Oscar: Best Documentaries (Winners and Nominees), 1941-Present

Best Documentaries: Winners and Nominees

Documentary features are listed below by the award year, the year released under the Academy’s rules for eligibility.

Due to the limited nature of documentary distribution, a film may be released in different years in different venues, sometimes years after production is complete.

1942 (15th year)

The Battle of Midway United States Navy
Kokoda Front Line! Australian News & Information Bureau
Moscow Strikes Back Artkino
Prelude to War United States Army Special Services
Africa, Prelude to Victory The March of Time
Combat Report United States Army Signal Corps
Conquer by the Clock Frederic Ullman Jr.
The Grain That Built a Hemisphere Walt Disney
Henry Browne, Farmer United States Department of Agriculture
High Over the Borders National Film Board of Canada
High Stakes in the East The Netherlands Information Bureau
Inside Fighting China National Film Board of Canada
It’s Everybody’s War United States Office of War Information
Listen to Britain British Ministry of Information
Little Belgium British Ministry of Information
Little Isles of Freedom Victor Stoloff and Edgar Loew
Mr. Blabbermouth United States Office of War Information
Mr. Gardenia Jones United States Office of War Information
The New Spirit Walt Disney
The Price of Victory William H. Pine
A Ship Is Born United States Merchant Marine
Twenty-One Miles British Ministry of Information
We Refuse to Die William C. Thomas
The White Eagle Concanen Films
Winning Your Wings United States Army Air Force

1943 (16th)

Desert Victory British Ministry of Information
Baptism of Fire United States Army
The Battle of Russia United States Department of War Special Service Division
Report from the Aleutians United States Army Pictorial Service
War Department Report United States Office of Strategic Services Field Photographic Bureau

1944 (17th)

The Fighting Lady United States Navy
Resisting Enemy Interrogation United States Army Air Force

1945 (18th)

The True Glory The Governments of Great Britain and the United States of America
The Last Bomb United States Army Air Force

1946 (19th)

No award given

1947 (20th)

Design for Death Sid Rogell, Theron Warth and Richard Fleischer
Journey into Medicine United States Department of State Office of Information and Educational Exchange
The World Is Rich Paul Rotha

1948 (21st)
The Secret Land Orville O. Dull
The Quiet One Janice Loeb

1949 (22nd)

Daybreak in Udi Crown Film Unit
Kenji Comes Home Paul F. Heard

1950 (23rd)

The Titan: Story of Michelangelo Robert Snyder
With These Hands Jack Arnold and Lee Goodman

1951

Kon-Tiki Olle Nordemar
I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. Bryan Foy

1952 (25th)

The Sea Around Us Irwin Allen
The Hoaxters Dore Schary
Navajo Hall Bartlett

1953 (26th)

The Living Desert Walt Disney
The Conquest of Everest John Taylor, Leon Clore and Grahame Tharp
A Queen Is Crowned Castleton Knight

1954 (27th)

The Vanishing Prairie Walt Disney
The Stratford Adventure Guy Glover

1955 (28th)

Helen Keller in Her Story, Nancy Hamilton
Heartbreak Ridge Rene Risacher

1956 (29th)

The Silent World, Jacques-Yves Cousteau
The Naked Eye Louis Clyde Stoumen
Where Mountains Float The Government Film Committee of Denmark

1957 (30th)

Albert Schweitzer, Jerome Hill
On the Bowery Lionel Rogosin
Torero! Manuel Barbachano Ponce

1958 (31st)

White Wilderness Ben Sharpsteen
Antarctic Crossing James Carr
The Hidden World Robert Snyder
Psychiatric Nursing Nathan Zucker

1959 (32nd)

Serengeti Shall Not Die Bernhard Grzimek
The Race for Space David L. Wolper

1960 (33rd)

The Horse with the Flying Tail, Larry Lansburgh
Rebel in Paradise Robert D. Fraser

1961 (34th)

Le Ciel et la Boue (Sky Above and Mud Beneath) Arthur Cohn and Rene Lafuite
La Grande Olimpiade (Olympic Games 1960) dell Istituto Nazionale Luce, Comitato Organizzatore Del Giochi Della XVII Olimpiade

1962 (35th)

Black Fox Louis Clyde Stoumen
Alvorada (Brazil’s Changing Face) Hugo Niebeling

1963 (36th)

Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World, Robert Hughes
Le Maillon et la Chaine (The Link and the Chain) Paul de Roubaix
The Yanks Are Coming Marshall Flaum

1964 (37th)

Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s World without Sun, Jacques-Yves Cousteau
The Finest Hours Jack Le Vien
Four Days in November Mel Stuart
The Human Dutch Bert Haanstra
Over There, 1914-18 Jean Aurel

1965 (38th)

The Eleanor Roosevelt Story, Sidney Glazier
The Battle of the Bulge… The Brave Rifles Laurence E. Mascott
The Forth Road Bridge Peter Mills
Let My People Go Marshall Flaum
To Die in Madrid Frédéric Rossif

1966 (39th)

The War Game, Peter Watkins
The Face of a Genius Alfred R. Kelman
Helicopter Canada Peter Jones and Tom Daly
The Really Big Family Alex Grasshoff
Le Volcan Interdit (The Forbidden Volcano) Haroun Tazieff

1967 (40th)

The Anderson Platoon, Pierre Schoendoerffer
Festival Murray Lerner
Harvest Carroll Ballard
A King’s Story Jack Le Vien
A Time for Burning William C. Jersey

1968 (41st)

Journey into Self Bill McGaw
A Few Notes on Our Food Problem James Blue
The Legendary Champions William Cayton
Other Voices David H. Sawyer

1969 (42nd)

Arthur Rubinstein – The Love of Life, Bernard Chevry
Before the Mountain Was Moved Robert K. Sharpe
In the Year of the Pig Emile de Antonio
The Olympics in Mexico Comite Organizador de los Juegos de la XIX Olimpiada
The Wolf Men Irwin Rostees

1970 (43rd)

Woodstock, Bob Maurice
Chariots of the Gods Dr. Harald Reinl
Jack Johnson Jim Jacobs
King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis Ely Landau
Say Goodbye David H. Vowell

1971 (44th)

The Hellstrom Chronicle Walon Green
Alaska Wilderness Lake Alan Landsburg
On Any Sunday Bruce Brown
The RA Expeditions Lennart Ehrenborg and Thor Heyerdahl
The Sorrow and the Pity Marcel Ophüls

1972 (45th)

Marjoe, Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan
Ape and Super-Ape Bert Haanstra
Malcolm X Marvin Worth and Arnold Perl
Manson Robert Hendrickson and Laurence Merrick
The Silent Revolution Eckehard Munck

1973 (46th)

The Great American Cowboy Kieth Merrill
Always a New Beginning John D. Goodell
Battle of Berlin Bengt von zur Muehlen
Journey to the Outer Limits Alexander Grasshoff
Walls of Fire Gertrude Ross Marks and Edmund F. Penney

1974 (47th)

Hearts and Minds, Peter Davis and Bert Schneider
Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman Judy Collins and Jill Godmilow
The Challenge… A Tribute to Modern Art Herbert Kline
The 81st Blow Jacquot Ehrlich, David Bergman and Haim Gouri
The Wild and the Brave Natalie R. Jones and Eugene S. Jones

1975 (48th)

The Man Who Skied Down Everest, F. R. Crawley, James Hager and Dale Hartlebe
The California Reich Walter F. Parkes and Keith F. Critchlow
Fighting for Our Lives Glen Pearcy
The Incredible Machine Irwin Rosten
The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir Shirley MacLaine

1976 (49th)

Harlan County, U.S.A. Barbara Kopple
Hollywood on Trial James Gutman and David Helpern Jr.
Off the Edge Michael Firth
People of the Wind Anthony Howarth and David Koff
Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry Donald Brittain and Robert Duncan

1977 (50th)

Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids? John Korty, Dan McCann and Warren L. Lockhart
The Children of Theatre Street Robert Dornhelm and Earle Mack
High Grass Circus Bill Brind, Torben Schioler and Tony Ianzelo
Homage to Chagall: The Colours of Love Harry Rasky
Union Maids Jim Klein [de], Julia Reichert and Miles Mogulescu

1978 (51st)

Scared Straight! Arnold Shapiro
The Lovers’ Wind Albert Lamorisse
Mysterious Castles of Clay Alan Root
Raoni Jean-Pierre Dutilleux, Barry Williams and Michel Gast
With Babies and Banners: Story of the Women’s Emergency Brigade Anne Bohlen, Lyn Goldfarb and Lorraine Gray

1979 (52nd)

Best Boy, Ira Wohl
Generation on the Wind David A. Vassar
Going the Distance Paul Cowan and Jacques Bobet
The Killing Ground Steve Singer and Tom Priestley
The War at Home Glenn Silber and Barry Alexander Brown

1980 (53rd)

From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, Murray Lerner
Agee Ross Spears
The Day After Trinity Jon H. Else
Front Line David Bradbury
The Yellow Star: The Persecution of the Jews in Europe 1933-45 Bengt von zur Mühlen and Arthur Cohn

1981 (54th)

Genocide Arnold Schwartzman and Rabbi Marvin Hier
Against Wind and Tide: A Cuban Odyssey Suzanne Bauman, Paul Neshamkin and Jim Burroughs
Brooklyn Bridge Ken Burns
Eight Minutes to Midnight: A Portrait of Dr. Helen Caldicott Mary Benjamin, Susanne Simpson and Boyd Estus
El Salvador: Another Vietnam Glenn Silber and Tete Vasconcellos

1982 (55th)

Just Another Missing Kid, John Zaritsky
After the Axe Sturla Gunnarsson and Steve Lucas
Ben’s Mill John Karol and Michel Chalufour
In Our Water Meg Switzgable
A Portrait of Giselle Joseph Wishy

1983 (56th)

He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’ Emile Ardolino
Children of Darkness Richard Kotuk and Ara Chekmayan
First Contact Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson
The Profession of Arms Michael Bryans and Tina Viljoen
Seeing Red James Klein and Julia Reichert

1984 (57th)

The Times of Harvey Milk Rob Epstein and Richard Schmiechen
High Schools Charles Guggenheim and Nancy Sloss
In the Name of the People Alex W. Drehsler and Frank Christopher
Marlene Karel Dirka and Zev Braun
Streetwise Cheryl McCall

1985 (58th)

Broken Rainbow Maria Florio and Victoria Mudd
Las Madres: The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Susana Blaustein Muñoz and Lourdes Portillo
Soldiers in Hiding Japhet Asher
The Statue of Liberty Ken Burns and Buddy Squires
Unfinished Business Steven Okazaki

1986 (59th)

Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got (TIE) Brigitte Berman
Down and Out in America (TIE) Joseph Feury and Milton Justice
Chile: Hasta Cuando? David Bradbury
Isaac in America: A Journey with Isaac Bashevis Singer Kirk Simon and Amram Nowak
Witness to Apartheid Sharon I. Sopher

1987 (60th)

The Ten-Year Lunch: The Wit and Legend of the Algonquin Round Table, Aviva Slesin
Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years/Bridge to Freedom 1965 Callie Crossley and James A. DeVinney
Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima John Junkerman and John W. Dower
Radio Bikini Robert Stone
A Stitch for Time Barbara Herbich and Cyril Christo

1988 (61st)

Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, Marcel Ophüls
The Cry of Reason – Beyers Naudé: An Afrikaner Speaks Out Robert Bilheimer and Ronald Mix
Let’s Get Lost Bruce Weber and Nan Bush
Promises to Keep Ginny Durrin
Who Killed Vincent Chin? Renee Tajima-Peña and Christine Choy

1989 (62nd)

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt Rob Epstein and Bill Couturié
Adam Clayton Powell Richard Kilberg and Yvonne Smith
Crack USA: County Under Siege Vince DiPersio and William Guttentag
For All Mankind Al Reinert and Betsy Broyles Breier
Super Chief: The Life and Legacy of Earl Warren Judith Leonard and Bill Jersey

1990 (63rd)

American Dream, Barbara Kopple and Arthur Cohn
Berkeley in the Sixties Mark Kitchell
Building Bombs Mark Mori and Susan Robinson
Forever Activists: Stories from the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Judith Montell
Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey Robert Hillmann and Eugene Corr

1991 (64th)

In the Shadow of the Stars Allie Light and Irving Saraf
Death on the Job Vince DiPersio and William Guttentag
Doing Time: Life Inside the Big House Alan Raymond and Susan Raymond
The Restless Conscience: Resistance to Hitler Within Germany 1933-1945 Hava Kohav Beller
Wild by Law Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey

1992 (65th)

The Panama Deception Barbara Trent and David Kasper
Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker David Haugland
Fires of Kuwait Sally Dundas
Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II Bill Miles and Nina Rosenblum
Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann Margaret Smilow and Roma Baran

1993 (66th)

I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School, Susan Raymond and Alan Raymond
The Broadcast Tapes of Dr. Peter David Paperny and Arthur Ginsberg
Children of Fate Susan Todd and Andrew Young
For Better or For Worse David Collier and Betsy Thompson
The War Room D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus

1994 (67th)

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision Freida Lee Mock and Terry Sanders
Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter Deborah Hoffmann
D-Day Remembered Charles Guggenheim
Freedom on My Mind Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford
A Great Day in Harlem Jean Bach

1995 (68th)

Anne Frank Remembered. Jon Blair
The Battle Over Citizen Kane Thomas Lennon and Michael Epstein
Fiddlefest: Roberta Tzavaras and Her East Harlem Violin Program Allan Miller and Walter Scheuer
Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream Michael Tollin and Fredric Golding
Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher

1996 (69th)

When We Were Kings Leon Gast and David Sonenberg
The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story Susan W. Dryfoos
Mandela Jo Menell and Angus Gibson
Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse Anne Belle and Deborah Dickson
Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press Rick Goldsmith

1997 (70th)

The Long Way Home Marvin Hier and Richard Trank
4 Little Girls Spike Lee and Sam Pollard
Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life Michael Paxton
Colors Straight Up Michèle Ohayon and Julia Schachter
Waco: The Rules of Engagement Dan Gifford and William Gazecki

1998 (71st)

The Last Days James Moll and Kenneth Lipper
Dancemaker Matthew Diamond and Jerry Kupfer
The Farm: Angola, USA Jonathan Stack and Liz Garbus
Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth Robert B. Weide
Regret to Inform Barbara Sonneborn and Janet Cole

1999 (72nd)

One Day in September Arthur Cohn and Kevin Macdonald
Buena Vista Social Club Wim Wenders and Ulrich Felsberg
Genghis Blues Roko Belic and Adrian Belic
On the Ropes Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen
Speaking in Strings Paola di Florio and Lilibet Foster

2000 (73rd)

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, Mark Jonathan Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer
Legacy Tod Lending
Long Night’s Journey into Day Deborah Hoffmann and Frances Reid
Scottsboro: An American Tragedy Daniel Anker and Barak Goodman
Sound and Fury Josh Aronson and Roger Weisberg

2001 (74th)

Murder on a Sunday Morning Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and Denis Poncet
Children Underground Edet Belzberg
LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton Deborah Dickson and Susan Froemke
Promises B.Z. Goldberg and Justine Shapiro
War Photographer Christian Frei

2002 (75th)

Bowling for Columbine Michael Moore and Michael Donovan
Daughter from Danang Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco
Prisoner of Paradise Malcolm Clarke and Stuart Sender
Spellbound Jeffrey Blitz and Sean Welch
Winged Migration Jacques Perrin

2003 (76th)

The Fog of War Errol Morris and Michael Williams

Balseros Carlos Bosch and Josep Maria Domenech
Capturing the Friedmans Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling
My Architect Nathaniel Kahn and Susan R. Behr
The Weather Underground Sam Green and Bill Siegel

2004 (77th)

Born into Brothels Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski
The Story of the Weeping Camel Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni
Super Size Me Morgan Spurlock
Tupac: Resurrection Karolyn Ali and Lauren Lazin
Twist of Faith Kirby Dick and Eddie Schmidt

2005 (78th)

March of the Penguins Luc Jacquet and Yves Darondeau
Darwin’s Nightmare Hubert Sauper
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room Alex Gibney and Jason Kliot
Murderball Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro
Street Fight Marshall Curry

2006 (79th)

An Inconvenient Truth Davis Guggenheim
Deliver Us from Evil Amy Berg and Frank Donner
Iraq in Fragments James Longley and John Sinno
Jesus Camp Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
My Country, My Country Jocelyn Glatzer and Laura Poitras

2007 (80th)

Taxi to the Dark Side Alex Gibney and Eva Orner
No End in Sight Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience Richard Robbins
Sicko Michael Moore and Meghan O’Hara
War/Dance Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine

2008 (81st)

Man on Wire Simon Chinn and James Marsh
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
Encounters at the End of the World Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
The Garden Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Trouble the Water Carl Deal and Tia Lessin

2009 (82nd)

The Cove Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens
Burma VJ Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller
Food, Inc. Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith

Which Way Home Rebecca Cammisa

2010 (83rd)

Inside Job Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
Exit Through the Gift Shop Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz
Gasland Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
Restrepo Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
Waste Land Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

2011 (84th)

Undefeated T. J. Martin, Daniel Lindsay and Rich Middlemas
Hell and Back Again Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
Pina Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel

2012 (85th)

Searching for Sugar Man Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn
5 Broken Cameras Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi
The Gatekeepers Dror Moreh, Philippa Kowarsky, and Estelle Fialon
How to Survive a Plague David France and Howard Gertler
The Invisible War Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering

2013 (86th)

20 Feet from Stardom Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers
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

2014 (87th)

Citizenfour Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky
Finding Vivian Maier John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Last Days in Vietnam Rory Kennedy and Kevin McAlester
The Salt of the Earth Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier
Virunga Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

2015 (88th)

Amy Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees
Cartel Land Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin
The Look of Silence Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
What Happened, Miss Simone? Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor

2016 (89th)

O.J.: Made in America Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow
Fire at Sea Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo
I Am Not Your Negro Raoul Peck, Rémi Grellety and Hébert Peck
Life, Animated Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman
13th Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish

2017 (90th)

Icarus Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail Steve James, Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman
Faces Places Agnès Varda, JR and Rosalie Varda
Last Men in Aleppo Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed and Søren Steen Jespersen
Strong Island Yance Ford and Joslyn Barnes

2018 (91st)

Free Solo Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin, Evan Hayes, and Shannon Dill
Hale County This Morning, This Evening RaMell Ross, Joslyn Barnes, and Su Kim
Minding the Gap Bing Liu and Diane Quon
Of Fathers and Sons Talal Derki, Ansgar Frerich, Eva Kemme, and Tobias N. Siebert
RBG Betsy West and Julie Cohen

2019 (92nd)

American Factory Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert and Jeff Reichert
The Cave, Feras Fayyad, Kirstine Barfod and Sigrid Dyekjær
The Edge of Democracy, Petra Costa, Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris and Tiago Pavan
For Sama, Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts
Honeyland, Ljubo Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska and Atanas Georgiev

Shortlisted finalists
Finalists for Best Documentary Feature are selected by the Documentary Branch based on a preliminary ballot. A second preferential ballot determines the five nominees. Prior to the 78th Academy Awards, there were 12 films shortlisted.

These are the additional films that were shortlisted.

Year Finalists
1999

Amargosa, American Movie, Beyond the Mat, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., Pop & Me, Smoke and Mirrors: A History of Denial, The Source

2003

The Agronomist, Bus 174, Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin, Heir to an Execution, Inheritance: A Fisherman’s Story, Lost Boys of Sudan, My Flesh and Blood

2004

Home of the Brave, Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, In the Realms of the Unreal, Riding Giants, The Ritchie Boys, Tell Them Who You Are, Touching the Void

2005

After Innocence, The Boys of Baraka, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Favela Rising, Mad Hot Ballroom, Occupation: Dreamland, On Native Soil: The Documentary of the 9/11 Commission Report, Rize, 39 Pounds of Love, Unknown White Male

2006

Blindsight, Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?, The Ground Truth, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, Shut Up & Sing, Sisters in Law, Storm of Emotions, The Trials of Darryl Hunt, An Unreasonable Man, The War Tapes

2007

Autism: The Musical, Body of War, For the Bible Tells Me So, Lake of Fire, Nanking, Please Vote for Me, The Price of Sugar, A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman, The Rape of Europa, White Light/Black Rain

2008

At the Death House Door, Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh, Fuel, Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, I.O.U.S.A., In a Dream, Made in America, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Standard Operating Procedure, They Killed Sister Dorothy

2009

The Beaches of Agnès, Every Little Step, Facing Ali, Garbage Dreams, Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, Mugabe and the White African, Sergio, Soundtrack for a Revolution, Under Our Skin, Valentino: The Last Emperor

2010

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Enemies of the People, Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, The Lottery, Precious Life, Quest for Honor, This Way of Life, The Tillman Story, Waiting for “Superman”, William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe

2011

Battle for Brooklyn, Bill Cunningham New York, Buck, Jane’s Journey, The Loving Story, Project Nim, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, Sing Your Song, Under Fire: Journalists in Combat, We Were Here

2012

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Bully, Chasing Ice, Detropia, Ethel, The House I Live In, The Imposter, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, This Is Not a Film, The Waiting Room[20]

2013

The Armstrong Lie, Blackfish, The Crash Reel, First Cousin Once Removed, God Loves Uganda, Life According to Sam, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, Stories We Tell, Tim’s Vermeer, Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington

2014

Art and Craft, The Case Against 8, Citizen Koch, The Internet’s Own Boy, Jodorowsky’s Dune, Keep on Keepin’ On, The Kill Team, Life Itself, The Overnighters, Tales of the Grim Sleeper[22]

2015

Best of Enemies, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, He Named Me Malala, Heart of a Dog, The Hunting Ground, Listen to Me Marlon, Meru, 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets, We Come as Friends, Where to Invade Next

2016

Cameraperson, Command and Control, The Eagle Huntress, Gleason, Hooligan Sparrow, The Ivory Game, Tower, Weiner, The Witness, Zero Days

2017

Chasing Coral, City of Ghosts, Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, Human Flow, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, Jane, LA 92, Long Strange Trip, One of Us, Unrest

2018

Charm City, Communion, Crime + Punishment, Dark Money, The Distant Barking of Dogs, On Her Shoulders, Shirkers, The Silence of Others, Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

2019

Advocate, The Apollo, Apollo 11, Aquarela, The Biggest Little Farm, The Great Hack, Knock Down the House, Maiden, Midnight Family, One Child Nation

Most awards:

Arthur Cohn – 3 awards (4 nominations);

Simon Chinn – 2 awards;

Jacques-Yves Cousteau – 2 awards;

Walt Disney – 2 awards (7 nominations; Disney has additional 2 wins in the Documentary Short Subject category);

Rob Epstein – 2 awards;

Marvin Hier – 2 awards;

Barbara Kopple – 2 awards

Controversies

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, at the time the highest-grossing documentary film in history, was ruled ineligible because it played on TV prior to the 2004 election.

Previously, the 1982 winner Just Another Missing Kid had already been broadcast in Canada and won that country’s ACTRA award for excellence in TV at the time of its nomination.

In 1990, a group of 45 filmmakers filed a protest to the Academy over a potential conflict of interest involving Block. They noted that Block was a member of the Documentary Steering Committee, which selects films as nominees, but his company Direct Cinema owned the distribution rights to three of the five films (including eventual winner Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt) selected that year as nominees for Best Documentary Feature. They noted that Michael Moore’s Roger & Me (Warner Brothers) was omitted from the nominees, although it had been highly praised by numerous critics and was ranked as one of the top ten films of the year.

The controversy over Hoop Dreams‘ exclusion was enough to have the Academy Awards begin the process to change its documentary voting system. Roger Ebert, who chose it as the best 1994, wrote: “We learned, through very reliable sources, that the members of the committee had a system. They carried little flashlights. When one gave up on a film, he waved a light on the screen. When a majority of flashlights had voted, the film was switched off. Hoop Dreams was stopped after 15 minutes.”

The Academy’s executive director Bruce Davis took the unprecedented step of asking accounting firm Price Waterhouse to turn over the complete results of that year’s voting, in which members of the committee had rated each of the 63 eligible documentaries on a scale of six to ten.

“What I found is that a small group of members gave zeros (actually low scores) to every single film except the five they wanted to see nominated. And they gave tens to those five, which completely skewed the voting. There was one film that received more scores of ten than any other, but it wasn’t nominated. It also got zeros (low scores) from those few voters, and that was enough to push it to sixth place.”

In 2000, Arthur Cohn, the producer of the winning One Day in September boasted “I won this without showing it in a single theater!” Cohn had hit upon the tactic of showing his Oscar entries at invitation-only screenings, and to as few other people as possible. Oscar bylaws at the time required voters to have seen all five nominated documentaries; by limiting his audience, Cohn shrank the voting pool and improved his odds. After protests by many documentarians, the nominating system subsequently was changed.

Hoop Dreams director Steve James said “With so few people looking at any given film, it only takes one to dislike a film and its chances for making the short list are diminished greatly. So they’ve got to do something, I think, to make the process more sane for deciding the shortlist.”

In 2013, the Academy began requiring a documentary to have been reviewed by either The New York Times or Los Angeles Times, and be commercially released for at least one week in both of those cities. Advocating for the rule change, Michael Moore said “When people get the award for best documentary and they go on stage and thank the Academy, it’s not really the Academy, is it? It’s 5% of the Academy.”

The awards process has also been criticized for emphasizing a documentary’s subject matter over its style or quality.

In 2014, following the announcement of the shortlist of eligible feature nominees, Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard publicly criticized Academy documentary voters after they excluded SPC’s Red Army from the shortlist.

Icarus, another documentary related to sports and Russian-American relations, later won the Oscar.

In 2017, after the win of the eight-hour O.J.: Made in America in this category, the Academy determined that multi-part and limited series would be ineligible for the award, even if they are not broadcast after their Oscar-qualifying release (as was O.J.: Made in America).

Acclaimed Docus Not Nominated for Best Documentary:

Don’t Look Back (1967)

Salesman (1969)

Gimme Shelter (1970)

Grey Gardens (1975)

Gates of Heaven (1978)

Stop Making Sense (1984)

Shoah (1985)

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Roger & Me (1989)

Paris Is Burning (1990)

Crumb (1994)

Hoop Dreams (1994)

The Celluloid Closet (1995)

Grizzly Man (2005)

The King of Kong (2007)

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Stories We Tell (2013)

Life Itself (2014)

Cameraperson (2016)

Jane (2017)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018)

Apollo 11 (2019)

One Child Nation (2019)

Documentaries with Wins or Nominations in Other Categories:

Though Academy rules do not expressly preclude documentaries from being nominated in other competitive categories, documentaries are typically considered ineligible for nominations in categories that presume the work is fictitious, including Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, and acting.

No documentaries have been nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, or writing.

No documentary has yet been nominated for Best Picture, although Chang was nominated in the “Unique and Artistic Production” category at the 1927-28 awards.

At the 3rd Academy Awards, prior to the introduction of documentary category, With Byrd at the South Pole won the Best Cinematography, the first docu both to be nominated for and win an Oscar.

Woodstock was the first documentary to be nominated for Best Film Editing, while Hoop Dreams was the second (although it was not nominated for Best Documentary Feature).

Woodstock is also the only documentary to receive a nomination for Best Sound Mixing.

Honeyland became the first documentary to be nominated for both Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature.

Israel’s Waltz with Bashir became the first docu and first animation nominated for Best International Feature, although it was not nominated for Best Documentary Feature.

Seven documentaries have received nominations for Best Original Song:

Mondo Cane (for Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero’s “More”)

An Inconvenient Truth (for Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need to Wake Up”, the first and only nominee from a documentary to win)

Chasing Ice (for J. Ralph’s “Before My Time”)

Racing Extinction (for Ralph and Anhoni’s “Manta Ray”)

Jim: The James Foley Story (for Ralph and Sting’s “The Empty Chair”)

The Hunting Ground (for Lady Gaga and Dianne Warren’s “Til It Happens To You”), and RBG (for Warren’s “I’ll Fight”).

Honorary Oscars:

Five documentary filmmakers have received honorary Oscars: Pete Smith, William L. Hendricks, D. A. Pennebaker, Frederick Wiseman, and Agnès Varda.

 

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