We’re in Oscar season! It’s one of my favorite times of the year, and this means it’s time to check out some of the early races. Let’s get it kicked off with one of the most exciting races of the year, the Documentary Feature race. First, we’re ranking the top 20 documentaries in the order of the likelihood they will get nominated. However, in a month or two, members of the documentary branch will make the first cut to a short list of 15 films. Until then, every film is eligible, so despite the 20 documentaries shown below, several other films will enter the race while a handful of potential favorites miss the cut.
Without further ado, our first ranking of the Documentaries of 2018!
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE FILM
1. “Free Solo” (National Geographic) – Dir. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin (REVIEW HERE)
2. “Three Identical Strangers” (NEON) – Dir. Tim Wardle (REVIEW HERE)
3. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” (Focus Feature) – Dir. Morgan Neville (REVIEW HERE)
The three films that stand above the rest all showcase biographies in some regard. However, they couldn’t be more different. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” follows the life of PBS visionary Fred Rodgers. The iconic Mr. Rodgers will endear you to his calling of service, reframing him in a context you never realized existed in many of his best moments. However, the straight biography might be seen as too generic compared to the other features. “Three Identical Strangers” gets your heart pumping, diving headfirst into one of the most nauseating medical experiments that ever occurred. Yet “Free Solo” may take the cake as the filmmakers put you on the side of El Capitan with Alex Honnold. It’s a thrilling and scary film, with a meta-commentary about whether or not the documentarians should let Honnold attempt to free climb a 7000-foot wall of granite without ropes.
The Bubble Nominees
4. “RBG” (Magnolia/CNN) – Dir. Julie Cohen & Betsy West
5. “Science Fair” (National Geographic) – Dir. Christina Costantini & Darren Foster
6. “Crime + Punishment” (HULU) – Dir. Stephen Maing
7. “Quincy” (Netflix) – Dir. Rashida Jones & Alan Hicks (REVIEW HERE)
8. “Love, Gilda” (Magnolia/CNN) – Dir. Lisa Dapolito
This group can go in a lot of different directions. Netflix will push it’s musical bio of Quincy Jones. The movie serves as a love letter from a daughter to her dad. “Love, Gilda” immortalizes a legend in the comic world. Yet the biographical documentary likely to outshine them all focuses on one of the most badass ladies in American History. The Notorious “RBG” gets the documentary treatment, shining a light on everything she’s done to advance women’s rights.
“Science Fair” focuses in on school science fairs, where children compete at the highest levels. Yet nothing may be more corrupt than the images brought to life in “Crime + Punishment,” a documentary focused on whistleblowers inside the New York police department.
Still in the Hunt
9. “Shirkers” (Netflix) Dir. Sandi Tan
10. “Maiden” (Sony Pictures Classics) Dir. Alex Holmes
11. “Minding the Gap” (Hulu) Dir. Bing Liu (REVIEW HERE)
12. “Hale County: This Morning, This Evening” (The Cinema Guild) Dir. RaMell Ross
13. “Monrovia, Indiana” (Zipporah Films) Dir. Frederick Wiseman
14. “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” (Focus Features) Dir. Wim Wenders
15. “Whitney” (Roadside Attractions) Dir. Kevin Macdonald
“Shirkers” will be one of the coolest films of the year, following a winding journey 20 years in the making. “Minding the Gap” remains one of my personal favorites of the year. It’s a gorgeous examination of the skating community, but there’s much more going on with the subjects of the film. “Maiden” follows the women who became the first women to compete in Whitbread Round the World sailing race.
We have two more biographies of famous people. Obviously, Pope Francis and Whitney Houston are icons in their own rights. The problem is, that makes them the 5th or 6th best biography documentary in a category that only allows 5 nominees. It feels unlikely they’d all get into a top 15.
Meanwhile, “Hale County” shows off an intimate examination of a community in poverty. It’s a must-watch film that deserves all the praise in the world. Just as essential will be the latest film from Frederick Wiseman, one of the great documentarians. He turns his camera at Americana once more, crafting a two and half hour view of an American town.
16. “Dark Money” (PBS) – Dir. Kimberly Reed (REVIEW HERE)
17. “Generation Wealth” (Amazon Studios) – Dir. Lauren Greenfield
18. “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” (Netflix) Dir. Morgan Neville
19. “Fahrenheit 11/9” (Briarcliff Entertainment) Dir. Michael Moore
20. “The Price of Everything” (HBO) Dir. Nathaniel Kahn
Both “Dark Money” and “Generation Wealth” deal with money in society. “Dark Money” feels essential in today’s political climate. “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” showcases another strong outing from Morgan Neville, but it won’t make waves the way his Mr. Rodgers doc has. “Fahrenheit 11/9” is fine, but it loses its grip at the end. Shouldn’t get nominated. “The Price of Everything” could, but HBO has not done well in getting their films nominations in some time.