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The Top 25 Best Documentary Feature Winners To Date

As we continue on with the weekly series I’m doing once again here on the site, we’re talking the top 25 Oscar winners in just about every single one of the Academy Award categories out there for us to discuss. Aside from the short form categories and likely something much harder to rank like Best Sound Editing or Best Sound Mixing as I’ve mentioned in the weeks prior, I’ll be hitting them all over the coming weeks, including of course the big eight categories, a few of which have already received this treatment. I’m also potentially going to do one that doesn’t really exist (a fictitious/wishful thinking Best Ensemble category), but that’s just an idea I currently am toying with. We’ll see about that one, but for now, we’ll stick to reality.

For today, I’ll be going ahead and knocking off another one of the so-called in between categories (though technically a technical category, if you’ll excuse the phrasing), with this one being the Best Documentary Feature field. Depending on the category in question, I may wind up discussing the individual winners I’m citing specifically or just giving a broad overview of the winners. Like I said over the past few weeks though, in all honesty, you mostly just want to see the list anyway, so I have no problem obliging you there in that regard. All you have to do is just be patient over the next couple of paragraphs…

This time around, I’m just going with the overview route again, though many of these documentaries are well worth having more said about them. Personally, I’ve favored a lot of the more recent winners in this category, but that’s just me. Some of you might be fans of the early winners. I certainly don’t exclude them, but I feel that in the last decade and change, some of the very best winners have been released, plain and simple.

Before getting to the list itself, I want to just discuss my top ten a bit now (interestingly for this update, a number of recent winners has now made the cut). My number one pick might be a bit controversial for some, but I remain a big Michael Moore fan and feel that he really hit a home run with Bowling for Columbine. Issues documentaries often speak to me, hence the high placement of modern winners like The Cove and An Inconvenient Truth, as well as an older one like The Times of Harvey Milk. Rounding out the rest of the top ten we have The Fog of War, Harlan County USA, Man on Wire, March of the Penguins, One Day in September, and When We Were Kings. All are top notch docs, I can assure you of that much.

Here now is how I would rank the 25 top winners of the Best Documentary Feature Oscar:

25. Woodstock
24. Inside Job
23. Undefeated
22. The Eleanor Roosevelt Story
21. I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School
20. Searching for Sugar Man
19. The Last Days
18. In the Shadow of the Stars
17. American Dream
16. Free Solo
15. Born into Brothels
14. Citizenfour
13. Anne Frank Remembered
12. Taxi to the Dark Side
11. Harlan County, USA
10. One Day in September
9. Man on Wire
8. The Fog of War
7. March of the Penguins
6. OJ: Made in America
5. When We Were Kings
4. The Times of Harvey Milk
3. An Inconvenient Truth
2. The Cove
1. Bowling for Columbine

Honorable Mention: 20 Feet from Stardom, Amy, Genocide, Icarus, and Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport

Stay tuned for another category to get this same sort of treatment next week, potentially even with another big eight one coming your way!

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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