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2014 has featured an impressive number of deeply moving and inspirational documentaries. There’s been Life Itself, Steve James‘ remembrance of the dearly departed film critic Roger Ebert; Keep on Keepin’ On, Alex Hicks‘ chronicle of an old man and a young man helping one another; Documented, Jose Antonio Vargas‘ portrait of the undocumented immigrant experience in 21st century America; Ben Cotner and Ryan White‘s The Case Against 8, which takes one into the center of the gay marriage debate; and the list goes on. But, in terms of sheer tears-inducement, I’m not sure any can match James Keach‘s Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, a gut-punching look at what Alzheimer’s Disease has done to the titular music legend — and the remarkable way in which the 78-year-old and his loved ones have conducted their lives since his diagnosis in 2011.
I’ll Be Me, which skipped the fall film fest circuit, but which I saw at a private screening last month, will hit theaters in limited release on Oct. 24, thereby qualifying for Oscar eligibility. I think it stands an excellent shot at cracking the shortlist of 15 films that will be made public in December and the list of five nominees that will be announced in January. Why? Because, apart from being a very well made tearjerker, it also centers around beautiful music of a sort that will appeal to Academy members, who are generally middle-aged to aged, just like the last two winners of the best documentary feature Oscar, Searching for Sugar Man (2012) and Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013).
Moreover, it will be coming along at a time when you can bet that people will be talking and thinking about Alzheimer’s Disease: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland‘s narrative drama Still Alice, which will also be released before the end of the year, portrays the progressively devastating effects of the affliction — early-onset, in that case — on an individual and his or her loved ones, and thanks to Julianne Moore‘s Oscar-worthy performance and several others that may contend for nominations, it is sure to wind up very much in the spotlight, just as Julie Christie‘s performance in Sarah Polley‘s Away from Her (2007) did a few years ago.
It’s true enough that a documentary about the effect of Alzheimer’s on a prominent American made the Oscar shortlist last year but did not get nominated: that film was Alan Berliner‘s First Cousin Once Removed. But there are a couple of major differences between First Cousin Once Removed and I’ll Be Me that could help the latter progress further than the former did in the Oscar derby. For one, the subject of the former, Edwin Honig, was highly respected in academic circles, but was hardly internationally known and loved, as Campbell — the “Rhinestone Cowboy” — is. Fairly or not, that will make people more curious about I’ll Be Me and will undoubtedly make the experience of watching it all the more impactful. Additionally, Honig was around 90 when the film about him was made (he died in 2011 at 91), whereas Campbell was only 75 when he was diagnosed and the production of I’ll Be Me began (and is only 78 now), which makes his predicament, in some ways, even more tragic — and relatable for Academy members, whose median age, according to the Los Angeles Times, is 63.
Also, for the record, Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter (1994), a film about a daughter caring for an Alzheimer’s-afflicted parent, was nominated for the best documentary feature Oscar 20 years ago.
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