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Oscar Smackdown: 'Inside Job' vs. 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'

Inside Job
Representational Pictures/Sony Pictures Classics

America's bitterly divisive politics may affect that other election, the Oscars -- and one beneficiary may be Charles Ferguson's Wall Street expose Inside Job.

As New York Times critic A.O. Scott wrote Wednesday, movies have begun to address the ruin of the economy and the middle class. The Social Network is about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's (entirely fictitious) class envy of the comically posh Winklevoss twins, Scott notes, and other Oscar contenders The Fighter, The Town and Winter's Bone are driven by the quest for the vanishing American dream. Wall Street and Inside Job represent today's movie bad guys. He seems to suggest that How Do You Know and Love and Other Drugs bombed at least partly because they "look more clueless than playful in their genial assumptions of material comfort and financial security." They're out of touch with the new class consciousness.

In Sunday's post "Bad Guys Have Won," Jeff Wells blogs about Timesman Frank Rich's column on Robbins Barstow's film Disneyland Dream, based on 1956 home movies. Wells contrasts that film's vision of "an essentially fair American system that offered bountiful or pot-of-gold fortunes to any enterprising American" with today's "corrupted Inside Job reality."

I think the political trends Scott and Rich discern are giving Inside Job if not the inside track for the documentary Oscar, then at least a significant advantage. A source at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards says that the Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop -- which is much more in sync with another big trend this year: films that test contending visions of reality (Catfish, Inception, The Social Network) -- is way better than the old-fashioned, straightforward Inside Job, but the latter won the NYFCC award because "people wanted to send a message."

"I do think Inside Job may get a boost for its topicality," says documentary expert and sometime Sundance juror Pat Aufderheide. "Its strength is the simplicity and rigor of the analysis; it's an essay film that is aided exceptionally in maintaining viewer attention by an excellent soundtrack."

Do the Times pieces portend a Ferguson Oscar victory over Banksy and others? "I completely agree," says Wells. "Inside Job is the most likely to win due to the economic inequity, 'bad guys have taken over' thing.  It's an idea -- a statistically undeniable reality -- that has obviously taken hold among the leading columnists."

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