20 Feet from Stardom

2014 Academy Award Best Picture Nominees Cartoon

A hijacking, the search for a child, a con game, an AIDS activist, a hometown reunion, a space exploration, a hunt for freedom, a genuine artificial love, and a wolf. These were the stories we told in 2013. Scratch that. These were some of the stories we told in 2013. The Oscars are an annual reminder that our focus has been reduced from hundreds of movies down to a few. It’s also a reminder that there is artistic work worth celebrating — beyond hype, beyond internal politics, beyond surface-level silliness — every year. We’re awash in it. Dozens  of titles that won’t even be name-dropped tonight. Inside and outside the ceremony’s spotlight, there are a powerful amount of brilliant films. There are so many amazing movies in existence that we don’t have enough time in a life to watch them all. That sounds slightly depressing (especially for completists), but it’s really a silver lining on top of a silver lining. It’s a non-stop parade of outstanding. Now, as we watch a few of the movies (out of a few of the movies) earn gold, it’s important to remember that the full list of stories being told reaches to the moon and back. We’ll be updating this post with the winners as they come in throughout the night. Here are the winners of the 86th Academy Awards.


Oscar Predictions 2014: Documentary

Documentaries deserve their own category, not jut in order to spotlight nonfiction films additionally but also separately, because they aren’t easily pit against narrative works. Yet while it’s fair to say it’s too difficult to weigh something like 20 Feet From Stardom or The Act of Killing against Gravity or 12 Years a Slave, it’s just as difficult to weigh this year’s nominees for Best Documentary – Feature against one another. It’s one of the few years in which every contender is an exceptional and unique work in this area of filmmaking and not two of them is alike in any way. One may be the most enjoyable of the five, another the most important. Another is the most creative with the art of documentary storytelling, and another is the most necessary at capturing history in the making, another the most moving in telling of a history already made. Let’s give them all an Oscar! Obviously that’s not possible, and so we’re left with a race that’s not easy to predict. To do so, we must look at not only how these nominees are doing with other honors and audiences leading up to the Academy Awards, but we have to consider how they might be campaigned for as well as how they’ll be voted on. I’ve tried to do my best in that regard. Keep reading for a look at all five nominees for Best Documentary – Feature along with my predicted winner in red… READ MORE AT NONFICS


discs header short term 12

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. Short Term 12 Grace (Brie Larson) works at a home for troubled teens, but while she’s fantastic at her job, her empathy for the kids sees her bringing home their pains far too often. Her boyfriend (John Gallagher Jr.) works there too and hopes the two of them can grow as a couple, but he knows her past has led to too much of her heart being cordoned off for the kids. Their situation grows even more untenable when a new girl arrives at the facility. Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton‘s film is a small wonder. It’s essentially a character piece, a glimpse into the life and love of one woman and the people around her, but it’s crafted and performed so effortlessly that it feels like emotionally rich time spent laughing and crying with friends. There’s a slight misstep in the third act where the film loses sight of its characters in deference to a more conventional narrative, but it’s a minor trespass. Check out Allison’s full review here. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, behind the scenes, featurettes, original short film]



This week’s list of movies to watch is not inspired by a single new release, because there isn’t anything big enough out this weekend to warrant such a focus. Instead, I’ve got a year-end feature for you inspired by the entirety of 2013 in film. I can’t sum up every title released this year with only ten recommendations, but the movies I’ve selected are, I believe, the best representatives of the more notable titles and trends seen in the past dozen months. Most of the selections are familiar. Chances are you’ve seen more than a few. But obviously this edition has to involve more popular fare because they have to be influential movies to have informed so much of this year’s crop, even if unintentionally. Just take it as a call to watch them again, along with whatever you haven’t seen before, as a special sort of year in review of the most important movies of 2013 released before 2013.


Band Called Death

June saw the buzzed-about release of not one, but two documentaries examining talented but underappreciated and not-at-all famous musicians: Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet From Stardom, about the careers of female back-up singers, and Mark Christopher Covino & Jeff Howlett’s A Band Called Death, about an African-American, Detroit-based proto-punk bank who recorded music and broke up before The Sex Pistols initiated any anarchy whatsoever in the UK. These two documentaries are hardly the first non-fiction films to focus on the lives and extraordinary-ordinary struggles of marginal musical subjects: Sacha Gervasi’s popular Anvil! The Story of Anvil was perhaps the first really visible instantiation of this subgenre, which reached its height when Searching for Sugar Man struck awards show and box office gold, resurrecting the career of long-forgotten singer-songwriter Rodriguez in the process. Back in March, I argued contemporary mainstream documentaries seem to be heavily preoccupied with resurrecting exceptional but buried personalities, while mainstream narrative films do the opposite. Christopher Campbell tackled a similar subject in regard to music docs, but placed their appeal in more direct terms: we’re drawn to such docs because they essentially tell a Cinderella Story. It’s clear that films like these are compelling, entertaining, headline-ready, and can often be damned funny (and it doesn’t hurt that they typically have killer soundtracks). But perhaps one of the more interesting, little discussed aspects of these documentaries is what they ultimately say about the huge gaps we take for granted in ways we think about American popular music.

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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.18.2014

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