Best Documentary- Feature:
An admittedly overlooked category amongst moviegoers, the Best Documentary Feature is a healthy and unique balance this year covering a wide variety of subjects ranging from a hagiographic portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) to a concerned filmmaker watching his friend dangerously climb El Capitan (Free Solo). Minding the Gap, a first-time effort from young director Bing Liu, is a hushed favorite on film social media. Compiled from footage shot over years, the film chronicles the lives of Liu and two of his friends as they cope with their impoverished adolescence through skateboarding. Liu’s remarkable debut has a strikingly keen eye for societal observation and represents a recent move towards personal documentaries with an obvious bias alongside the aforementioned Free Solo.
Also in contention are two documentaries about social awareness- Of Fathers and Sons, a film about the rise of Islamic terrorism in Syria, and Hale County This Morning, This Evening, an account of black lives in the titular county of Alabama. The latter film took home the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, and it could very well take home the Academy Award. The documentary category is often one of the trickier ones to predict, so it should be an interesting competition come Oscars night.
Best Documentary- Short Subject:
The Academy certainly showed an interest in a specific thematic range with its selections this year. Though that aim comes with mixed results in the major categories – often failing to commit to the message over the allure of pleasing audiences – with the Documentary Short Subject category, the Academy was able to fully unleash a voice of advocacy. Rayka Zehtabchi’s Period. End of Sentence explores the ignorance surrounding feminine hygiene in India, a nation which is still somewhat behind in regards to gender equality. The Netflix film End Game directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman takes a deep dive into a hospice center, exposing its audience to the painful reality of terminal illness. Lifeboat, directed by Skye Fitzgerald, tackles the subject of European migration by documenting both the immigrants utilizing desperate and unsafe means to cross the Mediterranean and the border control attempting to monitor these waters. Black Sheep is an autobiographical film directed by Cornelius Walker who chronicles his childhood as the lone black child in his London community. It addresses the common theme at this year’s Oscars of racial injustice in a way that is both personal and moving. Finally, Marshall Curry’s A Night at the Garden is a brief but stunning compilation of archival footage reminding audiences of the deep roots between the American radical right and Hitler’s Nazi regime.
Prediction: Black Sheep
Best Live Action Short Film:
Best Live Action Short is a diverse category this year with a wide range of perspectives and an array of directors from different backgrounds represented. Vincent Lambe’s Detainment is perhaps starting out behind the eight ball, dramatizing the confessions of the real-life murderers of young James Bulger. Lambe reportedly took on the project without consulting the Bulger family and Bulger’s mother requested that the film be withdrawn from consideration. Guy Nattiv’s Skin addresses serious social issues exploring the relationship between a neo-Nazi and his young son. Marguerite is the only female directed film of the group, Marianne Farley exploring the intergenerational relationship between a dying woman and her young caretaker. Jeremy Comte’s Fauve engages with two children playing in a scenic but dangerous mine. Finally, Mother, directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen is a tense one-set drama following a mother who receives a distressing phone call while in her small apartment.