I've had a feeling that this was the best year for documentaries ever. But I also thought the feeling had to do with the fact I'm seeing a whole lot more docs now that I'm the resident doc guy here at Cinematical. I also went to my first film festival devoted completely to the non-fiction format (Silverdocs). Meanwhile, though, I did notice that the docs selected for both Tribeca and Toronto fests were more noteworthy this year than normal.
And let's not forget the docs that came out of Sundance, many of which either blur the line between fiction and documentary (Exit Through the Gift Shop, Catfish) or at times feel more like great narrative features than documentaries (Restrepo, Last Train Home). Not to mention, 2010 is the year we've got an all-star documentarian anthology film (Freakonomics). You know non-fiction film has made it when five filmmakers can be considered "all stars."
The reason for my questioning if this is like non-fiction's 1939 (considered the best year for fiction film of all time, right?) is a claim by award season analyst Scott Feinberg that this is "the strongest - or, at the very least, the deepest - year yet in the history of documentary filmmaking." He lists 29 films on his radar. I think that means films he's seen and recommends, none of which is my very favorite film of 2010 so far, Last Train Home. The Chinese doc, which is also one of my favorite docs in years, made the front page of the New York Times yesterday with a profile in anticipation of its theatrical release this Friday.
I'm not sure how many of the year's great docs are eligible for the Academy Award (I do know this Wednesday is the submission deadline), but whatever the number it's sure going to be tough for the documentary branch to narrow the titles down for the 15-title shortlist come November, let alone pare those to five films come nomination time. Would it be terrible -- or too late -- to ask the Academy to recognize the increasing number of quality docs this year by upping the number of nominees to ten, like it did for the Best Picture race? If not, at least give us the consolation prize of an exhaustive documentary montage.
If I had to make a guess this early, I'd say that the five noms will go to (if eligible) Charles Ferguson's Inside Job, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington's Restrepo, Yael Hersonski's A Film Unfinished, Alex Gibney's Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer and Ricki Stern and Anne Sunberg's Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. That was hard to do. And I have to address the fact that if somehow Banksy's doc ends up nominated, we could possibly expect some crazy shenanigans and stealthily placed stencils around the Kodak Theater at ceremony time.
In an ironically relative sort of piece, The Guardian is wondering if reality television has killed off documentary. Of course, they're talking about made-for-TV docs about serious and demanding subjects being overlooked in favor of cheaper more cheerful works. As far as the reality/documentary issue goes, though, I was thinking about the topic last night during the Emmys when someone acknowledged that reality series are the only kind people watch anymore. Yet only five documentary films (not including science museum fare like Hubble 3D) grossed more than $1 million this year (Oceans, Babies, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Joan Rivers and Restrepo), and the top four were relatively light and cheerful.
Do you have a favorite documentary of 2010 so far? Are you in agreement that this year's docs are altogether the best ever?