Documentaries. They’ll never be nominated for Best Picture, thanks in part to this category. But a lot of these movies are better than some of the ones on the slate for the Best Picture Oscar. This year has a pretty solid lineup, although there are a few docs, such as The Imposter, that could stand to use more recognition. Let’s take a look at the five feature-length docs that the Academy has singled out, and see which has the best chance of winning:

5 Broken Cameras
broken cameras

What it’s about: The non-violent resistance of the Palestinian residents of Bil’in, a village in the West Bank, against Israeli settlement.

Who’s nominated: Directors Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi. Emad is a resident of Bil’in who started filming the resistance on his own several years ago, while Davidi is a seasoned doc filmmaker who later joined his efforts. They have been won several film festival awards for this film, and were nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2011.

Why it might win: Because it represents a collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers. I can’t speak to the doc’s quality, as it’s the only one here that I’ve yet to see, but it’s received a lot of critical praise.

 

Searching for Sugar Man

sugah manWhat it’s about: A 70’s folk rock singer called Rodriguez who was a nothing here in the United States, but achieved a tremendous amount of popularity in South Africa during apartheid. In the film, several South Africans decide to find out what happened to Rodriguez, whom most believe to be dead, and make a surprising discovery.

Who’s nominated: Director Malik Bendjelloul and producer Simon Chinn. This is Bendjelloul’s first feature film, and in fact his first media work ever. Not too shabby. Chinn has produced some other great documentaries, including Project Nim, The Imposter, and Man on Wire, for which he won an Oscar.

Why it might win: Because it aims really hard to please and inspire, and the Academy tends to eat that kind of stuff right up. Personally, I found it ultimately hollow.

 

How to Survive a Plague

survive a plague

What it’s about: The fight of AIDS activists during the 80’s and 90’s, who agitated for the government to be more proactive in combatting the disease.

Who’s nominated: Director David France and producer Howard Gertler. France is a journalist by trade, often writing about LGBTQ-related topics. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, GQ, and Newsweek, among other trades. This is his first feature film. Until now, Gertler has mostly worked in fiction, producing such films as Wet Hot American Summer, Shortbus, and World’s Greatest Dad.

Why it might win: Because it has both the inspiration factor and the social issue factor, although the fact that its social issue isn’t as pressing anymore might hurt it. I liked the doc quite a bit.

 

The Invisible War

invisible war

What it’s about: The truly frightening prevalence of rape in the US armed forces, and the efforts of a few survivors trying to seek justice for what was done to them.

Who’s nominated: Director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering. Dick is the only director in this category to have been previously nominated for this award, for 2004’s Twist of Faith. Ziering has mostly worked on some of Dick’s previous films, including Outrage and Derrida.

Why it might win: It has the “relevant social issue” advantage in spades, probably moreso than any of the other nominated films. If I were the one handing out the award? I’d give it to this film.

 

The Gatekeepers
gatekeepers

What it’s about: The confessions of six of the former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. They muse about the nature of the “War on Terror” and how they’ve fought it.

Who’s nominated: Director Dror Moreh and producers Philippa Kowarsky and Estelle Fialon. Moreh worked as a cinematographer for a number of years before making the jump to directing docs. Kowarsky and Fialon have worked on various docs before, though nothing too high-profile.

Why it might win: The war on terror is getting a second round of reexamination with the new paradigm of drone strikes and raids and the like, and this film is at the forefront. The Academy might be keen to reward such work.

 

Who will win?

I’d say that the two movies dealing with Israeli-Palestinian relations are likely to cancel each other out. How to Survive a Plague, like I said, is weakened by it’s less-than-urgent subject. That leaves Sugar Man and Invisible War. I’ll have to give the edge to Searching for Sugar Man, because, again, the Academy absolutely loves inspirational docs. They’d rather come out of the theater feeling good about themselves than they would feeling like they need to do something.

 

Road to the Oscars Series

January 14: Best Visual Effects – Ian Murphy

January 16: Best Sound Editing – Ian Murphy

January 18: Best Sound Mixing – Michael Benedict

January 21: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

January 23: Best Costume Design – Ian Murphy

January 25: Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Rebecca Susmarski

January 28: Best Film Editing – Dan Schindel

January 30: Best Production Design – Scott Youngbauer

February 1: Best Animated Feature – Carlos Aguilar

February 4: Best Documentary Feature – Dan Schindel

February 7: Best Documentary Short Subject – Dan Schindel

February 8: Best Live Action Short – Carlos Aguilar

February 9: Best Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 10: Best Foreign Language Film – Carlos Aguilar

February 11: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Screenplay – Dan Schindel

February 14: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Supporting Actor – Angela Stern

February 17: Best Supporting Actress – Hiko Mitsuzuka

February 18: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 19: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 20: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Picture – Kit Bowen

February 24: 85th Annual Academy Awards