Oscars 2018 Category Breakdown: Best Documentary Feature

So what we do here each year as a warm up for the Oscars is, I break down each of the 24 categories. The idea is to both familiarize everyone with the category and its history. I look at what the major trends are throughout the past bunch of years, how the precursors tend to go, whether they matter or not, that sort of stuff. I look at how the category came to be this year, and just anything else that seems totally pertinent about it. Then I rank each of the nominees and tell you what their likelihood (at this particular moment in time) of winning is.

This is all prelude to my giant Oscar ballot that I’m gonna give you. But I figure, if you have these as the warmup, it’s not as intimidating. You’ll have seen a lot of the pertinent trends here and we’ll all be able to reference these as a sort of cheat sheet. Plus it shows you where my head is at for how I think each of the categories are gonna go, and you can see me working my way up to all the bad decisions I usually make while guessing. Pretty much, with this, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the category is gonna turn out.

Today is Best Documentary Feature. There are no real precursors for this, and they didn’t nominate the best documentary of the year. So we don’t need to wait on this, and honestly I want to get it done as soon as possible because I’m still sore at how shitty this branch’s decision-making continues to be.

Year Best Documentary Winners
1942 The Battle of Midway

Kokoda Front Line!

Moscow Strikes Back

Prelude to War

1943 Desert Victory
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
1951 Kon-Tiki
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
1957 Albert Schweitzer
1958 White Wilderness
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
1970 Woodstock
1971 The Hellstorm Chronicle
1972 Marjoe
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?
1978 Scared Straight!
1979 Best Boy
1980 From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China
1981 Genocide
1982 Just Another Missing Kid
1983 He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing
1984 The Times of Harvey Milk
1985 Broken Rainbow
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
1990 American Dream
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
2009 The Cove
2010 Inside Job
2011 Undefeated
2012 Searching for Sugar Man
2013 20 Feet from Stardom
2014 CitizenFour
2015 Amy
2016 O.J. Made in America
2017 Icarus

It’s Best Documentary. You look at the list and you pretty much know what’s gonna win. Most years the best documentary isn’t even nominated. That happened again here.

Best Documentary Feature

Free Solo

Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Minding the Gap

Of Fathers and Sons


They had a shortlist of 15, they picked 5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? wasn’t nominated, and about 98% of the people who even cared about this category tuned out right there. This branch is broken. I’ve got nothing more to say, because three of these are not gonna be known by the voting body on a general level, and even though they will get copies of them, they won’t watch them.


5. Of Fathers and Sons — It hasn’t been released in the U.S. in any meaningful way, it takes place in the Middle East, and what’s the last non-English documentary to have won here? I’ve got nothing to make me think this wins at all. Gotta be considered fifth. I’ve got nothing else to go by at the moment because legitimately, no voters outside the branch were given a chance to see this movie.

4. Minding the Gap — Nominally some people may have heard of this because it made some of the other lists, but I doubt this gets any kind of real support. What’s it about? Look what’s won in recent years. Really entertaining stuff or really interesting political stuff. There’s no real political stuff this year (or is there?), and this doesn’t fit the mold of something that wins. Maybe it’s third, but I think you know where the votes are gonna go, and it’s not here.

3. Hale County This Morning, This Evening — Maybe it has something to do with race? I don’t know because I haven’t had a chance to see it. I’ll know better once I watch it, but I can’t see this having any kind of real support because, what’s it about? When has something like this done well in an open race in the past decade? It hasn’t. Third choice at best.

2. Free Solo — This category is always so intuitive. This documentary came out in theaters, people who normally don’t go see documentaries went to see it, and they came out saying the climb at the end was thrilling. People know this, people will vote for this. Automatic second choice on that alone. Can’t see it winning, but I wouldn’t necessarily be shocked if it did. That said, it’ll never be the #1 contender in this race because…

1. RBG — It has a second nomination. Has a documentary with a second nomination ever lost? I mean, sure, I think the only one was An Inconvenient Truth, but still. It’s about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which means it’s political. Not only is she a huge figure in the fight for women’s rights and equality, the voting body is gonna look at this as a fuck you to Trump. Of course this is gonna win. This may have won even with Won’t You Be My Neighbor? on the list. Doubtful, but it could have. This is gonna basically sweep this category now. The popular choice has won every year going back to 2011. The years it didn’t — CitizenFour won because Life Itself wasn’t nominated. Icarus won because Jane wasn’t nominated. This is gonna win. It fits both the popular and political slant that they go for. Nothing’s a lock in this branch, but you have to feel as confident as anything else with this as your choice. (This is just like Animated Feature. It’s not a lock, but it’s looking pretty damn good.)

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One response

  1. Goodness, I hope RBG doesn’t win. Having yet to see Of Fathers & Sons, RBG is by far the most conventional of the four documentaries I’ve seen. Free Solo and Minding the Gap FTW!

    February 4, 2019 at 6:44 pm

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