When Waiting for Superman surprisingly but rightfully got Oscar’s cold shoulder, the hunt for the documentary feature prize suddenly became a wide open one. Four of the nominated films lean hard on pressing social issues, always a plus, and no two overlap in subject matter, but the best documentary in this category, Lucy Walker’s Waste Land, doesn’t lean hard on our social issues. While that hasn’t stopped previous films from scoring wins here, the last time I thought the Academy would go for a film about people living in and around landfills, surviving off the detritus they find there (2006’s Documentary Short Subject nominee Recycled Life), I lost an Oscar pool. Significant though it may be, Walker’s documentary approach may be too objective for a group that typically favors films that give them the warm and fuzzies or safely, sometimes cheaply, stroke their righteous indignation—though you could say its acclaimed competitors Restrepo and Inside Job suffer from a similar problem.
The muckracking documentary Gasland likely sent a few voters into a tizzy, but how many still gave a shit after learning that their tap water didn’t light up when you held a flame up to it? If enough voters lost small fortunes during the 2008 financial crisis, Inside Job may just win by sheer force of voter enragement, but we’re going to have to call this for Exit Through the Gift Shop. Topicality may not be on its side, but one thing the film does have is the entertainment media’s complete and undivided attention, and if the recent win for Man on Wire is any indication (and, to a similar extent, Logorama last year for Animated Short Film), simply being hip and remaining the center of attention throughout the Oscar season is enough to guarantee victory. I’m no fan of graffiti artist Banky’s documentary whatsit, but even I would vote for the film if I could, if only to see who or what, dressed God knows how, will show up on stage to accept the award.
Will Win: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Could Win: Inside Job
Should Win: Waste Land