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Oscars 2014: Documentaries illustrate a diversity of styles

A crowded field of very different works edged out some of the year's most acclaimed films.

January 16, 2014|By Marc Olsen, Los Angeles Times
  • Jo Lawry, left, Judith Hill and Lisa Fischer sing "Lean on Me" in "20 Feet From Stardom."
Jo Lawry, left, Judith Hill and Lisa Fischer sing "Lean on Me"… (RADiUS-TWC )

The five films nominated for the best documentary Oscar provide a compact overview of differing approaches to subject matter and storytelling

The nominees include "The Act of Killing," "Cutie And The Boxer," "Dirty Wars," "The Square," and "20 Feet From Stardom."

"The Act of Killing" is a stylistically bold film from director Joshua Oppenheimer which told the story of genocide in Indonesia by re-enacting mass crimes as dramatic scenes.

Oscars 2014: Complete list of nominees

"I've been astonished by the readiness and even the hunger by audiences to embrace something new," said Oppenheimer. "In this case it's trying to understand how human beings commit atrocities and how we build normality around these atrocities.

"The Square" is being distributed by Netflix, and marks the first Oscar nomination for the company which has recently made itself an awards player in television as well. The film follows ongoing events in Egypt as one government is toppled for another. The film was even updated after its initial premiere with newly captured footage.

"Cutie And The Boxer" explores the tempestuous relationship between artists Noriko Shinohara and Ushio Shinohara. The film examines the way in which their lives and their art have become intertwined over the course of their 40 year marriage.

PHOTOS: Top nominees

"I think it's an unusual love story," said Heinerling. "It's a unique story but it feel like one a lot of people can really relate to. It eels authentic because love and hate are inextricably tied together. There's no better way to see that than to have these two extremely charismatic characters who have the same goals in life and competing with each other but also creating something beautiful at the same time.

"20 feet From Stardom," which examines the unheralded careers of backup singers, premiered on the opening day of the Sundance Film Festival one year ago and went on to become a fan favorite. Four of the five nominees this year premiered at Sundance.

For director Morgan Neville, a veteran filmmaker who has never had a breakout such as "20 Feet," his journey with the film has mirrored those of this subjects.

"Everything the women are going through with the film are the same things I'm going through as a filmmaker," Neville said. "We're all on the same ride together."

mark.olsen@latimes.com

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