Ranking the contenders in Best Documentary Feature

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Today, for the next installment of my still weekly 2015 contender re-rundown, I’m moving on once again from the big eight categories (after starting this second part to the series with Best Animated Feature last week) and taking a look now at one of the in betweens, which happens this time to be the Best Documentary Feature race.

Here now are the ten documentary films in particular that I have cracking the unofficial lineup at this later point in the year:

1. Citizenfour – Ever since this documentary burst on to the scene at the New York Film Festival, it’s essentially become the one to beat. A firsthand look at Edward Snowden as he became the world famous whistleblower we know him as today, it’s timely, unsettling, and gets people talking. That’s often a formula for victory here. I don’t think it’s unbeatable, but right now you have to consider Citizenfour to be the undisputed frontrunner here.

2. Life Itself – Up until the fall festival season, this doc (which is also one of my favorite films of the year in general) about legendary film critic Roger Ebert was seen as the odds on favorite to win. Since then, it’s fallen victim to a competitor taking all of the buzz and discussion, but it doesn’t mean it’s out of the running whatsoever. If Academy members decide to go slightly lighter with their doc winner, that could be a big benefit to Life Itself. I wouldn’t quite say it’s a two horse race, but these top two contenders are the most likely winners by far.

3. Red Army – Back at NYFF, I saw and very much enjoyed this pseudo sports doc, enough so that I speculated that it could be an under the radar contender here. Well, it seems that others are beginning to say that as well, as it’s appearing in predictions beyond my own. I don’t think it can pull off a win, but a nomination is very doable. It’s a Cold War hockey doc, which is rare, but it’s also very entertaining, so don’t sleep on this one…

4. Point and Shoot – Depending on who you ask, this one is either a top tier contender or likely to miss out entirely. In some ways it’s almost a documentary counterpart to the thriller Nightcrawler, while also having a unique vibe all its own. Gun to my head, I think it gets into the field and perhaps even could try to play spoiler, but a lot still has to be decided here.

5. Keep On Keepin’ On – Slowly but surely, this doc has also begun to climb up prediction charts, to the point where I think it’s a very viable nominee, to say the least. With most of the attention being paid to Citizenfour, and to a lesser extent Life Itself, it’ll be interesting to see which of the secondary players actually manage to sustain some buzz. This certainly could be one of them if things continue to break the right way.

6. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me – At one point, some folks speculated that the main competition to Life Itself was this look at the recently departed Stritch. Obviously, that chatter has died down, to the point where a lot of people don’t even have the doc nominated, but don’t underestimate how much the broadway actress was loved. If enough voters are reminded of their fondness for Stritch, it’ll stay in the running for a while to come still.

7. Last Days in Vietnam – A very traditional contender, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this crack the lineup. It’s not as sexy or popular a player, but it’s the sort of meat and potatoes pick that Oscar voters in this category often come back to before all is said and done. In another year it’d probably be a lock, but right now it’s right there on the fringe. Stay tuned to see if it can make a play for a spot as the season continues…

8. Finding Vivian Maier – Early year releases don’t suffer as much in the Best Documentary Feature category, so that could be beneficial here. Assuming enough folks actually seek this one out and give it a chance, a nod isn’t out of the question at all. The odds of a nom have clearly been reduced, but there’s still a long way to go in the Best Documentary Feature race.

9. Tales of the Grim Sleeper – I know a lot of people who were very fond of this doc, even going back to NYFF. It’s a little bit of a unique take on the sort of thing voters dig on, so that could be a help. It hasn’t been released yet, so it could be a strategic thing, but as it is, this is a bit of an X factor. If it manages to find an audience, this could definitely be a threat. Keep the name in your head.

10. Jordorwsky’s Dune – If you want a total sleeper to hold on in the back of your mind, here’s one. It’s a critical darling about the failed attempt by a cult filmmaker to make a science fiction epic, and it’s very well done too. Alejandro Jodorowsky could certainly go on the circuit to help push the doc as well, so there’s that. I don’t think it’ll crack the ultimate lineup, but if you want an out of the box pick to consider, this is as good a choice as any of them.

Next in line I’d have these ten contenders (just sans my own personal commentary here) for Best Documentary Feature:

11. The Salt of the Earth
12. The Case Against 8
13. The Overnighters
14. Happy Valley
15. The Dog
16. Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
17. Fed Up
18. Alive Inside
19. Rich Hill
20. Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger

And here’s another group to give you 30 contenders in total:

21. Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
22. Merchants of Doubt
23. Virunga
24. Kids for Cash
25. The Great Invisible
26. Dancing in Jaffa
27. The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
28. Lambert & Stamp
29. Ivory Tower
30. Food Chains

Stay tuned ladies and gentlemen, as I’ll be back here with another new category 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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