Academy Awards Best Documentary

Oscar or Oscan't: Doc Soup Man Predictions for Best Documentary Feature

Considering there’s nothing to unpack about yesterday’s Golden Globes regarding documentary film because the knuckleheads at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association still haven’t created an award category honoring documentaries, let’s turn our attention to the Oscar nominations, which will be announced this Thursday.

It’s an interesting race, considering the mix of showbiz-leaning films (Amy, Listen to Me Marlon, What Happened, Miss Simone?), social issue docs (The Look of Silence, The Hunting Ground, 3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets) and A-list directors (Michael Moore, Alex Gibney) mixed with relative outsiders (Matthew Heineman, Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi). The only thing missing this year is a strong contender about the high-brow artist community (Heart of a Dog, by Laurie Anderson, doesn’t have a chance).

But I won’t delay any more. Here are my predictions for the 2016 documentary Oscar nominees:

The Look of Silence
He Named Me Malala
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Where to Invade Next

The only locks are Silence and Amy, the two films that will by vying for the actual award. Both films have collected the lion’s share of other 2015 awards and topped the top-ten lists, and it’ll be a great race for the gold. (And when I say “great, ” I’m revealing that I think Silence will ultimately win it. But more on that later.)

The other three films are far from sure. Both Malala and Going Clear benefit from being directed by previous Oscar-winners who are tight with the documentary branch (Davis Guggenheim and Gibney) and their films’ subjects are high profile and important to voters.

Moore’s grasp on a nomination is even less definite. The nation’s Oscar-predicting politburo of experts isn’t giving Moore a chance. I don’t think one of them has picked Moore to get a nomination. I think they’re wrong. As much as Where to Invade Next isn’t lighting up audiences, awards or the media, it still represents an interesting turn for Moore, who is focusing on solutions to the world’s problems more than attacking an enemy. And you can’t discount the fact that every single voter in the documentary branch owes Moore. The documentary Golden Age over the past ten or so years that has rained down on the documentary industry (in ways tangible or not) has had no more significant player than Moore. He knocked the doors down. Everyone else who came through, came after him. (I’ll be writing about this more in another post tomorrow.)

So which films do I think won’t quite make the cut?

Cartel Land
Listen to Me Marlon
The Hunting Ground
3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets

This wasn’t easy for me. I love Cartel Land, was mesmerized by Marlon, and Hunting Ground and 3 ½ Minutes are both important films that would benefit significantly from nods. But as much as I see the value in Cartel Land—heck, I’d give it the Oscar runner-up if I had my say—I think the pedigrees of the previously mentioned docs will push it down out of contention. I hope I’m wrong.

As for the others, Marlon has a fighting chance, as do the other two, but Hunting Ground has been nipped by controversy and 3 ½ Minutes might benefit by representing the Black Lives Matter issue, but it doesn’t have the buzz or strong enough storytelling that could push it higher.

That’s my take. What do you think? Could other shortlisted docs Winter on Fire, Meru, We Come as Friends, Best of Enemies or What Happened, Miss Simone? Prove me totally wrong?

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