Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: Looking into Oscar’s Crystal Ball

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Academy AwardsThe Oscars are taking place this Sunday, so I’ll do my best to break down who has the best shot at winning in the Documentary Feature category. First, let’s just do away with Operation Homecoming and War/Dance. You know it hurts me to say it, after having advocated so strongly for both films, but their chances of winning are as good as Atonement for Best Picture. Which is to say: next to nil. Without a proper distributor, Homecoming has absolutely no muscle to get people excited about the film. And although in order to vote on this category, Academy members have to have seen all five films, I really can’t see it happening without some extra push.

Speaking of pushing, ThinkFilm has released both War/Dance and Taxi to the Darkside — and because Taxi has better pedigree (director Alex Gibney‘s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room was nominated in 2006) and has been better reviewed, so I think the distributor will give a stronger push to that film. I’m hearing that Taxi has momentum as well, and that can sometimes be the most important factor of all. Sicko, Michael Moore‘s movie about the healthcare industry has one thing going for it and another going against it: Moore. How does the nation — or perhaps more to the point, the Academy voters — currently feel about Moore? There’s always going to be an anti-Moore posse, and this film, although quite popular, seems to have already receded in the cultural memory. And do voters want to see Moore get back on stage and make another provocative speech (although he has said he would keep this one more humorous than the one he delivered five years ago after winning for Bowling for Columbine)? I think not. Alas, there is again the matter of pushing, and Sicko has the best pushers in the business behind it: The Weinstein Company. So between that, and the best name recognition in the bunch, it’s got a good chance.

And lastly, there’s No End in Sight, the third of the Iraq war-related films (along with Operation Homecoming, which is a retelling of letters and stories by American servicemen in Iraq, and Taxi, about the unjust arrest and eventual killing of an Afghan taxi driver at the hands of U.S. forces). No End in Sight is certainly the least stylish or creatively told story in the bunch — it plays more like a great Frontline, in which the missteps by the U.S. in Iraq are closely examined. But it is another very well reviewed documentary, and it performed well at the box office.

I have to admit that I had been thinking No End in Sight would be a sure winner, but now that summer release is feeling very old. And when voters look at that film, and compare it to Taxi, which is far better told, I have a hunch they’ll lean toward Gibney’s film. Plus, I think the clever marketing urchins at ThinkFilm, which released Taxi more recently, will benefit from its being in theaters now.

So, that’s where I’d put my money — on Taxi to the Darkside — but I wouldn’t be too surprised if Sicko or No End in Sight were to end up winning. However, if War/Dance or Operation Homecoming win the gold, I’ll promise to eat my hat or something similarly difficult and humbling.

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki