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Oscars: Could Critical Favorites 'Act Of Killing' & 'Stories We Tell' Miss Out On Documentary Nominations?

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist December 17, 2013 at 6:07PM

Over the past weeks and months, we've used this space to take a close look at almost every Oscar category (bar the shorts: we'll focus on those once the nominations are out and we've seen the films), and making our rolling predictions in the process. Just in time for Christmas, we've reached the end, with just one category left: Documentary.
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The Act Of Killing

Meanwhile, "Blackfish," also a substantial hit, and one that's been a real force for change in its exposure of working practices at SeaWorld, is one of the more high-profile films on the list, and is similar in theme to "The Cove," which took the prize in 2010. It's not nearly as well made as that film, but will likely be among the final five, barring a real shock. Also looking promising is "The Square." Not only does the Egyptian film document vital recent history in its depiction of the recent revolution in Egypt, but it already has the thumbs up from awards-givers already, it was the People's Choice Award winner at TIFF this year, and last week took the top prize from the IDA. Not just a potential nominee, but a potential winner too.

And then, finally, there's "The Act of Killing" and "Stories We Tell," two critical darlings that are probably the most high-profile films on the list—they're cropping up on not just lists of the best documentaries of 2013, but many critics' top 10s of all movies. Which we worry might make them targets for that "Hoop Dreams" snub shot. More formally adventurous work like these films doesn't always win favor with the documentary branch, and the amount of dramatic reconstruction in 'Stories,' and the idea that it's been made by an outsider from the world, make it more potentially vulnerable that 'Killing,' which has had the thumbs up from some venerable non-fiction filmmakers already.

We think "The Act of Killing" is probably safe, and our bet is that the critical adulation over "Stories We Tell" will just see it edge out "Tim's Vermeer," but don't be surprised if Sarah Polley's film ends up being snubbed either. Full prediction below, along with this week's Best Picture chart, and stay tuned for more awards coverage later in the week .

Best Documentary Predictions - Monday December 16th

"The Act Of Killing"

"Blackfish"

"The Square"

"Stories We Tell"

"20 Feet From Stardom" 

Best Picture Chart - Monday December 16th

12 Years A Slave

1. "12 Years A Slave" (3)

Had exactly the week it needed to, with a hefty haul of nominations from the SAG, Critics Choice Awards and the Globes, putting it right back in the front seat. The SAG in particular is a good sign: an indicator that worries about Academy membership not watching the film may have been overstated. The film still has real threats, but if the PGA and DGA go for this as well, its lead will open up.

2. "Gravity" (1)

As we said, this was never going to top the nominations for last week's awards, but this did about as it could have done, so it's not been harmed in the least. Honestly, this might come down to the question of how many Academy members saw it in theaters, and how many caught screeners. And how much bias remains against sci-fi (and yeah, the film's only vaguely sci-fi, but to voters, it very much is)? No film in the genre has ever won Best Picture.

3. "American Hustle" (2)

Had a pretty terrific week too, tying 'Slave' for the most Globes and BFCA nods, coming second with SAG, and opening with the biggest screen average of the year. It's clearly picking up a bunch of nominations, but the question is, how many: if, like "Silver Linings Playbook," it overperforms and picks up things like editing and unexpected acting nods, it could threaten for the win. If not, it's likely a two-horse race.

4. "Nebraska" (5)

A big winner with the Globes, but perhaps more crucially, missed out on a SAG nod. Certainly beloved of voters, but it's possible to see Alexander Payne missing out on a nomination in favor of Spike Jonze, Martin Scorsese or Paul Greengrass. And let's be honest, it's not going to win Best Picture.

5. "Captain Phillips" (8)

The buzz had been petering out here, but the film got an important boost last week (though the Globes have limited predictive value, a nomination for Greengrass was an important one to get), at least getting its name back in the conversation. Had Hanks or Abdi missed out with the SAG, we'd have continued to worry about its Best Picture slot, but it should be safe and home unless the other guilds pass it over.

6. "Saving Mr Banks" (4)

Probably had the worst week of all the contenders: missed an SAG ensemble prize, and underperformed severely with the Golden Globes (though fared better with Critics Choice today. Was never going to be a critical favorite, really, but a weakness with the guild is more worrisome. It's certainly not going to be the potential spoiler to win Best Picture that some feared it might be, and for the first time, we're even wondering if it could miss the cut.

7. "Dallas Buyers Club" (13)

A big winner last week, taking the SAG ensemble nomination that many had earmarked for 'Banks.' There's a lot of love for this movie out there, clearly, that goes beyond just the performances. That said, there might still be more passionate love for the more auteur-driven picks.

8. "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (11)

Ok, yeah, we'd been skeptical about this, but the SAG falling for it in a big way certainly suggests this could grab that "Help" slot. Ignored entirely by the Globes, but that's not something to worry about particularly, it was never their kind of movie. And while it was mostly passed over by the BFCA, as a critics' group, they tend to favor things like "Her" over this (last year, they nominated "The Master" and "Moonrise Kingdom," which both missed with the Academy in the main category). That said, we maintain that, with a Best Picture nod, it'll still have a tough task picking up more nods than Oprah, possibly Forest Whitaker, and maybe Screenplay. 

Her, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams

9. "Her" (6)

Still winning heaps of love from critics and year-end lists, but missed out entirely with the SAG, who could have cemented its place with a nod for Joaquin Phoenix or the ensemble. That's rekindled our worries about the film's ability to connect with older voters: we'll see what the PGA and DGA have to say about it.

10. "The Wolf Of Wall Street" (7)

Some love from the Globes, nothing from the SAG (who mostly didn't see it in time), and the exact extent of how hardcore the film is has rapidly become apparent. Its biggest problem might be the strength of "American Hustle,' which is as close to Scorsese as you could ask for, but perhaps a little more palatable for audiences made nervous by dwarf-throwing and coke being placed in private places. But could the younger contigent of the Academy be vocal enough that this gains precedence over "The Butler" or "Mr. Banks" and co.

11. "Philomena" (9)

The Globes loved it, but it's seemed to connect with European audiences more than U.S (though the film's doing very well at the box office domestically too). Likely to be the top choice of the substantial British voting block, which could be enough to put it over the edge ("Gravity," "12 Years A Slave" and "Saving Mr Banks" all have U.K backing, but less obviously), but "The Butler" may have edged ahead of it in terms of Weinstein support.

12. "August Osage County" (15)

Lots of attention from the SAG, but it's worth noting that, sometimes, the ensemble prize from the SAG rewards the Most Actors, rather than the Best Actors (a naggling doubt we still share about "The Butler," but that seems to have wider support) -- remember "Best Exotic Marigold Hotels," or "Bridesmaids," or "Nine," or "American Gangster?" It could figure in, but we're yet to hear about anyone who really loves it unreservedly.

Inside Llewyn Davis

13. "Inside Llewyn Davis" (10)

Nowt from the SAG, so again, we fear that it might be a little too prickly for the Academy. Nothing will make us sadder this year.

14. "All Is Lost" (12)

Just when things were looking up, the SAG snub Robert Redford, and the film's Best Picture chances all but evaporate. We still think Redford can make it to an Oscar nomination, but the film seems like an increasingly long-shot.

15. "Rush" (-)

Seemingly dropped out of the race a while ago, but performed better-than-expected with the Globes, and Daniel Bruhl came roaring back into the race with an SAG nod. Still a very long shot, but the film's likable, and it's likely to play better on a screener over the holidays than some of these other potentials.

Bubbling Under: "Fruitvale Station," "Lone Survivor," "The Book Thief," "Blue Jasmine," "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom."

This article is related to: Awards, Academy Awards, Oscars, The Act of Killing , Stories We Tell, The Square (Al Midan), Blackfish, 20 Feet From Stardom


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