2012 Awards Season: Oscar Highlight: Best Feature-Length Documentary

With our annual Oscar Prediction contest underway, now is the best time to look at the nominees and try and figure out who the favorites are and which films should just feel honored to be nominated. Today we look at Best Feature-Length Documentary, which is about as competitive as Best Animated Feature Film, for the same reasons. The two films I thought were most likely to win, Bill Cunningham New York and Project Nim, weren't even nominated. There are still favorites and long shots, but there should be a competitive race.

Best Feature-Length Documentary of the Year

Hell and Back Again
Tomatometer Score: 100% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: Independent Spirit Awards
Previous Major Wins: None (One still pending)
Notes: This film has 100% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes; however, with only 25 reviews, it's not a lot to base a prediction on. Additionally, the film hasn't had a lot of success during Awards Season thus far and it failed to find an audience in theaters. You can't vote for a movie you haven't seen, and very few people have seen this movie. On the other hand, only one nominee has more than 50 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment and only one film earned more than $1 million at the box office, so most of the competition is also lesser known. It has to be seen as a long shot to win, but maybe the nomination will boost its chances on the home market.

If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Tomatometer Score: 87% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: WGA
Previous Major Wins: None (One Pending)
Notes: This might be the biggest long shots in this category. It's reviews are the second weakest among the five nominees, it struggled at the box office, and it has only earned one other nomination. On the other hand, if it wins the WGA, it could be seen as the frontrunner. Unfortunately, Pina is also up for that award, and I think it has a better shot at winning.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Tomatometer Score: 100% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: DGA
Previous Major Wins: None
Notes: So far this film has a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is based on just nine reviews. It also earned a DGA nomination, but lost out to a film that wasn't even nominated for an Oscar. There are no box office numbers to speak of, but the buzz is pretty strong and this is a great topic for the Oscars. (It deals with a miscarriage of justice.) Overall, I don't think it is the favorite, but it isn't a real long shot either.

Pina
Tomatometer Score: 95% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: WGAs
Previous Major Wins: None (One still pending)
Notes: This is by far the biggest documentary that was nominated. It's the only film that has more than 50 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and the only film to earn more than $1 million at the box office. Unfortunately, this doesn't have a lot of major nominations, but that's true of all of the nominees this year. It does have something to help it set it apart, it's in 3D. However, while this helps it stand out, some Oscar voters might decide 3D is too lowbrow for a Documentary. Hopefully that's not the case, because that would be a bad way to lose.

Undefeated
Tomatometer Score: 80% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: None
Previous Major Wins: None
Notes: In a year filled with surprise nominations, this one still stands out. It has the fewest reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, the lowest Tomatometer Score, no previous major award nominations, and it hasn't been released in theaters yet. Hopefully the nomination will help it at the box office, because it is a long shot to win.

Conclusion: Thank goodness I'm not a betting man, as I would have lost money when Project Nim wasn't even nominated. The buzz surrounding Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is strong, but I think the buzz around Pina is stronger.


- C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2012-02-09