2017 Oscar predictions (Best Documentary Feature): ‘O.J.: Made in America,’ ’13th,’ ‘Cameraperson’ likeliest to make shortlist of 15

On December 5, the documentary branch of the academy will announce the 15 films that made the shortlist for their Best Documentary Feature award. This is the branch’s first step in narrowing down the 145 documentary features that qualified for Oscar consideration before the final five nominees are unveiled along with all the other Academy Award categories on Jan. 24.

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Every month, the academy sent a package of newly eligible documentary feature screeners to the approximately 250 members of the documentary branch and randomly assigned one-fifth of them to watch any specific title. However all members were encouraged to view as many as they can and they had until late November to list their top 15 picks on a preferential ballot.

Those results will be compiled and produce a shortlist of 15 contenders. All members of the branch will be encouraged to watch the films on this list that they have not yet seen and cast preferential ballots with their top five choices.

A number of groups have already announced their own nominees, including the PGA, the International Documentary Association (IDA), Cinema Eye Honors, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Gotham Awards. And the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. held its inaugural Critics Choice Documentary Awards in early November.

Taking into account these precursor prizes, as well as reviews, box office and everything we know in our gut about the tastes and trends of the academy’s documentary branch in recent years, we’ve compiled a list of the 15 titles with the best chances of making the cut.

Oscars 2017: Predictions and odds in all the top races 

O.J.: Made in America” (Director: Ezra Edelman)
Exploring the life and celebrity of O.J. Simpson through the lens of race relations in America, the ESPN documentary “30 for 30: O.J.: Made in America” is a five-part television series that premiered at Sundance and had an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run. Edelman is best known as a sports documentary filmmaker having won multiple Sports Emmys for “Brooklyn Dodgers: Ghosts of Flatbush” in 2008, but is new to the Oscar race.

“O.J.: Made in America” currently holds scores of 96 on Metacritic (based on 21 reviews) and 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 38 reviews). It won four awards at the inaugural Critics Choice Documentary Awards, including Best Documentary and Best Director (Theatrical Premiere), and is nominated for Best Documentary at the Gotham Film Awards, PGA Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, IDA Awards and with Cinema Eye Honors.

13th” (Director: Ava DuVernay)
Chosen to open this year’s New York Film Festival, DuVernay’s film turns a sharp eye toward the Thirteenth Amendment, specifically the “punishment for a crime” clause, and its connection to the problem with mass incarceration and institutionalized racism in the United States. DuVernay’s 2014 film “Selma” was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Picture and Best Original Song, and won the latter.

“13th” currently holds scores of 90 on Metacritic (based on 23 reviews) and 96% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 54 reviews). It won three awards at the inaugural Critics Choice Documentary Awards, including Best Documentary and Best Director in the TV/Streaming fields, and is nominated for Best Feature at the IDA Documentary Awards and Best Documentary at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Cameraperson” (Director: Kirsten Johnson)
Using her own footage shot over decades around the world, Johnson reveals the power of the camera in this memoir. She is best known for her work as a cinematographer having won multiple awards for her work in that role on the Oscar-winning “Citizenfour” in 2014.

“Cameraperson” currently holds scores of 86 on Metacritic (based on 17 reviews) and 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 48 reviews). It’s nominated for Best Documentary at the Gotham Film Awards, Best Feature at the IDA Awards, Best Feature with Cinema Eye Honors and Best Documentary at the Independent Spirit Awards. It was also a nominee in the Best Documentary Feature Film (Theatrical Premiere) category at the inaugural Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

I Am Not Your Negro” (Director: Raoul Peck)
Winner of the People’s Choice Award for documentaries at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, Peck’s film explores the history of race relations in the U.S. based on author James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript “Remember This House,” including his takes on the lives and work of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Jr.

“I Am Not Your Negro” currently holds scores of 96 on Metacritic (based on 5 reviews) and 90% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 10 reviews). It’s nominated for Best Documentary at the Gotham Film Awards, the Independent Spirit Awards, the IDA Awards and with Cinema Eye Honors.

Weiner” (Directors: Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg)
Chronicling his 2013 New York City mayoral campaign and image rehabilitation after the 2011 leaked photo scandal that ended his career in Congress, Anthony Weiner is the subject of this 2016 Sundance Grand Jury Prize: Documentary winner. This is directorial debut of both Kriegman and Steinberg.

“Weiner” currently holds scores of 84 on Metacritic (based on 33 reviews) and 96% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 139 reviews). It’s nominated for Best Documentary at the Gotham Film Awards, the IDA Awards and with Cinema Eye Honors. It was also a nominee for Best Documentary Feature Film (Theatrical Premiere) category at the inaugural Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

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Fire at Sea” (Director: Gianfranco Rosi)
Having won the Golden Lion at this year’s Berlinale and chosen by Italy as its submission in the Foreign Language Film race, “Fire at Sea” is already one of the year’s leading contenders at the Oscars. The film juxtaposes the ordinary life of the inhabitants of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa with the refugees escaping into the European Union from across the Mediterranean Sea.

“Fire at Sea” currently holds scores of 87 on Metacritic (based on 19 reviews) and 93% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 55 reviews). It is a nominee for Best Feature with Cinema Eye Honors and at the IDA Awards. It was also nominated in the Best Documentary Feature Film (Theatrical Premiere) category at the inaugural Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

“Life, Animated” (Director: Roger Ross Williams)
Winner of the 2016 Sundance Directing Award: Documentary, “Life, Animated” is the story of an autistic boy and his family who used Disney animated films as a way of learning to express himself. Williams is already an Oscar champ having won Best Documentary Short in 2010 for his film “Music by Prudence.”

“Life, Animated” currently holds scores of 75 on Metacritic (based on 22 reviews) and 93% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 68 reviews). It’s also nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the PGA Awards and the Audience Choice Prize with Cinema Eye Honors.

The Eagle Huntress (Director: Otto Bell)
With narration by Daisy Ridley, Bell tells the real-life story of a 13-year old Mongolian girl named Aisholpan attempting to be the first female eagle hunter in the country. The documentary premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

“The Eagle Huntress” currently holds scores of 72 on Metacritic (based on 21 reviews) and 93% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 56 reviews). It is nominated for Best Documentary at the PGA Awards and was a nominee for Best First Feature at the inaugural Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

Tower” (Director: Keith Maitland)
Using animation, “Tower” is the first documentary about the 1966 shootings at the University of Texas at Austin. Maitland’s film won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Award in the documentary categories at the 2016 South by Southwest festival.

“Tower” currently holds scores of 92 on Metacritic (based on 21 reviews) and 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 48 reviews). It’s nominated for Best Documentary at the Gotham Film Awards and Best Documentary Feature at the PGA Awards. It also won for Most Innovative Documentary at the Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

Gleason” (Director: J. Clay Tweel)
Covering five years in the life of former pro football player Steve Gleason and including video diaries recorded for his unborn son, this film focuses on his battle with ALS and the work he and his family do to raise money for ALS awareness.

“Gleason” currently holds scores of 80 on Metacritic (based on 27 reviews) and 96% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 49 reviews). It’s nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Editing and the Audience Choice Prize with Cinema Eye Honors.

Find out what will win at the Oscars this year

Jim: The James Foley Story” (Director: Brian Oakes)
Premiering at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, this in-depth look at the life and work of American journalist James Foley, who was killed by ISIS terrorists in 2014, won the festival’s Audience Award in the documentary section.

“Jim: The James Foley Story” currently holds scores of 73 on Metacritic (based on 8 reviews) and 90% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 20 reviews). It won the 2016 Primetime Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking and was a nominee for Best Feature at the Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

Hooligan Sparrow” (Director: Nanfu Wang)
In her debut film, made from in part footage captured in secret and smuggled out of the country, Wang focuses her attention on a child rape case involving government officials in China through the lens of gender activist Ye Haiyan and others fighting for the rights of women against violence and sexual aggression.

“Hooligan Sparrow” currently holds scores of 78 on Metacritic (based on 13 reviews) and 96% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 24 reviews). It’s a nominee for Debut Feature with Cinema Eye Honors.

Tickled” (Directors: David Farrier and Dylan Reeve)
“Tickled” is an exploration into the world of competitive endurance tickling and the practices of those that produce the videos featuring it. Having funded the film on Kickstarter after coming across the subject during their work as journalists, this marks the directorial debut of both Farrier and the feature debut of Reeve.

“Tickled” currently holds scores of 76 on Metacritic (based on 27 reviews) and 95% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 86 reviews). It’s nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Production and the Audience Choice Awards with Cinema Eye Honors. It was also a nominee for Best Feature and Best First Feature at the inaugural Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

The Witness” (Director: James D. Solomon)
Bill Genovese tries to uncover the truth behind his sister Kitty’s murder in 1964, in which dozens of bystanders were alleged to have done nothing. This is Solomon’s directorial debut.

“The Witness” currently holds scores of 79 on Metacritic (based on 18 reviews) and 90% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 52 reviews). It was also a nominee for Best Feature and Best First Feature at the Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

The Ivory Game” (Directors: Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani)
A Netflix documentary chronicling a group of wildlife activists efforts against poachers to end the illegal ivory trade in Africa and its spread throughout Asia.

“The Ivory Game” currently holds scores of 73 on Metacritic (based on 12 reviews) and 88% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 17 reviews).

Predict the Oscar nominations now; change them till January 24

Be sure to make your Oscar predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Hollywood insiders can see how this film is faring in our Oscar odds. You can keep changing your predictions right up until just before nominations are announced on January 24 at 5:00 am PT/8:00 am ET. Be sure to read our contest rules. And join in the fierce debate over the Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our forums.

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