Thursday, November 10, 2016

Oscars: Entering the race with OJ:Made in America, 13th, Weiner

On Friday I ended up leaving work early because, like half of my town, I had the bitter ends of a cold mixed with complete exhaustion from pretty much, well, everything.  And while laying on my bed, at 10:00AM I pondered what to do with this entire day with nothing to do. I briefly contemplated a trip to Redbox. There are still several movies from earlier in the year that I missed ("Deadpool," "The Witch," "The Lobster," "The Shallows..." to name a few) that I consider necessary viewing in order to truly understand the 2015 cinematic landscape. But once under the covers I started to think about the Oscars and decided that I would watch the documentary, "OJ: Made in America." It would occupy the day and add a notch on my Oscar belt.

At first I was a bit apprehensive. Not a fan of OJ, nor of football, I felt a wall go up during the first minutes of Part 1. Yet, even with my barrier to the subject I slowly, almost without my knowing became invested. As we saw OJ emerge as a football star/hero and then move into race issues in Los Angeles and of course the trial of the century, a very simple, yet deliberate and thorough picture was painted.  I was riveted to this film. It did take me two days to watch it. I saw parts 1-4 in one sitting and part 5 the next day. In terms of prognosticating, here lies the problem with its Oscar chances. "OJ: Made in America" is considered, according to interviews with director Ezra Edelman, a film. A 7 and 1/2 hour film. And while it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was released in theaters in May, it was obviously, to me at least and despite the director's insistence, divided into 5 parts for television purposes.   Does it matter? Not necessarily, But when talking about Oscars and chances, this is the kind of stuff we have to get into.  I believe this to be must viewing for any cinephile. But will the Academy really watch this entire documentary? Hopefully.

A couple of weeks ago I also watched Ava Duvernay's "13th." I feel this is emerging as the frontrunner for Best Documentary although I really hate participating in that conversation having seen almost nothing at this point. I had hoped to see "I Am Not Your Negro" at Indie Memphis, but my schedule simply didn't allow for it. So much of "13th" was remarkable, but I found some of the shot set ups to be incredibly distracting. Placing Angela Davis front and center in a beautiful setting is one thing. But the side shots were composition fails that simply wouldn't end, consistently taking me out of the subject matter. The illustrations, on the other hand were quite effective and subtle. The increase in prisoners, the story/presence of Angela Davis, the Trump reference...all moments that truly stuck with me, but not as much as those weird side shots. Why Ava, why?
The last documentary I watched was "Weiner." I've been hearing about it via Eric Kohn of Indiewire and decided to watch it on election day. This is a remarkable documentary. The access given by Weiner and his wife to Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg says the same thing about them that "13th" says about Duvernay. Respect and friendship can get you pretty far, at least in terms of access.  I was always a fan of Anthony Weiner and his politics, and found myself rooting for him during the film as well, especially in the beginning. I honestly don't know why.  Watching how the campaign handled the unfolding of the latest (at the time) scandal while trying to complete his mayoral campaign was fascinating. But nothing compared to seeing him and Huma navigate both their relationship and the transpiring events.  Politicians and their wives have unique relationships, just like those in Hollywood, and us regular people really can't understand that. But this certainly made things a little more clear.  And where "13th" failed for me in terms of filmmaking, "Weiner" is perfection. Just slick enough with it's editing, vision and point of view but always keeping its subjects and their relationships front and center. Krigman and Steinberg really didn't have to do much other than simply waiting for the proverbial shoes to drop.

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