A super-crowded documentary field means that many are called and few are chosen. And critics carry more sway than ever in this pandemic year, helping to cull the long list of would-be awards contenders. Every win from whatever source helps to turn a movie into a must-see.
Thus Monday’s fifth annual Critics Choice Documentary Award winners — which recognize the year’s achievements in documentaries released in theaters, on TV and on digital platforms, for which I voted in several categories — push Best Documentary Feature “Dick Johnson Is Dead” (Netflix) and its Best Director Kirsten Johnson into the lead for the Oscar shortlist of 15, which the Academy will announce on February 9, 2021.
Netflix dominated the field with six wins, including “Dick Johnson is Dead,” popular hit “My Octopus Teacher,” which took home Best Cinematography and Best Science/Nature Documentary, Best Narration winner “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,” and, with “Athlete A,” tied for Best Sports Documentary.
Filmmaker Dawn Porter had a good day, as “John Lewis: Good Trouble” won Best Historical/Biographical Documentary, and “The Way I See It” won Best Score for Marco Beltrami, Brandon Roberts and Buck Sanders.
In some ways the Critics Choice voters are more representative of the full Academy than they are of the insular documentary branch (which has been broadening its membership in recent years). There are plenty more documentaries still in the running for awards: see the shortlists from DOC NYC and IDA as well as IndieWire’s Best Documentary Feature Oscar predictions.
This year’s awards gala was not held live due to the pandemic; the winners’ acceptance videos are viewable here.
The winners of the fifth annual Critics Choice Documentary Awards are:
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)
Kirsten Johnson, “Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)
BEST FIRST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Melissa Haizlip, “Mr. SOUL!” (Shoes in the Bed Productions)
Roger Horrocks, “My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix)
Lindy Jankura, Alexis Johnson and Alex Keipper, “Totally Under Control” (Neon)
Marco Beltrami, Brandon Roberts and Buck Sanders, “The Way I See It” (Focus Features)
“David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet”(Netflix)
David Attenborough, Narrator
David Attenborough, Writer
BEST ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTARY
“MLK/FBI” (Field of Vision/IFC Films)
BEST HISTORICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL DOCUMENTARY
“John Lewis: Good Trouble” (Magnolia Pictures/Participant)
BEST MUSIC DOCUMENTARY (TIE)
“Beastie Boys Story” (Apple)
“The Go-Go’s” (Showtime)
BEST POLITICAL DOCUMENTARY
“Boys State” (Apple)
BEST SCIENCE/NATURE DOCUMENTARY
“My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix)
BEST SPORTS DOCUMENTARY (TIE)
“Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes” (HBO)
“Athlete A” (Netflix)
BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY
“St. Louis Superman” (MTV Documentary Films)
(Directors and Producers: Sami Khan and Smriti Mundhra. Producer: Poh Si Teng)
MOST COMPELLING LIVING SUBJECTS OF A DOCUMENTARY (HONOR)
Dr. Rick Bright – “Totally Under Control” (Neon)
Steven Garza – “Boys State” (Apple)
The Go-Go’s – “The Go-Go’s” (Showtime)
Judith Heumann – “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” (Netflix)
Dick Johnson – “Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)
Maggie Nichols, Rachael Denhollander, Jamie Dantzscher – “Athlete A” (Netflix)
Fox Rich – “Time” (Amazon)
Pete Souza – “The Way I See It” (Focus Features)
Taylor Swift – “Miss Americana” (Netflix)
Greta Thunberg – “I Am Greta” (Hulu)