The Academy had its hands full in an attempt to reduce a whopping eighty-one films down to a more manageable fifteen in the Documentary Feature category. This number will be further reduced to five, with the announcement of the 2006 nominees on January 23, 2007.
As an avid longtime observer of the Academy Awards, I do not recall the documentary feature category being so politically charged. The 2005 nominees included March of the Penguins and Murderball, neither existing on any sort of political playing field. And while Born into Brothels, the 2004 winner, may have a slight political overtone, the film is redolent with human strength of spirit rather than a statement about the inaction of government.
This year, however the contenders are steeped in political drivel. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just prefer not to be beaten about the head by my documentary films. However, a light tap upside is fine, which brings me to my first pick, Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? This is the Crystal Light of political campaign documentary soft drinks. No calorie-laden, hardcore inside scoop here, just feet-to-the-pavement grassroots campaigning caught on film. And I'm a sucker for a happy ending.
There are several clear front runners for the five available slots including An Inconvenient Truth and Shut-up & Sing. Both of these mainstream films are sure to garner a nomination. The real question, however, is whether Al Gore really wants to make a presidential run for office and do the Dixie Chicks really think a political documentary is the way to win back fans, who were previously incensed at their political proclamations? For an interesting flip-side look at the topic of global warming, snuggle up with Michael Crichton's well-researched novel, State of Fear.
Deliver Us from Evil is a harsh look at the politics of the Catholic Church that allowed the cover up of years of molestation and sexual abuse. The most disturbing element of this documentary is the voluntary participation of baby-raper Father Oliver O'Grady (his victims include a child as young as nine months old). Studies profiling pedophiles have often brought to the surface their need to relive their crimes, and indeed viewers should be concerned about such a public forum for O'Grady to perpetuate such an alleged need. Director Amy Berg is well known for her respectful handling of sensitive news topics and does not sugar-coat the Catholic Church's involvement in hiding the truth from parishioners.
Of the mountain of films submitted involving the war in Iraq, the final nomination, Iraq in Fragments, is by far the least political of the bunch. It handles the effects of war on a human level as seen through the eyes of the factions that live there. It doesn't involve swelling American pride and in-your-face military testosterone. We could all use a little more humility.
A complete list of films eligible for nomination can be found on the Academy Award website.