‘Miss Americana’: Netflix’s intimate look at Taylor Swift could be the latest music documentary to win Oscar

What Taylor Swift and documentary filmmaker Lana Wilson are alike in that neither woman is a stranger to awards love in their respective fields. Swift, as we all know, is a Grammy juggernaut and one of the rare artists to have multiple Album of the Year trophies to her name (for “Fearless” and “1989”), and Wilson earned major nominations for her debut documentary “After Tiller” in 2013 and her follow up “The Departure” in 2017. The Independent Spirit, Cinema Eye Honors, and International Documentary Association nominee returned this year with the Netflix documentary “Miss Americana,” a film that follows Swift as she tours in the “Reputation” era and begins to write and record songs for her subsequent album “Lover.”

Available via Netflix streaming since January 31, a week after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, “Miss Americana” has been favorably received by reviewers as measured by both Rotten Tomatoes (91% freshness) and Metacritic (65 score), with critics highlighting Swift’s ability to be self-critical and Wilson’s strength at getting a notoriously private celebrity to reveal new sides of herself on camera.

Documentaries about musical performers have been somewhat of a sweet spot in the Oscar race within the last decade. “Searching for Sugar Man” (2012), “20 Feet from Stardom” (2013) and “Amy” (2015) all took home the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for their portrayals of the lives of musicians — could “Miss Americana” be a return to the Academy Awards stage for this subgenre of nonfiction film?

By pedigree, both Wilson and Swift’s, it’s a strong possibility, especially with Swift further adding to her mystique this year with the surprise release of “Folklore,” her most acclaimed album yet. On top of Wilson and Swift’s (ahem) reputations, Netflix also brings to the table a significant strength at breaking through in the Documentary Feature field. Two of the last three category winners were distributed by the streaming service: “Icarus” (2017) and “American Factory” (2019).

Provided it meets the strict guidelines of the academy’s music branch, the film could also contend in the Best Original Song category for “Only the Young,” a song written by Swift that plays during the end credits and is featured nowhere else in her discography. A nomination for Swift’s songwriting would give her a rare opportunity to break into the Oscar field and get her halfway to EGOT-dom. And she wouldn’t be the first Grammy winner to claim Oscar for penning a song for a documentary: Melissa Etheridge won for “I Need to Wake Up” from “An Inconvenient Truth.” So Swift could win for wearing her heart on her sleeve on the big screen just like she does with her music.

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