The Best Documentary category features one of the more prominent snubs of the 2018 Oscar nominations. The arguable front-runner in the category, Jane, did not appear in the final five (I disputed this front-runner status in favor of Agnes Varda’s Faces Places, but I in no way foresaw Jane not even earning a nomination).
With that film out of the running—as well as other notable docs like City of Ghosts not showing up—the conversation around the Best Documentary category has changed drastically. So let’s have that conversation!
- Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
- Faces Places
- Last Men in Aleppo
- Strong Island
Will Win: Faces Places
Could Win: Last Men in Aleppo
Dark Horse: Strong Island
I’ll be transparent here. Out of these five, I have only seen Strong Island and Icarus (Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is on Amazon Prime, so I’m coming for that one next). All the same, I am entirely confident in my predictions here.
With Jane and City of Ghosts out, this race is narrower than it would have otherwise been. This was setting out to be a slug-fest before those upsets.
Assume Faces Places is the front-runner now. Agnes Varda is a legendary filmmaker whose career dates back to the French New Wave. Her docs are always unique and often brilliant. Again, I have not seen Faces Places, but it seems to be getting just as much positive attention as any other Varda film.
But let us pause briefly. Varda will receive an Oscar in 2018 regardless of how this race plays out. She is receiving an honorary award. With this knowledge, I don’t know what the Academy will do about her in-competition doc. They may pass her up in this category knowing she’s still being awarded in one way or another.
If they do this, they may turn to Yance Ford’s Strong Island. A deeply personal film, Strong Island doesn’t have the broad-sweeping political implications that the Academy generally likes to see in their docs. The Academy, in some years, also likes to pick the most feel-good film instead (as in when 20 Feet From Stardom beat out the favorite The Act of Killing). Well, Strong Island is not a feel-good movie, either.
A case for Icarus could be made in this regard. It is a film with enough humor to keep it relatively light, while also being a film that accidentally became part of a breaking news scandal.
Still, in terms of these two Netflix properties, Strong Island is arguably the better and more powerful film.
The other contender here is Last Men in Aleppo. It is a doc that hasn’t received much attention or award season acclaim as of late, but it is the film that won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary at last year’s Sundance. The subject matter is similar to the documentary short The White Helmets, which won the Best Documentary Short Subject Oscar last year. If the Academy is still tuned in to the politics of this subject, they may double down and award Last Men in Aleppo.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)