Oscars 2016: Best Documentary Feature Shortlist

I’ve been waiting for this one. Foreign Language and Documentary Feature are the two categories where, without a shortlist, you have no idea what you should or should not be watching. They have a total of about 200 eligible films. I can’t watch them all. So waiting for a shortlist really helps me nail down which ones to see.

This one was actually nice, since I’m acquainted with most, if not all, of them already, and have actually seen a good deal of them already. Which is a change for me. I was the “fuck documentaries” guy for years until recently.

But anyway, from this list, a third of them will be nominated. Now we gotta figure out which.

Here are your 15 shortlisted films for Best Documentary Feature:


Exposing her role behind the camera, Kirsten Johnson reaches into the vast trove of footage she has shot over decades around the world. What emerges is a visually bold memoir and a revelatory interrogation of the power of the camera.

Command and Control

Documentary of 1980’s near-launch of a nuclear missile from Arkansas, based on Eric Shlosser’s award-winning book of the same name.

The Eagle Huntress

The Eagle Huntress follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter.

Fire at Sea

Capturing life on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a frontline in the European migrant crisis.


After he is diagnosed with ALS, former professional football player Steve Gleason begins making a video diary for his unborn son, as he, his wife, and their friends and family work to raise money for ALS patients as his disease progresses.

Hooligan Sparrow

State surveillance. Harassment. Imprisonment. Human rights activist Ye Haiyan, AKA Sparrow, knew she faced these risks when she went to Hainan Province to seek justice for six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. But the scale and intensity of the government’s reaction surprised even the most seasoned activists across China. ‘The Road from Hainan’ follows Sparrow as she was chased from town to town by local governments, national secret police, and even her own neighbors

I Am Not Your Negro

Writer James Baldwin tells the story of race in modern America with his unfinished novel, Remember This House.

The Ivory Game

Wildlife activists in take on poachers in an effort to end illegal ivory trade in Africa.

Life, Animated

A coming of age story about a boy and his family who overcame great challenges by turning Disney animated movies into a language to express love, loss, kinship and brotherhood.

O.J. Made in America

It is the defining cultural tale of modern America – a saga of race, celebrity, media, violence, and the criminal justice system. And two decades after its unforgettable climax, it continues to fascinate, polarize, and develop new chapters.


An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.


Animation, testimony, and archival footage combine to relate the events of August 1, 1966 when a gunman opened fire from the University of Texas clock tower, killing 16 people.


An examination of disgraced New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s mayoral campaign and today’s political landscape.

The Witness

The brother of Kitty Genovese investigates the circumstances of her murder and the truth of the story that dozens of locals witnessed the crime and did nothing to intervene.

Zero Days

Animation, testimony, and archival footage combine to relate the events of August 1, 1966 when a gunman opened fire from the University of Texas clock tower, killing 16 people.

– – – – –

So, straight up, I’ve seen 8 of these. Just over half. Which is pretty good for me, you gotta admit.

Those eight were: The Eagle Huntress (great), Gleason (very good), The Ivory Game (whatever), Life Animated (very good), O.J. Made in America (great), 13th (important, but whatever), Weiner (great) and Zero Days (whatever).

Keep in mind, my dismissing a documentary has nothing to do with the importance of its subject matter, it has to do with my complete disinterest in the genre of filmmaking and my being bored by watching what I feel is a doc telling me things I either already know or don’t need to have beaten over my head. This is just me. Some people like feeling important and informed by these things. I’m just letting you know where I’m coming from.

13th and The Ivory Game are Netflix documentaries, so those are available on there. The other six, as far as I know, are currently not.

And then, of the others — The Witness and Hooligan Sparrow are for sure on Netflix, so I’ll watch those this week, bringing me to 10.

Fire at Sea I’m sure will be shortlisted for Foreign Language Feature, because that’s how picking the Oscars works, they won’t make it easy and only shortlist it in one of the categories and make you decide which, if either, it’ll get nominated for. All that was to say that I’ll definitely be able to see this soon enough.

So that just leaves Cameraperson, Command and Control, Tower and I Am Not Your Negro, which ist just the best title ever. I’m gonna have to guess on those unless I can see them pretty soon.

That’s just where I’m at, though. Normally I’m guessing this next part based on less than that. So that’s good. I guess.

– – – – –

Running through quickly:

O.J. is the most acclaimed documentary of the year. But then again, so was the Roger Ebert documentary, etc. etc. So I’m not gonna pencil it in for a vote automatically, but I’m also not gonna be the idiot that leaves it off his list just now.

The Eagle Huntress has a lot of acclaim and notice. I assume that’s likely to make it on too.

13th is Netflix and about a timely political issue. Netflix got on twice last year. You gotta treat them like a real power at the moment. This year will go a long way to see if they have this category bought or if you just have to consider them serious power players.

I Am Not Your Negro just seems like it’ll be nominated, even though I haven’t seen it. I feel like it’s gonna get a lot of other nominations and be really liked.

Fire at Sea seems to be really liked. Not sure where (if anywhere) it lands, but you have to treat it seriously.

Life Animated is a nice documentary. Not sure they nominate it, but it definitely has a good story they might gravitate to. I have my doubts about a nomination, but it’s definitely in that upper echelon of contenders.

The Ivory Game is Netflix. If Netflix is gonna pull two nominees again, this will be the second one. No shot at winning, but if you believe in the “Netflix has all the money in the world and will make sure it has votes,” then this is one you’ll want to put on.

Gleason was really good, but I feel the focus is too narrow for them. Don’t think they’ll go for it.

The Witness just seems really unlikely. Highly doubtful this makes it.

Zero Days is too complicated for them. Computer virus, nerd talk — they don’t care about this stuff. This is only here because it’s Alex Gibney, who always gets shortlisted. Though he hasn’t been nominated since 2006.

Weiner was awesome, but I’m not so sure they nominate it. I’d probably guess it just because I saw it, a lot of people know about it, and it was very good. But I’m not certain this makes it.

Command and Control seems unlikely on subject matter, but who knows. Weird stuff goes on with this branch. You look at what they’ve gone for in the past five years — political shit, music shit, art shit. This isn’t really any of those. But it’s the team who did Food, Inc. and Last Days in Vietnam, which were both nominated, so don’t rule this out.

Hooligan Sparrow certainly sounds like something they’d go for. Somehow have not heard of this at all before today. Gonna watch this to get a better idea, which may influence what I’m about to guess.

Cameraperson sounds also like something they might go for

Tower — ehh. Sounds like a shortlist movie that doesn’t make it on.

– – – – –

Right now, my guess on a category…



The Eagle Huntress

I Am Not Your Negro

O.J. Made in America

And then, ranking the rest, in terms of likelihood to make it on:

6. Fire at Sea

7. Weiner

8. Hooligan Sparrow

9. Command and Control

10. The Ivory Game

11. Life, Animated

12. Gleason

13. Zero Days

14. Tower

15. The Witness

– – – – –

This is all based on first blush. I’ll change my opinion a bunch. Also what I think now that the category will be might not be what I’d guess the category will be. That’s just what my gut tells me feels like how they’d go. Put two overly political documentaries with the theme du jour — 13th (Ava DuVernay directing, Netflix distributing. How can you go wrong there, guessing it?) and I Am Not Your Negro — one uplifting story that feels like it could be a movie (The Eagle Huntress), one movie about an artist working (Cameraperson) and then O.J., which might be so good it transcends everything.

Fire at Sea feels like it might be more likely than Cameraperson, so that’s also right there.

I’m also not gonna rule out Weiner, which is just great, great stuff. Hooligan Sparrow is either a lock or a red herring. I’m currently treating it like a red herring. I’m also not gonna be cynical and assume Netflix gets two on automatically, so no to The Ivory Game.

Life Animated would be nice, but I think that’s a bit of a reach for them. Gleason seems really unlikely. And the rest definitely don’t feel like them, but there’s always one crazy nominee every year, so watch Zero Days get on. What do any of us really know about this crazy ass branch?

– – – – – – – – – –


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