Best Documentary Short Nominees:
China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province, Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill
The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner, Daniel Junge and Henry Ansbacher
*The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
Music by Prudence, Roger Ross Williams
Rabbit à la Berlin, Bartosz Konopka
As usual in this category, it's a mix of high emotions and liberal politics, heartstrings vs. headstrings. Music by Prudence is the saga of the Zimbabwean octet Liyana, led by the majestic singer Prudence Mabhena; it's a subject so stirring that the movie almost says, "I dare you to vote against me." But the main competition is thought to be between two pairs of Emmy-winning filmmakers. Their topics: a disastrous Chinese flood and the closing of a GM plant. We'll buy GM.
Best Documentary Feature Nominees:
Burma VJ, Anders Ostergaard
Food, Inc., Robert Kenner
*The Cove, Louie Psihoyos
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith
Which Way Home, Rebecca Cammisa
With Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story deprived of an Oscar nomination, the category makes do with five other testimonies from the left. (If there's a movie called The Triumph of Sarah Palin, it won't be a finalist here.) The Ellsberg film reminds us of a time when political appointees acted on principle; the Gardner shows a former Washington state governor, stricken by Parkinson's disease, campaigning for a "death with dignity" law. Burma VJ relates the role of citizen journalists in fighting the dictators of Myanmar, a/k/a Burma; the director has said that if he wins the Oscar, he'll bring a Burmese contingent of monks and journalists onstage. The leading pair of doc features, The Cove and Food, Inc., will force Academy members to choose between saving the dolphins and giving the finger to Big Agro. Both had decent theatrical runs, but The Cove could win because it's as slick and suspenseful as a Hitchcock movie and because the recent trainer death at SeaWorld underscored the film's message that the captivity of dolphins and whales can also be a form of torture.