Timing can be crucial in the Oscar race. For topical, political documentaries, voters often select winners based upon newsy subject matter that is relevant right now, like climate change in 2006 (“An Inconvenient Truth”), U.S. military torture in 2007 (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) and the financial crisis in 2010 (“Inside Job”).
This year that voting trend may help “Dirty Wars,” about President Obama’s drone attacks on innocent people in the Mideast, or “The Square,” which chronicles the hopes, dashed dreams and death toll of the Egyptian revolution. “The Square” premiered in January 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival and has been updated since to reflect changing conditions before its January 2014 Netflix premiere.
Violence continues to plague Egypt even now on the third anniversary of the protests that removed dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The military, Islamic, and secular conflicts chronicled in “The Square” just resulted in the deaths of 49 people in recent weeks. Meantime, the U.S. has scaled back drone attacks in Pakistan in an effort to encourage a peace deal with the Taliban.
The tension in Egypt can be viewed in the larger context of upheaval across the Middle East (civil war in Syria, continued tensions with Iran), which may make “The Square” seem to Oscar voters like the most urgent of the nominated films. By contrast, “The Act of Killing” deals with atrocities committed decades ago in Indonesia, but, curiously, it leads our racetrack odds set by Experts’ predicting the Oscar winner of Best Documentary. “The Square” is currently within striking distance in third place
“The Square” director Jehane Noujaim has already proved victorious this awards season, winning the Directors Guild Award in an upset against fellow Oscar nominees Joshua Oppenheimer (“Act of Killing”) and Zachary Heinzerling (“Cutie and the Boxer“). Historically, guild awards for documentaries are unreliable predictors of Oscar, but it nevertheless helps bring extra exposure to the film and the struggle it addresses not long before the academy starts voting for winners on February 14.
Will voters be drawn to timely political themes in “The Square” or “Dirty Wars”? Predict Best Documentary below: