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Oscar Watch: Documentary Noms Shockers Explained

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 3, 2011 at 11:45AM

One of the great subjects of debate this Oscar season is what happened with the documentary branch's voting for the final five nominations. Two hits from Oscar-winners were left off the list: Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman and Alex Gibney's Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, while outsider Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop came through.
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Thompson on Hollywood

One of the great subjects of debate this Oscar season is what happened with the documentary branch's voting for the final five nominations. Two hits from Oscar-winners were left off the list: Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman and Alex Gibney's Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, while outsider Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop came through.

One theory is that the Academy's Liberal documentarians disliked the anti-union politics of Waiting for Superman, as well as Guggenheim's use of reenactments. (That didn't hurt James Marsh's Man on Wire.) Another is that the branch has historically favored underdogs over perceived frontrunners. While the branch has often resisted movies about showbiz and music, Exit Through the Gift Shop explores the state of the art world today in surprising, inventive and serious ways.

But I also like another theory: this year several films on similar subjects were competing for the same slots:

Waiting for Superman and The Lottery were both about the school lotteries. Neither made the cut.

Inside Job and Client 9 both interviewed Eliot Spitzer about the financial collapse on Wall Street, but Inside Job was more about Wall Street, while Gibney focused on Spitzer, who is not well-liked.

Restrepo was one film about the Afghan War that knocked people out with its soldier's-eye view of the fighting, while The Tillman Story was another that took place more on the home front.

Both GasLand and Waste Land sailed right through.


This article is related to: Awards, Genres, Independents, Studios, Oscars, Documentaries, Magnolia, Sony/Screen Gems/Sony Pictures Classics, Paramount/Vantage/Insurge/CBS


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.