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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