Oscars Predictions: Documentary Feature – This Year’s Snubs and Surprises Points to the Overdue Rule Change Needed in Branch

Oscars Predictions: Documentary Feature – This Year’s Snubs and Surprises Points to the Overdue Rule Change Needed in Branch

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Variety Awards Circuit section is the home for all awards news and related content throughout the year, featuring the following: the official predictions for the upcoming Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Tony Awards ceremonies, curated by Variety senior awards editor Clayton Davis. The prediction pages reflect the current standings in the race and do not reflect personal preferences for any individual contender. As other formal (and informal) polls suggest, competitions are fluid and subject to change based on buzz and events. Predictions are updated every Thursday.

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2024 Oscars Predictions:
Best Documentary Feature

STILL: A MICHAEL J. FOX MOVIE, Michael J. Fox, 2023. © Apple Original Films /Courtesy Everett Collection ©Apple TV/Courtesy Everett Collection

Weekly Commentary (Updated Dec. 21, 2023): While the Academy has encouraged a more diverse membership and working towards closing loopholes on campaigning and voting practices, the next big issue on the docket should be opening the Documentary Branch to members who want to opt-in, as they do with international feature, animated feature and live action short.

With dozens of glaring omissions in the last few decades – i.e., “Good Night Oppy,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and “Hoop Dreams” – there are too many non-fiction submissions for the branch members to sift through to properly consider.

This year had 167 titles vying for the 15 spots on the shortlist. This was down from 288 and 188 in the past two years, but we know it’s very difficult for these members to watch all the films (they also watch and vote for the movies in the running for best picture). We did get some of the year’s best, including Matthew Heineman’s “American Symphony” and Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Four Daughters,” but there were more than a few “missing” from the bunch. The absence of films helmed by Black women, notably – “Little Richard: I Am Everything” by Lisa Cortes and “Kokomo City” by D. Smith – was more than pronounced.

Seven of the 15 movies were directed by women.

When the Academy expanded the nominees for best picture from five to 10 in 2009, following the snub of “The Dark Knight,” the organization shared that this would offer a better opportunity to recognize animated, international, and documentaries in the lineup. Only one of those has yet to come to fruition: documentary. With about 650 branch voters, a fraction of the nearly 10,000 industry professionals, we’ll never see that dream become a reality if there isn’t an incentive for other branches to weigh into the discussion.

A case in point is seen in the 15 movies in the international feature shortlist, which include three docs among the finalists: Ukraine’s “20 Days in Mariupol,” Tunisia’s “Four Daughters,” and Morocco’s “The Mother of Lies.”

Read: Variety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

The submission deadline for general categories is Nov. 15, 2023. The preliminary shortlist for eight categories is from Dec. 14-18, with the results announcement dropping on Dec. 21. The Oscar nomination period will run from Jan. 11-16, 2024, with the official nominees named on Jan. 23.

The 96th Oscars will be held on Sunday, March 10.

***The list below is not final and will be updated throughout the awards season.

And the Predicted Nominees Are:

  1. American Symphony” (Netflix) — Matthew Heineman (director, producer), Lauren Domino, Joedan Okun (producers)
  2. Beyond Utopia” (Roadside Attractions) — Madeleine Gavin (director), Rachel Cohen, Jana Edelbaum, Sue Mi Terry (producers)
  3. 20 Days in Mariupol” (PBS) — Mstyslav Chernov (director, producer), Derl McCrudden, Michelle Mizner, Raney Aronson-Rath (producers)
  4. Four Daughters” (Kino Lorber) — Kaouther Ben Hania (director), Nadim Cheikhrouha, Martin Hampel (producers)
  5. Apolonia, Apolonia” (CAT & Docs) — Lea Glob (director), Sidsel Lønvig Siersted (producer)

Next in Line

  1. Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” (Apple Original Films) — Davis Guggenheim (director, producer), Jonathan King, Annetta Marion (producers)
  2. Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” (HBO Documentary Films) — Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson (directors, producers), Tommy Oliver (producer)
  3. The Eternal Memory” (MTV Documentary Films) — Maite Alberdi (director, producer), Rocío Jadue, Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín, Andrea Undurraga (producers)
  4. Stamped From the Beginning” (Netflix) — Roger Ross Williams (director, producer), Alia Payne, David Teague (producers)
  5. 32 Sounds” (Abramorama) — Sam Green (director), Josh Penn, Thomas O. Kriegsmann (producers)

Other Top-Tier Possibilities

  1. To Kill a Tiger” (National Film Board of Canada, NFB) — Nisha Pahuja (director, producer), David Oppenheim, Cornelia Principe (producers)
  2. Bobi Wine: The People’s President” (National Geographic) — Moses Bwayo (director), Christopher Sharp (director, producer), John Battsek (producer)
  3. A Still Small Voice” (Abramorama) — Luke Lorentzen (director, producer), Kellen Quinn (producer)
  4. Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy” (Zeitgeist Films) — Nancy Buirski (director, producer), Simon Kilmurry, Susan Margolin (producers)
  5. In the Rearview” (Film Movement) — Maciek Hamela (director, producer), Piotr Grawender (producer)

Eligible Titles (Alphabetized)**

2022 category winner: “Navalny” (CNN Films) — Daniel Roher, Odessa Rae, Diane Becker, Melanie Miller and Shane Boris

** indicates an unconfirmed release date in 2023 or could campaign in the lead or supporting categories. All release dates are subject to change.

Oscars Predictions Categories


About the Academy Awards

The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, is Hollywood’s most prestigious artistic award in the film industry. Since 1927, nominees and winners have been selected by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Seventeen branches are represented within the nearly 10,000-person membership. The branches are actors, associates, casting directors, cinematographers, costume designers, directors, documentary, executives, film editors, makeup and hairstylists, marketing and public relations, members-at-large, members-at-large (artists’ representatives), music, producers, production design, short films and feature animation, sound, visual effects and writers.


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