Earlier today Variety‘s Brent Lang suggested that Laura Poitras‘ Citizenfour, easily the year’s best feature-length documentary, deserves a Best Picture nomination. Lang is apparently concerned that the Academy’s documentary branch might be too contrarian or mule-headed to nominate it or that the general Academy membership, which prefers to vote for docs that make them feel emotionally nourished, might regard Citizenfour as too controversial or something. This despite the International Documentary Association (IDA), a pretty good indicator of Academy sentiments about documentaries, having last month nominated Citizenfour for Best Feature Doc.
I’m not arguing with Lang’s suggestion, mind. If any doc deserves a Best Picture nomination, it’s Citizenfour. I know that in this, a relatively weak year for narrative features, there’s no question that Citizenfour, which is largely composed of you-are-there footage of Poitras and Glenn Greenwald meeting with NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in June 2013, is as much of a charged experience as Birdman or A Most Violent Year or Gone Girl. I think it’s arguably a richer and more complex brew than a few other narratives I could name. In my book it’s as riveting as any first-rate spy thriller you’ve ever been impressed by. Lang said it’s a little bit like Three Days of the Condor. He’s half-right — it does have a touch of that paranoid feeling.
Citizenfour definitely feels like it’s more than a “documentary.” Somebody said a couple of months ago that it feels like All The President’s Men for real, including footage of Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward getting the goods from the real “Deep Throat” (i.e., Mark Felt) in that Washington, D.C. garage.