And the Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary is.... NETFLIX!
February 28, 2014
Josh Davidsburg


Whoever wins the 2014 Oscar for best documentary Sunday, it’ll be a win for all of us who care about great storytelling.

Four out of the five documentaries nominated for an Academy Award are streaming on Netflix, available for our consideration before the Academy hands out the golden statue, the fifth is available for rental on iTunes.

Netflix is leading the way to give the public documentaries that we may not have seen five years ago.

In the past, documentaries may have had a small run in theaters, only available to a few hundred eyes. Then they might send out screeners for Academy members to watch so they could vote. If we were lucky, HBO or Showtime would have picked up the documentary.

Now, thousands of people can enjoy many documentaries soon after they hit theaters.

Not only is Netflix a new medium to watch award-winning work, but it’s also helping create it. The streaming syndicate recently expanded its original programing from scripted shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” to documentaries.

In fact, “The Square”—one of this year’s nominees—is a Netflix Original, meaning Netflix acquired the movie’s distribution rights.

This is good news for wanna-be documentary directors. Netflix puts a strong emphasis on documentaries in its menu system, and with the company’s growth, this will increase interest in watching Cinéma Vérité.

I hope Netflix’s competition will do the same, creating more platforms for filmmakers to show their movies. The cost of buying cameras, editing systems and other gear for making movies is also dropping, which means it’s easier for directors to get their hands on equipment and make a documentary.

In short, this is good news. We have more content to choose from, more outlets to see documentaries, more stories being told and more journalism.

And the nominees are:

The Act of Killing

Wow. I’ve never seen anything like this before. The director introduces us to two former Indonesian death squad leaders, who participated in a genocide where millions were slaughtered. Then he asks the two leaders to make their own movie, reenacting the mass killings. You watch as the subjects reenact the scenes, playing both victims and aggressors, and process the horrors they committed. This is my vote for best documentary.

The Square

The Square is a gut-wrenching documentary following people protesting during Arab Spring in Egypt. The director does a great job of portraying the events through the eyes of the revolutionaries, showing their emotional and shocking stories as they revolt against the dictatorship. I loved this documentary. It’s my runner up.

Cutie and the Boxer

This documentary was adorable and touching. It follows two eclectic Japanese artists living in New York City on the verge of poverty. It’s great storytelling, filled with heartbreak and love. It highlights the the balance between two people in a marriage, what constitutes success and the issues of alcohol. It’s a great, home-grown documentary, probably the least polished out of all of the nominated films.

Dirty War

Dirty War was probably my least favorite out of all the nominees. It’s really well done, it’s just not my style. It chronicles investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill’s criticism of the United State’s methods of fighting terrorism. Scahill was the narrator, and I prefer documentaries told through interviews without narrators. I believe what Scahill is saying and doing is important, but I just wasn’t too interested in the construction of the movie and the storytelling.

20 Feet from Stardom

20 Feet from Stardom is the only nominated documentary not streaming on Netflix, but it’s available for rental on iTunes. It’s the slickest and most produced documentary of the bunch, but that’s not a bad thing. It explores the lives of backup singers, who supported megastars like Michael Jackson, Ike & Tina Turner and Joe Cocker. It’s the story of those who sang in front of millions, but no one knows who they are. It is a great story, very touching.

What’s your vote? Comment below and let me know.

 

Comments
  • Judy

    Thanks for the great reviews. I immediately watched Act of Killing and was blown away…can’t believe it didn’t win. Can’t wait to see The Square. Funny that the Oscar winner was the only one not on Netflix. Hmmmmm

    • Josh Davidsburg

      Agreed. Maybe Act was too unconventional for the Academy.