Another film from The Imposter’s producers Simon Chinn (also producer of Oscar-winning doc Man on Wire) and John Battsek has the greater chance, though: Searching for Sugar Man. The debut of Malik Bendjelloul, which tells a kind of musical fairy tale about singer-songwriter Rodriguez, who was a huge star in South Africa and never knew of his fame there for decades, is astonishingly popular. I’ve seen long standing ovations at film fests for this doc. I’ve interviewed multiple filmmakers, many of which are Academy members, who cite it as their favorite of the year (this is probably the best reason to trust this one). And with $1.4 million, it’s made even more money (theatrically anyway) than Marley, a biography of possibly the world’s biggest recording artist.
Searching for Sugar Man was also profiled this evening on 60 Minutes. Or, rather, Rodriguez was, in a way that actually kind of made seeing the film unnecessary afterward. But it will surely get people to see it and others to keep thinking about it. And him, because just as causes were factors in the past, favorite subjects will continue to drive voters. While it’s true that not every documentary that has had this sort of coverage on a network news show has garnered a nomination, the rules are different now and this sort of exposure and extension of notoriety will without a doubt contribute this year.
I can’t say I know what all five nominees will be any better than anyone else — and in the past I’ve admittedly been rather good at predicting the category — but I can assure you that money bet on Searching for Sugar Man is as safe as it is banked.