Oscar Moment: “Inside Job”

8 10 2010

There are many categories on my Oscar ballot that I always call a toss-up, such as the short films.  However, one such category regrettably includes the Best Documentary Feature, which I have, in the past, had little interest in.  These movies tackle important current events or shine new perspectives on old ones, and as I’ve become more educated, these have become more intriguing to me.

So in 2010, I’ve vowed to take an active interest in handicapping the Best Documentary Feature race, and it starts today with this Oscar Moment.  First on tap is Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job,” the documentary on the 2008 financial collapse that opens today in New York and Los Angeles.

The documentary first made a blip on my radar when it premiered at Cannes back in May.  There it was the best reviewed movie of the festival, receiving nothing but the highest of praise from all angles.  According to IndieWIRE, “Inside Job” was the only movie at Cannes to score an A average.  Sony Pictures Classics picked it up there in France and played it at the Toronto and Telluride Film Festivals last month and the New York Film Festival last week.

The movie makes the argument that Wall Street has been heading for collapse ever since the 1980s when institutions were allowed to trade on their own behalf.  The idea that banks and firms are betting against the customers is frightening, and the marketing campaign behind the movie seeks to make it look like an “economic horror movie.”  It’s an interesting notion, and given some of the movie’s revelations, Sony Pictures Classics may be on to something.

The movie is more than just Ferguson’s hypotheses based on CNBC reports; he managed to get some high-profile figures on camera.  While there’s no Alan Greenspan or Ben Bernanke, he did manage to land former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and a high-end Wall Street prostitute.  These interviews make for an interesting aspect, according to Kris Tapley of In Contention:

With the brave subjects at apparent fault who somehow thought it was a good idea to go before Ferguson’s lens, the filmmaker takes on the role of interrogator, holding fast as they squirm and never allowing retreat (to the point that one subject, clearly flustered, asks that the camera be turned off for a moment). The thickness of the material and the dizzying nature of the underhanded tactics held up for examination pretty much becomes the point as the film moves on.

The movie is narrated by all-American boy Matt Damon, but it seems to me like Ferguson is the big character in the movie.  He has a stance, and he’s not afraid to put himself out there to make it known.  This isn’t just the facts; there is a slant.  The politics of “Inside Job” line up nicely with Academy politics, so the movie’s opinion certainly won’t work against it.

The real question is if “Inside Job” will align with the Academy’s flavor of the month in the documentary category.  Last year’s winner, “The Cove,” dealt with a very strong ethical cause that had not been anywhere in the news.  Two years ago, “Man on Wire” told the story of Philipe Petit’s 1973 walk between the World Trade Center towers.  Three years ago, Ferguson’s own Iraq documentary “No End in Sight” lost to “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which took a look at American policy on torture in Iraq.  Four years ago, winner “An Inconvenient Truth” made global warming an issue.  Five years ago, “March of the Penguin” charmed everyone in America.

Political hot-button issues may have a place on Fox News and CNN, but the Academy doesn’t always welcome them as we can see by their track record over the last five years.  With the economy being all over the news, do we need it again at the Oscars?

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Documentary Feature



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