'Waiting for Superman' Wins, But Can It Beat 'Inside Job'?
The Gotham Independent Film Awards just gave its first Festival Genius Audience Award to Davis Guggenheim's skewering of the U.S. education system, Waiting for Superman. The judges were online movie fans, not Independent Filmmaker Project dignitaries, so maybe the populist nature of the honor gives Guggenheim a little push ahead of his likeliest rival Oscar contender, Charles Ferguson's Inside Job, about the flabbergastingly impenitent zealots of Wall Street. Guggenheim hopes Waiting for Superman will do for education reform what his Oscar winner An Inconvenient Truth did for global warming. Ferguson, an Oscar nominee for the Iraq war doc No End in Sight, hopes Inside Job will be the Inconvenient Truth of financial reform.
They're both dramatic, cinematic works of art at the front of the documentary Oscar line, and either could make history as the first-ever documentary to win best picture. Which is unlikely, since neither features an Al Gore-sized heavyweight celeb and the complicated subjects are less like a disaster blockbuster than An Inconvenient Truth was.
Even before the Gotham honor, Waiting for Superman was ahead in the Oscar promotion race, and in grosses. But some say Inside Job is even more important. "It's great -- the first film to expose the truth behind the economic crisis of 2008," says a documentary Oscar voter. "It's the most powerful thing. We were blindsided! They were creating these shit mortgage pies ... resulting in millions of people losing their homes and jobs. It's almost like the Mafia running the show. All this is explained so clearly."
There's no denying the visceral emotional impact of seeing the financial titans defy logic and deny any scintilla of guilt in Inside Job. Waiting for Superman is equally emotional, showing another untouchable elite (the educational establishment), which the filmmaker argues is destroying America's future. But Inside Job makes you feel rage and hopelessness, like victims of Tony Soprano, while Waiting for Superman shows a few rays of hope amid the overwhelming hopelessness. Not to spoil the suspense, but not every schoolchild in Guggenheim's film is crushed by the system. Don't Oscar voters habitually vote for stories of hope against all odds?
Not this voter. "No, I don't think they go for the ray of hope, because [Inside Job] is so significant." And he thinks the larger Oscar voter pool should kick its addiction to uplifting sagas and strike a blow for Ferguson's inconvenient truths. "This should be the best picture."
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Scott Feinberg, the lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, is one of the entertainment industry's most experienced and trusted experts about the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. He started on the awards beat in 2001, writing for independent websites including his own ScottFeinberg.com before joining the Los Angeles Times and then THR, for which he writes “The Race” blog, which won the LA Press Club’s National Entertainment Journalism Award for best entertainment blog of 2012-2013. A voting member of both the Broadcast Film Critics' Association and Broadcast Television Journalists Association, he is also writing a book about film history for young people for which he has interviewed more than 500 high-profile Hollywood figures whose careers span the silent era through the present.
Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/scottfeinberg.