Adding to the already long list of confusing and nonsensical plans for handing out the little statues from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it was announced today that documentaries would be considered for Oscar nomination only if they had been reviewed in The New York Times or The LA Times beforehand.
This may not be as terribly insane as it seems. (Though it does seem pretty random, not to mention biased: giving an outside organization the power to wield a nomination verdict conclusively is actually unheard of.) Despite the rise of DIY film making and festival showcases, it’s true that both Times do an admirable job reviewing most documentaries of note–one could make an argument that The New York Times actually skews towards the more esoteric form of film-making because traditionally documentaries have been considered “high-brow” films.
So this shouldn’t be a problem, right?
Wrong! Because on top of this arbitrary Times review stipulation, there is an even more arbitrary addendum that the review can’t have been written by a Times’ television writer. (Sorry, Alessandra Stanley.) What about freelance stringers? Or reviews that only appeared online, or in capsule form?
Let’s just call this what it is: the fate of the Best Documentary Award now rests entirely in the hands of A.O. Scott. Rule wisely, Mr. Scott, and rule well.