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.

Oscar 2012: Surprises Among the Documentary Nominations

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Oscar Statue
Wow. The Oscar nominees were just announced this morning and I have to admit I was shocked. I was so expecting a number of popular and incredibly well-made films to get the nods, but I was wrong. What won out was indeed a list of very well-made films, but it and to was not the popularity contest I’d thought it would be.

Here are the nominees:

  • Hell and Back Again (Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner)
  • If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman)
  • Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky)
  • Pina (Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel)
  • Undefeated (TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas)

First, let’s give props to Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman… and to POV! The film has the most important elements a great doc should have: a compelling lead character (Daniel McGowan, an activist serving hard time for his idealism) and a socially relevant cause (environmentalism).

Pina, to me, was not a surprise. Director Wenders is pushing the medium to new heights by making an artful documentary in 3-D. Paradise Lost 3 was also a very strong contender; it’s the summation of an incredible three-part series that has captivated a strong following, and had a real impact in essentially creating the campaign to exonerate the men known as the West Memphis 3.

Hell and Back Again also had so much going for it: Embedded in the war in Afghanistan, with stunning cinematography, the film covers the human toll as well as the epic nature of war. I suppose I should have seen Undefeated coming — It’s a heartfelt sports doc about a football team that makes good when no one believed it was possible. That, and with the power of Oscar-campaigner-savant Harvey Weinstein behind it, helps explain its rise to glory.

The biggest surprises are, actually, the omissions. Buck, a heartfelt and beautiful film about animals and people, also with connections to Hollywood; how could it not be picked? And then there was Project Nim, a fantastic film that did well at the box office and was considered, critically, one of the best movies of the year.

Like I said: Wow.

But as we tend to say year in and year out, it was a strong year for documentaries, and here’s the proof.

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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
  • Winstonmark40

    I agree that there was a surprise in the nominations this year, especially in regards to Project Nim, but on that same note I am impressed with the selection. I personally find Hell and Back Again to be very emotionally provoking and a great story in general. I am extremely excited for the Oscars this year!

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