For the first time since 2002, when we first started prognosticating the Oscars on this site, I’ve seen and reviewed all the documentaries competing in this category, and yet, pinpointing the winner has never felt so difficult. Almost a year ago, I called the nomination for the detestable War/Dance, a puffy examination of Ugandan children whose lives are enriched by a national music competition. Definitely a crowd-pleaser, the film is very much in keeping with Oscar’s penchant for honoring exoticized travelogues of Africa and may benefit not from a possible vote split between the three Iraq War-themed documentaries in the category but war fatigue in general. Arguably the richest of these three films, Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience is the least vitriolic, “a gallery of art that illuminates the conundrums of warfare and testifies to the philosophical instincts of the American soldier.” More renowned, though, is No End in Sight and Taxi to the Dark Side, the former an exhaustively detailed rundown of the whys and hows of Dubya’s failed war on terror, the latter a scorching précis of the tacit support our government has given to torture and detainment since 9/11, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Guantanamo. Taxi is more loose-limbed, not so bullet-pointed in its arguments or eager to pander to liberal Americans’ guilt, but No End in Sight, which is no less enraging, has made more money ($1.4 million, which is tantamount to $140 million for a documentary film) and has racked up almost as many critics awards as No Country for Old Men. Michael Moore, who famously forewent Fahrenheit 9/11’s Oscar eligibility in 2004 in favor of pay-per-view televising, could spoil with Sicko, another one of his off-putting examinations of one of our government’s unquestionably broken systems. If I give No End in Sight the edge over Sicko it’s because empathy is not without its limits and conditions, and at the risk of sounding presumptuous or cynical, a safely insured Academy member probably cares less about what the average American is paying in medical bills than they do for the rationale behind their paying three dollars-plus for every gallon of gasoline.
Will Win: No End in Sight