Documentary Feature has been one of the stranger categories to watch transform and morph as, like International Feature Film, we saw ‘important’ docs like Collective, Crip Camp and Time be replaced by what, on the surface, seems like a generic nature film we’ve seen a hundred times.
Garrett Bradley’s Time, detailing the decades long fight of a woman, Fox Rich, for the release of her husband from a a 60-year prison sentence. In the era of a heightened awareness of how systemic racism shifts the balance of power and fairness against Black people, Time was as well, timely as you could get. It was the overwhelming critical favorite, winning NYFCC, LAFCA, NSFC and NBR. Normally, that would be an unstoppable combination (unless you’re 100% archive footage like last year’s Apollo 11). Alexander Nanau’s Collective, which details the incredible work by Romanian reporters and investigators to uncover astonishing health care fraud (and is double-nominated here and for International Feature Film), hits another timely cord, both in the US and worldwide.
But it’s My Octopus Teacher that has truly performed like an octopus itself, changing shape and appearance to reflect its surroundings, blending in, almost going unnoticed. Then it won the PGA over Time. Then the BAFTA over Collective. And just like that, Netflix is looking at its third win in this category in four years. Like International Feature Film, visibility is a key factor in this race and although the doc branch still makes controversial choices with what it nominates (or really, what it doesn’t) and they nominated it over Critics Choice winner Dick Johnson is Dead, also from Netflix and the season’s second biggest critics hit.
In a year that has favored empathetic films, I think voters will respond to My Octopus Teacher on an emotional level but I’m not counting out Time or Collective to still be able to eke out a win.
The 93rd Oscars will be held on April 25 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and the Union Station in Los Angeles.
Here are my ranked final Oscar predictions in Documentary Feature.
1. My Octopus Teacher (Netflix) – BAFTA, DGA, PGA
Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed and Craig Foster
2. Time (Amazon Studios) – BFCA, CEH, IDA, PGA
Garrett Bradley, Lauren Domino and Kellen Quinn
3. Collective (Magnolia Selects) – BAFTA, CEH, IDA
Alexander Nanau and Bianca Oana
4. Crip Camp (Netflix) – BFCA, IDA
Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht and Sara Bolder
5. The Mole Agent (Gravitas Ventures)
Maite Alberdi and Marcela Santibáñez