“Citizenfour”: What’s Up with the 2015 Awards Race

Directed by: Laura Poitras
Written by: N/A (documentaries don’t have credited writers, for obvious reasons)
Main Cast: Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras, and Glenn Greenwald appear, among others…
Past Oscar relations: Poitras is a former nominee in Best Documentary Feature for co-directing the doc P.O.V.

Today we have another article in this particular series of mine concerning certain 2014 releases hoping to compete for some sort of actual Oscar attention as a contender at the upcoming 2015 ceremony. Next up for here for us is a documentary in Citizenfour that’s looking to take its sensational New York Film Festival debut and use that strong buzz in order to appeal to the Academy beyond the documentary category. Can it actually content for a Best Picture nomination? Let’s discuss that interesting possibility a little bit now below…

This doc is a look at whistleblower Edward Snowden and his decision to come forward to filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald. Poitras directs and narrates the set up, while also showing us long conversations with Snowden. It all builds to some potentially shocking revelations about the surveillance programs that the United States government employs. It’s a very timely film, one that blew critics away at NYFF (though I wound up seeing it about a week later at a normal press screening), and now it seeks to leave a similar mark on Oscar voters.

What this film has going in its favor is how beloved it is so far. I literally don’t know of anyone who’s not completely over the moon for it. I found it to be a very good doc and yet I’d consider myself the least positive review out there on it, that’s how heavy the praise is. In fact, at least one colleague of mine has predicted it to crack the Best Picture lineup. I find that to slightly be a case of wishful thinking, but if the kudos continue, it’ll at least be in contention for that groundbreaking nomination. If nothing else, it’s now the odds on favorite in Best Documentary Feature, so there’s that. Trust me too, that’s nothing to sneeze at either.

Working against Citizenfour is that it’s a documentary, so you never quite know what the Academy is going to do with it. Best Documentary Feature seems all but certain (at least for a nomination, and you’d probably be silly not to have it winning right now), though this Best Picture talk seems kind of far fetched. Documentaries have never broken through that particular glass ceiling, so I have no reason to assume that this one will be able to do so now. As a general rule, I’d love to be wrong, but if it’s not happening for its primary Documentary Feature competitor Life Itself, it’s most likely not happening for this one either.

So, can this be a player at all? I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that Citizenfour is getting a Best Documentary Feature nomination, but other than that…we just can’t tell right now. I’d bet against a Best Picture nomination, but I’m sure there’s some kind of a long shot case that can be made. Regardless of its expanded awards chances, it’s well worth seeing and a very important work of non fiction. Citizenfour opens in theaters this weekend and will likely be inspiring some spirited debate before too long. Stay tuned to see what Academy members think of it, but for now…don’t miss it and be sure to keep track of how it does during the precursors. This will be an interesting contender to follow, no doubt about that!

Grade: Very Likely Contender (in Best Documentary Feature)

Stay tuned for another one of these profiles coming your way next week!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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