Tomorrow the Academy will announce the nominees for the 2012 Oscars. Best documentary has always been one of the most controversial categories, from the snubbing of Hoop Dreams to Michael Moore's loudmouth acceptance speeches to Banksy's denial a year ago. In hopes that they get things right this year, here are five music documentaries they should consider.
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
Director: Jon M. Chu
Even though it walked away with an MTV Movie Award and made John Waters' Best of 2011 list, many still refuse to acknowledge Justin Bieber's concert documentary. It's been dismissed as cashing in on idol-worship, but is anything but. Director Chu has crafted a truly inspiring story about a poor kid from Toronto who, through sheer talent and determination, made it big. While Scorsese's 1978 documentary on The Band's final concert The Last Waltz is celebrated for never showing the audience, Chu does the exact opposite and allows the “Beliebers” ample screentime. It works, and they show exactly why the Bieb is so popular. It's a prime slice of pop culture hysteria.
Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest
Director: Michael Rapaport
Michael Rapaport started as a mixtape-making DJ in Zebrahead (the motion picture whose soundtrack gave us Nas' first single). He also made the commercials for Outkast's Stankonia. So he's always had his red head poking up somewhere in rap music. Taking his fandom to a new level, he produced and directed Beats, Rhymes & Life, an outstanding documentary on A Tribe Called Quest. Full of passion, new information, rare clips and an unbiased look at the conflict between Phife and Q-Tip (fans are divided 50/50 on who came off worse) it works for fans old and new alike, as well as a snapshot of when Tribe ruled the world.
The Weird World of Blowfly
Director: Jonathan Furmanski
Lesser known is last year's stellar documentary on legendary soul artist Clarence Reid, aka party record extraordinaire Blowfly. He's widely credited with recording the first rap song, 1965's “Rapp Dirty,” and this documentary follows his comeback trail and chronicles his incredible career. There's footage of him performing “Shitting off the Dock of the Bay” with Isaac Hayes. But it's not all laughs. The film also covers Reid's struggles after being forced to sell the rights to his life's work, losing millions of dollars in royalties from sampling and commercials. It's an eye-opening look at both the music industry and a maverick's attempt to find a second and third wind.
Hip-Hop Below Zero
Director: Austyn Steelman
What began as Austyn Steelman's 2003 voyage to Minnesota to film local artists freestyling evolved into a one-of-a-kind documentation of Minneapolis hip-hop's international explosion. With so few documentaries made about regional music scenes, Steelman's tremendous film features the rise of the Rhymesayers label to national prominence, and helps show what makes an artist a local legend. It also contains a frighteningly honest conversation with late indie-rap legend Eyedea.
Pearl Jam: Twenty
Director: Cameron Crowe
With their refusal to make music videos, Pearl Jam have never much been associated with the visual arts. Fortunately for us, they trusted director and music fanatic Cameron Crowe to tell us their story in Pearl Jam: Twenty. Released to mark the 20th anniversary of their debut album Ten, the film details the group's twists and turns, and fills us in on the members not named Eddie Vedder. Crowe's unprecedented access to the band — as well as a skillful assortment of clips — offers both a fun stroll down memory lane and a new perspective.