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by Peter Knegt
February 15, 2014 8:36 PM
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2014 Oscar Predictions: Best Documentary Feature

A musical sequence from "The Act of Killing."

Indiewire will provide regular updates of our predictions for the 86th Academy Awards through March 2nd, when the winners are announced.

For the second time, all Academy members are sent screeners of all the docs and can all vote in the category (as opposed to a select group, in previous years), which does suggest that this might go to the populist choice, as it did with Malik Bendjelloul's "Searching For Sugar Man" last year. That choice is surely Morgan Neville's backup singer film "20 Feet From Stardom," which is the only box office hit among the five nominees, and definitely the one with the most mainstream appeal. However, the only major doc precursor it won was the Critic's Choice Award. Alex Gibney's "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks" and Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell" won the PGA and WGA, respectively, but they aren't even nominated here.  However, Jehane Noujaim's nominated "The Square" won the DGA and IDA awards, and Joshua Oppenheimer's nominated "The Act of Killing" topped the Cinema Eye Honors, Gotham Awards and European Film Awards. Those are some notable hauls, and puts both films -- which may feel like more imperative subject matters to Oscar voters -- firmly in this sincerely three-way race.

Nominees and predictions below. Check out all predictions in all the categories here.

The nominees:
“The Act of Killing”Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
“Cutie and the Boxer” Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
“Dirty Wars” Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
“The Square” Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
“20 Feet from Stardom” Nominees to be determined

Will win: “The Square” Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
Could win: “20 Feet from Stardom” Nominees to be determined
Should win: “The Act of Killing”Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
Shoulda been here: "Stories We Tell"

Check out all predictions in all the categories here.

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  • Tara | February 24, 2014 1:54 PMReply

    Agree that Act of Killing should win, but also think Bridegroom should have been nominated as well.

  • MBecker | January 31, 2014 1:28 PMReply

    I'm surprised people aren't mentioning The Square here more. It's not my preference, but it's won the IDA and DGA awards. The filmmaker is well-connected in both documentary circles and Hollywood circles, and that kind of thing goes a longer way than everything else. Last time anyone won DGA and was nominated for the Oscar, but didn't win the Oscar, was 2004. So, statistically and because things are quite chummy at the Oscars, that's where my money would be at.

  • J Lynn | January 18, 2014 1:50 PMReply

    Exciting to see CUTIE AND THE BOXER nominated for Best Documentary Feature. I've seen all the Best Picture nominees this year. Enjoyed most of them. However, for me, CUTIE AND THE BOXER was the Best Picture. Have seen it four times! Fascinating look at husband and wife artists through the years and as seniors....and their creativity in their day-to-day lives. Each viewing revealed something new. Bravo!

  • Petaisajoke | January 10, 2014 11:46 AMReply

    Any of them deserve to win BUT Blackfish! That movie is a joke and never should've been up for contention. I'm disappointed that it made it.

  • PETAISAJOKE_isajoke | March 11, 2014 11:59 AM

    You're a joke.

    I'm not a PETA fan either, but 'Blackfish' definitely deserved a nomination. That's a story that needed to be told, and they did a good job of it.

  • thatguy | January 2, 2014 11:35 AMReply

    sooo glad crash reel is nominated. that film gave me a feeling i couldn't shake for 2 days. such an effective film. i recommend everyone to watch.

  • Bard | December 19, 2013 7:13 AMReply

    I agree that The Act of Killing should win, but I think Stories We Tell is going to win though. Other nominees could be God Loves Uganda, The Square and The Armstrong Lie

  • B Smithy | December 9, 2013 2:34 PMReply

    Act of Killing. Most important film, by far - there are other great films in the category but I'm hoping this one gets it.

  • Brett | December 4, 2013 5:27 PMReply

    I haven't seen any documentaries but I want Tim's Verneer to be nominated just so we could say "Academy Award Nominee/Winner Teller"

  • julie | December 2, 2013 11:02 AMReply

    Come on Blackfish!

  • greg w locke | December 2, 2013 5:29 AMReply

    stories we tell!!! i'd loooooove to see sarah polley win an oscar.

  • Sam | November 30, 2013 8:08 AMReply

    What about Which Way Is The Front Line From Here?

  • Louise | November 28, 2013 2:30 AMReply

    Blackfish please.

  • DJF | November 27, 2013 2:17 AMReply

    I'm shocked that Blood Brother isn't on this list.

  • Kristi | March 3, 2014 10:50 AM

    Total shock Blood Brother wasn't nominated. Total shock! It was amazing!

  • M | February 25, 2014 8:16 AM

    I second that!

  • Brett | November 15, 2013 3:50 PMReply

    What about Casting By?

  • Tulse Luper | November 13, 2013 7:22 PMReply

    Can't believe that "Narco Cultura" - an incredibly powerful doc by Shaul Schwarz - was left off this list.

  • Webmistress | November 12, 2013 4:17 PMReply

    NYTimes Critics' Pick Valentino's Ghost is sadly left off this list.

  • Mitchell Blook | November 6, 2013 2:48 PMReply

    Not a very informed list. Indiewire would be better off calling the short list..since if a work doesn't make it there--it can't be nominated. Then they could name 15 films.

  • Joanna | November 6, 2013 2:02 AMReply

    Tim's Vermeer was funny but clunky filmmaking. Twenty Feet From Stardom was crowd-pleasing and popular but many much better films out there this year. The Act of Killing -- amazing. Same with Stories We Tell, The Square, Let the Fire Burn, Call Me Kuchu and Cutie and the Boxer.

  • Adam | October 28, 2013 10:38 AMReply

    Would be very surprised if the the Sundance-winning Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer didn't at least make the 15-strong shortlist.

  • TC | October 28, 2013 11:57 AM

    I don't know what Pussy Riot won at Sundance, but it wasn't best doc - that went to Blood Brother, both Jury and Audience prizes...and deservedly so. And it deserves to be in the race as well - but the Tugg model they were forced to use when they couldn't find a distributor is not boding well for it when it comes to Oscar...

  • Adam | October 28, 2013 10:38 AMReply

    Would be very surprised if the the Sundance-winning Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer didn't at least make the 15-strong shortlist.

  • Adam | October 28, 2013 10:38 AMReply

    Would be very surprised if the the Sundance-winning Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer didn't at least make the 15-strong shortlist.

  • Adam | October 28, 2013 10:37 AMReply

    Would be very surprised if the the Sundance-winning Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer didn't at least make the 15-strong shortlist.

  • Adam | October 28, 2013 10:37 AMReply

    Would be very surprised if the the Sundance-winning Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer didn't at least make the 15-strong shortlist.

  • Billy the Kid | October 22, 2013 1:14 AMReply

    CINEMABILITY is an Incredible film. Hope it gets some recognition. Best doc I've seen in YEARS.

  • Struggler | October 21, 2013 4:11 PMReply

    LET THE FIRE BURN... it's made up of all archival, mostly public access footage, but yet is more cinematic than most of these

  • Chris S. | October 19, 2013 3:46 PMReply

    The best documentary I have EVER seen I watched this week on the big screen. It will make you laugh as readily as it will make you cry. It will draw from you a range of emotion and an awe inspiring appreciation of what our warriors must sometimes endure. "Travis: A Soldier's Story" is a documentary account of the combat experience of SSG Travis Mills who is one of only 5 people who has lost all four limbs in combat and survived. This is a touching and endearing story of triumph over adversity. THIS FILM MUST GET CONSIDERED!

  • Julia Pacetti | October 3, 2013 2:05 PMReply

    I would definitely add AMERICAN PROMISE to this list.

  • ChiTVGuy | September 25, 2013 2:50 PMReply

    Is THE CRASH REEL eligible? Or did it air on HBO first? If it's eligible, it should definitely get a nom...incredible...

  • MidwestMMaven | September 25, 2013 1:36 PMReply

    A film that SHOULD BE ON THIS LIST and I pray will make it-GMO OMG-by Director Jeremy Seifert. Who controls the future of your food? GMO OMG explores the systematic cor- porate takeover and potential loss of humanity’s most precious and ancient inheritance: seeds. Jeremy Seifert investigates how loss of seed diversity and corresponding laboratory assisted genetic alteration of food affects his young children, the health of our planet, and freedom of choice everywhere.

  • Danielle | September 25, 2013 12:08 PMReply

    Salinger got TERRIBLE reviews though. See the Rottem Tomates link that the robots won't let me post. Isn't this supposed to be for the "Best" Documentary? I guess I need to understand what the actual criteria is that gets films nominated? Is it box office? Is it Weinstein? Is it Sundance?

  • Ben | September 24, 2013 2:23 PMReply

    I hope Blackfish is the documentary that gets people to stop going to aquariums that keep orcas in capitivity. They clearly only live a shorter life in these goldfish size swimming pools, (as shown by their saging dorsal fins). Either killer whales are no better treated than beef cattle to kept for a few years and then die off due to medical problems, or they are intelligent animals that need to be released back into the wild, where they might live up to 100 years. Attendence was down 10% at Sea World in the summer of 2013, and Blackfish might have had some effect on people.
    Even if OHSA can prevent any more incidents with trainers and killer whales, that is not going to increase the life span of orcas in these small confining swimming pools.

  • Bruce Spencer | September 15, 2013 5:55 PMReply


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    Although this Special Forces Unit has already reached its full complement of volunteers, applications for substitutes will be accepted on a website presently under construction.

  • Salty Bill | September 15, 2013 5:48 PMReply

    Blackfish is intense and terrific, hope it wins the whole thing. 20 Feet From Stardom is clearly an audience and emotional favorite, especially with women. Stories We Tell was very droll and personal, with Canadian self-effacing quality. I bet the Academy will go for Salinger, just for the notoriety of the subject matter. We Steal Secrets should be picked because of the awesome timeliness of its tale.

  • Alex | September 15, 2013 2:48 PMReply

    Cutie and the Boxer!

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