Oscar Predictions: The First Wave

Out today in limited release is The First Wave from documentarian Matthew Heineman. Distributed by Neon and National Geographic Documentary Films, Wave shows us the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic from a New York City hospital. Its filmmaker has been in the Oscar mix before as his 2015 doc Cartel Land was up for Best Documentary Feature.

There are plenty of high profile contenders for the race in 2021. A potential winner also comes from Nat Geo – The Rescue. That’s in addition to Flee, Summer of Soul, and others.

It’s certainly feasible that this could make the final five and mark Heineman’s second foray into the competition. It’s also possible that some voters may not want to relive the tragic times we’ve gone through.

Bottom line: if The First Wave makes the shortlist next month, a nod is questionable but possible. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Watch: Procession

Procession debuts on Netflix this Friday after premiering to solid critical notices at the Telluride Film Festival in September. From documentarian Robert Greene, the pic focuses on a group of six Catholic priest abuse survivors and their therapeutic methods for recovery. With 17 reviews up on Rotten Tomatoes, the score is 100%.

Nearly each time I do a predictions post for a doc, I feel compelled to point out that this is an unpredictable branch of Academy voters. When the shortlist is announced on December 21st featuring the 15 pictures in contention for Documentary Feature, there are bound to be surprising omissions. Procession looks like one that should make the cut.

Whether it makes makes the final five is a bigger question. As of now, I believe three competitors (The Rescue, Flee, Summer of Soul) stand the best odds of getting in. There’s a slew of others vying for the other two spots and Procession certainly has the reviews it needs to fill it. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…


Oscar Predictions: Ascension

Following its summertime premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Jessica Kingdon’s documentary Ascension has opened in limited release this month. Focused on economic conditions in China, the pic has received acclaim and stands at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Picked up by MTV Films for distribution, Ascension was recently among the 12 nominees for the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards. Of course, there’s only five features selected by the Academy next year. The Rescue and Flee are two nominees that seem likely to make the cut (though this branch of voters has often been unpredictable). Assuming there’s three spots for the taking, there will be a multitude of contenders. I currently have Summer of Soul, Attica, and The Lost Leonardo taking them. All 5 of my predicted nominees were also named in the Critics’ Choice selections.

However, the critical reaction for Ascension is strong enough that it certainly stands a shot at inclusion. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Attica

Premiering this weekend in limited theatrical release before its November 6th bow on Showtime, the documentary Attica focuses on the prison riot that took place 50 years ago. From filmmaker Stanley Nelson, the pic was unveiled at the Toronto Film Festival last month to laudatory reaction. The Rotten Tomatoes score is 100% based on 26 reviews.

Attica could definitely make the final five in the Documentary Feature category with the Academy. I have it ranked third in my latest weekly projections behind The Rescue and Flee. Those two docs appear to be the ones vying for the victory, but don’t be surprised if Attica is deemed a dark horse contender for a surprise win. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: President

Camille Nielsson’s documentary President premiered at the Sundance Film Festival early in the year. Focused on the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe, the pic stands a chance at inclusion at the Oscars. In its favor is that Sundance named it for their world cinema special jury award back in January.

Sporting a 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating, the reviews are decent enough that it could be a player. On the other hand, they’re not strong enough for me to believe it’s a threat to win.

In my first prediction posts covering this category on Sunday, I had President ranked fourth and therefore making the cut. At the moment, The Rescue and Flee look like potential victors. Those two pictures appear to be in. The rest of the doc hopefuls should be duking it out for the other three slots and President is worth paying attention to. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Julia

The life of Julia Child has intersected with Academy voters before when Meryl Streep was nominated for Best Actress as the famed cook in 2009’s Julie & Julia. Will it occur again with Julia, a documentary hitting screens on November 5?

From directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West, Julia premiered this month at the Telluride Film Festival. The reviews are all positive and it stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, some of thumbs up assessments weren’t overly glowing in their praise.

The co-production with CNN Films certainly stands a decent shot at inclusion in Documentary Feature, but I didn’t feel confident enough about it to slot it in my top five earlier today. We’ll see if it eventually bubbles up to the surface. My Oscar Predictions posts on the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: The Rescue

In 2018, documentary filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin had a breakout hit with the climbing tale Free Solo. It took gold for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars. The duo has debuted their latest true life saga The Rescue at Telluride and Toronto.

This story goes below ground in recounting the Tham Luang cave rescue in the summer of 2018. Early reviews from the festival circuit indicate they have made another stunner (100% on Rotten Tomatoes). Based on these reactions, I think it’s safe to assume The Rescue will make one of the five slots in the race that the directors triumphed in three years ago. The only caveat is that the documentary branch of the Academy is sometimes known for shocking snubs.

That said, there’s no doubt that The Rescue is not only in line for a nod, but it is a serious threat to win.

Oscar Watch: Flee

Back in January at the Sundance Film Festival, Flee was a home run with critics. The film has the very rare distinction of fitting multiple categories – it’s animated. It’s a documentary. And it comes from the nation of Denmark.

Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen (and executive produced by last year’s Best Actor nominee Riz Ahmed), Flee tells the true life story of an Afghan refugee’s trials and tribulations. Based on nearly 50 reviews, it holds a pure 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating.

Flee is unique in that it could contend in all four races at the Academy Awards honoring feature-length efforts: Best Picture, International Feature Film, Animated Feature, and Documentary Feature. The recent news coverage from Afghanistan could contribute to its urgent nature.

Bowing in theaters on December 3rd via Neon, the acclaim for Flee should get this in at least half of the categories where it is eligible. Just last year, Collective managed to do so in International Feature Film and Documentary. It remains to be seen whether this is the Danish pick for the former competition. My hunch is, if so, it could show up in both races.

Animated Feature is also a strong possibility though I’ve written before about how packed it could be. Other viable hopefuls include The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Raya and the Last Dragon, Luca, Vivo, and the forthcoming Encanto and Wendell and Wild. 

Best Picture is obviously the toughest one to breach, but I wouldn’t count it out. I could even envision a narrative developing rooting Flee on for inclusion in the entire quartet.

Bottom line: expect to see Flee in the mix in more than one category next year. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The Velvet Underground

The 2021 crop of documentary hopefuls has the potential to be quite a sonically pleasing affair. Just recently, I discussed Questlove’s heralded Summer of Soul which seems like a surefire contender. We also have acclaimed directors known most for non-docs staking a claim in the subgenre.

At the Cannes Film Festival, Todd Haynes has just debuted The Velvet Underground. Focused on the influential NYC band featuring Lou Reed, this is yet another acclaimed example of an auteur dipping back into the musical vaults. Edgar Wright did so earlier this year with The Sparks Brothers. Peter Jackson has his three-part The Beatles: Get Back hitting Disney Plus in November.

Haynes is most known for numerous indie darlings. His screenplay for 2002’s Far from Heaven was nominated, but he was surprisingly not mentioned for directing or writing with 2015’s Carol. Could the Academy recognize him here?

It’s now standard practice on the blog to point out that the Academy’s documentary branch is a fickle bunch. There could simply be too many rock docs competing against each other (and I’d certainly give Soul an edge over this). However, depending on the forthcoming competition, there could potentially be room for this Underground offering. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Val

Despite acclaimed performances in The Doors, Tombstone, and others, Val Kilmer has never been on the radar screen of awards voters. He’s also appeared in blockbusters like Top Gun, Batman Forever, and Heat, but his career faded in the late 90s after reports of him being difficult to work with became more prevalent. This week at the Cannes Film Festival, a documentary which Kilmer mostly shot himself could kick off an unexpected career resurgence (that and this fall’s Top Gun: Maverick). Val debuts in theaters on July 23 before its Amazon Prime streaming premiere on August 6.

Directed by Leo Scott and Ting Poo, this is a look at the performer’s life onscreen and off and it’s primarily derived from Kilmer himself being a prolific amateur videographer. Early reviews indicate it’s a unique and often moving portrait of a complicated figure. It stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Will the documentary branch of the Academy take notice? It’s certainly possible. After all, Hollywood in general digs features about their own. Val, from initial buzz, sounds like a fascinating one. And it could finally put its subject in the Oscar chatter. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…