(The Oscar Guide will be your chaperone through the Academy’s 24 categories awarding excellence in film. New installments will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 26, with the Best Picture finale on Friday, February 22.)
This year’s Oscar nominees in the Best Documentary, Short Subject category are, as ever, a varied an eye-opening bunch. But emotion reigns throughout, always a key to capturing voters’ hearts and securing support.
The doc shorts were not, however, part of the three categories newly opened to the entire membership. It will go at least one more year of providing select screenings of the contenders and therefore all voters will have to prove that they attended the screening in order to vote. Recent winners in the category have included “Saving Face,” “Strangers No More,” “Music by Prudence” and “Smile Pinki,” and there’s really no connective tissue there. Sometimes you have to just go with your gut on what might win the day.
The nominees are…
“Inocente” (Sean Fine and Andrea Nix)
“Kings Point” (Sari Gilman and Jedd Wider)
“Mondays at Racine” (Cynthia Wade and Robin Honan)
“Open Heart” (Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern)
“Redemption” (Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill)
The line-up this year was mostly stellar, I thought. Lots of emotion, plenty of well-told stories and great subjects captured throughout.
We’ll start off with what would appear to be the frontrunner based on nothing more than, well, it’s slick, affecting and follows a magnetic subject. Sean Fine and Andrea Nix “Inocente” is a profile of 15-year-old Inocente, a homeless, undocumented immigrant from a violent, broken home determined to express herself through vibrant, colorful art. The film has a high formal value, is well-shot and edited and is, again, just very slick overall. That could go a long way, along with the emotion it taps, toward bringing it the prize. Fine and Nix were nominated in the documentary feature category six years ago for “War/Dance.”
There are two other films, however, that feature less impressive production value but find equally emotional highs, and the first of those is “Kings Point.” But Sari Gilman and Jedd Wider’s film finds a unique level of feeling in its depiction of a Florida retirement community. There’s something profound there; its various subjects talk of fearing connection this late in life, where a new love could pass away any day, and the kind of relationship that reality can manifest. It’s a bit of a downer but I found it moving in its own way, and unique for it.
Then there’s “Mondays at Racine,” Cynthia Wade and Robin Honan’s tale of a Long Island beauty salon open every third Monday of the month to women undergoing chemotherapy. Peripheral to that, and really, the heart of the movie, is its various profiles of the women undergoing that treatment, how their cancer has affected relationships and ultimately, deeper considerations of their lives when faced with the possibility of losing their fight. I would say watch out for this one because it earns those emotions by sneaking up on you. Wade won the Oscar in this category five years ago for “Freeheld.”
Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern’s “Open Heart” is a noble effort about eight Rwandan children journeying to the Sudan and the only free-of-charge hospital in Africa for open heart treatment. It certainly has its share of emotional moments, it didn’t ring the same note as the other films did for me. It’s sometimes a bit more clinical overall in its approach, measured, though plenty illuminating. It could nevertheless be something to watch for in this race, as it does share plenty of similar traits with some recent winners. It’s all subjective, but the others resonated more for me.
Finally, the first of the nominees I saw before it was even a nominee: Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill’s “Redemption.” A glimpse of canners in New York (individuals who collect recyclables from waste baskets throughout the city), the film has something obvious to say about the state of the economy and jobs in America, but it also produces a real sense of community by having subjects casually interview one another. That was an interesting touch. Alpert and O’Neill were nominated three years ago for “China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province.”
So in closing, here’s what I’m thinking…
Will win: “Mondays at Racine”
Could win: “Open Heart”
Should win: “Inocente”
Should have been here: (abstain)