Happy Oscar nomination day. I post my initial reaction on the nominees earlier today here. With the list officially out, I can start planning my next month plus of viewings, and I’m in great shape to finish everything before the ceremony. In fact, coming in to today I only have 31 films to watch including both feature length and shorts. Even with a break for the Seattle International Film Festival in April this should be one of the easier Oscar binges I’ve ever gone through. Now to jump into this year’s nominations.
Crip Camp (2020, Dir. James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham)
I’m going to try really hard not to judge Crip Camp for the sins of the Academy. It’s not this film’s fault that it received an Oscar nomination over Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020, Dir Kirsten Johnson), but comparing the two may help to explain my personal thoughts when it comes to documentary films.
Crip Camp was a fascinating watch. The subject matter was engrossing, and an alternate side of the civil rights movement is helpful in broadening understanding of a political movement. Especially in a year filled with films about other aspects of the 60s protests and movements, Crip Camp offering a similar yet unique perspective on the subject is a welcome addition.
The premise of the film is infinitely more than in Johnson’s story about preparing for the eventuality of her father’s passing, and yet I still would have much rather Dick Johnson is Dead be nominated if it had to be one or the other. What makes up the difference is the use of the medium. Crip Camp is made primarily of a mixture of home video and archival footage with talking head interviews. This is the same style that documentaries have been using since cinemas inception. I can’t really fault a film for using the tried-and-true method, but I’m looking for something more artistically unique in the crème de la crème of the medium. Crip Camp was good to great but didn’t have the artistic ambition to elevate it beyond that.
It’s late, but my internal clock is messed up from daylight savings so time to watch a short.
Opera (2020, Dir. Erick Oh)
This was a trip. Opera is a film with no narrative, but rather pure artistry. Reminiscent of painter Pieter Bruegel’s The Tower of Babel, Opera is nothing but a single see-through structure with extreme detail. Despite a mostly static shot, the 8-minute run time felt almost insufficient to appreciate every moving detail on frame. While more of an avant-garde than a narrative film, Opera is a fascinating artistic endeavor.