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Oscar worthy with no Oscar

03/06/2014

At least 43 million viewers watched the 86th Oscars on Sunday night, but how many of those viewers have actually even heard of all the films that were nominated for an Academy Award? How many viewers have seen every movie nominated?

Instead of tackling each category, I focused on one: Best Documentary Feature, which includes full length documentaries. These movies were fairly easy to find; three titles, “The Square,” “The Act of Killing,” and “Cutie and the Boxer” were all available for Netflix streaming. The other two movies, “20 Feet from Stardom” and “Dirty Wars,” are available for streaming through Google Play for $3.99 each.

The winner of the Academy Award in this category was “20 Feet from Stardom,” directed by Morgan Neville.

“Stardom” focuses on the behind-the-scenes lives of backup singers, and made its debut at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. “Stardom” sheds light on life just outside the main spotlight, and offers a perspective on what it’s like to provide harmonies for some of the biggest names in the music industry.

The other nominees cover more serious topics. “The Square,” directed by Jehane Noujaim, focuses on the ongoing Egyptian Revolution, showing viewers a side of the Revolution that mainstream media might not cover.

“The Act of Killing” is directed by Joshua Oppenheimer and co-directed by Christine Cynn and an anonymous Indonesian. “Killing” documents the horrors of the Indonesian Killings of 1965 and 1966 in which 500,000 Indonesians were murdered in an anti-Communist purge.

“Dirty Wars,” directed by Richard Rowley, is based on the book “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield” by Jeremy Scahill. “Dirty Wars” follows investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill as he searches for hidden truths behind America’s involvement in covert wars.

Out of all of the nominees, my personal winning choice was “Cutie and the Boxer,” directed by Zachary Heinzerling. Three of the nominees focused on politics, wartime, and death; the winning title, “20 Feet from Stardom,” talked about the lives of backup singers. “Cutie and the Boxer” documented things that viewers can relate to: art, marriage (and its triumphs and problems), alcoholism, struggles with money, and the inner workings of a dysfunctional family.

“Boxer” takes place in New York City, and documents the marriage and lives of artist Noriko Shinohara and her famous husband, artist Ushio Shinohara, along with their artistic son, Alex. This documentary uses a broad mix of recent footage, home movies made by the couple, and animation drawn by Noriko Shinohara.

The most interesting aspect of the documentary is its name. “Cutie and the Boxer” got its name from Noriko’s art series, “Cutie and Bullie,” and from Ushio’s unorthodox painting style; he wears boxing gloves covered with foam and punches life and color onto his canvases.

Ushio Shinohara is the famous artist of the couple, noted for his punched paintings and complex cardboard sculptures, but the film gives equal attention to the stunning art of Noriko Shinohara as well.

All of these nominees are important, but “Cutie and the Boxer” is my choice because it tells a relatable “love conquers all” story in a very non-traditional way. Noriko Shinohara says it best: “It’s not a typical romance.”

With excellent music to supplement the moods of the documentary, original animation, and real, candid storytelling, “Cutie and the Boxer” is engrossing from start to finish.

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