For Your Netflix Weekend: Documentaries

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Note: This post is the second in what I’m hoping to make a weekly feature. Do you plan to spend a weekend night or two watching Netflix, then instead spend most of the night trying to decide what to watch? This is for you. Recommendations from me. I’m including runtimes, links to IMDb profiles and basic topic info, where I can. Let me know what else you’d like to see. Thanks!

Something very exciting is happening this weekend in my college town, Columbia, Mo.: The True/False Film Festival. It’s a four-ish-day extravaganza centered around documentary films. I went three times while I was in school and had such a great time, seeing great movies and learning a lot. If ever you have the chance to go, please do.

This year, I can’t make it to True/False, so I’m planning to make up for it by having a little Netflix documentary film festival of my own. And you should, too! Even if you’re “not a documentary person.” Before I went to my first True/False, I wasn’t, either. I hadn’t seen many documentaries, and I had it in my head that they were boring. Wrong! So wrong. True/False taught me how fantastic they can be, how they can be just as gripping as “normal movies,” how they’re inspirational and entertaining as much as they are educational or informative. I learn, I laugh, I cry, I cheer, I get angry. Documentaries are great.

I’m going to give you two lists: Documentaries I’ve seen and loved, and documentaries I want to see. Use them to plan out a festival of your own! One of the things I love most about documentaries is that they’re generally pretty short, so you can get two or more in a night, if you want. Everything listed was on Netflix as of Feb. 26.

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True/False 2014: Private Violence

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Domestic violence against women is something we see in the news unfortunately often — women killed by their husbands, beaten by their boyfriends, attacked by their exes. But for all the headlines, how much do we actually talk about it? How many people hear about a “domestic disturbance” and dismiss it, thinking, “Oh, that’s between them, it’s not anyone else’s business”? How many ask the wrong questions — “What did she to do make him so mad?” or “Why didn’t she just leave?” — instead of asking, “Why does this terrible abuse continue to happen?”

Private Violence, directed by Cynthia Hill, brings domestic violence out of other people’s houses and right onto your screen, where you have to face it. And it’s powerful. It’s so powerful.

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True/False 2014: Jodorowsky’s Dune

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After seeing Jodorowsky’s Dune, here’s what I know about director Alejandro Jodorowsky: He’s a little crazy, he has an amazing imagination, and he’s not afraid to chase exactly what he wants.

Throughout the documentary, which was directed by Frank Pavich, Jodorowsky tells several stories about recruiting people for his dream adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel Dune. Most of them go something like this:

I saw that man’s work, and I knew, he is the one! So I called his agent [or encountered him at a party, or chased him down at a restaurant] and said I wanted him for the movie. And he said yes.

Artists. Writers. Pink Floyd. Salvador Dalí. Orson Welles. Whoever Jodorowsky wants, Jodorowsky gets.

Unfortunately, because of financial problems, Jodorowsky never actually got his movie. But this documentary doesn’t give the story a sad ending. As the True/False host said while introducing Jodorowsky’s Dune, it’s about a failed movie, but it feels like it’s about an artistic triumph.

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Oscar Project 2014: Final Thoughts

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Because things got crazy for me around Oscar night — film festivals! birthdays! papers! cookies! — I never got around to posting my Oscar predictions. The closest I got was a last-minute Tweet about my top-category picks.

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Oscar Project 2014: ‘Nebraska’

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Last year, I trekked to Columbia’s Ragtag Cinema after a snowstorm to see my final Oscar nominee of the year, “Amour,” a sad movie about an old couple. I really didn’t like it, I thought it was depressing and I didn’t enjoy it at all.

So I was wary when, last week, I trekked to Ragtag after a snowstorm to see my final Oscar nominee of the year, “Nebraska,” a movie about a guy and his aging father that I assumed would be sad because it’s filmed in black and white (logical, I know). I thought I was headed for an unfortunate case of repeated history.

Nope! Very wrong. Parts of Nebraska were sad, yes, but it was also very funny and very clever, and I enjoyed it a lot.

To me, at its heart, Nebraska was a movie about family, and about people and the relationships between them. It’s about how people affect one another’s lives and what people will do for one another. I loved watching all the lines play out, between father and son, brother and brother, old business partners, crazy distant relatives, the works. And none of it felt fake, either; they all felt like real people, vaguely familiar.

Before the movie started, the Ragtag worker said that “Nebraska” was a  “Midwestern” film, and I wasn’t sure what he meant by that. But as I watched, I understood. If you’re from the Midwest, I think you’ll get it, too.

Parts of “Nebraska” made me laugh; parts made me uncomfortable. There were a lot of emotions involved throughout the film, and — this is a stupid thing to say, forgive me — but at the end I felt pretty warm inside. Not warm and fuzzy, just, you know, warm.

Best lines: Any time the mother, Kate (June Squibb), opened her mouth. Gracious.

My verdict: Enjoyed. Would highly recommend and watch again, though probably not buy.

Oscar-nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actor (Leading, Bruce Dern), Best Actress (Supporting, June Squibb), Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Writing (Original Screenplay).

Rookie Opinion: I’d love to see June Squibb win, because I liked her character a lot. Bruce Dern was also wonderful, but Best Actor is (I think) the hardest race this year, so I doubt he’ll get that. I don’t know much about cinematography, but I thought this film was lovely; being up against “Gravity” is probably bad, though. For screenplay, I’d put this and “Her” in my top two. And I don’t think Director or Picture will happen. But “Nebraska” was great! It was so great. This is such a strong year.

*~*COMING SOON*~* This was my last Best Picture nominee! I’m 9 for 9. I will eventually have predictions, but probably not until closer to March 2. I’m still judging. Stay tuned.

Oscar Project 2014: ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

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I have a lot of feelings about “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but mostly I’m just kind of mad about it. To be blunt, I don’t think it deserves to be an Oscar movie. It didn’t feel like an Oscar movie.

At first, it was fun. It threw me into the stock world, which, apparently, is full of profanity and bullying and drugs, creating an amusing bit of culture shock. The characters were all just the right amount of crazy to keep me laughing.

It wasn’t long, though, before I got tired of it. I got tired of the profanity, the bullying and the drugs. I got tired of the constant objectification of women, the gratuitous nudity and general lack of respect. I got tired of people behaving terribly with little to no consequences.

And then, after I hit the point of being way over the movie, it kept going for another hour. I thought it would never end.

I’m not saying “Wolf of Wall Street” had no merits. The music was good. The performances were good. It was visually pretty fun to look at.

Again, though, I just don’t think it’s an Oscar-worthy movie. It felt like a movie for 20-something guys who just wanted to sit through a few hours of profanity, nudity and drug-driven shenanigans. Compared to all the strong contenders in the Best Picture category this year, “Wolf of Wall Street” just doesn’t belong.

My verdict: Did not enjoy. Will not watch again. Might recommend to a few people, but would tell most to skip.

Oscar-nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actor (Leading), Best Actor (Supporting), Best Director, Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay).

Rookie opinion: Personal dislike aside, I don’t think “Wolf of Wall Street” will win anything. The competition’s just too strong.