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Mace and Crown | May 24, 2018

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Road to the Oscars: ‘O.J.: Made in America,’ ‘13th’ and ‘Life, Animated’

Tyler Passarge

Staff writer


‘O.J.: Made in America’ (2016) | NR | 467 min. 🎬🎬🎬🎬🎬

If one were around during the murder trial of legendary football star O.J. Simpson, they knew that it was a moment of history. The rise and fall of Simpson was something that boiled into something much more culturally significant. Simpson’s story became a symbol for a post-Rodney King climate that tested the people’s stance on justice. In “O.J: Made in America,” Simpson’s epic story is told in a 5-part documentary that originally aired on ESPN.

After a successful career in football, Simpson had made himself a brand that was marketed to a white American audience. O.J. Simpson, or “The Juice” as many called him, took the steps to transcend his skin color and other civil rights movements at the time to make himself a marketable figure. As he described himself in the film, “I’m not black. I’m O.J.”

His image took a sharp hit after being placed a suspect in the grisly murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown. During the heavily televised trial, Simpson’s lawyers took a man who had distanced himself from social injustices and made him the face of it. This turned the trial from a chance for justice to a moment of retribution for Rodney King and the injustices by the Los Angeles Police Department.

What filmmaker Ezra Edelman does here is amazing. In “O.J.: Made in America,” Simpson is crafted into a Shakespearean figure whose gravitas and hubris became his demise. Themes of justice and its confusion with revenge feel heated and create a narrative of epic proportions. The 450-minute runtime is staggering, but its comprehensive narrative is addictive and crafted to perfection.

It’s a long one, but “O.J.: Made in America” is a masterful work of storytelling that comprehends a star’s fall from grace.

This film is available on Hulu.

‘13th’ (2016) | NR | 100 min. 🎬🎬🎬🎬🎬

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) explores the prison system and its connection to racial inequality in her documentary, “13th.” The film’s title is in reference to the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution which ended the era of slavery. However, as DuVernay theorizes in her film, slavery is something that subtly still exists within the amendment. While the amendment forbids slavery, it’s written with the exception of anyone who is charged with a crime.

Although many people would say that anyone who commits a crime should be thrown into the system, DuVernay sees this as a statement of ignorance. In her film, DuVernay demonstrates the injustices of the prison system with startling images and statistics that only heighten the anxiety over the system. Within her contextualized argument, DuVernay forces her audience to reflect on the shameful parts of American history laced in violence and racial discrimination.

As the documentary delves deeper into its material, viewers are exposed to matters of politics that enforce the thesis. No one from either political party is safe from the exploration since both the right and left have had some role in the law making that enforced extended jail time for petty crimes.

With the political landscape being as charged as it is, the resonance and importance of “13th” should not be overlooked. This film serves as a striking piece of filmmaking with its unflinching information and a stylistic means of communicating that information. Every injustice presented in “13th” is heartbreaking to watch, and this is a film where every broken soul’s story is told with justice.

Haunting in its subject matter and artful in its execution, “13th” tells the stories that shouldn’t have happened but that need to be exposed.

This film is available on Netflix

‘Life, Animated’ (2016) | PG | 92 min. 🎬🎬🎬🎬

During the ‘90s, autism and anything related to the spectrum was something that very few people held a grasp on. When Ron and Cornelia Suskind were informed of their young son Owen’s autism, they were lost in a realm of confusion. As hard as it was for his parents, Owen’s struggle with communication birthed a sense of isolation. His only retreat from reality was the intake of Disney films. As it turns out, Disney films were helping Owen relate to the world again.

In “Life, Animated,” audiences are reminded of the wonders of Disney and the effect it had on them as children. In context, Disney animated films have a knack for easy to access rhetoric that communicates so well to viewers. These films dealt with issues of growing up and death while putting them in ways that children could comprehend. In that sense, it’s easy to understand how these films were able to be Owen’s saving grace.

The documentary follows a now 23-year-old Owen who is facing the prospect of leaving his group home and moving into an apartment by himself. Spliced into this narrative are stories of Owen’s childhood recollected by his parents and older brother. Stories of isolation and bullying are accompanied by animated reimagining’s that grow to be as magical and colorful as a Disney movie would be.

Where many of these types of stories could be bogged down by sappiness, “Life, Animated” earns its moments of joy and wonder. Many stories of Owen’s childhood get right down to the heart of many relatable issues and are dictated in ways that can be understood. By the time the viewer is done watching “Life, Animated,” they are ready to feel young again and to understand the joy and wonder of Disney.

Although it may pale in comparison to the other nominees for best documentary, “Life, Animated” is a heartfelt story that reinvigorates Disney’s trademark magic.

This film is available on Amazon Prime.

Rating System:

🎬 — Should’ve Been Snubbed
🎬🎬 — All Politics
🎬🎬🎬 — Just Happy to be Nominated
🎬🎬🎬🎬 — The Contender
🎬🎬🎬🎬🎬 — Taking Home the Gold