The Envelope, Please: Oscar Primer Three


Perspective may be lost in those final minutes of the often epic Academy Awards show, as the orchestra plays off the Best Actress winner and the camera cuts to the stone cold faces of the runners’ up. But perspective, as in context, the bigger picture, an ability to laugh at oneself or others, can be regained, particularly if you consider the eclectic history of films that precede the 2012 limelight titles. What follows are some Oscar-related films from the Fandor collection that might wind up on your own list of favorites.

1. If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front and the haunting Charcoal People

Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman’s feature documentary nominee powerhouse portrait of a radical American environmentalist has its mirror image, in a sense, in Nigel Noble’s The Charcoal People (2000), a haunting, beautifully shot doc about the poor, nomadic workers whose miserable livelihood involves the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest.

2. First-personal: Incident in New Baghdad and The Corporal’s Diary

War is a universal experience and a personal one. James Spione’s revelatory report from a soldier on the ground in Iraq, nominated in the short documentary category, finds its match in Patricia Boiko and Laurel Spellman Smith’s indelible 2008 short doc, The Corporal’s Diary.

3. Journalism, empathy, immigration, and A Better Life

The Academy’s recognition of Demián Bichir’s rock-solid performance as an illegal immigrant struggling to create a SoCal future for his son assures a second life on DVD for Chris Weitz’s well-intentioned drama. Amat Escalante’s 2008 hostage drama, Los Bastardos, in contrast, depicts the frustration and desperation of exploited Mexicans with a violent, discomfiting rage that’s hard to forget. To provide the world with real-life backstory, documentary filmmaker Tommy Davis joined four Mexican men on a perilous 120-mile expedition across the U.S. border in an extraordinary act of empathy and journalism that resulted in Mojados (2004).

4. Monsieur Lazhar and the world as classroom

Monsieur Lazhar’s nomination in Foreign Language Film proves that when Oscar nominations come around, a working-classroom hero is something to be—notwithstanding a few U.S. governors’ assaults on teachers’ unions. Alas, the main character of Polish director Marek Koterski’s 2002 dark comedy, Day of the Wacko, is fed up with his job and everything else in his daily existence. Will he be redeemed? The same could be asked of Mademoiselle Chambon, Sandrine Kiberlain’s self-contained teacher who slowly, inexorably bonds with the happily married father of one of her students.

5. Margin Call: business unusual

Who’d have thought that audiences and critics would fall for a chat-crammed movie about a Wall Street investment company’s long, dark night of the soul? (The moral of the story: It helps to have name actors.) Margin Call may well deserve its nomination for Writing (Original Screenplay), but for the real inside story, with real villains and real victims, put a bet down on Larry Adelman, Lawrence Daressa and Bruce Schmiechen’s classic 1984 doc The Business of America, about a pair of U.S. Steel workers and their double-talking Fortune 500 employer. Michael Fox (no relation) and Silvia Leindecker’s Crossing the American Crises provides a contemporary, street-level view of the economic landscape through interviews with dozens of everyday Americans. If you’re nostalgic for the good old days of conspicuous consumerism—or think we’re iLiving through it right now—John de Graaf’s Affluenza (1997) has the diagnosis, if not the cure, for what ails you.

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