Best Documentary Feature Oscar predictions: ‘Fire of Love’ and ‘Navalny’ contend with 4 key precursors

We now have a clear picture of where the Oscar race for Best Documentary Feature is headed. With Friday’s announcement of the International Documentary Association‘s (IDA) nominations, all four of the major nonfiction precursors have now weighed in. Cinema Eye Honors (CEH) announced their nominees on November 10, DOC NYC gave us their annual shortlist on October 18, and the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards (CCDA) presented their slate on October 17. Only two films were recognized for top honors by all four of those groups: Sara Dosa‘s “Fire of Love” and Daniel Roher‘s “Navalny.”

Before we get into the full state of this year’s race, let’s understand why these four groups are so important. First off, in the last five years only one film — “The Mole Agent” (2020)– was nominated for the Academy Award without recognition from at least one of these groups first. Of the other 24 nominated films, three were cited by only one of them: “Writing with Fire” (2021) and Oscar winners “My Octopus Teacher” (2020) and “Icarus” (2017). That means that 21 of 25 or 84% of the Oscar nominees for Documentary Feature in the last five years were mentioned first by at least two of these four precursor groups.

With that high percentage of overlap, we can begin to predict with some confidence the films likeliest to make this year’s cut. Leading our pack, “Fire of Love” not only shows up with all four groups, but is the overall nomination leader at IDA, CEH and CCDA. Dosa’s film shows us a closer look at the professional and personal partnership of volcano enthusiasts Katia Krafft and Maurice Krafft who died together in a volcanic explosion. Dosa was also nominated in Direction by all three of IDA, CEH and CCDA.

“Navalny,” which tells the story of Alexei Navalny‘s recovery from an assassination attempt, is the only other film on all four lists. It also won the U.S. Documentary Audience Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The film that won the same prize in the previous year was Questlove‘s “Summer of Soul,” our reigning Oscar champ.

Two films missed out on CCDA nominations, but were recognized by the other three groups. “All That Breathes” by Shaunak Sen about a movement to protect the endangered Black Kite bird in Delhi and “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” by Oscar winner Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour”) which chronicles artist Nan Goldin‘s career and subsequent movement against the Sackler family and the American opioid crisis they started. “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” entered record books this year by becoming the second documentary to win the Venice Film Festival’s top award the Golden Lion in its 90-year history. “All That Breathes” won a major festival award as well, the Golden Eye at Cannes which previously went to Oscar nominees “For Sama” (2019) and “Faces Places” (2017).

After these four frontrunners, there are five others that received notices from two of the four precursor groups: “Descendant” by Margaret Brown, “The Janes” by Oscar nominee Tia Lessin (“Trouble the Water”) and Emma Pildes, “Mija” by Isabel Castro, “Moonage Daydream” by Oscar nominee Brett Morgen (“On the Ropes”), and “The Territory” by Alex Pritz.

If we want to get ourselves to an even 10 films to consider, we should look at the remaining films recognized by only one of our established precursors. Of the four groups, DOC NYC has only omitted five of 25 eventual Oscar nominees from their shortlist in the last five years. Compared to the nine omitted by IDA, 11 by CEH and nine by CCDA, our best bet may be among the remaining films DOC NYC shortlisted this year. Those six films are: “Beba” by Rebeca Huntt, “Last Flight Home” by Ondi Timoner, “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues” by Sacha Jenkins, “Retrograde” by Oscar nominee Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land”), “The Return of Tanya Tucker” by Kathlyn Horan, and “Sr.” by Chris Smith.

The CCDA ceremony to present awards to their winners happens this Sunday, November 13. Then, IDA will announce their winners on December 10 and CEH will weigh in last with their ceremony on January 12. The first step in getting noticed by the academy will be when voting for the Oscar shortlists opens on December 12. That voting will end on December 15 and then 15 films will be named to the Oscar Documentary Feature shortlist on December 21. The full slate of Oscar nominations will come out on January 24.

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