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Has “20 Feet from Stardom” Already Won the Oscar for Best Documentary?

Has "20 Feet from Stardom" Already Won the Oscar for Best Documentary?

“The Act of Killing” won a Gotham Award for Best Documentary on Monday night, setting up what might be a run of accolades for this disturbing and impressive nonfiction opus. Or not? I don’t put too much stock in awards. Although it’s nice when you get them, there is way too much back-room manipulation, politics and other outside factors to suggest that an award for the year’s “best” documentary is actually that. In my Docutopia column this week, I examine the context and conditions of award voting and how they don’t reflect the best of anything, but rather, the preference of disparate constituencies.

I also don’t care for the Academy’s new documentary rules. For the first time ever, the winner
of this year’s Best Documentary Oscar will be determined by the entire Academy,
not the arguably more nonfiction-savvy doc branch. 

As I wrote, “the rule change reduces the chances for more challenging docs in the Oscar contest. With more voters, this year’s Oscar race will undoubtedly honor consensus over quality. And with more voters who are unfamiliar with the history of and contemporary shifts in documentary filmmaking, safer titles are likely to win out. ‘The Act of Killing’ may have won a Gotham, but two hours of Indonesian death squad reenactments doesn’t have a shot with older Academy voters when compared to this year’s inspirational audience favorite, ’20 Feet from Stardom.’ You read it here first: ’20 Feet’ has already won this year’s Best Documentary Oscar.”

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