2014 Awards Season: Oscar Highlight: Best Feature-Length Documentary

The Act of Killing poster

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 probably the hardest category to predict, because some of the previous winners of major awards were not even nominated for an Oscar. When the nominations were this unpredictable, the winner could be any of the five films.

Best Feature-Length Documentary of the Year

Zachary Heinzerling for Cutie and the Boxer
Tomatometer Score: 96% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: DGA
Previous Major Wins: None
Notes: This film doesn't have the best reviews on this list, but at 96% positive, it is close enough that reviews are a wash. On the other hand, it has no major wins and only one nomination, which is a strike against it. It's box office numbers are on par with most of the pack. I know box office numbers shouldn't matter when it comes to the Oscars, but you can't vote for a film you haven't seen, so it matters, albeit indirectly. It also doesn't have the buzz needed to suspect it will win. It's the longest of the long shots in this category, but this year has been unpredictable enough that you can't rule it out.

Morgan Neville for 20 Feet from Stardom
Tomatometer Score: 99% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: Independent Spirit Awards
Previous Major Wins: None (One Pending)
Notes: This film earned 99% positive reviews, which is still not the best reviews on this year's list of nominees. One would think its reviews would greatly increase its chances of winning. However, it's only major nomination was an Independent Spirit Award nomination, which is the least predictive when it comes to the Oscars. It also has the best box office numbers, by a huge margin, so it could be the only Oscar-nominated documentary seen by many of the voters this year. A lot of experts think this one will win, but I think it will lose out to a film that's a little more political.

Jehane Noujaim for The Square
Tomatometer Score: 100% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: DGA and Independent Spirit Awards
Previous Major Wins: DGA (One pending)
Notes: This film earned 100% positive reviews, the only film on this list to do so. It also won the DGA and is up for the Independent Spirit Awards. That counts for a lot, but the buzz surrounding this film's chances are rather weak, in part due to its anemic box office numbers. It earned the least out of the five films on this list, so it might list beneath the radar screens of too many voters.

Joshua Oppenheimer for The Act of Killing
Tomatometer Score: 95% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: DGA and Independent Spirit Awards
Previous Major Wins: None (One pending)
Notes: A lot of people think this film will win, and at first glance the reviews and the previous nominations bolster that case. However, it lost out to The Square at the DGAs and The Square has better reviews. That said, the buzz for this film is better than The Square's buzz and second only to 20 Feet from Stardom. I think the political and artistic nature of the film will win over fans of both genres and that will give it an edge.

Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill for Dirty Wars
Tomatometer Score: 84% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: WGAs
Previous Major Wins: None
Notes: This film has the weakest reviews of the bunch and only one major nomination thus far. Granted, it is the WGAs and it is the only film on this list to earn a WGA nomination, so that counts for something. I don't think it counts for enough and it could be the longest of the long shots.

Conclusion: I still think Sarah Polley should have won for Stories We Tell, but she wasn't even nominated. The evidence suggest it is a two-way race between 20 Feet from Stardom and The Act of Killing, with The Square being the one to pick if you want to go against the crowd but still have a shot at winning. I'm sticking with The Act of Killing instead.


- C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2014-02-15