Best Documentaries Academy Awards

The Best Documentaries of 2014

From Sundance to the Oscars — and every festival, critics list and industry awards show we can find in between — we’re continually updating our list of lists of the “best” documentaries.

The Top 10 Documentaries of 2014 (as of January 15, 2015)

1. Citizenfour
2. Life Itself
3. The Overnighters
4. Manakamana
5. Last Days in Vietnam
6. National Gallery
7. The Missing Picture
8. Virunga
9. Jodorowsky’s Dune
10. Return to Homs

: With awards announced at last week’s Cinema Eye Honors and with the nominations just in for the Academy Awards, we’ve calculated that Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour has locked the top spot in our list of lists for 2014. Current #2 Life Itself and #3 The Overnighters were notable snubs among the Oscar nominees after having been on the shortlist and scoring well with critics. Though the #1 position is locked, the Top 10 is still up for grabs. Virunga is a new entry, moving up to #8.

: Funny how best-of lists come out in early December, isn’t it? Now that it’s actually the last day of 2014, we’ve updated our list of lists of the best documentaries of 2014 to reflect the deluge of critics’ polls and blogger picks and also audience votes via IMDb and the year-end box office totals. Citizenfour now has 11 wins and about double the number of points as the #2 and #3, Life Itself and Jesse Moss’s The Overnighters, which made a big leap from the #7 spot in our previous update. And Manakamana, directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez, is now at #4 — it’s new in the Top 10. Up next: A slew of January industry awards, including the Cinema Eye Honors. And we’ll continue to update the list through the Academy Awards in late February.

: Citizenfour has taken an early lead in our first tally of the best documentaries of 2014. Laura Poitras’s documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has already won the Best Feature Award at the IDA Documentary Awards and Best Documentary at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, and was named the best nonfiction film of the year by New York’s film critics. Unlike last year’s race, where The Act of Killing was a clear frontrunner early, this year’s race has a number of contenders. Steve James’s Life Itself is close behind with critics from the National Board of Review and the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics recently naming it the best doc.

The Algorithm

We’re tracking about 75 leading industry awards, critics circles, blogs, audience awards and festivals that name top documentaries at year’s end. Documentaries get 3 points for “wins” but can also score 1 point for nominations or appearances on the lists. Each source also has a weighting, which was determined ahead of time. For example, the IDA Awards and the Sundance Film Festival have high weightings, while the American Cinema Editors Eddie Awards and then Thessaloniki Documentary Festival have lower weightings, so a win at Sundance will count more in the overall list than a win at Thessaloniki. But you can also drill down and filter the awards list any way you like. If you trust film festivals over critics, you can just view the film festivals. And if you want to see what won at Thessaloniki, you can do that in the chart too!

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