Sunday, August 16, 2020

'The Cave' vs. 'American Factory' — Oscar nominees and other documentaries at the Emmy Awards

Happy Sunday, which means it's time for the Sunday entertainment feature. As I plan on doing through October, the subject will be the Emmy Awards. Today, I'm writing this year's version of 'RBG' vs. 'Free Solo' and other Oscar nominees at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards, examining the documentary films and specials nominated at the 72nd Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards. Five documentaries I've blogged about before earned nominations, including Critics' Choice and Golden Coffee Cup winner "Apollo 11" with five, Oscar nominee "The Cave" with four, Oscar winner "American Factory" with three, and Critics' Choice nominee "One Child Nation" and BAFTA nominee "The Great Hack," both with one each.

I would have loved for all five to be the nominees in the first category, but only two of them made the cut.

Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking

The Cave (National Geographic Channel)
Chasing the Moon (American Experience) (PBS)
Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements (HBO)
One Child Nation (PBS)
If I handicapped this category purely on the number of nominations, I'd pick "The Cave" with its four nominations while all the others only have one. In addition, it's the only Oscar nominee in the category. However, electorates matter and the Emmy electorate is not the Oscar electorate. "Icarus" won the Academy Award but did not win any of its categories at the Emmys two years ago and Oscar winner "American Factory" did not even earn a nomination in this category. As for the film that could upset "The Cave," I'd pick "One Child Nation," which was the most nominated documentary at the Critics' Choice Awards, even though it didn't win a single category. After all, I did write "I think it will have better luck at the Emmy Awards next year." This is its one chance to prove me right.

Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special

The Apollo (HBO)
Beastie Boys Story (Apple TV+)
Becoming (Netflix)
The Great Hack (Netflix)
Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time (EPIX)
The most nominated entry is "Beastie Boys Story" with five nominations, followed by "Becoming" with four, "Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time" with three, and "The Apollo" and "The Great Hack" with one each. While the explicitly political documentaries are "Becoming" about Michelle Obama and "The Great Hack" about Cambridge Analytica, I think one of the three music documentaries will win. Hollywood loves a good show about entertainment and, while none of these are about movies and television, music comes close. That's why I suspect "Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time" might be favored over "Beastie Boys Story." Laurel Canyon is in the Hollywood hills, while the Beastie Boys are from New York.

Outstanding Hosted Nonfiction Series or Special

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (Netflix)
Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath (A&E)
Ugly Delicious (Netflix)
Vice (Showtime)
The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
This is the category "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" dominated for six years and his absence is palpable. As I wrote last year, "Anthony Bourdain was a great writer right up until the end. I will miss him." So does this category. With his show over, there are no multiple nominees here, so I can't use that criterion to handicap the competition. Instead, I will resort to previous wins and nominations. According to that method, "Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath" is the clear favorite, as it has won before and has been nominated every year since. The next best bet would be "Vice," which tied "Parts Unknown" six years ago and has been a multiple, if not consecutive, nominee since. The dark horse would be "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," which was nominated last year. I'm still going with "Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath," as it's a story about Hollywood, which Hollywood loves.

Outstanding Narrator

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Black Patriots: Heroes of the Revolution (History)
David Attenborough on Seven Worlds, One Planet (Episode: "Antarctica") (BBC America)
Angela Bassett on The Imagineering Story (Episode: "The Happiest Place on Earth") (Disney+)
Chiwetel Ejiofor on The Elephant Queen (Apple TV+)
Lupita Nyong'o on Serengeti (Episode: "Destiny") (Discovery Channel)
What a list of all-star talent! Lupita Nyong'o is an Oscar winner, Angela Bassett is an Oscar nominee and Golden Globes winner, Chiwetel Ejiofor is an Oscar nominee, and David Attenborough is two-time returning winner. On that basis, I'd say Sir David is the nominal favorite, although he's up against stiff competition. The nominee I'd look out for is Nyong'o because "Serengeti" is the only series with two nominations.

That reminds me that I'm used to seeing a lot of nature documentaries nominated at the Emmys, but that's not the case this year. I suspect that's because "Tiger King" sucked up all the oxygen that would normally go to shows about wild animals.

Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming

American Factory - Aubrey Keith, Erick Stoll (Netflix)
Apollo 11 - Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins (CNN)
Becoming - Nadia Hallgren (Netflix)
The Cave - Muhammed Khair Al Shami, Ammar Sulaiman, Mohammad Eyad (National Geographic)
Sea of Shadows - Richard Ladkani (National Geographic)
Serengeti - Richard Jones, Michael W. Richards, Warren Samuels, Matthew Goodman (Episode: "Rebirth") (Discovery Channel)
This is one of two categories that have three of the top documentaries, four if one counts "Becoming," competing against each other, so the competition is stiff. On the basis of number of nominations, I'd pick "Apollo 11," but it's up against "The Cave" and "American Factory," which are shot by professionals, while Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, while legendary astronauts and American heroes, are essentially amateur cameramen. The Emmy electorate might prefer the professionals, which give nature documentaries "Sea of Shadows" and "Serengeti" a chance.

Outstanding Main Title Design

Abstract: The Art of Design (Netflix)
Carnival Row (Prime Video)
Godfather of Harlem (Epix)
The Morning Show (Apple TV+)
The Politician (Netflix)
Watchmen (HBO)
Westworld (HBO)
"Abstract: The Art of Design" is the one documentary nominated in this category. I'll have more to say about its chances when I see the rest of the nominees — before I wrote this I'd only seen "Carnival Row," "Watchmen," and "Westworld" — but I'll embed its video below.

Follow over the jump for the nominees I covered in 'Tiger King' vs. 'McMillion$' — big cats and true crime at the Emmy Awards for World Lion Day.

Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming

Beastie Boys Story, written by Mike Diamond, Spike Jonze, and Adam Horovitz (Apple TV+)
The Cave, written by Alisar Hassan and Feras Fayyad (Nat Geo)
Circus of Books, written by Rachel Mason and Kathryn Robson (Netflix)
Don't F**k With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer (Episode: "Closing the Net"), written by Mark Lewis (Netflix)
McMillion$ (Episode: "Episode 1"), written by James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte (HBO)
I moved the last award alphabetically up here because it was the one category that included "McMillion$" but not "Tiger King." I would say "McMillion$" would be the favorite except that it's up against Oscar nominee "The Cave." The latter is also nominated for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking and two other awards in addition to this one, so it's a strong contender. So is "Beastie Boys Story," which earned nominations for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special and four awards including writing, making it another strong contender. Any one of the three could win. On the other hand, this is the only nomination for "Circus of Books" and "Don't F**k With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer," so I don't think either has much of a chance. Just the same, the presence of "Don't F**k With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer" shows that "McMillion$" still can't get away from the intersection of animals and true crime, even when it's not competing with "Tiger King."
Outstanding Directing for a Documentary/Nonfiction Program

Steven Bognar & Julia Reichert, American Factory (Netflix)
Todd Douglas Miller, Apollo 11 (CNN)
Nadia Hallgren, Becoming (Netflix)
Feras Fayyad, The Cave (National Geographic Channel)
Jason Hehir, The Last Dance (Episode: "Episode 7") (ESPN)
Eric Goode & Rebecca Chaiklin, Tiger King (Episode: "Cult of Personality") (Netflix)
This is one tough category for "Tiger King" and "The Last Dance," as both series are up against not only the Oscar nominated "The Cave," but also Critics' Choice Documentary Award and Golden Coffee Cup Movie winner "Apollo 11" and Oscar winner "American Factory." Even "Becoming" about former First Lady Michelle Obama is a serious contender, as it earned a total of four nominations including Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special, directing, and two others. No wonder "McMillion$" didn't make the cut! As for which show will win, I would bet on "American Factory," the Oscar recipient.
Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (Original Dramatic Score)

Becoming - Kamasi Washington (Netflix)
Home - Amanda Jones (Episode: "Maine") (Apple TV+)
McMillion$ - Pinar Toprak & Alex Kovacs (Episode: "Episode 1") (HBO)
Tiger King - Mark Mothersbaugh, John Enroth, Albert Fox (Episode: "Not Your Average Joe") (Netflix)
Why We Hate - Laura Karpman (Episode: "Tools & Tactics") (Discovery Channel)
Normally, I'd go with the most famous composer, who is Mark Mothersbaugh for "Tiger King" except that Laura Karpman also has a nomination for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music, so I think she's the favorite.
I'll embed the music for "Becoming" below.

Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming

American Factory – Lindsay Utz (Netflix) Apollo 11 – Todd Douglas Miller (CNN) Beastie Boys Story – Jeff Buchanan, Zoe Schack (Apple TV+) The Last Dance – Chad Beck, Devin Concannon, Abhay Sofsky, Ben Sozanski (Episode: "Episode 1") (ESPN) McMillion$ – Jody McVeigh-Schultz, Lane Farnham, James Lee Hernandez, Brian Lazarte, Scott Hanson (Episode: "Episode 3") (HBO) Tiger King – Doug Abel, Nicholas Biagetti, Dylan Hansen-Fliedner, Geoffrey Richman, Daniel Kohler (Episode: "Cult of Personality") (Netflix)
This is another tough category, although I think "The Last Dance" has a better chance here than in the other two, despite the fierce competition. First, it has a lot of old footage and editing is the one thing that makes that work, although the same could be said about "Apollo 11," which I think is one of the favorites. Second, Hollywood loves a good story about entertainment, and sports counts, although music counts more, helping "Beastie Boys Story." That written, I think Oscar winner "American Factory" has the best chance. "The Last Dance" may have to be satisfied with its Black Reel Awards for Television 2020 win for Outstanding TV Documentary or Special, at least until the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards this fall, where it might qualify for Best Sports Documentary.
Outstanding Sound Editing for Nonfiction Programming (Single or Multi-Camera)

Apollo 11 (CNN)
Beastie Boys Story (AppleTV+)
Cheer (Episode: "Daytona") (Netflix)
Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time (EPIX)
McMillion$ (HBO)
Tiger King (Episode: "Cult of Personality") (Netflix)
Outstanding Sound Mixing for Nonfiction Program (Single or Multi-Camera)

Apollo 11 (CNN)
Beastie Boys Story (Apple TV+)
Cheer ("Daytona") (Netflix)
Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time (EPIX)
RuPaul's Drag Race (Episode: "I'm That Bitch") (VH1)
Tiger King (Episode: "The Noble Thing to Do") (Netflix)
"Apollo 11" is the nominee I'm rooting for, but my experience is that music documentaries have the best track record in sound categories, so I think "Beastie Boys Story" is the favorite.
These are also the other two categories with nominations for "Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time," so according to my criterion, it would be the other favorite
Now for a documentary nomination I included in For National Presidential Joke Day, I present the variety talk show nominees at the Emmy Awards.
Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics

The Black Godfather (Song: "Letter to My Godfather") (HBO)
Euphoria (Episode: "And Salt the Earth Behind You") (Song: "All for Us") (HBO)
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (Episode: "Episode 629") (Song: "Eat Sh!t, Bob") (HBO)
Little Fires Everywhere (Episode: "Find a Way") (Song: "Build It Up") (Hulu)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Episode: "Strike Up the Band") (Song: "One Less Angel") (Prime Video)
This Is Us (Episode: "Strangers") (Song: "Memorized") (NBC)
Watchmen (Episode: "This Extraordinary Being") (Song: "The Way It Used to Be") (HBO)
"The Black Godfather" is the documentary nominee, so here's Pharrell Williams: Letter to My Godfather from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

The 13-time GRAMMY winner makes his first visit to The Late Show to perform this song which appears in the Netflix documentary "The Black Godfather."
As much as I enjoy "Eat Sh!t, Bob," this song has jumped to the top of my list for now. It certainly sounds like an award winner.

Next, the theme from Becoming by Kamasi Washington, who is nominated for Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (Original Dramatic Score).

Becoming · Kamasi Washington

That's very pretty and quite befitting the former First Lady.

I couldn't find one of this season's title sequences by itself, so instead I'm sharing Abstract: The Art of Design | Season 2 Trailer from Netflix.

Abstract: The Art of Design returns to take you beyond blueprints into the art, science, and philosophy of design. From how we see the world to how we impact the world, the series goes inside the minds of the world’s greatest designers, showcasing the most inspiring visionaries from a variety of disciplines whose work shapes our culture and future.
That looks really cool. I wish I had the time to watch all the episodes.

I will continue my coverage of the Emmy Awards nominees as the 2020 election, and COVID-19 pandemic permit. In the meantime, stay tuned for National Nonprofit Day.

Previous posts about the 2020 Primetime and Creative Arts Emmy Awards

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