“Exit Through the Gift Shop”
Why It’ll Win: Despite widespread press questioning of the veracity of “Gift Shop,” nominating voters don’t seem to mind. Directed by anonymous British street artist Banksy, film is arguably categories’ most popular and critically acclaimed releases of the year. Pic was on many critics’ lists for the best doc of 2010 and garnered the Online Film Critics Society’s best documentary of the year as well as nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards and the British Independent Film Awards.
Maybe Not: Despite being the second highest grossing film of the five nommed pics, with just over $3 million domestic B.O. to-date, this doc not only doesn’t fit inside the traditional nonfiction box, it’s not issue-oriented, a component the Academy favors. Voters may consider the nomination enough.

Why It’ll Win: Helmer Josh Fox allows the subject matter – a first-person examination of natural gas drilling in the U.S. and its catastrophic effects – to remain at the film’s forefront throughout its duration rather than being overshadowed by dramatic showmanship. Winner of the special jury prize at Sundance, environmental pic has a social conscious factor that tends to resonate with voters.
Maybe Not: Having not collected much in the way of awards-season hardware, pic lacks some of the kudos momentum other recent Oscar-winning docus like “Man on Wire” and “The Cove,” which won nearly every critics’ prize leading up to the Oscars, have enjoyed. Strong competition, which includes fellow issue-oriented docs like “Restrepo” along with the lowest domestic B.O. to-date ($30,846) among the nominees, will force distrib to work that much harder to distinguish pic to voters.

“Inside Job”
Why It’ll Win: A hit at Cannes and with critics alike, this timely in-depth doc about the worldwide financial meltdown is an issue relevant to anyone with a bank account. Doc’s previously Academy Award-nominated helmer, Charles Ferguson (“No End in Sight”), is a known commodity. As with that searing Iraq War study, Ferguson once again aims to arm auds with information and infuriate them into action with “Inside Job.” Nominated for a DGA prize and winner of the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle top doc kudo, Academy nomination reps an opportunity to bestow some love on the filmmaker who speaks to the here and now, reflecting the collective mindset.
Maybe Not: While pic boasts timely, compelling subject matter, its grim tone – crime without punishment, the abuse of power, criticism of the Obama administration — carries the unpredictability of political charge, which might prove a little too intense for some voters allowing lighter fare like, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” or “Waste Land” to edge it out. Despite being one of the higher profile docs in this year’s group, the acclaim doesn’t necessarily translate to Oscar, as was the case with “Super Size Me,” “Hoop Dreams” and “The Thin Blue Line,” which either lost to far lesser-known films or were not recognized by the Academy.

Why It’ll Win: Pic does what docus often do best — humanize a news story. In this case the deployment of a U.S. platoon in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, a stronghold of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Being able to take a hot news topic like the war much further than the mainstream news media might pique the curiosity of voters. Strong reviews and publicity, specialized theatrical success, a Sundance grand jury prize, the directorial debut NBR award, plus a DGA and Indie Spirit Award nomination, make it a major contender.
Maybe Not: With dozens of war-focused docus produced over the last 10 years, “Restrepo” runs the risk of falling on fatigued eyes. While docs including “My Country, My Country,” “No End In Sight,” “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience” and “Iraq in Fragments” have all been nominated, Alex Gibney’s “Taxi to the Dark Side” is the only film dealing with war post 9/11 that has garnered a gold man.

“Waste Land”
Why It’ll Win: Helmer Lucy Walker brings a compelling human-interest dimension to what could have been a standard career-retrospective docu. Film’s upbeat subject matter could also attract voters. It certainly appealed to film fest attendees. Pic has the distinction of winning the Full Frame, Sundance world cinema as well as the Berlin Film Festival’s audience awards. To date, pic has garnered more than 18 fest kudos. In December, the International Documentary Assn. named it the best feature documentary of 2010.
Maybe Not: Weak box office domestic receipts ($103,839 to-date) and with little commercial juice, pic has a low profile coming into the race, which might prove a disadvantage against far more publicized docs like “Inside Job” and “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

Best Picture | Director | Animated Picture | Foreign Film |

What the critics say