15 Films Advance in Documentary Feature Oscar Race

Agnès Varda and JR in Faces Places
Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group

By Pat Mullen

15 documentaries are one step closer to Oscar. The Academy revealed its shortlist today for Best Documentary Feature. The titles were culled by members of the documentary branch based on a whopping 170 submissions.

There are some glaring omissions on the list, most notably the hugely popular Turkish cat doc Kedi, for which distributor Oscilloscope ran a very fine campaign, as well as Sundance winner Step, an extraordinarily moving and inspiring film that seemed like an ideal fit for the Academy’s diversity efforts in addition to being an all-around great film. Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS also had many critics calling it the best film on the war in Syria, but it lost out to showier titles on the topic like City of Ghosts, Last Men in Aleppo and Human Flow.

However, it’s hard to argue with the list that voters delivered. It’s one of the stronger years for documentary in recent memory and it was inevitable that worthy names would be left off the list in such a competitive field. The one questionable choice might be An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which isn’t a particularly bad film, but simply a lesser version of a doc that won the Oscar a decade ago.

Frontrunners Jane and Faces Places square off, while the race notably pits 89-year-old Agnès Varda and 87-year-old Fred Wiseman in the same field. The filmmakers won honorary Oscars this year and the last, respectively, but have never been nominated for a competitive Academy Award. The same goes for Steve James, a pleasant surprise on this list for his early-in-the-year release Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.

It’s also an impressive year for streaming sites. Amazon Studios scored spots for all three of its contenders: City of Ghosts, Human Flow and four-hour the Grateful Dead doc Long Strange Trip. Netflix nearly consumed a third of the shortlist with Chasing Coral, Icarus, One of Us and Strong Island making the cut.

The full shortlist is below with links to coverage. The documentary branch also announced the short docs shortlist this week, which you can read and watch here.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Chasing Coral
City of Ghosts
Ex Libris – The New York Public Library
Faces Places
Human Flow
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
LA 92
Last Men in Aleppo
Long Strange Trip
One of Us
Strong Island