In a cinematic feat that I’ve never seen attempted before, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has partnered with a handful of movie theaters across the country (including our beloved Music Box Theatre) to show each of the 15 films currently on the shortlist for the Best Documentary Feature category at the upcoming Academy Awards. That list will be narrowed to the final five nominees on Tuesday, January 22, with the winner named at the Oscars ceremony on Sunday, February 24.
2018 was an exceptional year for documentaries, with an unprecedented number crossing the $10 million mark at the box office. Even more incredible is that all 15 films in current Oscars contention are worthy candidates, with only a few noticeable exceptions being left off the shortlist. In other words: you really can’t go wrong with whatever you decide to see from the vital and compelling group of films. Each film will only be shown once, and screenings are being scattered throughout January into early February.
While the complete screening schedule yet to be finalized (I’m told it will post on the Music Box Theatre website on Monday), the first film scheduled is the stunning Polish work Communion, from directed Anna Zamecka, screening Friday, January 4 at 5pm. The movie is set in the small, confined world of 14-year-old Ola, forced to grow up fast because of her alcoholic father, an autistic 13-year-old brother, and a mother who has left the family to live with another man who doesn’t like her spending time with her kids. But the family is finally brought together for the brother’s Holy Communion, and all of the preparation and celebration surrounding it is up to Ola, whose emotional fortitude is challenged at every turn.
Communion is a perfect portrait of children picking up the parenting slack when their adults are too selfish or useless to remember their responsibilities. There are moments when Ola seems so perilously grownup and others where we are reminded just how young she is. She handles heartbreak with grace and poise (usually), while embracing any trace amounts of hope whenever they make an appearance. It’s a delicate, fragile work that balances the fates of those involved so beautifully that you might forget to breathe.
Also scheduled to screen in the coming week is director Morgan Neville’s magnificent Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Sunday, Jan. 6 at 11:45am) about the 30-plus-year career of children’s educator and entertainer Fred Rogers; and Crime + Punishment (Monday, Jan. 7 at 2pm), from filmmaker Stephen Maing, concerning a landmark class action suit about policing quotas that was brought to light by whistleblower black and Latino NYPD officers and a memorable private investigator who attempted to take down illegal practices that had been in place for decades.
Another upcoming screening of note is the return engagement of Minding the Gap (Monday, Jan. 21 at 7pm), the debut feature from Rockford, Ill. native Bing Liu (who will be on hand after the screening for a Q&A). The deeply moving and often unsettling work about Liu and his best friends (and skateboarding partners) from his youth begins as a tale of free-wheeling rebellious youth and transforms into a hard and honest look at patterns of domestic abuse, racial identity, responsibility and simple acts of growing up. It’s the complete package, and there’s a reason it is landing on many critics’ list of the best films of 2018.
Keep checking the Music Box’s site for changes and additions to the Documentary Features Shortlist program, and fulfill your dream to live the life of a voting Academy member without the stress of actually having to pick your favorites.
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