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Oscar Contest: Category Highlight: Best Feature-Length Documentary

February 6th, 2011

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 only slightly more competitive than Best Animated Feature Film. (The next two categories are more competitive, I promise.)

Best Feature-Length Documentary of the Year

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Tomatometer Score: 98% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: Independent Spirit Awards
Previous Major Wins: None (One still pending)
Notes: There are seriously mixed signals with this film. On the one hand, it did earn amazing reviews, while it is one of the biggest documentaries at the box office this year. (This does matter, because you can't vote for a film you haven't seen. Bigger box office means a better chance that more Oscar voters have seen the film and it also means the studio will be more willing to send out screeners to all of Oscar voters.) On the other hand, it has only been nominated for one major award so far this year, and it was an Independent Spirit Awards, which is the least predictive of the awards we track. It could still win, but it is a serious underdog.

Tomatometer Score: 100% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: WGA
Previous Major Wins: None
Notes: One of two film's on this list that earned perfect reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Unfortunately, it only earned $31,000 at the box office and there are only 34 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. In other words, it's likely too small of a film to win. In fact, I'm rather amazed it was even nominated. It did previously earn a WGA nomination, but it lost out to Inside Job, which will likely be the same result come Oscar night.

Inside Job
Tomatometer Score: 97% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: DGA, PGA, and WGA
Previous Major Wins: DGA and WGA
Notes: The Oscar favorite. There are three major awards that have a documentary category that have already handed out the hardware. Inside Job has won two of them. Plus, the only one it didn't win, PGA, was won by Waiting for Superman, which didn't even earn an Oscar nomination. There are a few films on this list that did earn better reviews, but the difference was so small that it's not enough to compensate for the two-win advantage.

Tomatometer Score: 96% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: DGA and Independent Spirit Awards
Previous Major Wins: None (One still pending)
Notes: An also ran. It has excellent reviews, but still the weakest of the five nominees. It earned more than $1 million at the box office, but that's far below the favorite. It has picked up a couple previous major nominations, but has yet to win. There's nothing here that suggests it would be impossible for the film to win, but there's nothing here to suggest its odds are above average either.

Waste Land
Tomatometer Score: 100% Positive
Previous Major Nominations: None
Previous Major Wins: None
Notes: I'm a little shocked this film was nominated. Yes, it did earn perfect reviews, but it also only made $100,000 at the box office and was overlooked by the DGA, PGA, WGA, and Independent Spirit Award voters. It has almost no chance of winning.

Conclusion: The day before the nominations were announced, this was a two-horse race between Inside Job and Waiting for Superman. When the latter was snubbed, Inside Job became the overwhelming favorite to win the Oscar. None of the rest of the films have found success during Awards Season so far, and that will very likely continue on Oscar night.


Filed under: Restrepo, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Inside Job, GasLand, Waste Land