“Life Itself”: What’s Up with the 2015 Awards Race

life itself 477x355
Directed by: Steve James
Written by: N/A (though based on the memoir Life Itself by Roger Ebert)
Main Cast: Talking Head type appearances by the likes of Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Steve James, Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, and many more…
Past Oscar relations: Steve James was nominated for Best Film Editing for Hoop Dreams

Here now we have a brand spanking new article in this series of mine on 2014 releases hoping to compete for some sort of Oscar attention as contenders at the upcoming 2015 ceremony. Next up for us is the documentary Life Itself, which looks to become the latest doc to bring a tear to an Academy voter’s eye.

This documentary about the life of Roger Ebert comes to us from Steve James, a documentarian who is greatly admired in the industry, not unlike the late great Ebert himself. He’s yet to actually score a Best Documentary Feature nomination, despite having made a classic in Hoop Dreams, among many others. That’s about to change though, as Life Itself has received some of the best review of the year so far, regardless of genre. It seems like a surefire bet for that nod, but what about a nom somewhere else?

What this flick has going in its favor is its quality. It’s incredible, not just my favorite film of 2014 to date, but a modern documentary classic. Ebert would be a compelling figure for a film on the merits of his work alone, but when you factor in how he insisted on a depiction of his fight against cancer and the loss of his voice, it becomes something more. You know that he’s going to lose the battle, but the moment he succumbs is still as powerful as any on screen this year. I can’t imagine any Academy member seeing this and not weeping. It’s heart breaking and life affirming in equal measure.

Working against Life Itself is simply that it’s a documentary. You literally never see a doc wind up in the Best Picture lineup. I’d love to see it happen for this one, but that’s a reality check waiting to happen. Even larger than life figures like Michael Moore have been unable to crack the lineup, so the odds are just never in their favor. James did get an Editing citation for Hoop Dreams, so it’s possible that something of that sort could be in the cards for the flick.

So, can this be a player at all? Docs have a hard time outside of their category, but I think that Life Itself will at the very least get considered elsewhere. Frankly, it’s too good not to. I’d be shocked if it wasn’t nominated for Best Documentary Feature and at this juncture I have to believe it’s the clear frontrunner to win the Oscar. Time will tell, but you all should make it your business to see Life Itself. It’s just about a masterpiece…

Grade: Likely Contender (The current frontrunner for Best Documentary Feature)

Stay tuned for another one of these profiles coming your way next week!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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