The Gatekeepers

Best Documentary Feature

At first, it seems like this is an odd year for Best Documentary Feature. A lot of the early favorites weren’t nominated, and some of them didn’t even make the shortlist. I’m thinking of Central Park Five and Bully, and to an extent The House I Live In. However, in spite of how unexpected it feels, that almost always happens. If anything, this is a strange but predictable year for the category. We have a front-runner, even if the list appears to be diverse in content and full of impressively affecting films. Incidentally, watch the winner. This year’s fiction nominees include two films based on prior documentary Oscar-winners. Kon-Tiki in Best Foreign Language Film is based on the journey of Thor Heyerdahl to Polynesia, the documentary of which won in 1952. The Sessions, meanwhile, is based on Jessica Yu’s short doc winner Breathing Lessons. Could we see another Oscar-nominated adaptation from this list? I’m looking at you, Searching for Sugar Man. Here are the nominees with my prediction in red:

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review gatekeepers

In a moment of almost chilling candor in the latter half of The Gatekeepers, Ami Ayalon invokes the concept of the “Banality of Evil,” perhaps without intending the full symbolic weight of such a reference. The former director of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, from 1996 to 2000 uses these words to explain how after enough time on the job, the killing of large numbers of people loses its psychological burden. Hannah Arendt meant something a bit different when she coined it in 1963 as a subtitle of her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Yet one cannot deny the potency of a director of Shin Bet using a term to describe his own organization that was originally used to explain the motivation of a Nazi convicted and hanged by Israel for crimes against humanity. Ayalon’s interpretation of Shin Bet’s history, however, is not the only one to emerge. Abraham Shalom, director of the agency from 1981 to 1986, muddies the waters by explaining that there was simply “no strategy, only tactics.” Shin Bet operated without needing to think about morality, he argues, because the focus was on counter-terrorism rather than a peace process with the Palestinians. The politicians, Prime Ministers in particular, were responsible for quandaries. He and his successors, on the other hand, should be blamed for their technical mistakes but not for the ethical problems inherent in many of their failures. Whether this is true, or simply a hollow rhetorical defense, […]

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ted_02037204

Once upon a time, the Oscar nominations were filled with titles unfamiliar to the regular Joe. Not unknown, necessarily, but at least not widely seen. But today, thanks to all kinds of home video platforms and theatrical distribution for even the short film nominees, it’s not always so impossible to see everything before the big night. To help those of you wishing to be completists, I’ve listed all of this year’s recently announced Oscar nominees and noted how and where you can see them, whether presently or soon enough. It may not be entirely doable, as some foreign films haven’t officially been released here, including one that doesn’t even yet have a date, and some titles are in the middle of their theatrical to DVD window. But there are a bunch that can be streamed right this moment on your computer via Amazon, Google, YouTube and other outlets, each of which I’ve marked accordingly courtesy of GoWatchIt. Only three are through Netflix Watch Instant, by the way (How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War and Mirror Mirror). And one short has been embedded in the post. 

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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