing to help him. It also impacted me, especially, as a film fan who, though not struggling with mental disability, does use film to find ways to relate to the world. I appreciated what Owen was doing and going through and that made this rock my emotional foundations. This documentary is not especially unique (although it has some cool animated sequences) and won’t have the same emotional impact on everyone. It worked especially well for me, however.

Ryan’s Score: 9/10


O.J.: Made in America is a documentary feature film by director Ezra Edelman and, at just under eight hours long, is the second longest nominee in Academy Awards history. This documentary follows the entire rise and fall of infamous figure O.J. Simpson from his days as a college football player through his eventual sentencing for the armed robbery events in Nevada. It is spliced with and discusses other things going on in America at the various points in time with particular attention paid to race and its role. This documentary can only accurately be described as exquisite and is one of the best I have ever seen.

Edelman’s strength here was to take a subject that people have heard about time and again and find a different angle. This documentary is not meant to say O.J. is guilty or not (though Edelman clearly has the view that O.J. was guilty) and rather just shows things that happened and why the the events of this story are as important as they were. I was alive (and conscious) at the time of the O.J. trial, but only just. The back story of this is something I was not as familiar with and to see and understand that with the depth Edelman provides was arresting and unbelievably effective. It also shows the sense in every result along the way and in some good ways demystifies something that has surprised people for years. I have nothing bad to say about this piece. It is phenomenal.

Ryan’s Score: 10/10


13th is the Netflix documentary feature by acclaimed filmmaker Ava DuVernay. The film looks at the prison system in America and how it shows how governments have created laws systemically discriminating against African Americans over the many years following emancipation. Overall I thought this was a very well made, well edited, and well-constructed argumentative piece that pulled no punches throughout.

I think this documentary works in that it makes a lot of smart, and occasionally nuanced, points about racism in America that I have heard and have become intimately aware of due to serious discussions I’ve had with people heavily involved in studying that particular area. Seeing those cerebral arguments transferred to the screen in an interesting way struck a chord with me and hooked me pretty early on. I also thought that DuVernay’s choice to not make this partisan and to make a broader and more impactful point about a bigger issue was a smart one and let me engage more because she was just showing this issue as it is. The film could have used more specificity in parts, without question. The biggest problem I have (and this is something I have with all argumentative documentaries) is that it doesn’t allow the audience to think for themselves. We’re being told exactly what to think here. That’s the point of this documentary piece, sure, but it is a bit off putting for someone who likes to gather information and think for themselves.

Ryan’s Score: 8.5/10

Ryan’s Pick: O.J.: Made in America
Ryan’s Prediction: O.J.: Made in America
GoldDerby Experts Prediction: O.J.: Made in America

Thank you for checking out this article. Be sure to check back with us over the course of the lead up to the 89th Academy Awards!

Make sure to check us out and like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram for all of our reviews, news, trailers, and much, much more!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment