Oscars 2019: Best Documentary Feature Shortlist

Let’s start with Best Documentary Feature. Since this is a category I decided to half-give a shit about this year. They announced their list of 159 films eligible for the category and I skimmed it to see which ones seemed important/would be interesting for me personally and pulled those and tried to watch as many as I could before now. I’m still working. I have two or three left from my original list and will likely add a few more from this.

But hey, I’m trying to care. And that’s new. Normally I can only be bothered about documentaries after they’re in contention. So look at that. Growth. Only took a decade. Doubt it’ll last, but hey, we got somewhere.

Anyway, they narrowed down the list to 15 contenders, of which 5 will eventually be nominates. So let’s see what mistakes the Documentary branch made this year. Here is your shortlist:

American Factory
The Apollo
Apollo 11
The Biggest Little Farm
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama
The Great Hack
Knock Down the House
Midnight Family
One Child Nation

Okay, before I get into these 15, I’m just gonna run down the list of eligibles and see which ones I liked that didn’t get on and which ones seemed like big names that didn’t make it.

Oh, The Kingmaker is a big one. That didn’t make it. I loved The Black Godfather. Wasn’t totally sold they’d put that here, but it was very good. The David Crosby one didn’t make it. I haven’t seen it, but it seems like it has a high profile. Diego Maradona didn’t make it, and it was from the Amy/Senna guy. The Fyre Fest ones didn’t get on, but I don’t think we expected those. The Theranos one didn’t make it, but that makes sense. The Linda Ronstadt one was really good. I just saw that the other day. Not totally surprised it’s not here, but it is fantastic. Pavarotti is another one I would have expected to see here. Rolling Thunder Revue technically counted, but who expected them to really go there? Western Stars also counted, but I think they knew better than to let that get close, because people would just vote for it blindly. The Toni Morrison one didn’t get on. That maybe felt like it could.

Okay, so yeah, the only real big name one I’d maybe have expected is The Kingmaker, and then Pavarotti. I wonder how much of that is them not considering Ron Howard a true documentarian. This is the most fucked up of all the branches — they fucking left off Won’t You Be My Neighbor? last year. It’s broken. But fortunately there wasn’t a whole lot for them to break this year. So they’ll skate by another year with their bullshit.

Let’s get into what can make it on

Advocate — A look at the life and work of Jewish-Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel who has represented political prisoners for nearly 50 years.

Oh, right. This one. I figured they were over Holocaust stuff. But also, it’s only a shortlist. But yeah, there’s an era of this category where this would do really well. Have not seen this one, but am aware of it from looking at the giant eligibles list. Which means it at least raised my ‘Oscar bait’ detector I have because I thought, “They could go for this.”

American Factory — End 2008, GM closes a plant in Ohio. A Chinese billionaire/Fuyao Glass buys the plant 2014 and invests in auto glass production. There are 2000 jobs there by late 2016. USA meets PRChina.

This is Netflix. Their first shortlisted doc. I think they’ve got at least four or five on here, just FYI. This was also produced by the Obamas, which also might mean something in the end. I saw this. Didn’t care. Not the kind of subject matter that interests me in terms of a documentary.

The Apollo — The history of New York City’s Apollo Theater in Harlem is given the full treatment.

I truly did not know this documentary existed until today. I must have skipped over it while looking at the giant list because it looked exactly like Apollo 11. But this is exactly my kinda doc and I cannot wait to see this. I hope they nominate this, sight unseen. Oh and shit, it’s HBO. I can watch this. So yeah, that’s happening. Can’t wait.

Apollo 11 — A look at the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon led by commander Neil Armstrong and pilots Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

This is the best documentary I saw this year. It’s amazing. It’s just footage and original interviews and news footage and things like that. No narration or anything. It’s glorious. And knowing them, they’ll straight up not nominate it and do what they can to make this category suck. Because this deserves to be on and possibly even win the category.

Aquarela — Water and ice are shown around the world, in all of their many powerful forms.

Sounds awesome. Gonna go see this one as soon as possible.

The Biggest Little Farm — Documentarian John Chester and his wife Molly work to develop a sustainable farm on 200 acres outside of Los Angeles.

I saw this one. It got released wide in May. So I was very aware of it. Trailers, the whole thing. It was fine. Very jerk off sustainable shit. The documentary isn’t particularly well put together. They manufacture some of the drama. I’m not sure they do nominate it in the end, but this for sure will please the eco-friendly crowd, and they love the idea that people who worked in movies went and started this farm and that the story is something out of a movie (that they can make!).

The Cave — Amidst air strikes and bombings, a group of female doctors in Ghouta, Syria struggle with systemic sexism while trying to care for the injured using limited resources.

Haven’t seen this one, but it fits their M.O. I expect this on subject matter alone to probably make it on. Not sure I’ll be able to see this before nominations, but I’ll see what I can do.

The Edge of Democracy — Political documentary and personal memoir collide in this exploration into the complex truth behind the unraveling of two Brazilian presidencies.

Our second Netflix doc. This one I also saw. Didn’t really care all that much. But that’s because political stuff usually doesn’t do it for me unless it’s got a tone that’s more fun and watchable than “We’re all fucked, criminal shit happened and you should be angry about it.” I generally don’t go for that anyway, and we’ve got enough of that in our daily lives waking up and looking at the news. But anyway, it’s political. And it’s Netflix. Gotta figure it’s got the money to make a run for it.

For Sama — An intimate and epic journey into the female experience of war.

This is a PBS doc. I’ll watch this one now that I know it’s on here. Not sure what to make of it, but it sounds generally like something that would fit. So far only that first one feels like an outlier for a 2019 shortlist.

The Great Hack — The Cambridge Analytica scandal is examined through the roles of several affected persons.

Third Netflix one. Also saw this. Didn’t really care. I had trouble also with some of the subjects trying to be crusading whistleblowers when they’re also partly responsible for what the company did and seem like now they’re acting like they were on the right side all along. It’s a strong comparison, but it feels like what Christoph Waltz was planning to do at the end of Inglourious Basterds. The scandal makes sense as something they’d look to vote for, but I’m not sure how much the doc will end up doing it for them.

Honeyland — The last female bee-hunter in Europe must save the bees and return the natural balance in Honeyland, when a family of nomadic beekeepers invade her land and threaten her livelihood.

This is Macedonia’s Foreign Language… I’m sorry, International Feature submission, and theoretically could make both shortlists. I suspect it would/could only make one, and this feels like the place for it. I’d think. But who knows. Maybe it gets both? The fact that it’s on both should mean that it’s got a solid chance at a nomination. I’ve got a copy of this, so I’ll see it soon.

Knock Down the House — A look at the people involved with various political campaigns during the 2018 U.S. congressional election.

Netflix #4. I saw this one too. I liked it as an inspiring piece for what elected officials should be striving to do, but as a documentary it was just okay. They got lucky with AOC being one of the people they followed. Otherwise this wouldn’t be nearly as interesting a documentary. I’d be happy seeing this nominated.

Maiden — The story of Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old cook on charter boats, who became the skipper of the first ever all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989.

I did see this one, and I loved this one. If Apollo 11 doesn’t win the category, I’d be very happy with this winning. I can’t see this not being nominated… you know, in a fair and balanced vote. Not that corrupt shit they usually give us. So I don’t know if it’ll be nominated, but I know that it should be nominated.

Midnight Family — In Mexico City’s wealthiest neighborhoods, the Ochoa family runs a private ambulance, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help.

Oh yeah, I’ve heard of this one. This is supposed to be really good. I’m really interested in seeing this one. This only just came out in like one theater last week, which means there’s zero chance I’ll be able to see it unless they nominate it, and even then it’ll be tough. This sounds really good, though.

One Child Nation — After becoming a mother, a filmmaker uncovers the untold history of China’s one-child policy and the generations of parents and children forever shaped by this social experiment.

Oh, I thought this was Netflix. This is Amazon. Got it. So Netflix only has 4 and not 5 on the shortlist. Guess I’ll go see this now and see how that goes.

– – – – –

So yeah, of the 15, I’ve already seen American Factory, Apollo 11, The Biggest Little Farm, The Edge of Democracy, The Great Hack, Knock Down the House and Maiden. That’s 7, and puts me at a cool 50% almost.

I have copies of The Apollo, Aquarela, For Sama, Honeyland and One Child Nation, and will see those in the next two weeks.

Which leaves Advocate, The Cave and Midnight Family as the three I have not seen and likely won’t be able to see for a while. Midnight Family is the one I’m most interested in.

Just looking at this list, based on what I’ve already seen and assuming all the ones that I haven’t yet seen but sound up my alley hold up as expected, then my probable category for what I’d vote for is:

The Apollo
Apollo 11
Knock Down the House
Midnight Family

And maybe Aquarela could knock one of those off if I really like that. Maybe one of the others I have to see could hop on instead, but that would be my guess.

And then, in terms of what makes the most sense for a category:

I don’t think Advocate makes it on. I don’t think Aquarela makes it on. I don’t think The Apollo makes it on.

In terms of Netflix… they get two max on the final list. If that. I think voters are a bit more conscious about being swayed by all the money. So if I’m picking between what they put up there, I’m thinking American Factory and The Great Hack. Maybe Edge of Democracy could take it, but that’s kind of a story of the director too, and I’m not sure they’re in on that. And Knock Down the House is inspiring, but I feel like they want bigger issues. That’s just my guess as to those, though. This feels like a year where Netflix gets one of zero on, though. Which would be a bold thing to guess but also feels like could happen.

Apollo 11, Biggest Little Farm and Maiden are the biggest names on the list. I suspect one of those at least gets left off, and it’s probably one of the first two. Maiden seems safe. The other ones could not make it in a couple of different ways, knowing how this category tends to go.

One Child Nation I would have to see first. It’s a 50/50 for me right now.

The Cave, For Sama, Midnight Family and Honeyland are all foreign. Rarely do multiple foreign ones get on, if one at all. I suspect Honeyland and The Cave stand the most chance, though Midnight Family I think has a chance if it’s that good.

Picking a category totally out of my ass, so I can move on and think about this later, I’d say:

American Factory

Apollo 11

The Cave

The Great Hack


Total guess. Something tells me they’re gonna leave Biggest Little Farm off. I’m also thinking Apollo 11 will get left off too, but I refuse to leave that off my guesses, because I need to get angry about it when they don’t do it. I think American Factory and Maiden are the two best bets. The Cave just feels like something that will get on. And I almost had One Child Nation on instead of The Great Hack. But truly, this is just a pure guess. I’ll be better equipped once I’ve seen stuff and once I can look at all the other nominees like the PGA or whomever nominates documentaries. Plus all the guilds have documentary stuff on. So that’ll help a little too. This is just pure guesswork

Anyway, eight more lists coming at you tonight and tomorrow.

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