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.

Impressions on the 2014 Oscar Best Documentary Nominees and Snubs

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Doc Soup Man Tom Roston discusses today’s Best Documentary Academy Award nominations and snubs

How are we, as a nation, going to move on from the tragedy that is the 2014 Oscar nominations? I’m talking specifically about the fact that Stories We Tell, not only one of the best documentaries in the past few years, and one of the best of 2013 films, period, didn’t get an Academy Award nomination.

The nominees were…

The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square
20 Feet from Stardom

Kudos to them all. But we need to start the healing. We need to come to some understanding why Stories We Tell wasn’t recognized. Not since Hoop Dreams wasn’t nominated in 1995 has the Academy made such an egregious omission.

I think it’s the curse of the hybrid. Stories We Tell is such a unique blend of fiction and nonfiction that it does not fall into either category comfortably. It’s documentary as art. Personal art. Which is why the film has been championed by critics, as well as film and doc geeks.

But not the Academy. For Academy documentary branch voters, documentaries need to be important, like, have an important thing to say about poverty, women, or the Holocaust. Which is to say, they need to be socially active films.

Of course, there’s an exception. If a documentary is really, really heartwarming or uplifting, then it has a chance (see Cutie and the Boxer and 20 Feet from Stardom).

Stories We Tell is a first-person, very personal documentary, and it’s complicated. I’d say way too complicated, but, to its credit, the Academy voted for Act of Killing, which is also very complex and confrontational in its approach to its subject matter.

I was also very surprised that Blackfish was snubbed (I predicted only three out of five), considering its popularity and palpable, real- world impact, but it’s not the sort of historic snub that Stories We Tell suffered. We’ll be remembering this one for years.

For everyone interested in the nominated films, it’s worth noting that the real winner today is…Netflix. The online/DVD provider is not only distributing The Square (available for streaming on January 17th) , it is also, right now, live streaming Dirty Wars, Cutie and the Boxer and The Act of Killing. Pretty impressive that you can be watching four out of five of the nominees, thanks to one company.

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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
  • drivr8

    This just seemed like an absolutely exemplary year for documentaries, which may be why I’m fairly disappointed by the omission of both STORIES WE TELL and THE CRASH REEL. I’m glad THE ACT OF KILLING made the cut–although if it hadn’t, it would have been like HOOP DREAMS and THE THIN BLUE LINE all over again–I’d hope the Academy wouldn’t repeat such a glaring foul.

  • Softy001

    I was so happy to see Cutie And The Boxer get nominated. I haven’t been so moved by a documentary in a long time and the editing was butter smooth.

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