Oscars 2016 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 typically goes, voting-wise, historically and also as a precursor to my picks article, allowing me to get most of the heavy lifting out of the way beforehand.
What I do is 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 voted, 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. So you know what the general favorites are.
Today is Best Documentary.
|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|
No precursors that matter, and in a year like this, we don’t need to say a whole lot. We know what’s gonna win.
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
O.J. Made in America
13th is an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.
Fire at Sea — Capturing life on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a frontline in the European migrant crisis.
I Am Not Your Negro — Writer James Baldwin tells the story of race in modern America with his unfinished novel, Remember This House.
Life, Animated is 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.
I’ve seen all five of these, so I actually feel qualified to wager an opinion this early in the process. Not that I really need to be overly qualified, since we all know how this one is gonna turn out.
5. Life, Animated — It’s too slight. It’s the only “light” entry in the bunch, but there’s no substance to it. The kid likes Disney and it helps him communicate. Awesome. I feel better. but no one’s gonna vote for this. It easily falls to the back of the pack, which is saying something, since in a year like this with all “serious” contenders, usually something like this manages to make third simply by being a breath of fresh air. Can’t see this having any shot at all.
4. Fire at Sea — I’m glad this was nominated. This was a terrific documentary about the refugee crisis that could have been a fictional narrative, it’s so well made. I don’t think this has any shot. People haven’t seen it, it’s Italian, not in English, and doesn’t give viewers that feeling of “I’m doing something by watching this,” or at the very least, “I feel much more informed now.” They want to either feel good or feel angry. This gives them neither, and I can’t see this toppling the achievement that is O.J. Made in America.
3. I Am Not Your Negro — The title alone is gonna turn white folks off. You know it will. It’s a very good documentary, but it’s not gonna appeal to the masses the way 13th would and the way O.J. does. This also hasn’t come out until just now, which is late to mount a campaign. I don’t think that can happen, with such a huge favorite and another documentary with similar themes by a major studio and filmmaker.
2. 13th — Ava DuVernay, Netflix, and a major, major social issue. This would be the favorite most years. If O.J. weren’t here, this probably would win. It could still win. If people want to vote socially, if Netflix throws enough money at it (don’t think votes aren’t bought, one way or another), if people reject O.J. as not being a legitimate feature doc, this could win. I don’t think you can rightly consider it the favorite to win, but if O.J. doesn’t win on Oscar night, this will be the film that beats it.
1. O.J. Made in America — The uphill battle for this was getting nominated. People were worried they wouldn’t consider an 8-hour documentary made for ESPN a feature. But they did, so now there’s nothing stopping it from winning. Except if people rise up and vote en masse for 13th, which is entirely possible. I call this a 75/25 in favor of this one taking it. If people haven’t already seen this, they’ve been told it’s great and that they should be a bunch of people. Voters aren’t stupid. They’re stubborn, and they’re particular, but they’re not stupid. They’ll take this, or they’ll take 13th. And you have to consider this the overwhelming favorite until that happens.
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Tomorrow is Best Foreign Language Film.