Oscars 2015 Category Breakdown: Best Documentary Feature
Every year before the Oscars I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category, how it works, what its history is, how it usually turns out, and also as a precursor to my picks article, allowing me to get most of the heavy lifting out of the way beforehand.
How these work is — I go over each category’s history, give you all the previous winners and nominees, then list the current year’s nominees. And then I’ll go over how each of the guilds (if there is a corresponding guild) have went, and how that corresponds to the Oscars (some guilds mean a lot to how a category will play out. Others mean nothing). It’s basically everything you need to know in order to make an informed decision when you make your picks on Oscar night. And then I also rank the nominees at the end in terms of where I see them in terms of their likelihood to win.
Today is Best Documentary. Which has gotten way easier the past couple of years. Now all we can do is overthink it.
|Year||Best Documentary Winners|
|1942||The Battle of Midway
Kokoda Front Line!
Moscow Strikes Back
Prelude to War
|1944||The Fighting Lady|
|1945||The True Glory|
|1946||No Award Given.|
|1947||Design for Death|
|1948||The Secret Land|
|1949||Daybreak in Udi|
|1950||The Titan: Story of Michelangelo|
|1952||The Sea Around Us|
|1953||The Living Desert|
|1954||The Vanishing Prairie|
|1955||Helen Keller in Her Story (aka The Unconquered)|
|1956||The Silent World|
|1959||Serengeti Shall Not Die|
|1960||The Horse with the Flying Tail|
|1961||Sky Above and Mud Beneath|
|1962||Black Fox: The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler|
|1963||Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World|
|1964||World Without Sun|
|1965||The Eleanor Roosevelt Story|
|1966||The War Game|
|1967||The Anderson Platoon|
|1968||Journey Into Self|
|1969||Arthur Rubinstein – The Love of Life|
|1971||The Hellstorm Chronicle|
|1973||The Great American Cowboy|
|1974||Hearts and Minds|
|1975||The Man Who Skied Down Everest|
|1976||Harlan County, USA|
|1977||Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?|
|1980||From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China|
|1982||Just Another Missing Kid|
|1983||He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing|
|1984||The Times of Harvey Milk|
|1986||(tie) Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got
Down and Out in America
|1987||The Ten-Year Lunch|
|1988||Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie|
|1989||Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt|
|1991||In the Shadow of the Stars|
|1992||The Panama Deception|
|1993||I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School|
|1994||Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision|
|1995||Anne Frank Remembered|
|1996||When We Were Kings|
|1997||The Long Way Home|
|1998||The Last Days|
|1999||One Day in September|
|2000||Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport|
|2001||Murder on a Sunday Morning|
|2002||Bowling for Columbine|
|2003||The Fog of War|
|2004||Born into Brothels|
|2005||March of the Penguins|
|2006||An Inconvenient Truth|
|2007||Taxi to the Dark Side|
|2008||Man on Wire|
|2012||Searching for Sugar Man|
|2013||20 Feet from Stardom|
There are pretty much no more rules for this category. Now that they changed the voting procedures, pretty much the most populist entry wins. Look at the last four. If that Roger Ebert documentary made the nominees list, that would have far and away won the category.
This year seems like it’s going to be cut and dry.
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
The most interesting thing about the nominations process here is that Netflix managed to get two nominees on. Which makes me wonder how the voting process went on that.
Otherwise, no Michael Moore here is interesting.
There’s a far and away winner in this category, so I’m not gonna think too hard on it.
5. What Happened, Miss Simone? — There are two music entries on the list. Only one of them can win. The other one has no shot.
4. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom — It’s political. These usually get nominated but don’t win. Remember The Square?
3. Cartel Land — I actually think if there’s any upset choice, this is it. But I’m leaving it third for now because at the moment, it hasn’t won a single meaningful precursor. Not that precursor really matters in this category, but if we’re going to look at anything, I want to see one that has at least gotten some support at large. Of the five on this list, I’d say this is not one of the top two people would put on to watch.
2. The Look of Silence — I think Cartel Land has more of a chance to upset than this, purely because the first one didn’t win. When has a sequel documentary actually won, especially if the first one didn’t? But this has other wins across the board. So, empirical evidence points to this being second at the moment. That said, I think we all know to pick them would be to overthink it. Since the race seems pretty closed at this point.
1. Amy — It should win the BAFTA, it’s won a bunch of critics awards all over the place, it’ll probably win the DGA (though it doesn’t necessarily need to, since they’ve got a very shoddy track record at best with the Oscars), it won BFCA, NBR. It lost PGA to a non-nominee, so that’s out. Plus that’s more about being socially conscious, and this isn’t that. It’s the movie that the most regular voters will see and like, and it should walk away with this category very easily. Oh, and the dude who made this also made Senna, which I think is considered one of the bigger snubs in the category over the past five years. I wouldn’t bet against this. And if I am, I certainly wouldn’t consider anything other than this the favorite going into the ceremony.
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Tomorrow is Best Foreign Language Film. And I know we’re all so fucking stoked for that.