Eye on the Oscars: The Nominees

OPERATION HOMECOMING: WRITING THE WARTIME EXPERIENCE
Why it’ll win:
Though not as widely seen as some of the other documentaries in this category, it does pack some serious star power. Robert Duvall, Aaron Eckhart, Blair Underwood, Beau Bridges and John Krasinski, among several other actors, lend their performance and interview skills to a pic that focuses on telling the story of the U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan in the words of those who were there.
Maybe not: One reviewer noted that the film feels disjointed at points. The letters read by celebrities and talking heads don’t always mesh with the animated images onscreen.
Critical quote: “These stories of heartache, confusion, and anger combine to form a gallery of art that illuminates the conundrums of warfare and testifies to the philosophical instincts of the American soldier,” says Ed Gonzalez, Village Voice.

NO END IN SIGHT
Why it’ll win:
This doc was on many critics’ lists for the best films of 2007. It’s also already taken home top prizes from both the Los Angeles Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle.
Maybe not: With so many films in this category focused on the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, even the finest work could get lost the in fray and fail to make a distinct impression on voters already overloaded with war pics.
Critical quote: “‘No End in Sight’, Charles Ferguson’s first film, is without question the most important movie you are likely to see this year. It is not a film that simply massages your pre-existing attitudes about the war in Iraq. Rather it is a work that tells you things you almost certainly did not know about that disaster or things that have been lost to sight as chaos, anarchy and our feelings of helplessness have grown over the years since the invasion of 2003,” says Richard Schickel, Time.

SICKO
Why it’ll win:
Michael Moore’s film is the 800-pound gorilla in this category, with wide distribution, tons of press and a marquee director. It also presents an in-depth discussion of an issue impacting anyone in the U.S. with a bank account showing a balance less than several million dollars.
Maybe not: While Moore clearly succeeds in getting his movie and his message into theaters, his style sometimes overshadows his substance. And some voters are tired of his brand of showmanship.
Critical quote: “Three years after conquering the Cannes Film Festival and winning the Palme d’Or for ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ Michael Moore has returned the amour big time with ‘Sicko,’ his most fluid provocation to date. A persuasive, insistently leftist indictment of the American health care system, as well as a funny valentine to all things French — and many things Canadian, British and Cuban — the film shows that while Mr. Moore remains a radical partisan, he has learned how to sell his argument with a softer touch. He’s still the P. T. Barnum of activist cinema, but he no longer runs the entire circus directly from the spotlight,” says Manhola Dargis, the New York Times.

TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE
Why it’ll win:
This doc has a strong pedigree, with previously Academy Award-nominated helmer Alex Gibney at the controls. Gibney also carefully allows the subject matter to sit at the forefront of the film rather than overshadowing it with any overly dramatic antics.
Maybe not: It’s yet another piece about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it will have to work that much harder just to get noticed, despite its incredible reviews.
Critical quote: “Gibney (‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room’) has crafted more than just an important document of systemic abuse, he’s stripped the rhetoric from official doublespeak to expose a callous disregard for not only the Geneva Conventions but the vision of the Founding Fathers. All enemies in wartime are perceived as animals, but Gibney uncovers the ways the White House and Pentagon have encouraged torture while distancing themselves from responsibility,” says Jay Weissberg, Variety.

WAR/DANCE
Why it’ll win:
The uplifting story of Ugandan children passionately trying to rebuild their lives through a national music and dance competition after having been subjected to unimaginable torture is just about impossible to ignore.
Maybe not: The category is dominated by several entries that have heavyweight helmers who’ve previously received a nomination or win in the category.
Critical quote: “To make a memorable documentary, a film like ‘Hoop Dreams’ or ‘Spellbound’ that can’t be forgotten once seen, you have to be more than gifted, you need an instinct for an unusual story and, frankly, you must have luck on your side. ‘War/Dance,’ co-directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, has all that and more,” says Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times.

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