2022 Critics Choice Documentary Awards: ‘Good Night Oppy’ is the top winner

November 10, 2022

by Carla Hay

A digital recreation of the robotic rover Opportunity in “Good Night Oppy” (Image courtesy of Prime Video/Amazon Content Services)

With five prizes, the Mars exploration movie “Good Night Oppy” was the top winner at the Seventh Annual Critics Choice Documentary Awards, which were presented at the Edison Ballroom in New York City, on November 13, 2022. “Good Night Oppy” (from Amazon Studios) earned the awards for Best Documentary Feature, Best Director (for Ryan White), Best Musical Score (for Blake Neely), Best Narration and Best Science/Nature Documentary. “Good Night Oppy” (which tells the story of how NASA sent two robots to explore Mars, beginning in 2003) ended up winning five of the six awards for which it was nominated.

In one of his many acceptance speeches, “Good Night Oppy” director White thanked his colleagues and NASA. He also commented when comparing Earth to Mars, “I hope that this film can be a reminder of what can happen to our planet if we don’t treat it with the care it deserves.”

Ryan White at the Seventh Annual Critics Choice Documentary Awards in New York City on November 13, 2022. (Photo by Carla Hay)

The only other documentary to win more than one prize at the ceremony was the Disney+ three-episode series “The Beatles: Get Back,” which won two awards: Best Limited Documentary Series and Best Music Documentary. “The Beatles: Get Back” (directed by Peter Jackson) is a restored and extended version of the 1970 Beatles documentary “Let It Be,” which was originally directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

“Fire of Love” (from National Geographic Documentary Films/Neon), a movie directed by Sara Dosa about married French volcanologists Maurice Kraftt and Katia Kraftt, went into the ceremony as the top contender, with seven nominations. In the end, “Fire of Love” got one award: Best Archival Documentary.

The 2022 Critics Choice Documentary Awards is presented and voted on by the Critics Choice Association. Grammy-nominated performer/writer Wyatt Cenac hosted the show, which was livestreamed for the first time on Facebook Live and Instagram Live.

The Critics Choice Documentary Awards had some other first milestones in 2022. It was the first time that the show was held in the New York City borough of Manhattan, after previously being held in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. In addition, two categories—Best Ongoing Documentary Series and Best Limited Documentary Series—that have traditionally been included in the Critics Choice Real TV Awards are, as of 2022, now being presented at the Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

Another big change to the show in 2022 was the announcement of the two films that came in second place and third place in votes for the category of Best Documentary Feature. Second place went to “Fire of Love,” while third place went to Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Navalny,” a movie about Russian political activist Alexei Navalny and his investigation into who poisoned him in 2020. The second-place and third-place documentaries were announced before the winner of Best Documentary Feature.

The ceremony also included two non-competitive prizes, whose recipients were announced weeks before the show took place. Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County USA” and “American Dream”) was bestowed with the Pennebaker Award (formerly known as the Critics Choice Lifetime Achievement Award), which was presented to her by D.A. Pennebaker’s widow/filmmaking partner, Chris Hegedus.

In her speech, Kopple thanked her longtime friends Pennebaker and Hegedus for being her mentors, and she expressed gratitude for people in the documentary filmmaking community. Kopple, who began making films in the 1970s, said in her speech that critics play a crucial role in whether or not documentaries can get distribution and find an audience. “I remember when critics wouldn’t even look at documentaries,” Kopple said. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart. All we want is to be able to tell a good story.”

Meanwhile, Dawn Porter (“John Lewis: Good Trouble”) received the Critics Choice Impact Award, given to documentarians whose work is about promoting changes for the better in society. Disney’s Onyx Collective head of documentary programming Jacqueline Glover presented Porter with this award. In her speech, Porter remembered the leap of faith that she took to leave a secure full-time job to make her first documentary, 2013’s “Gideon’s Army.” She thanked her documentary subjects and people she has collaborated with over the years.

Presenters at the show also included style entrepreneur/film producer Kathy Ireland, actor Richard Kind, musician/actor Paul Shaffer, actress Soshana Bean, actor Jeremy Sisto, “Good Night Oppy” director White, actress Tamara Tunie, filmmaker Tonya Lewis Lee, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, musician Willie Colón, actor Erich Bergen and actress/singer Idina Menzel.

Here is the complete list of winners and nominees for the 2022 Critics Choice Documentary Awards:

*=winner

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • Aftershock (Hulu)
  • The Automat (A Slice of Pie Productions)
  • Descendant (Netflix)
  • Fire of Love (National Geographic Documentary Films/Neon)
  • Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down (Briarcliff Entertainment)
  • Good Night Oppy (Amazon Studios)*
  • The Janes (HBO)
  • Moonage Daydream (HBO/Neon)
  • Navalny (HBO/CNN/Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Sidney (Apple TV+)

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Judd Apatow, Michael Bonfiglio – George Carlin’s American Dream (HBO)
  • Margaret Brown – Descendant (Netflix)
  • Sara Dosa – Fire of Love (National Geographic Documentary Films/Neon)
  • Reginald Hudlin – Sidney (Apple TV+)
  • Brett Morgen – Moonage Daydream (HBO/Neon)
  • Laura Poitras – All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (HBO/Neon)
  • Daniel Roher – Navalny (HBO/CNN/Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Ryan White – Good Night Oppy (Amazon Studios)*

BEST FIRST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • Andrea Arnold – Cow (IFC Films)
  • Lisa Hurwitz – The Automat (A Slice of Pie Productions)
  • Jono McLeod – My Old School (Magnolia Pictures)
  • Amy Poehler – Lucy and Desi (Amazon Studios)
  • Alex Pritz – The Territory (National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • David Siev – Bad Axe (IFC Films)*
  • Bianca Stigter – Three Minutes: A Lengthening (Neon)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Benjamin Bernhard, Riju Das – All That Breathes (HBO)
  • Magda Kowalczyk – Cow (IFC Films)
  • Lucas Tucknott – McEnroe (Showtime)
  • Gabriela Osio Vanden, Jack Weisman, Sam Holling – Nuisance Bear (The New Yorker)
  • The Cinematography Team – Our Great National Parks (Netflix)*
  • Alex Pritz, Tangãi Uru-eu-wau-wau – The Territory (National Geographic Documentary Films)

BEST EDITING

  • Jabez Olssen – The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+)
  • Erin Casper, Jocelyne Chaput – Fire of Love (National Geographic Documentary Films/Neon)
  • Joe Beshenkovsky – George Carlin’s American Dream (HBO)
  • Helen Kearns, Rejh Cabrera – Good Night Oppy (Amazon Studios)
  • Brett Morgen – Moonage Daydream (HBO/Neon)*
  • Langdon Page, Maya Daisy Hawke – Navalny (HBO/CNN/Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Katharina Wartena – Three Minutes: A Lengthening (Neon)

BEST SCORE

  • Hummie Mann – The Automat (A Slice of Pie Productions)
  • Nicolas Godin – Fire of Love (National Geographic Documentary Films/Neon)
  • Blake Neely – Good Night Oppy (Amazon Studios)*
  • Max Avery Lichtenstein – The Janes (HBO)
  • David Schwartz – Lucy and Desi (Amazon Studios)
  • Marius de Vries, Matt Robertson – Navalny (HBO/CNN/Warner Bros. Pictures)

BEST NARRATION

  • Deep in the Heart: A Texas Wildlife Story (Fin and Fur Films) – Written by Ben Masters; Performed by Matthew McConaughey
  • Fire of Love (National Geographic Documentary Films/Neon) – Written by Shane Boris, Erin Casper, Jocelyne Chaput, Sara Dosa. Performed by Miranda July
  • Good Night Oppy (Amazon Studios) –Written by Helen Kearns, Ryan White; Performed by Angela Bassett*
  • Our Great National Parks (Netflix) – Performed by Barack Obama
  • Riotsville, U.S.A. (Magnolia Pictures) – Written by Tobi Haslett; Performed by Charlene Modeste
  • Three Minutes: A Lengthening (Neon) – Written by Bianca Stigter; Performed by Helena Bonham Carter

BEST ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTARY

  • The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+)
  • Fire of Love (National Geographic Documentary Films/Neon)*
  • Moonage Daydream (HBO/Neon)
  • Nothing Compares (Showtime)
  • Riotsville, U.S.A. (Magnolia Pictures)
  • Three Minutes: A Lengthening (Neon)

BEST HISTORICAL DOCUMENTARY

  • The Automat (A Slice of Pie Productions)
  • Descendant (Netflix)*
  • The Janes (HBO)
  • Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power (Peacock)
  • Still Working 9 to 5 (Mighty Fine Entertainment)
  • Three Minutes: A Lengthening (Neon)
  • The U.S. and the Holocaust (PBS)

BEST BIOGRAPHICAL DOCUMENTARY

  • George Carlin’s American Dream (HBO)
  • The Last Movie Stars (HBO Max)
  • Lucy and Desi (Amazon Studios)
  • The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks (Peacock)
  • Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Sidney (Apple TV+)*
  • Sr. (Netflix)

BEST MUSIC DOCUMENTARY

  • The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+)*
  • Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • If These Walls Could Sing (Disney Original Documentary)
  • Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues (Apple TV+)
  • Moonage Daydream (HBO/Neon)
  • Nothing Compares (Showtime)
  • The Return of Tanya Tucker – Featuring Brandi Carlile (Sony Pictures Classics)

BEST POLITICAL DOCUMENTARY

  • Aftershock (Hulu)
  • All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (HBO/Neon)
  • Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down (Briarcliff Entertainment)
  • The Janes (HBO)
  • Navalny (HBO/CNN/Warner Bros. Pictures)*
  • Retrograde (National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (Netflix)

BEST SCIENCE/NATURE DOCUMENTARY

  • All That Breathes (HBO)
  • Cow (IFC Films)
  • Fire of Love (National Geographic Documentary Films/Neon)
  • Good Night Oppy (Amazon Studios)*
  • Nuisance Bear (The New Yorker)
  • Return to Space (Netflix)
  • The Territory (National Geographic Documentary Films)

BEST SPORTS DOCUMENTARY

  • Citizen Ashe (Magnolia/HBO)* (tie)
  • Hockeyland (Greenwich Entertainment)
  • Kaepernick & America (Dark Star Pictures)
  • McEnroe (Showtime)
  • The Redeem Team (Netflix)
  • Welcome to Wrexham (FX/Hulu)* (tie)

BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY

  • 38 at the Garden (HBO)
  • Angola Do You Hear Us? Voices From a Plantation Prison (MTV Documentary Films)
  • The Flagmakers (National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Four Seasons Total Documentary (MSNBC)
  • My Disability Roadmap (The New York Times Op Docs)
  • Nuisance Bear (The New Yorker)*
  • Stranger at the Gate (The New Yorker)

BEST LIMITED DOCUMENTARY SERIES

  • The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+)*
  • Hostages (HBO)
  • The Last Movie Stars (HBO Max)
  • The Lincoln Project (Showtime)
  • Our Great National Parks (Netflix)
  • The U.S. and the Holocaust (PBS)
  • We Need to Talk About Cosby (Showtime)

BEST ONGOING DOCUMENTARY SERIES

  • 30 for 30 (ESPN)*
  • American Masters (PBS)
  • Cheer (Netflix)
  • The Circus (Showtime)
  • Unsolved Mysteries (Netflix)
  • Welcome to Wrexham (FX/Hulu)

Review: ‘Moonage Daydream,’ starring David Bowie

September 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

David Bowie in “Moonage Daydream” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Moonage Daydream”

Directed by Brett Morgen

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the world (but particularly in London, New York City, Los Angeles and Berlin), the documentary film “Moonage Daydream” features a compilation of archival footage of entertainment superstar David Bowie (who died of cancer in 2016) and his various admirers and colleagues, who are mostly white, but include some black people, Latino and Asians.

Culture Clash: Bowie’s life as an artist is chronicled in this montage-styled film, including his unconventional stage personas and lifestyle; his insecurities about his work; and his personal struggles with finding true love. 

Culture Audience: “Moonage Daydream” will appeal primarily to Bowie fans and people interested in seeing a visually immersive documentary about an entertainment icon.

David Bowie in “Moonage Daydream” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Die-hard fans of David Bowie will not learn anything new from the all-archival documentary “Moonage Daydream.” The movie skips over some big parts of his life, but it’s a visually immersive experience that shows Bowie’s music and talent in an artsy way. “Moonage Daydream” is the first feature-length documentary authorized by the Bowie estate since he died of cancer in 2016. Bowie was 69 when he passed away.

Directed by Brett Morgen, “Moonage Daydream” includes voiceovers from some of Bowie’s media interviews that serve as intermittent narration. The documentary is a mix of media footage, live concert footage and music videos. Much of this footage is presented in Andy Warhol-influenced montages. “Moonage Daydream” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.

The “Moonage Daydream” documentary gets its title from the Bowie song of the same name that’s on Bowie’s 1972 album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Bowie (who was born David Robert Jones in London, on January 8, 1947) was famous for frequently changing his image and musical styles over the years. During his “Ziggy Stardust” period, he performed as an outer-space alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust, whose backup band was named the Spiders from Mars.

Becoming the Ziggy Stardust persona was a pivotal period of time in Bowie’s career. He went from merely being a hit artist to a superstar know for celebrating acceptance of all sexualities, at a time when it was still very taboo for entertainers to openly embrace or be any sexuality that wasn’t heterosexual. To legions of fans and other admirers, Bowie represented people who wanted to express themselves and their genders in whatever ways they wanted.

Bowie was a recording artist from the 1960s until his death in 2016, but what he created in the 1970s was considered his most influential and therefore gets the most screen time in the “Moonage Daydream” documentary. Out of all all the 1970s footage in “Moonage Daydream,” the documentary features the “Ziggy Stardust” area the most. The “Moonage Daydream” documentary has several clips from director D. A. Pennebaker’s 1979 documentary film “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” which chronicled a 1973 concert that Bowie and his band did in London.

Unfortunately, for people who are unfamiliar with Bowie, “Moonage Daydream” does not tell Bowie’s story in chronological order, nor does the movie identify years in which any of the footage was taken. For example, one section of the documentary goes into Bowie’s work in the early-to-mid-1980s, but then jumps back to talking about his work in the late 1970s when Bowie collaborated with Brian Eno in Berlin. This jumping around in the timeline is one of the documentary’s flaws. The only people who can truly appreciate the historical context of the footage shown in the documentary are people who know what years Bowie’s songs and albums were released, or people can discern what year the footage was taken, based on what Bowie is wearing and his hairstyle in the footage.

However, the documentary greatly benefits from having several Bowie songs, as any credible film about Bowie should. “Moonage Daydream” has many of Bowie’s biggest hits, including “Space Oddity,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Diamond Dogs,” “Changes,” “Starman,” “The Jean Genie” “Life on Mars?,” “All the Young Dudes” (a Bowie-written song made famous by Mott the Hoople), “Heroes,” “Let’s Dance,” “China Girl” and “Modern Love.” Also included are some of Bowie’s lesser-known songs, such as “Moonage Daydream,” “Cracked Actor,” “Serious Moonlight,” “Outside” and “Earthling.” There’s also a brief snippet of Bowie performing the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” on stage in 1973 before launching into “The Jean Genie.”

“Moonage Daydream” dutifully includes mentions of Bowie’s acting career, including showing movie clips from 1976’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” 1983’s “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” and 1986’s “Labryinth.” There’s also some quick footage of Bowie’s Broadway acting debut, in his starring role as the title character in “The Elephant Man,” which he played from September 1980 to January 1981. David Bowie’s 1980s musical duets with Queen and Tina Turner fly by in quick snippets that don’t do these collaborations justice. Bowie’s work as the lead singer of experimental rock band Tin Machine (from 1988 to 1992) is not in the documentary at all, but the documentary includes some footage of Bowie as an illustrator artist.

What you won’t see in “Moonage Daydream” are any mentions of his first wife Angie Bowie (they were married from 1970 to 1980); his son Duncan Jones (formerly known as Zowie Bowie) from that marriage; and his daughter Alexandria “Lexi” Jones, from his marriage to second wife Iman. In fact, Iman (a supermodel/beauty entrepreneur who’s originally from Somalia) is the only woman mentioned in the documentary as someone Bowie fell in love with in his life. It’s obviously very selective information. Iman and Bowie were married from 1992 until his 2016 death.

Except for some brief audio and video interview clips, “Moonage Daydream” offers very little insight of Bowie talking about his personal life. He mentions his distant relationship with his mother; his schizophrenic older half-brother Terry Burns, who was the first person to influence Bowie’s interest in art and music; and his soul mate Iman, whom he says he fell in love with at first sight. There’s some archival footage of a divorced Bowie in the ’80s, where he talks about living a nomadic existence for years and confessing that falling in love is scary for him.

In the 1970s, Bowie was seriously addicted to cocaine, which was an addiction he candidly talked about years later in interviews. However, don’t expect “Moonage Daydream” to go into details about sex and drugs in Bowie’s life. Even without these explicit details, anyone can see in the early-to-mid-1970s archival footage there were plenty of signs that Bowie was a cocaine addict, including his sniffing and constantly touching his nose, his fidgety mannerisms in some of his interviews, and his unhealthy physical appearance.

In addition to footage of Bowie, “Moonage Daydream” also includes a lot of pop culture and news clips that somehow relate to whatever music is playing. For example, footage from the documentary “Apollo 11” is briefly shown in keeping with the “moon” theme. The closest to anything “new and orginal” that “Moonage Daydream” offers is some brief sci-fi footage bookended at the beginning and ending of the movie. This footage shows a woman with an animal’s tail while she’s on the moon and looking at a skeleton in an astronaut suit.

It seems that “Moonage Daydream” director Morgen went out of his way not to do a conventional documentary, since Bowie was not a conventional artist. But in doing so, the documentary loses some coherence. After a while, “Moonage Daydream” looks like a mishmash of montages resembling a very long music video. “Moonage Daydream” also has some editing that’s sometimes frustrating to watch. There are at least three different times it looks like this 140-minute movie has ended, and then it drags on some more.

People who are casual fans of Bowie will be intrigued by “Moonage Daydream” but might occasionally get bored. “Moonage Daydream” is worthwhile but not essential viewing for Bowie fans. For any Bowie fans who saw the outstanding “David Bowie Is” museum exhibition world tour that took place from 2013 to 2018, that museum exhibition remains the ultimate Bowie multimedia experience since Bowie’s unfortunate passing.

Neon will release “Moonage Daydream” in select U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on September 23, 2022. The movie is set for a sneak preview in select IMAX theaters on September 12, 2022.

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