With all of the changes in Oscar voting — and the changes in Oscar voters — that have taken place over the last few years, it’s hard to know how much of the conventional awards season wisdom to retain, and what can be thrown out. But one place where almost all bets are off is the documentary race.
Last year, any competent oddsmaker would have placed favorable chances for films like “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and “Three Identical Strangers” to be shoo-ins for the final five nominees; both were hugely successful theatrically, and both tackled Oscar-friendly themes in the most audience-friendly ways. Yet both were shut-out. Likewise, such deeply intimate, personal, impressionistic works as “Minding the Gap” and “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” would have seemed like near-hopeless long shots, but both were rewarded with nominations. Nor was it even as simple as voters rejecting crowdpleasers for arthouse indies: the year’s winner, “Free Solo,” was easily the highest-grossing doc of the year.
With that in mind, here are 30 films that stand a good shot at Oscar attention — from box-office hits to festival favorites, cable conversation-starters, and fiery activist pieces from streaming services. Just keep in mind, the pump is well primed for yet another upset contender.