Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:
Today, Doug Jamieson of The Jam Report is here to look at the nominees for Best Documentary Feature.
Throughout the critics awards portion of awards season, Best Documentary Feature was a battle between two powerful, socially-relevant documentaries; Garrett Bradley’s Time and Alexander Nanau’s Collective. After splitting awards from the critics groups, it appeared these two films were going to duel it out again at the Oscars. Then something strange happened. From seemingly nowhere, James Reed and Pippa Ehrlich’s My Octopus Teacher emerged as the true frontrunner and seems poised to snatch Netflix’s third win in this category in the last four years.
Let’s take a closer look at this year’s line-up.
Nanau’s searing documentary exposes a shocking health care fraud in the wake of a deadly nightclub fire in Bucharest, Romania, in 2015. A tribute to the power of investigative journalism and a damning indictment of government corruption, Collective is one of the most gripping documentaries in recent memory. It earned Best Documentary wins from the critics associations of Boston, London, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Toronto, the Satellite Awards, and the European Film Awards plus it nabbed an additional Oscar nomination for Best International Feature. One would think this incredible run of precursor season success would place it firmly as our frontrunner, but few are predicting a win for the Romanian doco.
The latest documentary from executive producers Barack and Michelle Obama under their Higher Ground Productions banner, Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht’s Crip Camp tells the gorgeous story of a free-spirited 1970s New York summer camp for teenagers with disabilities. The film focuses on several campers who ultimately became leading activists for the disability rights movement and their fight for accessibility legislation. One of two Netflix documentaries in contention, Crip Camp could follow the success of the Obama’s American Factory, which won this category in 2019. The film won Best Documentary Feature from the International Documentary Association and was just awarded this prize at the Independent Spirit Awards. If there’s a spoiler waiting in the wings, this is it.
The Mole Agent
The official Chilean entry for Best International Feature, Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent couldn’t match Collective by scoring nominations in both categories. A poignant tale of a private investigator who hires an 83-year-old man to go undercover in a Chilean nursing home in a bid to expose signs of abuse, The Mole Agent is a timely reminder of how easily society often forgets its elders. With tremendous critical acclaim, it’s surprising the film hasn’t seen nominations anywhere else this season, bar a Best Documentary Feature nod at the Independent Spirit Awards. Consider it a huge longshot at the Oscars.
My Octopus Teacher
The little octopus that could has swam its way into hearts across the globe. After quietly debuting on Netflix in September, Ehrlich and Reed’s My Octopus Teacher soon found an adoring audience and tremendous online word-of-mouth helped it spread far across the world. With its charming story of a South African free-diver and his unusual friendship with a curious young octopus, the film is a beautiful portrait of humanity’s connection to nature and a pertinent reminder of how bonds can often form in the strangest of places. After landing an Oscar nod over more highly favoured contenders like Welcome to Chechnya, Dick Johnson is Dead, and Boys State, the film stunned award watchers everywhere with key wins at PGA, the BAFTAs, and the ACE Eddie Awards to place it firmly in line to walk away with the Academy Award. Who would have thought?
The compelling story of one woman’s fight for the release of her husband serving a 60-year prison sentence for engaging in an armed bank robbery, Garrett Bradley’s Time initially appeared to be this year’s chosen contender. Constructed from over 100 hours of home videos recorded over the course of 18 years and combined with original footage, Time follows Fox Rich’s frustrating battle against the flawed and corrupt American judicial system. The film collected wins from the critics associations of Los Angeles, New York, the National Board of Review, and the National Society of Film Critics plus Best Documentary at the Gotham Awards. But it loss at PGA and its failure to score nominations at the BAFTAs or from the DGA has seen its frontrunner status snatched away by that cheeky octopus.
It’s hard to argue with a heartwarming, feel-good contender like My Octopus Teacher, especially after the dour year we’ve all had. It touched hearts all over the globe with its simple tale of a man and his unlikely friendship with a precocious octopus, and that sentiment is hard to beat. One could bemoan it’s far from the “best” documentary feature of the year, but it certainly made a deep impact. There’s a mild chance of an upset for either Time or Collective, but the octopus appears to have bolted on this one. The buzz in the latter stages of the season have shifted to My Octopus Teacher and it’s hard to see it losing at this point.
Will win: My Octopus Teacher
Should win: Collective
Possible shocker: Crip Camp
Should have been nominated: Welcome to Chechnya