The Academy Awards will be presented this Sunday, March 2, and not the least of the honors (as far as LJ is concerned) is the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature 2014. Among the five nominees are these two films, which LJ’s reviewers feel are worthy of major accolades. What did the academy voters have to say? Tune in on Sunday night.
Cutie and the Boxer. color. 82+ min. Zachary Heinzerling, Cine Mosaic prod. w/Little Magic Films, dist. by Anchor Bay Entertainment, www.anchorbayentertainment.com. 2014. DVD UPC 013132609201. $24.98; Blu-ray UPC 013132609225. $29.99. Rated: R. ART-GENERAL
Japanese neo-Dadaist Ushio Shinohara came to New York in the 1960s and became a rising star in the art world. A few years later, Shinohara, 41, married Noriko, a 19-year-old art student. At the beginning of the film, Shinohara is celebrating his 80th birthday, and he and his wife still live in Brooklyn, where they practice their art and struggle to pay their rent. The camera follows them as they go about their daily lives, having meals together, creating their art, and getting ready for exhibitions. Shinohara moves between two art forms: the “boxing” technique in which he literally punches paint onto canvases with boxing gloves and creating cardboard sculptures of motorcycles. The heart of the film, however, lies with Noriko, who put her artwork on the back burner as she raised their son and acted as assistant, secretary, and cook to her beloved Ushio. Now, with more time on her hands, Noriko begins to paint a series of cartoon-like characters, “Cutie and Bullie,” based on their lives together. VERDICT This film, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, is a touching portrait of two artists whose love, devotion, and commitment to their work and to each other have surpassed both professional and marital hardships. Highly recommended for all audiences.—Phillip Oliver, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence (LJ 3/15/14)
Dirty Wars. color. 86+ min. Richard Rowley, Civic Bakery & Big Noise Films, dist. by IFC Films, www.ifcfilms.com. 2013. DVD ISBN 9780788617201. $24.98. SDH subtitles. POLITICS/MILITARY AFFAIRS
In order to report objectively on military operations, journalists must risk leaving the comfort of embedded status, where they may regularly forward military press releases to their editors, or report on their participation in highly controlled combat missions. On one such trip outside the “green zone” investigating an incident in Gardez, Afghanistan, Jeremy Scahill (Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield; Blackwater) and filmmaker Rowley found Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), observing the sacrifice of a sheep in partial reparations for the collateral damage deaths of civilians during a raid for which JSOC denied responsibility. Their further exploration of JSOC, the command that assassinated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, uncovers a secret organization that kills when and where it wishes, responsible only to itself, reporting only to the President of the United States. VERDICT This Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature is a chilling, excellently filmed and documented look at our military morality and the impact of covert operations on our international reputation. Adult material; highly recommended.—Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH (LJ 3/1/14)