Documentaries aim to make Oscar history
By Gregg Kilday
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In the 82-year history of the Academy Awards, no documentary has been nominated for best picture.
Instead, since 1942, documentary features have been recognized in their own category, separate from the balloons and confetti showered on the best picture contenders. Technically, any doc that completes a one-week qualifying run in a Los Angeles County theater also is eligible to compete for the big prize, but somehow, when it comes to best picture, Oscar voters have consistently tuned documentaries out.
This year, though, several documentaries -- among them "Inside Job," Charles Ferguson's autopsy of the 2008 financial crisis, and "Waiting for Superman," Davis Guggenheim's failing report card on the nation's school system -- are positioning themselves to make a run at the big prize. Their camps are preparing to send out screeners, arguing that their respective films are worthy best picture contenders.
Good luck. Any documentary hoping to score a best picture nom still faces a daunting, uphill battle. Six years ago, Michael Moore decided to challenge the odds. Having already won a feature documentary Oscar for his anti-gun diatribe "Bowling for Columbine," he was riding high on the firestorm surrounding "Fahrenheit 9/11," his blistering attack on George W. Bush's post-9/11 march toward the invasion of Iraq.
The movie had won the Palme d'Or, the top prize at Cannes -- the first documentary to take home that honor in 48 years. It was on its way to grossing $119.2 million domestically, making it the top-grossing documentary of all time.
So Moore decided not to submit in the documentary category -- he was eager to air the film on TV in hope of influencing the 2006 election, and the proposed broadcast ran up against documentary-category rules. But while Moore claimed, "For me, the real Oscar would be Bush's defeat on November 2," he also reminded Academy voters that they still could nominate his movie for best picture.
Moore struck out on both counts: Bush was re-elected, and "Fahrenheit" didn't turn up among that year's best picture nominees.
This year, though, the chances of a documentary breaking through are better -- though still slight. By widening the best picture race to 10 nominees, the Academy opened a door, however narrow. And the genre is ripe for recognition. Documentary filmmakers have been busy, turning out an eclectic array of movies, training their cameras on everything from infants ("Babies") to Facebook friendships ("Catfish"), from showbiz survivors ("Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work") to political scandals ("Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer"). Continued...