What Might Have Been Nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Documentary of 2013?

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Documentaries are very rarely nominated for Golden Globes. The last one was Waltz With Bashir, which also actually won the award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009. Officially, the Globes don’t have a documentary category, so the foreign one is its best shot these days. There used to be a Best Documentary Film award given out, from 1973 to 1977. Why they retired it so quickly, I don’t know. Maybe they weren’t happy with the quality of docs at the time. But why they didn’t pick it back up in the past decade is a bigger mystery.

Yesterday, POV Blog’s Tom Roston wrote an open letter to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association calling for a return of the category. He also started a petition on Change.org. A little late, perhaps for this year, but one part of his post of note is a quote from Morgan Spurlock revealing that many HFPA members have said to him they wish the award still existed. Maybe they would have nominated the director’s critically panned Mansome since it stars and is produced by actors Jason Bateman and Will Arnett.

When the Golden Globes are ridiculed it’s because the HFPA is known for nominating so-so movies that have big stars in them in order to meet those stars. I don’t know of the intentions of all the members and voting and organization as a whole, but the reputation makes me curious about whether such starfucking would carry over to a documentary category if there was one. Given Bashir‘s nomination, maybe not. Regardless, it’s fun to look through the year’s documentaries and try to find the most star-heavy or Hollywood of them all and imagine these would have been the nominees.

Could Spurlock have received a nod this year, too, for his Sony-distributed music doc One Direction: This Is Us? Perhaps, but I think the HFPA would at least try to pick some films with higher prestige so it doesn’t just look like a parade of celebrities. Strangely, 2013 was a light year for high profile docs produced, featuring or even narrated by big movie stars. And I don’t know that Alex Winter is a big enough deal for the organization to pick Downloaded just to hobnob with him over dinner. Not like his old pal Keanu Reeves, whose Side by Side was one I’d thought of for last year.

Below is a list of docs I think would make the cut if celebrity involvement was a key factor in receiving a nomination. While the nominees might have been limited to five, I’ve gone way over that number (doubled it, in fact) in order to provide some alternates.

1. Stories We Tell - A documentary directed by and starring an actress is a perfect inclusion, even though Sarah Polley has never been nominated for a Golden Globe for on or offscreen work (meanwhile she has an Oscar nomination for screenwriting). She did direct Julie Christie to a Golden Globe for her performance in Away from Her, though.

2. Girl Rising - While not directed or produced by any big stars, the latest from Oscar winner Richard Robbins does involve a ton of celebrity narrators, including Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington and Cate Blanchett, all of whom were announced as Golden Globe nominees this morning. If the rest were able to show up to the ceremony, surely the HFPA wouldn’t mind hosting Anne HathawaySelena Gomez, Salma Hayek, Chloe Grace Moretz, Freida Pinto, Alicia Keys and Liam Neeson, too.

3. Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve - Another documentary with narration from one of this year’s Golden Globe nominees, this one features the voice of Liev Schrieber guiding us through a history of the U.S. banking system.

4. Sound City - Does the HFPA like rock stars? This popular documentary about an L.A. recording studio is the directorial debut of Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl. He was also in The Muppets

5. Made in America - I don’t know if this Jay-Z concert film is any good or not, but if there are any music stars the HFPA would love to hang out with, surely it’s Jay-Z and Beyonce (who also had a doc out this year that she co-directed). On top of that, this is the doc-helming debut of Ron Howard, whose latest narrative effort, Rush, is already up for Best Motion Picture, Drama this year.

6. Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners - Jay-Z also served as executive producer on this doc from Shola Lynch about the title figure. He was joined by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, making this probably the most celebrity-powered doc of the year. It’s also one of the best nonfiction films going mostly unrecognized on year-end lists.

7. The Act of Killing - Whether Werner Herzog is considered a big enough star for the organization, it doesn’t really matter that he and Errol Morris are executive producers of this film. Joshua Oppenheimer‘s doc on the Indonesian communist purge killings of the 1960s is a global hit, qualifying it for a nomination on its merits alone.

8. Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? - Because Noam Chomsky is the biggest star of them all. Just kidding, but director Michel Gondry might be a big enough star for this to be included. And it would be interesting this year since there is already an animated feature in the Best Foreign Language Film category that isn’t also up for the Best Animated Feature award. And this would probably only be in with the docs, too, just as Bashir wasn’t also nominated in the animated feature category in spite of obviously being one of the HFPA’s favorite animated films of the year.

9. The Armstrong Lie - Like Spurlock, Alex Gibney is enough of a name brand doc-maker that he alone could be the deciding factor for this film’s recognition. Plus, I bet a lot of HFPA members are interested in the Tour de France and therefore Lance Armstrong’s story. It’s also produced by a major Hollywood figure: Frank Marshall, who has six Oscar nominations under his belt for such movies as The Color Purple, Seabiscuit and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, all of which also were nominated for the top Golden Globe. Other movies he produced that were nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (drama or comedy) include Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Empire of the Sun.

10. Tim’s Vermeer - If the HFPA is cool, there’s only one celebrity they should wish to hang out with and that’s Martin Mull. He’s in this art history doc from producer Penn Jillette and directed by his magic/comedy partner Teller, and it’s one of the most acclaimed docs of the year. Like The Armstrong Lie, it’s also distributed by Sony, which already has the most Golden Globe nominations this year of any studio.

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