Oscars: Documentary Field Is Strong With No Sure Bets

Oscar Documentary Contenderts 2016
Courtesy of Netflix

While it’s been a strong and crowded year for documentaries, the nonfiction Oscar race is just as unpredictable as this year’s narrative awards race.

The consistently unpredictable Academy docu branch narrowed down 124 eligible features to a remarkably strong shortlist of 15 back in December. That batch was whittled down to five nominees — “Amy,” “Cartel Land,” “The Look of Silence,” “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.”

Even though high-profile, high-pedigree fare including Alex Gibney’s Emmy-winning “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” Michael Moore’s “Where to Invade Next” and Stevan Riley’s “Listen to Me Marlon” were left out, there remains five powerful, beautifully crafted movies from five formidable helmers.

And unlike previous years, each director has a real shot of winning. While “Amy” is the highest-grossing film of the quintet, it isn’t necessarily a shoo-in like last year’s Edward Snowden documentary “Citizenfour,” directed by Laura Poitras. That film garnered the 2014 Oscar after being the category’s front-runner for several months and winning every major docu award. Although “Amy” did win the PGA Award on Jan. 23.

This year guilds, festivals and critics’ hardware has been spread out among the five.

So far “The Look of Silence,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s examination of the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s, has garnered some of the most prestigious doc industry prizes. Film took top honors at the Gotham, Cinema Eye and Intl. Documentary Assn. awards. Additionally, the pic, a companion piece to Oppenheimer’s 2013 Oscar nominated “The Act of Killing,” nabbed Venice Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, as well as best film awards from Fipresci, the European Film Critics and a Human Rights Night Award. The PGA-nominated doc is the only nominee to have landed an Indie Spirit Award nom.

Matthew Heineman’s “Cartel Land” also focuses on an unsettling, deeply troubling topic. In making his documentary about Mexico’s drug wars, Heineman put his life on the line to take viewers into the heart of the conflict, painting a disturbing, but continuously captivating, portrait of the war and all of its complexities. Sundance honored the film with two kudos for directing and cinematography while the IDA presented Heineman with the Courage Under Fire Award. Pic recently earned nods from the DGA and Bafta.

Joining Heineman at the Baftas will be “Amy” director Asif Kapadia. Helmer’s immersive portrait of the late, gifted British thrush Amy Winehouse offers an intimate, revealing look at the star’s tragic life. Kapadia’s “Senna” missed out on the shortlist back in 2011, but his inviting biopic has support, made clear with wins from the National Board of Review, Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., BFCA Critics’ Choice and the Women Film Critics Circle as well as guild nods from the PGA and DGA.

Fellow DGA nominee “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” directed by the prolific filmmaker Liz Garbus, is also is a portrait of a struggling artist. Previously Oscar-nominated for “The Farm, Angola USA” in 1999, Garbus mixes riveting archival footage with talking head interviews to create a rich, tough-love tribute to the exceptional artist/civil-rights activist. So far docu has taken home the Josephine Baker Award from the Women Film Critics Circle and a Black Film Critics Circle kudo.

And while Evgeny Afineevsky’s “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” has garnered the least amount of hardware this awards season, don’t count this political juggernaut out. Like Netflix’s previous revolution doc, “The Square,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2014, “Winter on Fire” utilizes harrowing footage from the people on the ground and succinctly breaks down the complexities that led to revolution. Pic, which won Toronto’s people’s choice award, could also capture the hearts and minds of voters.

Latest Predictions:

moonlight Movie Picture
  1. "La La Land" Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt

  2. "Moonlight" Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner

  3. "Hidden Figures" Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams and Theodore Melfi

  4. "Lion" Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Angie Fielder

  5. "Manchester by the Sea" Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck and Kevin J. Walsh

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Damien Chazelle la la land BTS Director
  1. Damien Chazelle "La La Land"

  2. Barry Jenkins "Moonlight"

  3. Denis Villeneuve "Arrival"

  4. Kenneth Lonergan "Manchester by the Sea"

  5. Mel Gibson "Hacksaw Ridge"

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Manchester by the Sea Actor
  1. Denzel Washington "Fences"

  2. Casey Affleck "Manchester by the Sea"

  3. Ryan Gosling "La La Land"

  4. Andrew Garfield "Hacksaw Ridge"

  5. Viggo Mortensen "Captain Fantastic"

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Elle Cannes Actress
  1. Emma Stone "La La Land"

  2. Meryl Streep "Florence Foster Jenkins"

  3. Natalie Portman "Jackie"

  4. Isabelle Huppert "Elle"

  5. Ruth Negga "Loving"

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Michael Shannon Supporting Actor
  1. Mahershala Ali "Moonlight"

  2. Dev Patel "Lion"

  3. Jeff Bridges "Hell or High Water"

  4. Michael Shannon "Nocturnal Animals"

  5. Lucas Hedges "Manchester by the Sea"

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Supporting Actress
  1. Viola Davis "Fences"

  2. Octavia Spencer "Hidden Figures"

  3. Naomie Harris "Moonlight"

  4. Michelle Williams "Manchester by the Sea"

  5. Nicole Kidman "Lion"

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Arrival Adapted Screenplay
  1. "Moonlight" Barry Jenkins; Tarell Alvin McCraney

  2. "Lion" Luke Davies

  3. "Arrival" Eric Heisserer

  4. "Fences" August Wilson

  5. "Hidden Figures" Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi

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Hell or High Water trailer Original Screenplay
  1. "La La Land" Damien Chazelle

  2. "Manchester by the Sea" Kenneth Lonergan

  3. "Hell or High Water" Taylor Sheridan

  4. "20th Century Women" Mike Mills

  5. "The Lobster" Efthymis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos

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Silence Cinematography
  1. "La La Land" Linus Sandgren

  2. "Lion" Greig Fraser

  3. "Arrival" Bradford Young

  4. "Moonlight" James Laxton

  5. "Silence" Rodrigo Prieto

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Fantastic Beasts and where to find them Costume Design
  1. "Jackie" Madeline Fontaine

  2. "Florence Foster Jenkins" Consolata Boyle

  3. "La La Land" Mary Zophres

  4. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" Colleen Atwood

  5. "Allied" Joanna Johnston

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hacksaw ridge Film Editing
  1. "La La Land" Tom Cross

  2. "Arrival" Joe Walker

  3. "Hacksaw Ridge" John Gilbert

  4. "Hell or High Water" Jake Roberts

  5. "Moonlight" Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders

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Star Trek Beyond Makeup & Hairstyling
  1. "Star Trek Beyond"

  2. "Suicide Squad"

  3. "A Man Called Ove"

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A Monster Calls Original Score
  1. "La La Land" Justin Hurwitz

  2. "Moonlight" Nicholas Britell

  3. "Lion" Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka

  4. "Jackie" Mica Levi

  5. "Passengers" Thomas Newman

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Best Original Song
  1. "City of Stars" "La La Land"

  2. "How Far I'll Go" "Moana"

  3. "Audition (The Fools Who Dream") "La La Land"

  4. "Can't Stop the Feeling!" "Trolls"

  5. "The Empty Chair" "Jim: The James Foley Story"

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Hail Caesar Production Design
  1. "La La Land" David Wasco; Sandy Reynolds-Wasco

  2. "Arrival" Patrice Vermette; Paul Hotte

  3. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" Stuart Craig; Anna Pinnock

  4. "Hail, Caesar!" Jess Gonchor; Nancy Haigh

  5. "Passengers" Guy Hendrix Dyas; Gene Serdena

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Deepwater Horizon Movie Sound Editing
  1. "Hacksaw Ridge" Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright

  2. "La La Land" Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan

  3. "Arrival" Sylvain Bellemare

  4. "Deepwater Horizon" Wylie Stateman and Renée Tondelli

  5. "Sully" Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Sound Mixing
  1. "La La Land" Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow

  2. "Hacksaw Ridge" Kevin O'Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace

  3. "Arrival" Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye

  4. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

  5. "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth

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KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS Animated Feature
  1. "Zootopia" Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer

  2. "Kubo and the Two Strings" Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner

  3. "Moana" John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer

  4. "My Life as a Zucchini" Claude Barras and Max Karli

  5. "The Red Turtle" Michael Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki

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OJ Made in America Documentary Feature
  1. "O.J: Made in America" Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow

  2. "13th" Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish

  3. "Life, Animated" Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman

  4. "I Am Not Your Negro" Raoul Peck, Rémi Grellety and Hébert Peck

  5. "Fire at Sea" Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo

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Foreign Language
  1. "A Man Called Ove" Sweden; Hannes Holm

  2. "The Salesman" Iran; Asghar Farhadi

  3. "Tanna" Australia; Martin Butler, Bentley Dean

  4. "Toni Erdmann" Germany; Maren Ade

  5. "Land of Mine" Denmark; Martin Zandvliet

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Visual Effects
  1. "The Jungle Book" Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon

  2. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould

  3. "Deepwater Horizon" Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton

  4. "Kubo and the Two Strings" Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff

  5. "Doctor Strange" Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould

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