Documentary Feature


The films nominated for the Award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures are listed below in alphabetical order:


Watch the trailers below the jump.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK--OCT. 3, 2010--Performance artist Laurie Anderson will perform her multimedia work "Delusion" at UCLA on Oct 21, 2010. One of the pieces she performs is about her dog Lolabele. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Raising awareness for any film is always a good bet where the Oscars are concerned. Getting any buzz whatsoever can help raise a film’s profile and thus, maybe help it make some money, or give the director some PR clout to take with him or her the next time around. There doesn’t seem to be any gender push-back in the documentary category where women are concerned. Debra Granik says it best in this Variety story about women directors in the documentary genre, “The gender thing gets removed for me when it comes to the documentary world.  There are completely very different standards. You aren’t dealing with whether someone is beautiful or attractive enough or worthy enough or financeable enough. With all of those impediments to moving forward taken away, it’s freeing.”

Granik directed Winter’s Bone, the film that launched Jennifer Lawrence’s career and earned a Best Picture nod,  yet she never got carried into the golden city on the shoulders of giants out of that success. Instead, she languished trying to make the next thing happen. Finally, she turned to making the doc Stray Dog, one of the 100 some odd documentaries contenders headed into the Oscar race. From those riches, only five will be selected. The interesting thing about this year is that there appear to be not only more women than ever, but more high profile docs directed by women than ever.

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I was driving my daughter to school the other day. She’s 17 and getting ready to graduate high school. She is aware of sexual assaults on college campuses – hell, just watch The Hunting Ground to see how bad it can get. As much as she knows about the topic, as much as we’ve talked about violence against women elsewhere in the world, she was unprepared for the story of Jyoti Singh, a twenty-three year old medical student in Delhi in 2012. When I told her what happened to Singh, my daughter burst into tears as anyone would upon hearing the story. She was angry at me for ruining her day. But I told her – and I don’t even know if I’m right about this – that hearing her story is the least we can do. It’s the least we can do so that she did not die for nothing. The brutal attack against her is made softer in news stories of the incident. They say she was “disemboweled” instead of: “the asshole reached up inside her and pulled out her intestines so that no doctor could even figure out what was gone or what to put back together.” With nothing to be done, Singh died in the hospital a few days after her attack. At least she was able to say goodbye to her parents.
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It all started with one movie. The Blackfish documentary blew the lid off of SeaWorld’s treatment of Orcas, creatures we know have deep family bonds and high intelligence, yet have been taken from the wild and turned into entertainment for unworthy humans. Public pressure from high profile celebrities and hundreds of thousands of activists has forced SeaWorld to face up to what they’ve done in the name of high profit. They’ve been forced to end their breeding program and now have announced they will stop making these wondrous creatures “perform” for the masses. They will now show their whales in a “more natural” setting. It’s a hell of a start. They won’t be able to take whales from the wild, and they can’t breed them, so all they have remaining are these poor whales who will have to live out their miserable lives in semi-peace. If it were me I would turn SeaWorld into a sanctuary for abused whales worldwide and turn my company into one that helps free other Orcas from captivity around the world. No, they can’t just let them loose in the wild but they could find a way to help them rehab back into the wild. Hopefully they will.

Supposedly they’re ending the shows in 2017. They should be ended today. The whole thing should be shut down.

It all started with Blackfish, the most powerful documentary I’ve ever seen that had such a direct impact. The Academy could not be bothered to nominate the film (of course) but it remains a major success story for the power of cinema nonetheless.


The MPAA has it in for Michael Moore and has slapped his films with R rating going back all the way to Roger & Me. What for? There has never been any sense to it. Moore is fighting back by refusing to accept their R rating and asking for an appeal decision. Press release as follows:


NEW YORK, NY (November 2, 2015) – Academy Award® winner Michael Moore announced today that he will reject the “R” rating the MPAA assigned to his latest comedy, WHERE TO INVADE NEXT. The ratings group cited Moore’s film “for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity.” Tom Quinn, Jason Janego and Tim League, who are distributing the film, join Moore in his appeal. Moore’s new comedy WHERE TO INVADE NEXT will open in New York and Los Angeles on December 23rd.
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It’s really time to expand the Doc race to ten, for goodness sake. There are so many more good and eligible films that are worthy, far more than the Best Picture race even. Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next is getting an Oscar qualifying run.

Fun fact: Steve Jobs by Alex Gibney could be nominated alongside Steve Jobs by Danny Boyle.
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Back when I was coming of age I was thunderstruck by this odd creature Laurie Anderson – a “performance artist,” she was called. She spiked her hair out from her round face, which was marked by two very deep dimples on each side of her apple cheeks. With an impish expression she would flatly deliver words and music that took you places.

“When love is gone, there’s always justice.
when justice is gone, there’s always force.
And force is gone, there’s always mom.
Hi mom! 

So hold me, mom.
In your long arms.
In your automatic arms.”

I’d never seen anyone like her then and unfortunately, there isn’t anyone out there like her now. When Madonna swept in with her legs spread eagle sex became the way to provoke and that’s not changed, not in mainstream music anyway. Laurie Anderson was out there, though. She was a popular force and she did it without ever once using her sexuality. It is unheard of now, when even Taylor Swift has to show off the goods for her most in-depth interviews. Women who want people to listen to them must open their legs a little.

Laurie Anderson’s words, music and art with her invented instruments and her electric violin embedded, making permanent marks. I hadn’t heard from her in a while, not since Strange Angels captivated my time and attention. Thus, I’d almost forgotten what a creative force she was when I sat down to watch “Heart of a Dog,” her ode to her dearly departed little dog Lolabelle.

All at once, Anderson lost both Lolabelle and Lou Reed, her partner for twenty years. Heart of a Dog is as much about losing Lou Reed as it is about Lolabelle but that’s never made obvious, of course. It’s just there – this echo of grief, grief that longs to transform. She ties this in with the way New York changed after 9/11. She ties it in with primal fear of being killed, Lolabelle’s and hers.

Anderson the artist uses paintings and blurred images to convey the emotional content, that has to be adorned by that voice. Anderson’s voice is one of her most effective tools at provoking the listener, either with a flatline monotone or on occasion, changing the octave to sound like a man. She does not do this here. Here, she wants us to listen to what she is saying and what she is saying is quite personal, direct, her journey towards the end with her beloved dog laid bare.

In Heart of a Dog, Anderson gives us the gift of also knowing Lolabelle. Lolabelle, the rat terrier who was taught to paint and play the keyboard after she went blind. Lolabelle, the ever watchful hiking guard. Anderson gives us this gift because she learns that in the Tibetan Book of Dead it confuses the dead if we’re sad over them because they think we’re calling them back. Instead, they want us to be happy, to celebrate and to give to others.

Heart of a Dog examines this aspect of letting go in such a beautiful way it might actually change the way you think about death, if you’re someone who obsesses on it, as I do. It would have been impossible for her not to contemplate it after such an enormous loss. Death, in this context, is a way of letting go of love. Thus, the heart of the dog is love. Anyone who has a dog already knows this.

Human beings are in many ways a scourge to this planet, with their only redeeming features being the ones who are trying to undo the damage we’ve caused. There are a few exceptions to this and Laurie Anderson is one of those. Heart of a Dog helps ease the suffering of the unbearable truth we all carry around with us knowing we are going to die. Everyone we know an love is going to die. Our beloved four-legged companions, too, will die.

To say too much about it would be to spoil its discoverable beauty. But here’s to Laurie Anderson and her Lolabelle. Here’s to Lou Reed and New York City. Here’s to them finding each other in the first place. Here’s to the pure love dogs bring us while asking for very little in return. That love should remind each of that the heart of a human is a lot like the heart of a dog if we’d only let it be.


Apparently there have been some strange goings on at the hands of (what the Church of Scientology is calling) rogue Scientology members hoping to thwart any Oscar hopes for Alex Gibney’s Going Clear. Vanity Fair writes:

The organization’s alleged smear campaign involves making a documentary about and writing a profile of Gibney, according to the Reporter, for which a writer has begun reaching out to members of the Academy’s documentary branch. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Rory Kennedy confirmed that she was one of the documentarians contacted by this writer. The writer, however, did not disclose for which publication he was working.

“In this context, to not say [that he wrote for Scientology magazine Freedom] was disingenuous, and I thought something was suspect,” Kennedy said. “He definitely had an agenda.” The Reporter adds that there have been increased aggression and confrontations during Q&As for the documentary in recent weeks.

The Church’s response to Vanity Fair:

When reached out for comment, Scientology’s media center said, “This is yet another publicity stunt by Alex Gibney to influence awards voting by spinning legitimate criticism of his one-side propaganda. . .Since we found out about a year ago that Alex Gibney had done a film on Scientology, we have been aggressively answering the false allegations in his film because he never presented us with a single one of these lies before release.”

Of all of the things we know about Alex Gibney, desperate need for publicity is not one of those things. He wouldn’t be the first person to claim harassment at the hands of the church.

This Hollywood Reporter story goes into it in more depth, pointing out how defensive church members are and how personally they’re taking Gibney’s film.

And this strange paragraph, which hasn’t been picked up yet by mainstream press:

The increased hostility comes at a tenuous time for the Church of Scientology, which, in addition to dealing with Going Clear, is in the spotlight for its association with Cathriona White, a 28-year-old Irish makeup artist and girlfriend of Jim Carrey who died of a suspected suicide Sept. 28. White, who was found with pills — including Ambien, Percocet, Propranolol and Zofran — had been active in a Scientology-sponsored “Survival Rundown” therapy program, and several mysterious guards were present at her home in the days following her death (though they were gone when THR visited the home Oct. 6). According to former Scientologists, the “SRD” therapy can be destabilizing.

As far as Going Clear’s Oscar chances, never has the doc category been more competitive than it is this year. The members will either be drawn to Going Clear or they will shy away from the controversy brought by the Church of Scientology. Calling members from the doc branch and trying to smear Gibney is a clumsy and awkward way to try to influence Academy members. Their best option here would have been to just lay low. As it is, they’re helping the film every time they act out.


The premiere of Davis Guggenheim’s He Named Me Malala had a few false starts as it rolled out for a crowd of about 300 who waited in the rain to see it for the first time. The film is a tribute to Malala Yousafzai’s work but also to the work of her father and her father’s father, which brings with it some of the only controversy the subject has had to endure: did her father put her in harm’s way, is he using her for his own fame? No deed goes unpunished in this world, of course, as you will probably never encounter two more well-intentioned honorable people than Malala and her beloved father.

Many of us know Malala the symbol and not Malala the girl; as a icon, not as a typical teenager with annoying little brothers, homework and a mild but growing interest in boys. This film gives her admirers the chance to see the personal side of Malala, who recovered heroically from a devastating shot to the face from a militant Taliban gunman. Radical Islam is the enemy of educated girls — and boys. Thus her punishment for speaking out against religious oppression was brutal and nearly fatal. Her recovery isn’t the whole story, nor is the Taliban’s intent to murder her and her father. This isn’t a film about the telling of that past but a film about the telling of the future — her future — our future. Malala makes it abundantly clear that one student, one teacher, one lesson, one book can change the world.

All the same, there is a ray of humor that runs through the entire Yousafzai family, evidenced not only in Malala herself but in her brothers and father as well. Her mother doesn’t get near enough screen time — and sometimes it feels like she is not that involved in Malala’s activism. The film pays ample attention to her father who is both a source of security and comfort for her as well as providing some of her motivation and core beliefs. The film’s title, though, reminds us that he might have named her Malala, he might have steered her in the direction of activism, but to give him sole credit for her achievements would be to ignore the most important aspect of her many gifts.

He Named Me Malala is a film made not for masterpiece-hungry critics but rather for everyone else, particularly teachers and students who know that learning more about Malala can inspire us in immeasurable ways, perhaps most importantly in awaking American school children and their parents to the idea that education is to be prioritized, valued, and made more easily accessible.

The most remarkable thing about Malala is her enduring drive to educate herself. She is turned on by knowledge — science, history, politics. Her mind is hungry for more and her father helped instill in her an entitlement to that knowledge. How does the Taliban or any radical Islamic group plan to subvert this drive in the long term? They can’t. Not as long as there is a student, a teacher, a lesson, a book.

Guggenheim’s admiration for his subject is abundantly clear. This isn’t going to be a critical look at Malala — as if. There is an agenda here and one Guggenheim feels passionately about. His last film, Waiting for Superman, was about teachers and the broken public school system in the United States. He Named Me Malala stands in stark contrast because in a world where women are told they are good for nothing but being wives and having babies, and should know nothing but the study of religion, access to even the worst public schools here would be a gift to those who are threatened with death for even contemplating a less repressive life.

He Named Me Malala seemed at first like a strange choice to be the “secret screening” that kicks off the Telluride Film Festival but it moved this audience to tears and applause, which is more than most films in this slot usually do. When Ken Burns led the Q&A after the film, with Guggenheim, Malala’s father and Malala herself via remote, the reason for its position became abundantly clear. One must never forget Telluride’s roots. Pull up one of those roots and you’ll find a kernel of truth Ken Burns planted, a living tribute to the type of wisdom and insight he champions.


Documentarian filmmaker Michael Moore announced via Twitter that his new film, Where to Invade Next, will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this September. He made the announcement via Twitter.

More Tiff announcements coming later today.

Nina Simone

The documentary category is, once again, filling up quickly. Five slots really can’t possibly account for the abundance of documentaries, most of which are better than the feature submissions in any given year.  Look at the overwhelming number of great titles from last year alone. While it dilutes the excitement and prestige of the awards to have more than five nominees in any category, it also is not a good way of honoring the documentary movement, which has been exploding in recent years.

Nonetheless, three strong contenders for the category have been directed by women and could make this a record-breaking year for women directors nominated in that category.  Debra Granik’s critically acclaimed follow-up to Winter’s Bone, Stray Dog, Liz Garbus’ heartbreaking look at Nina Simone’s life in What Happened, Miss Simone, currently streaming on Netflix, and The Wolfpack, directed by  Crystal Moselle about a group of boys who grew up in a restricted environment where their only outlet was movies. All three films paint dramatically different stories of American life and have all received rave reviews so far.

Stray Dog looks at a Vietnam war vet who runs a trailer park in rural Missouri. His new wife emigrated from Mexico and the two caravan with other vets on an annual pilgrimage to the Vietnam memorial in DC.

Other documentaries that are garnering buzz include Davis Guggenheim’s He Named Me Malala, Alex Gibney’s Going Clear, Asif Kapadia’s Amy, Bryan Carberry & J. Clay Tweel’s Finders Keepers, Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land, Jimmy Chin and E. Chai’s Meru, among others.

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 11.07.49 AM

In this unprecedented look at Amy Winehouse’s early life and commitment to music, bits and pieces of what made her life a painful one bob to the surface.

Watch the trailer here.


Asif Kapadia’s 90-minute documentary on Amy Winehouse confirms the age old notion that watching self-destruction is like catnip for humans. We love to watch the rise but we even more we love to watch the fall. It’s big business and somehow has become a normal part of our daily lives. Though Winehouse’s legacy has long been tied to her drug use and sudden death, this doc will likely bring back the reasons most fell in love with her in the first place: that voice.

She was a brilliant musician, songwriter and singer. Brilliant is not an exaggeration in her case. She was gifted with vocal range, a unique interest in jazz singers, and that unteachable ability to connect deeply with the music. Her songs seemed to come from a dark place, one that Winehouse had never inhabited. She didn’t come from tragedy. She was never abused. She wasn’t mistreated by men. Her only real problem was addiction – to food, which led to lifelong bulimia that probably killed her, drugs (of course), alcohol and men.

Amy in stripy sweatshirt

This was part of what held back Winehouse’s ultimate acceptance as a true jazz singer. She was singing about stuff she couldn’t possibly have lived. She was fine as a pop star but would she ever join the ranks of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett and Nina Simone? This documentary makes a good case that she very likely will and should.

Spend enough time with addicts and you quickly realize that life as it is won’t do. It’s too boring. When your brain is addicted to the very highs you can’t tolerate the middle for very long. Winehouse’s addictions were more important to her than anything else, even her dedication to music and her will to survive. She was warned again and again but nothing could really stop her.

At one point she admits that life is boring without drugs. Her husband Blake is the one many accused of leading to her downfall, as he introduced her to crack and heroin. She wanted to keep him and he wanted to keep her money which gave him a steady supply of drugs and the good life. Once he was out of her life, however, it was still hard for her to maintain any kind of healthy life. It wasn’t that she couldn’t — it was that she didn’t want to.

Director Kapadia seems to want it both ways. We’re meant to see Winehouse demise as a tragedy yet she doesn’t have the kind of miserable upbringing someone like Marilyn Monroe had. She didn’t come from extreme poverty like Elvis Presley. The worst thing that ever happened to her was her mother putting her on anti-depressants when she was a teenager. Whether that helped opened the door for the continual need to zone out is up for debate. As it stands, she is more along the lines of Jim Morrison — someone to whom most things came way too fast and way too easy. Morrison has easily slipped into the legend zone, with no lingering negative feelings about his drug use.

Other than bearing witness to her downfall, the documentary does provide footage of Winehouse singing. It’s also a relief to see video of her being a normal teenager. She was funny and she didn’t much care what anyone thought of her. Even when she was hounded by photographers and her tragedy was splayed out for all to see in the tabloids she continued not to care. She wasn’t interested in fame, nor in having people like her. She was very simple in what she was — someone who liked to make music and someone who liked to get high.

In the end, the film goes on a little too long about someone who just wasn’t all that interesting beyond what she could do with her voice. She was so young when she hit it big she didn’t really have time to become someone interesting. As Tony Bennett says at some point in the film, “life tells you how to live it if you can stick around long enough.” Winehouse would have become someone interesting. Who knows what great things she might have done. Her withering body, her drunken antics, her loser boyfriends all eclipsed that undeniable talent. But perhaps it’s time for that story to change.


Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, acclaimed director Alex Gibney’s latest investigative doc, will head to HBO on March 29th. It is a deep dive into the Church of Scientology, which has already started messing with Gibney in advance of the film’s theatrical run. I can’t imagine how this will go over when industry votes start counting because I’m guessing there are a lot of Scientologists voting on the awards themselves. Going Clear has earned great reviews so far (for the most part, Manohla Dargis did not seem to get it, however) with only 10 reviews at Metacritic so far it looks good.

In the meantime, it’s a great opportunity for you to catch up on three previous Gibney docs that are currently streaming on Netflix. I highly recommend them as they are must-see viewing for any American (specifically – not sure you would care if you didn’t live here).

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room – has to be one of the greatest documentaries ever made.

Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer

What a body of work Gibney is building so far in the past decade.


The power of an activist documentary to change the world is astonishing. Even though it wasn’t nominated, Blackfish has brought awareness to the plight of orcas in captivity. Virunga, a film I hope wins the Oscar (and if not that, Last Days in Vietnam, though CitizenFour will win), outs a mining company for further endangering the mountain gorillas. Very few of them are left. The Church of England very rarely, according to this Guardian piece, reveals its investments but has released the following statement:

“Following board-level engagement between the Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) and Soco International plc, the EIAG has raised serious concerns about the company’s determination to satisfactorily address, in an open and transparent manner, allegations concerning the operations of Soco in and around the Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

The film’s producer said, “We always hoped the film would bring the story of Virunga to the fore. We are truly excited that the Church of England has responded in this way.”

If you have not seen Virunga, what are you waiting for?

Full statement from the Church of England:

EIAG issues statement on National Investment Bodies holding in SOCO

The Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) has issued a formal statement relating to the holdings of the Church’s National Investing Bodies in SOCO International Plc.

“Following Board level engagement between the Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) and SOCO International Plc (SOCO), the EIAG has raised serious concerns about the Company’s determination to satisfactorily address, in an open and transparent manner, allegations concerning the operations of SOCO in and around the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

These allegations are of a serious nature and require a response from the Board that urgently seeks to restore the confidence of shareholders. We find the efforts of the Company to date have not been sufficient.

Through the engagement undertaken by the Church of England EIAG a series of steps were identified to the Company that should be taken to restore confidence. These included:

1. Instigation of a wide ranging and transparent independent enquiry of SOCO’s operations in and around Virunga National Park, including the publication of the enquiry scope, outcome and confirmation of any resulting actions.

2. Amendment of the previously issued statement agreed between SOCO and WWF to remove any room for doubt about their intentions within existing or future boundaries of a World Heritage Site so that there are without exception, no circumstances in which SOCO would conduct further exploration or production activities in the Virunga National Park. And for this to be communicated to the World Heritage Committee.

3. To adopt and publish best practice standards across a wide range of its operations.

4. To date it is unfortunate that the Company has not felt it possible to take these steps. The EIAG do not normally disclose the contents of our discussions with a company. However, if we judge that sufficient progress is not being made we reserve the right to issue public statements, seek to move shareholder resolutions and/or to divest from the company.
The EIAG will continue to monitor the company’s activities and to engage with the Board.




Have you seen Virunga yet? It’s currently streaming on Netflix and it’s one of the best features in a documentary category full of great films. Of the five, I’d rank the current frontrunner last in terms of actual filmmaking. CitizenFour is history in the making, a noble effort to show Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing as it went down. But it is too one-sided for my taste – it really just bolsters Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, coming from a very specific point of view. How you feel about the subject will likely determine how you view the film. The other four are as engaging, if not more so. Rory Kennedy’s Last Days in Vietnam about our willingness to cut and run at the end of the Vietnam war, John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s brilliant Finding Vivian Maier, Wim Wenders’ breathtaking Salt of the Earth, and finally, the heartbreaking, unforgettable Virunga, written and directed by Orlando von Einsiedel. Two films directed by women in the race are both worthy winners, though of the two Last Days in Vietnam is the better film, in my humble opinion.

Virunga is a film that rips your heart out. It’s about a group of brave soldiers who are risking their lives to keep alive a family of mountain gorillas amid civil war and the raping of the Congo for natural resources. It is such an important message about how humans really are the sixth extinction. We’re destroying all other life on earth at a rapid pace.

The doc category, like the shorts category, mostly blows away the feature film category in terms of storytelling. They are about our world, our past, and our potential future. Of the other four, probably only Virunga can beat CitizenFour but I doubt anything will.



CitizenFour has just won Best Documentary at the International Documentary Awards. Last Days in Vietnam takes editing. Here is the full list:

2014 IDA Documentary Awards Honorees and Winners

Robert Redford

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato

Rithy Panh

EMERGING DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER AWARD sponsored by Red Fire Films and Modern VideoFilm
Darius Clark Monroe

Director: Laura Poitras
RADiUS-TWC, Participant Media, and
HBO Documentary Films

Directors: Andrew Hinton, Johnny Burke
HBO Documentary Films

Executive Producer: Sally Jo Fifer
Deputy Executive Producer: Lois Vossen
Independent Television Service (ITVS) in association with PBS

Executive Producers: Cynthia Childs, Dan Cutforth, Casey Kriley, Jane Lipsitz, Alexandra Lipsitz
Co-Executive Producer: Miggi Hood, Sandy Shapiro
Executive Producers: Amy Bucher, Gregory Henry, Lisa Ling, David Shadrack Smith

Executive Producer: Alex Blumberg

Director: Zuxin Hou
University of Southern California

Director: Thomas G. Miller
PBS / Independent Lens

Directors: Andrew Hinton, Johnny Burke
HBO Documentary Films

Director: Johanna Hamilton
Independent Lens/ PBS


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY presented by Canon
Cinematography By: Hatuey Viveros Lavielle

Editing By: Don Kleszy

Music By: Nick Urata

Written By: John Maloof & Charlie Siskel





2014 Gala to be held on Tuesday, January 6, 2015 hosted by Lara Spencer 


New York, NY – (December 2, 2014) – The National Board of Review has named A MOST VIOLENT YEARthe 2014 Best Film of the Year.

Below is a full list of the awards given by the National Board of Review:

Best Film:  A Most Violent Year
Best Director:  Clint Eastwood – American Sniper
Best Actor (TIE):  Oscar Isaac – A Most Violent Year; Michael Keaton – Birdman
Best Actress: Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Best Supporting Actor:  Edward Norton – Birdman
Best Supporting Actress:  Jessica Chastain – A Most Violent Year
Best Original Screenplay:  Phil Lord & Christopher Miller – The Lego Movie
Best Adapted Screenplay:  Paul Thomas Anderson – Inherent Vice
Best Animated Feature:  How to Train Your Dragon 2
Breakthrough Performance:  Jack O’Connell – Starred Up & Unbroken
Best Directorial Debut:  Gillian Robespierre – Obvious Child
Best Foreign Language Film:  Wild Tales
Best Documentary:  Life Itself
William K. Everson Film History Award:  Scott Eyman
Best Ensemble:  Fury
Spotlight Award:  Chris Rock for writing, directing, and starring in – Top Five
NBR Freedom of Expression Award:  Rosewater
NBR Freedom of Expression Award:  Selma

Top Films

American Sniper
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Lego Movie

Top 5 Foreign Language Films

Force Majeure
Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem
Two Days, One Night
We Are the Best!

 Top 5 Documentaries

Art and Craft
Jodorowsky’s Dune
Keep On Keepin’ On
The Kill Team
Last Days in Vietnam

Top 10 Independent Films

Blue Ruin
A Most Wanted Man
Mr. Turner
Obvious Child
The Skeleton Twins
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Starred Up
Still Alice


“Art and Craft,” Purple Parrot Films
“The Case against 8,” Day in Court
“Citizen Koch,” Elsewhere Films
“CitizenFour,” Praxis Films
“Finding Vivian Maier,” Ravine Pictures
“The Internet’s Own Boy,” Luminant Media
“Jodorowsky’s Dune,” City Film
“Keep On Keepin’ On,” Absolute Clay Productions
“The Kill Team,” f/8 filmworks
“Last Days in Vietnam,” Moxie Firecracker Films
“Life Itself,” Kartemquin Films and Film Rites
“The Overnighters,” Mile End Films West
“The Salt of the Earth,” Decia Films
“Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” Lafayette Film
“Virunga,” Grain Media


We watched the Vietnam war play out on television and the subsequent war narratives built by the media and politicians over the past few decades. So many films have been made about “America’s great failure,” which eventually transformed into the story of how badly the war destroyed the lives of soldiers coming home, not to mention the wreckage inflicted on Vietnam. And yet, most of us still see that war as a series of bad decisions by bad presidents — the one war America never wanted to repeat.  Now, here we are in the last days of Iraq, unable to pull out, our mission having failed spectacularly – Rory Kennedy’s film about the end of Vietnam is a glaring reminder that not only has it happened before but it’s likely to happen again.

Using extraordinary, rare archival footage, Kennedy focuses her documentary on how the war ended, how America left Vietnam and how desperately those who counted on America to win that war needed to escape when we lost. Refugees piled onto freighters in the middle of the ocean. Mothers and their babies jammed into helicopters and dropped onto ships – all in hopes of starting a new life in the United States.   The story here is not only about the brave refugees but about the American heroes who have mostly gone unrecognized in the years since.

By the time South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam it was all over but the shouting. The United States could not rescue any more refugees. Many of them were sent to re-education camps, or killed.  What is so remarkable about the film is that it plays like a suspense thriller. Kennedy features many witnesses to those events but it never feels like talking heads because there is so much real footage of events urgently unfolding it sometimes feels like you’re watching a narrative rather than a documentary.

One never feels lost or confused about what was going on, which is a testament to Kennedy’s skill in assembling all the material. One of the reasons most Americans don’t think much about Vietnam is that so conflicting spins have confused the issues about who or what we were fighting for and why it was considered such a failure. This film more than any other lays it out plainly, and profoundly.

Hollywood has taken us into Vietnam many times before – from Coming Home to Apocalypse Now to Platoon to Born on the 4th of July. We know this war through movies. We know it through movies about presidents. We know it because it is entangled in the Kennedy assassination by conspiracy theorists who believe Kennedy was going to stop the war, which was, according to Oliver Stone, one of the reasons he was killed.  But no one can say what Kennedy would have done or how the war would have ultimately played out. Last Days of Vietnam is not really about who was right or how badly Nixon escalated the bombings — it is about heroes who risked life and limb to get Vietnamese refugees out of a collapsing country.

Kennedy has a firm grasp of structure and story, leaving some of the film’s most shattering moments to occur near the end. It is a film that does what all stories about Vietnam should do – shame those who made the big decisions that ended hundreds of thousands of lives while honoring those who gave their lives for our country and for a cause they felt at the time was worth fighting for.

If it all sounds familiar that’s because Last Days of Vietnam eerily echoes what’s going on in Iraq right now. How we view those events, what we choose to pay attention to or ignore will ultimately define this history we’re living through. What little was filtered through the media back in the 70s is nothing like how little gets through to people now. The problem with 2014 is that so many people have become numbed and apathetic. At least in the 1970s some were still involved and motivated enough to protest the war in large numbers.

America’s involvement with Vietnam was long and deep. Whole families were built there and brought back here.  Watching Kennedy’s film one can’t help but marvel at how little anyone thinks about or cares about Communism now, sold to us as the greatest threat to American life back then. It has faded so dramatically into the rearview the word itself feels like a relic. But Kennedy’s film serves a living memorial to how irrational fear and defense of an empire in the hands of people who don’t know what they’re doing can lead to monumental tragedy.

Last Days of Vietnam ends up as a story about bravery more than anything else. In those last days the people who were willing to stick it out to help those left behind reveal the best humanity has to offer in war time. This is a film every American, as citizens of this empire, this democracy must see.

Last Days of Vietnam is one of the best films of 2014.

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