Truly one of the more difficult categories this year with a wealth of great films, some very timely, but with incredibly mixed crossover of precursors and some with big strikes against them.
While Garrett Bradley’s Time is the most rewarded documentary of the year by critics, making an unprecedented sweep of the top tier groups, there is a legitimate chance it misses out. Why? Because the doc branch doesn’t like two things: perceived frontrunners and archive footage films (see: Apollo 11 last year, called that snub). And Time is both. I do think it will break the mold this year and be nominated but I can just as easily see it out. It comes in with a PGA nomination.
Same goes for Crip Camp, which also feels on the cusp and doesn’t have any top precursor behind it. But, it’s Netflix and it’s their best shot in a category they’ve won twice now.
There isn’t a single doc this year that has BAFTA, DGA and PGA, which makes this that much harder. The Truffle Hunters has DGA and PGA. Collective has BAFTA and won CEH. Welcome to Chechnya has DGA. Boys State and The Painter and the Thief also have DGA. Dick Johnson is Dead has PGA and won BFCA.
But here’s the spoiler: My Octopus Teacher has been a stealth player for a little while. It has BAFTA and DGA and even made the BAFTA longlist for director. But it’s an animal doc and those have a mixed history with the branch. Yes, The Cove was a winner here but we also saw Blackfish and Jane snubbed. They both succumbed to frontrunner snubs, which My Octopus Teacher doesn’t. Same goes for Gunda, another animal doc that’s been able to largely fly under the radar of frontrunners.
What’s missing for me though are the extremely timely and political docs from 2020 like 76 Days, detailing the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan, China that we are still living with. Or All In: The Fight for Democracy, chronicling Stacey Abrams rise in the political landscape and our tumultuous Presidential election that just took place. Boys State, mentioned above, which shows the mindset of future young male politicians that is both hopeful and terrifying.
Cinema Eye Honors (CEH) and International Documentary Association (IDA) nominations and wins are also recorded here.
Here are my final 2021 Oscar nomination predictions in Documentary Feature.
- 1. Collective (Magnolia Selects) – BAFTA, CEH, IDA
- 2. Time (Amazon Studios) – BFCA, CEH, IDA, PGA
- 3. Welcome to Chechnya (HBO Documentary Films) – DGA, IDA
- 4. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (Netflix) – BFCA, IDA
James Lebrecht, Nicole Newnham
- 5. The Truffle Hunters (Sony Pictures Classics) – DGA, IDA, PGA
Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Watch out for: My Octopus Teacher (Netflix) – BAFTA, DGA
Oscar shortlist contenders: 76 Days, All In: The Fight for Democracy, Boys State (DGA), Dick Johnson is Dead (BFCA), Gunda, MLK/FBI, The Mole Agent, Notturno, The Painter and the Thief (DGA)