Hot Dang ladies and gentlemen it is almost time for one of my favourite events of the year, Oscar night! For the last twenty-five plus years I have been staying awake until the early hours of the morning (starts around 1am UK time) to watch the Academy Awards. Anyone who knows me will know I’m a little obsessed with these awards and do my best to watch as many of the nominations as possible. Heck, when my youngest son was born in February a couple of years ago, we named him Oscar as the event usually takes place in February.
Now with the Oscars fast approaching, I sat down and made my way through the five feature length documentaries nominated for the Academy Award this year.
Strong Island (3 Hot Dangs out of 5)
The documentary delves into the life of the filmmaker Yance Ford and her family following the violent death of her elder brother William Ford Jr. The family seek justice for the murder with the defendant claiming self defence. Racism in the judicial system is clearly apparent and no one is willing to help the family get the peace they deserve.
A powerful documentary following the effects of a loved one’s murder on everyone close to him. Beautifully edited, passionate and poetic but I wanted more from this story. I wanted justice, but sadly that eludes us all.
Available on Netflix.
Icarus (5 Hot Dangs out of 5)
A documentary which starts as a story of a competitive cyclist (filmmaker and original focus of the documentary Bryan Fogel) who struggles to compete with the major players in the sport, starts taking performance enhancing drugs to test the anti-doping system.
The story takes a dramatic turn when he meets Grigory Rodchenkov, a scientist working for the Russian Olympic team and a tale of anti-doping in sport turns into a political thriller. Sudden deaths, lives in danger, Grigory escapes to America in order to avoid becoming a statistic. The shocking story of the Russian Olympic team drug scandal! An outstanding documentary which will keep you hooked from start to finish.
Available on Netflix.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (4 Hot Dangs out of 5)
Follows the story of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a small bank serving the Chinese community in Chinatown, New York City. The bank run by the Sung family are taken to court by the district attorney’s office regarding mortgage fraud/money laundering charges. The family discovered the fraud themselves, sacked those involved and reported the crimes to the authorities.
The only US bank indicted following the 2008 financial crisis, this is the story of a family fighting together to save their name. The power of community shines throughout this great documentary.
Faces Places ( 2.5 Hot Dangs out of 5)
The story of Director Agnès Varda and photographer/muralist JR who go on a road trip in a giant camera camper van, forming a beautiful friendship and sharing their love of art. It depicts beautiful French landscapes, photography as well as murals to be seen in the unlikeliest of places.
Although this documentary had some incredible shots and was heartwarming in places, I did struggle to make my way through the film and was thankful when it was over to be honest.
Last Men in Aleppo (4 Hot Dangs out of 5)
Shocking and upsetting imagery is shown in this documentary, following the brave White Helmets: volunteers helping people caught up in the Syrian civil war. This documentary holds nothing back as we follow three of the White Helmet founders as they follow bomb strikes to try and save lives of those trapped in the rubble.
In 2017 the best documentary short went to The White Helmets, another documentary following these brave volunteers. You can’t help welling up when a young boy, one of the survivors rescued by these three incredible men asks how he came to save him. A breath taking piece of documentary filmmaking, following men who put their lives on the line to help others. This is a real contender for the Oscar!
Leading the Race
So there you have it! These five totally different pieces of documentary filmmaking, battle it out on March 4th for the Academy Award. For me it is between Icarus and Last Men in Aleppo for the award, but I think with the Winter Olympics on at the moment Icarus is leading this race.