5 Great Docs That Won’t Be Winning an Oscar This Year

In a press release yesterday the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — otherwise known as the big bad organization behind The Oscars — revealed the list of the 15 Documentaries that will advance to the final stage of voting for the 80th Academy Awards. The Documentary Branch screening committee will then select the 5 nominees that will vie for the coveted “Best Documentary, Feature” award on February 24, 2008. The only problem: I don’t see any docs on the Academy’s list for which I will be rooting. All I see are a bunch of solid documentaries sprinkled in with an unhealthy dose of political commentary politically charged op-ed pieces.

It leads one’s mind to wander — doesn’t Hollywood get it? As if they can’t put 2 and 2 together to figure out that we the people are sick and tired of talking about the war in Iraq. Maybe we weren’t clear enough when Lions for Lambs took the big box office dump. It makes me not only weary, but sick to my stomach to see the absence of some really great Documentaries from this list. Therefore, I happily present to you my list of 5 Docs That Won’t Be Winning an Oscar This Year — but that you should see anyway.

In the Shadow of the Moon

Director: David Sington
Tomatometer Score: 94%

Ron Howard presented this fantastic feature doc to the world, a doc that takes us all back to a time when we believed as a nation, that man could go anywhere and do anything. Told in the words of real Astronauts such as Jim Lovell, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, David Sington’s film explores NASA’s Apollo missions with a new energy and a beautiful eye. Not since the HBO series From the Earth to the Moon — another project that involved Ron Howard — have I been so captivated by the tale of that period in American history — the period when the whole world looked up.

My Kid Could Paint That

Director: Amir Bar-Lev
Tomatometer Score: 93%

I have not even seen this particular film but I do know that it belongs on that list of 15. How do I know this? Because every single one of my industry peers who has seen it has spoken very highly of it. The Amir Bar-Lev directed doc follows a four-year-old girl whose paintings have raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Is it brilliance or is it manipulation by her parents? Either way, this doc is said to be fun, insightful and downright fresh. I guess the Academy didn’t agree.

An Unreasonable Man

Director: Henriette Mantel, Steve Skrovan
Tomatometer Score: 92%

The only relatively “political” doc on my list tells of a man who has long been a quandary for the American voter: Ralph Nader. This doc shows Nader as more than just a candidate that balanced out a few Presidential tickets and stole some votes, it tells of a man whose passionate pursuit of justice, zeal for consumer rights and affection for true democracy is unmatched. This is one of those films that is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining — and there’s nothing unreasonable about that, is there?

Air Guitar Nation

Director: Alexandra Lipsitz
Tomatometer Score: 83%

“It seems like a joke at first,” one participant claims. “But once you’ve told the joke a thousand times it becomes more and more serious. And it becomes a part of you.” This would be the easiest way to describe a film like Air Guitar Nation. You expect something as ridiculous as the story of The World Air Guitar Championships to be ridiculous and comical — and it is. What you don’t expect is the immense respect that you will hold for the “sport” of Air Guitar 81 minutes later. The participants take it seriously, the documentarians pay it homage and the audience is left with a high energy, incredibly fun and entertaining documentary. It is unlike anything you will see — or not see — all year.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Director: Seth Gordon
Tomatometer Score: 99%

With a permanent spot atop my yearly Top Ten Best Movies list, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is no slouch. Consider this: according to RottenTomatoes.com, this is the single best reviewed film of 2007. 72 reviews, 99% of them positive. As Roger Ebert said, it is a documentary that is “beyond strange”, yet it is a film that is thoroughly entertaining. Director Seth Gordon spins a web of drama from the ever-geeky world of arcade video games, telling the epic saga of Billy Mitchell, the self-proclaimed king of all games and World Record Holder in Donkey Kong; and Steve Wiebe, a middle school teacher from Washington state who sets out to break his record, putting the world of arcade gaming into a wild frenzy. It is a film that plays to the heart of any old-school gaming nerd as well as anyone who loves an old fashioned Good vs. Evil epic. Billy Mitchell, who is so naturally a walking egotistical cliche, could be one of the 2007’s most memorable characters — and King of Kong is quite simply it’s finest film.

There you have it, my 5 Documentaries that have been overlooked by the Academy. Sure they aren’t all providing great social or political commentary, but that doesn’t make them unworthy. These are the documentaries that people — just like you and me — would go see to be entertained. Is that too much to ask of a documentary? In the eyes of the Academy, it certainly may be.

Note: All of the Tomatometer ratings are based on the RottenTomatoes.com Certified Fresh ratings system, an aggregate taken from hundreds of the top critics in the world. As you can see, there are no films on my list that received less than 90% positive reviews (with the exception of Air Guitar Nation, but that one gets a free pass for being badass). So as you can see, it is not just me who thinks these docs are top-notch — it is just about everyone.

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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