Oscars: A case for ‘Flee’ pulling off an upset for Best Documentary Feature

Fleemade history on Oscar nominations morning by reaping bids in Best Animated Feature, Best International Feature and Best Documentary Feature. The film tells the true story of a man named Amin on the verge of married who is compelled to reveal his hidden past for the first time. None of Gold Derby’s experts currently list the movie winning in the first two categories, with 19 predicting “Encanto” in animated and 19 forecasting “Drive My Car” in international. As for the documentary race, six experts choose “Flee” while a leading 15 pick “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).”

While “Encanto” and “Drive My Car” are the overwhelming front-runners in their respective categories, Best Documentary Feature has room for a surprise winner, especially one like “Flee” that tells a compelling, life-affirming LGBTQ story about family, love and survival. Joshua Rothkopf (Empire Magazine) says “Flee” is “an extraordinary blend of personal reflection and inspired craft,” and Jen Yamato (Los Angeles Times) calls it “an intimate portrait of the lasting traumas of displacement and one of the most humane films of the year.”

SEE 2022 Oscar nominations: Full list of nominees in all 23 categories at the 94th Academy Awards

Academy Awards voters who know of its record number of nominations in three categories may want to recognize the film in one of them. Since it has a tough road upsetting “Encanto” for Best Animated Feature and “Drive My Car” for Best International Feature — “Encanto” is a more widely seen film overall, and “Drive My Car” got into the picture and director categories — voters might only check it off the list in Best Documentary Feature.

After all, “Flee,” directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, only apparently has one film to beat to take the top prize in the documentary category: “Summer of Soul,” about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that celebrated African-American music and culture. The Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson-directed film has had more time to build momentum since its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award. It received rave reviews from critics upon its release in the summer and went on to sweep six awards at the 6th Critics Choice Documentary Awards. The other nominated Oscar docs are “Ascension,” “Attica” and “Writing with Fire,” all of which are smaller releases that none of Gold Derby’s experts have rallied behind.

Some might argue an animated film like “Flee” can’t win Best Documentary and that voters will choose a more standard film like “Summer of Soul” that blends talking heads with historical footage, but academy voters have proven in recent years they’re willing to give less obvious choices a win in this category. Just last year, many predicted the historical documentary “Crip Camp” would win, but then the more family-friendly personal story “My Octopus Teacher” took the top prize. And in 2019, the similarly riveting personal story “Free Solo” triumphed, too.

“Flee” entering the record books with nominations in three feature categories shouldn’t be where its Oscar history ends. It’s a stunningly original piece of filmmaking that deserves to win one Academy Award, and Documentary Feature is the category to do it in. As terrific as “Summer of Soul” is, there’s something new and fresh about how “Flee” tells its captivating human story of Amin’s amazing journey. And as long as academy members can look past the oddity of watching animation in a documentary film, “Flee” has what it takes to pull past “Summer of Soul” and become a well-deserved Oscar winner.

PREDICT the 2022 Oscar winners through March 27

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