A mostly pleasant surprise in a year that has produced a lack of stellar animated outings.
"Life Itself," Steve James' documentary about the life and legacy of iconic film critic Roger Ebert, has been earning wide acclaim ever since its debut at Sundance this past January, and has made the Oscar Shortlist, which qualifies it to be nominated for an Academy Award. It is also garnering various other honors as the 2014 awards season goes into full swing.
Out of 134 eligible submissions, the documentary branch of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences picked "Life itself" as one of the 15 official selections on its shortlist. Five of the titles will be chosen as the Best Documentary nominees on January 15th, 2015.
Once Roger committed to the project, he told Steve James to make it a candid portrait of his life in all of its dimensions. Having championed James' past pictures including "Hoop Dreams" and "The Interrupters," he knew the director would utilize a cinema vérité approach, and the resulting work embodies Roger's belief in cinema as an empathy generating machine. This film resonates with audiences on so many levels.
"Life Itself" was named the Best Documentary of the year by the National Board of Review, who will celebrate their picks on January 6th, 2015 in New York. The film also won the Best Documentary award from the Florida Film Critics Circle, the Chicago Film Critics Association, the Indiana Film Journalists Association, the Online Film Critics Society, the African-American Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Online, the Boston Online Film Critics Association and the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. It was also the runner-up to "Citizenfour" in the Los Angeles Film Critics' awards. Stephen Rea of The Philadeplhia Inquirer named "Life Itself" as one of the year's five best documentaries, hailing it as "inspirational in so many ways." Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter also listed the film as an honorable mention in his list of the year's best films. Saint Peters Blog critic Mitch Perry included "Life Itself" on his list of the year's best films, as did Matthew Sorrento of Film International, who called the film, "a treat, the voice completely [Ebert's], revealing his preference for short form writing. But his story has a voice even more intimate as told in Steve James’ film."
The Broadcast Film Critics' Association nominated "Life Itself" for Best Documentary, with the winner set to be honored at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards ceremony on January 15th. The Producer's Guild of America nominated "Life Itself" in the category of Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures, with the winner being announced on January 24th. The other nominees for the Producer's Guild are "Merchants of Doubt," "The Green Prince," "Particle Fever," and "Virunga." Among the other critics groups that nominated "Life Itself" in the Best Documentary category are the St. Louis Film Critics, San Francisco Film Critics Circle, Detroit Film Critics Society, San Diego Film Critics Society, Phoenix Film Critics Society and the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association.
In addition to these honors, "Life Itself" was a nominee for Best Documentary at the Gotham Independent Film Awards ("Citizenfour" won), and was screened in the Cannes Classics section of the Cannes Film Festival this past May. It was heralded and premiered in London last month at the Dogwoof Weekender. It won a Founder's Prize at Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival, earned a Jury Prize at the Documentary Edge Festival in New Zealand and the Best Documentary prize at the 5th American Film Festival in Wrocław, Poland. Cinema Eye included the film on its annual list dubbed "The Unforgettables," highlighting "the year's most notable and significant nonfiction film subjects," and is nominated for a total of five awards at the Cinema Eye Honors, including Outstanding Nonfiction Feature of the year. "Life itself" took the number 4 slot in Entertainment Weekly's list ranking the year's ten best films, and was also included on Time Out New York's list of the Top Twenty Movies of 2014.
Roger would've been deeply honored to see his film praised by an industry he spent his life championing. No doubt he is in a faraway screening room right now, tallying his own Oscar picks.
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