Abacus by Steve James
Veteran filmmaker Steve James finally gets his first Oscar nomination with this financial thriller about the only bank that was prosecuted after the 2008 financial crisis. Operated by the Sungs, a family of Chinese origin, the Abacus Federal Savings Bank attended mostly to the Chinese immigrant community in New York and had one of the lowest default rates in America. The Sung’s nightmare begins when in 2009 they discover that one of their loan officers falsified documents after having received bribes from borrowers. The film documents the details of the trial that was held later to the surprise of the Sungs, who took action against the officer and alerted the banking authorities as soon as they found out about the fraud. Through interviews with all those involved in the case, including the Sung family, the documentary is a sober and intelligent film that reveals the influence of the great weights of finance on American judicial system.
Strong Island by Yance Ford
"I think that everybody should know that there is a generation of trans directors who are coming for their Oscars" was one of the statements of Yance Ford at the time of commenting on being the first trans director to be nominated for an academy award. Son of black parents who left the south of the United States looking for better living conditions in the northern cities, Yance tackles a subject with a solid awareness of racial implications in a country that still hears the echo of segregation. Locating himself within the narrative, in the documentary Yance unravels the murder of his brother William, a black man who was shot dead by a white man in 1992, a case that never went to trial.
Icarus by Bryan Fogel
This documentary is one of the best examples of when what happens behind the camera is equal or more interesting than the actual film. What began as a documented experiment conducted by Fogel himself in an attempt to demonstrate the fallibility of anti-doping tests in professional sport became a large-scale geopolitical conflict overnight. Grigory Rodchenkov, a Russian scientist in charge of the anti-doping laboratory in Moscow, went from being a secondary character to being the center of the plot after the scandal of the doping violations that resulted in the ban of the Russian Olympic team from the 2018 Winter Olympics. Filmed over the course of several years, the documentary follows this case and delves into the cracks of the global anti-doping system with a compelling narrative.
Faces, Places by Agnes Varda and JR
A legendary filmmaker and a street artist who never takes off his dark glasses team up to spin a pleasant and inspiring film about the stories behind each human face. Varda, who admirably demonstrates how alive her imagination is at 88 years of age, accompanies JR in his truck as it goes around the French countryside with the aim of collecting faces and stories. Everything consists of photographing the inhabitants of several French towns and displaying them on the surrounding architecture. The unpredictable reactions of those who are photographed together with the reflections of both filmmakers on the power of the image build an extraordinary essay on art as has rarely been seen in cinema.
Last Men in Aleppo by Firas Fayyaad
Syrian-born Firas Fayyaad builds a crude and sincere approach to the center of the war in Syria. Never is a new story from this conflict worthless in such a devastating scenario, which has already taken more than 250,000 lives since the first bullet was fired. The film follows the operations of the White Helmets, a rescue group formed by volunteer civilians who day after day try to save lives among the ruins of Aleppo. With the intention of documenting the life that resists among the rubble, Fayyaad brings us closer to the daily life of these men and their families. From their own voice we know their dilemmas, their ways of facing a bleak horizon and, above all, their lack of understanding of what is happening, a situation where only the sense of survival commands.