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Jonathan Kim

Jonathan Kim

Posted: February 25, 2011 07:19 AM

While it's seldom the most attention-grabbing category, 2011's Best Documentary Oscar race has already provided some of the year's biggest surprises and snubs, leaving no clear favorite in a field with a wide variety of themes, styles and messages. While most Americans don't have the opportunity to watch documentaries in theaters, several of the nominees (as well as great docs that didn't make the cut) are available on Netflix or will be soon. So it's a good time to dust off your queue and take a look at some of the best docs of 2010 while we can still remember them.

Waiting For Superman (snub)
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Until the nominations came out, I was sure that Waiting for "Superman" would easily win the Oscar for Best Doc. After all, WFS is about a subject many Americans are deeply concerned about (education), provides a solution that many Americans want to know more about (charter schools), and got a ton of positive press and free promotion from talk shows and flattering news coverage. So what happened? Maybe the buzz for WFS peaked too early, or it suffered from criticism from documentarians that a key scene was misrepresented. But my guess is that liberal Academy voters bristled at the film's attack on teachers unions, which shoulder much (some might say too much) of the blame in the film for America's failing education system. Critics also attacked WFS for being too one-sided in its praise of corporate-run charters and its condemnation of public schools, while ignoring other, arguably more important barriers to academic success like poverty, broken families and changes to our culture. Hollywood is a union, liberal town, and WFS might've seemed more like a Republican anti-union "free market" Trojan Horse the academy didn't want to reward. For a great critique of WFS, check out Diane Ravitch's article The Myth of Charter Schools. See the trailer for WFS above.
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