The Invisible War

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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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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The Best Documentaries of 2012

2012’s best documentaries understand people. It’s as simple as that. They include beautiful character portraits, from group pictures like Indie Game: The Movie and El Gusto to individual pieces like Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Marley. Even the most issue-oriented films achieved their strength through keeping things personal, building powerful political and social arguments through the lives of their subjects. They chronicle the lives of victims who are also heroes, filmmakers who are also subjects, and unique characters who end up representing us all.

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Zero-Dark-Thirty

As dissent continues to flourish in this country, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that discordant responses to films is also on the rise. Divisiveness has always been one thing among film critics, with publications throughout the past decade loving to showcase opposing views of everything from Dancer in the Dark to Tree of Life. But it’s another thing for broader American society to not only disagree with one another but to really go at each other over a certain motion picture or movies overall. This is the year that a right-wing political documentary (2016: Obama’s America) outgrossed all but one of Michael Moore’s films, including the gun violence issue doc Bowling for Columbine. It’s also a year, now, when the notion that violent films may have an impact on gun violence more than guns themselves is being spouted by everyone from NRA leaders to actor Jamie Foxx. Does that make Foxx’s new movie, Django Unchained, one of the most dangerous films of 2012? It depends on whether or not you agree with that idea of films and video games being so influential. Also depending on your side of a debate, you might agree with those calling Zero Dark Thirty “dangerous,” as Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side; My Trip to Al-Qaeda) has now done. I haven’t seen the film yet, so I can’t offer any real opinion on the torture scenes provoking discussion, but here’s what Gibney has to say about it in a lengthy article he wrote […]

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Welcome back to This Week In Discs… now on Mondays for your reading pleasure one day early! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Isn’t Anyone Alive? It’s afternoon on a college campus, and as the students chat about urban myths, employees go about their business and strangers pass through the area something begins to happen. They all begin to die. One by one they fall to the ground coughing and writhing in pain, but the conversations continue on around them. Director Gakuryu Ishii and screenwriter Shirô Maeda (adapting his own play) have delivered a film guaranteed to turn off 90% of viewers with its shifting tones, slow pace and lack of easy answers, but the 10% who stick with it will find a surreal gem exploring the things we share with each other and the things we keep secret. Dark, absurd humor exists alongside moments of real beauty, and the ending in particular is an affecting glimpse at true loneliness. [Extras: None]

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One of the most difficult Oscar categories for pundits (let alone regular folk) to predict is the one for feature documentary. And this year more than ever it’s going to be hard to pick the five nominees, because changes to the rules of qualification and voting have given the race an extra element of complication: there is no precedent for how things turn out with this particular selection process in place. In a way, it’s a wide-open field with no certainty that higher-grossing films or more issue-oriented titles or discernibly cinematic works have the greater chance at a nod. Some expected the number of contenders to be cut in half as a result of the new rules; instead it grew, much to the chagrin of branch leader Michael Moore. And until the annual shortlist narrows them down to 15, we have 130 eligible films to choose from. But most of those docs aren’t plausible nominees. Many of the kind that Moore gets upset about for paying for a screen rental to qualify aren’t likely to go all the way. So they qualified. Now they have to be good and popular enough for people to notice.

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The Invisible War Poster

Fair warning – the trailer for Kirby Dick‘s newest documentary The Invisible War is fairly intense. It covers an impossibly difficult subject – the widespread sexual abuse in the US military. The raw number tossed out? 500,000. That’s half a million women sexually assaulted in the armed forces, and as the trailer portends, there isn’t much done to curb the problem. Hopefully the work is balanced, and hopefully its taken as the honest criticism that it aspires to be. Inevitably, some will believe Dick is attacking the military, but while it’s a vital part of our nation and comprised of over a million dedicated and honorable citizens, the military is one government institution that demands this kind of keen oversight. Especially on an issue like this. Check out the trailer for yourself:

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