Another Oscar Documentary Outrage?

By Robert Marich
   The Oscars have a long history of passing over famous films for consideration in the documentary category and this year’s surprise is the exclusion of Waiting For Superman, which is a critically praised film about America’s dysfunctional public education system.
   New York Post columnist Kyle Smith attributes the snub to Hollywood’s liberal elite in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences not wishing to offend labor unions and the teachers’ union in particular. That’s a provocative conclusion that’s difficult to prove or disprove. But clearly the Oscar documentary category is controversial again.
   “Welcome to reverse McCarthyism,” charges Smith. “Not only are conservatives unwelcome (bordering on unemployable) in Hollywood, but even fully paid-up and lionized liberals like [Davis] Guggenheim [who made the documentary] must be shunned for making a case that conservatives agree with…Even if that case is so airtight that the nation's leading liberal film critics were all but united in their praise.”
   The article then cites praising quotes for Waiting For Superman from Roger Ebert, Variety and New York magazine. Smith writes that it’s hard to understand why the snub given filmmaker Davis Guggenheim won the documentary Oscar for global warming alarm An Inconvenient Truth.
   Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss disses Waiting For Superman and says its snub is deserved “given that classic documentaries are factual and straightforward, and don’t, as did Superman, fake scenes for emotional impact.”
   Hmmm. A lot of documentaries these days are not “classic” and lard on exaggeration, such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and this year’s nominee Exit Through The Gift Shop. In fact, the straightforward “classic” documentary is now in severe decline, so it’s strange to see a journalist trot out this discarded yardstick.
   Smith also notes that the five films nominated in Oscar's documentary category are mostly trifles. Waste Land is about an artist who recycles refuse in his creations. Exit Through The Gift Shop is about a London graffiti artist.
   The list of famous documentaries that were good enough to win the Oscar but weren’t even nominated in the documentary category includes cartoonist life Crumb, wildlife Grizzly Man, car company farce Man Roger And Me, Hoop Dreams, Holocaust survivor-themed Shoah and wrongly-accused The Thin Blue Line.
   These films make many all-time best movie lists that are not limited to documentaries. I think Hoop Dreams—about two youths trying to climb out of the Chicago ghetto with their basketball skills--is one of the best films ever made. Curiously, though snubbed in the documentary segment, Hoop Dreams was Oscar nominated in the Editing category, which attests to its quality.
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