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Among the 15 shortlisted titles eligible for an Oscar nomination for best documentary feature this year are two music-focused films that each highlight the career and legacy of internationally beloved performers.
Sony Pictures Classics’ Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song offers a biography of the Canadian poet and songwriter, framed by what is arguably his most famous song. Using “Hallelujah” as the springboard for the deep dive into Cohen’s artistic and writing process, the film reveals that Cohen spent years writing the song that would define his legacy — only for it to struggle to find an audience when it was released on the 1984 album Various Positions.
But it was through the cover renditions of the song — recorded by artists such as John Cale, Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright, the latter of whom was featured on the soundtrack for Shrek — that the song became Cohen’s most recognizable. And considering that the prolific Cohen also saw a number of his songs recorded by other artists, it is fitting that Hallelujah also features commentary from the likes of Brandi Carlile, Judy Collins, Glen Hansard and Regina Spektor.
Taking a less conventional documentary approach, Neon’s Moonage Daydream is an immersive, sensory biography of David Bowie. Written and directed by Brett Morgan, who previously helmed the Kurt Cobain doc Montage of Heck and Rolling Stones feature Crossfire Hurricane, Moonage Daydream takes a similar approach in relying entirely on archival footage — and no talking heads — to examine Bowie’s creative drive, from his early days as a glam-rock superstar to his final album Black Star, released just two days before the singer-songwriter’s death in 2016 from liver cancer.
Throughout the film, which follows the rock star’s many personas and eras, is Bowie himself offering context and inspirations behind his creative work. Perhaps most interesting, especially for Bowie fans, is the film’s soundtrack, made up of demos, alternate takes and remixes of Bowie’s most famous songs.
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