The Critics Choice Documentary Awards and DOC NYC Short List show which movies get all the attention in a crowded Oscar race.
We continue to update these predictions throughout awards season, so keep checking IndieWire for all of our 2023 Oscar picks. Nominations voting takes place January 12-17, 2023, with official Oscar nominations announced. on January 24, 2023. Final voting will take place March 2-7, 2023. And finally, the 95th Academy Awards telecast airs Sunday, March 12 and airs live on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT.
See IndieWire’s preliminary Oscar predictions for this category and more here.
As streamers, broadcasters, and production companies continue to add documentary divisions, the number of award-worthy documentaries only increases every year. Members of the Academy’s documentary branch – a much larger global community of filmmakers than the small cabal of yesteryear – have a long queue of films to screen. (Last year, they were awarded 14 must-watches.) So the top Critics Choice Awards (CCA) nominations and DOC NYC’s influential and predictive Short List become helpful guides for what to watch.
Films that landed both CCA nominations for Best Documentary Feature and DOC NYC Short List lead the fray: Margaret Brown’s Alabama slave saga “Descendant” (October 21, Netflix), The Hunt volcanoes “Fire of Love” (NatGeo/Neon), 60s abortion story “The Janes” (HBO Documentary Films), Brett Morgen’s IMAX hit “Moonage Daydream” (HBO/Neon) and the audacious Russian report “Navalny” (HBO Max/CNN Films/Warner Bros.).
Although Laura Poitras’ Golden Lion of Venice winner, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” (HBO/Neon), a riveting portrayal of artist-activist Nan Goldin, was billed as the A documentary Oscar favorite and even Best Picture nominee, the film snagged the DOC NYC’s Top 15 Shorts list, but missed out on the CCA’s Top Ten Feature Films list, while securing spots for Best director and the best political documentary.
DOC NYC’s Winner’s Circle program has also resulted in Oscar nominations, including 2020’s “The Mole Agent” and 2021’s “Writing with Fire.” in this section, as well as “Riotsville, USA”, twice nominated at the CCA. “The Automat”, “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down”, “Good Night Oppy”, and “Sidney” are not part of the winner’s circle or shortlist.
Still to come on November 10 are the equally influential Cinema Eye Honors feature film nominations, followed by nominations for the International Documentary Awards on November 11.
The race for documentaries begins each January at the Sundance Film Festival, which launches a host of documentaries vying for the Oscars. While there are notable exceptions (Oscar winners “Citizenfour,” “Free Solo,” and “My Octopus Teacher”), most Oscar-nominated documentaries launch at Sundance. Nominations for 2022 were Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Sundance 2021 debut (the animated immigration saga of Neon “Flee”) and eventual Oscar-winning rookie Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (concert film Searchlight/ Hulu’s 1969 “Summer of Soul”).
This year’s new pandemic-era Sundance crop was equally impressive.
Shaunak Sen’s documentary “All That Breathes” (October 21, HBO Documentary Films), a lyrical portrayal of two brothers who rescue predatory black kites circling in the polluted air above New Delhi, won the Sundance World Documentary Jury Prize. 2022 Cannes Documentary Jury Prize and landed on the DOC NYC Short List.
The Sundance Documentary Audience Award and festival awards went to the gripping docu-thriller “Navalny” (CNN/HBO Max), Daniel Roher’s film about the charismatic Russian opposition leader who survived the poisoning by Vladimir Putin’s thugs. After recovering in Germany, he bravely returned to Russia amid a fervent crowd of supporters – and was slapped in prison. The film landed both a CCA Best Feature and DOC NYC Short List nomination.
World Cinema Documentary Audience Award winner ‘The Territory’ (NatGeo) also landed on the DOC NYC shortlist, about the devastating effects of government-sponsored deforestation on Brazil’s indigenous peoples. The film also won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Documentary Craft. Darren Aronofsky is a producer on the project.
NatGeo also captured Sara Dosa’s popular opening night “Fire of Love” (Neon) with lyrical narration by Miranda July, which follows through the decades two French volcanologists in love not just with each other but with each other. the thrill of chasing erupting volcanoes around the globe. It won the Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award for US Documentary and was nominated for Best Feature by the CCA and DOC NYC Shortlist.
Also winner of Special Jury Awards: US Documentary’s Impact for Change for “Aftershock” (Hulu), a provocative look at black maternal mortality directed and produced by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee, which earned a CCA nomination for Best feature film, as is the winner of the creative vision of the American documentary, “Descendant”, by Brown (“The Order of Myths”), winner of the Indie Spirit, which examines the American racial divide through the eyes of the inhabitants of ‘Africatown, near her homeport in Mobile, Alabama. They are the descendants of the last slaves brought to American shores by the schooner Clotilda, just before the Civil War. Netflix and Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground bought the film at the festival; the film also landed on the DOC NYC shortlist.
Oscar nominee Tia Lessin (“Trouble the Water”) and Emma Pildes’ shocking and timely look at the underground abortion ring of late ’60s Chicago, “The Janes” (HBO Documentary Films), have also had an impact. like Ondi Timoner’s moving family tribute “Last Flight Home,” which will be released via Sheila Nevins’ MTV Documentary Films. “The Janes” earned a nomination for Best Feature from the CCA and both were included in the DOC NYC Shortlist.
Two family portraits of young Latin American filmmakers have landed on the DOC NYC shortlist: Sundance entry “Mija” (Disney Original Documentary), directed by Isabel Castro, focuses on a young LA manager who nurtures the musicians and her family before herself, and TIFF 2021’s “Beba” premiere reveals New Yorker Rebecca Huntt’s dysfunctional family.
Cannes featured a high-profile non-fiction contender from Brett Morgen: Midnight premiere “Moonage Daydream” (Neon), the IMAX-bound kaleidoscopic portrait of David Bowie, which went on to nab CCA Best Feature and the DOC NYC short list. Will the Academy’s documentary branch embrace Morgen, who was snubbed with Emmy-winning “Jane”? Shortlisting “Moonage Daydream” would show how much the expanded doc branch has changed.
Making a splash in Telluride was Chris Smith’s “‘Sr.'” (Netflix), an intimate tribute to filmmaker Robert Downey, who made the DOC NYC Shortlist cut. TIFF premiere “Sidney,” producer Oprah Winfrey’s AppleTV+ bio-doc about the late great actor Sidney Poitier, directed by Reginald Hudlin (“The Black Godfather,” “Marshall”), made Best Feature Films list of the CCA. Imagine Documentaries has produced a definitive Louis Armstrong bio-doc, “Black & Blues: The Colorful Ballad of Louis Armstrong,” directed by Emmy-nominated Sacha Jenkins (“Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men”), which made the hit DOC NYC Shortlist.
©Buena Vista Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection
The candidates for the shortlist of 15 (announced on December 21) are listed in alphabetical order below; no movie will be considered a favorite until I see it.
“All That Breathes”
“All Beauty and Bloodshed”
“Fire of Love”
“Black & Blues: Louis Armstrong’s colorful ballad”
‘Gabby Giffords won’t back down’
“Good Night Oppy”
“Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a journey, a song”
“Last Return Flight”
“Lucy and Desi”
“The Return of Tanya Tucker – Featuring Brandi Carlile”
“Salvatore: cobbler of dreams”
“Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom”
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: Elton John’s Final Performances and the Years That Made His Legend”
“If These Walls Could Sing”
“In His Hands”
“Is that dark enough for you?”
“Jerry Lewis: Trouble in Mind”
“My old school”
“Three minutes: a lengthening”
“The Volcano: Whakaari Rescue”