‘All That Breathes’ Breathes Easier After Making Oscar Doc Shortlist, But Some Major Titles Don’t Make The Cut

Best Documentary Feature front runners All That Breathes, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Fire of Love, and The Territory are safely through to the next round after the Academy’s Documentary Branch whittled the list of remaining contenders to a shortlist of 15 films.

Fellow favorite Navalny—Daniel Roher’s documentary about Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was almost killed in a Kremlin-devised poisoning plot–also made the cut (see full list below). The biggest surprise today came with the snub for Good Night Oppy, the documentary directed by Ryan White that follows NASA’s stirring 2003 mission that dispatched two rovers to the surface of Mars. The film backed by Amblin Entertainment won Best Documentary Feature at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards last month, a ceremony that saw White earn Best Director honors.

Among other surprise omissions, Sidney–the Oprah-produced documentary about the late Sidney Poitier—was left off the shortlist. That fate also befell Sr., the documentary by Chris Smith on the unorthodox life and career of filmmaker Robert Downey Sr., a film that includes the active participation of Sr.’s son, actor Robert Downey Jr.

Wildcat, a late Oscar hopeful from Amazon Studios that premieres in theaters today and on Amazon Prime on December 30, has generated significant attention, but didn’t make the shortlist, likely because of its end-of-year debut. The shortlist was culled from 144 qualifying films, up from last year. 

It was a big day for HBO Documentary Films and for National Geographic, which between them netted seven films on the shortlist. HBO’s proud progeny includes All That Breathes (in tandem with Sideshow and Submarine Deluxe), The Janes, Moonage Daydream (in tandem with Neon), and All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, the Laura Poitras-directed film on photographer Nan Goldin, who became the scourge of the Sackler family of OxyContin ignominy. The latter film is a production of Participant as well as Praxis Films, distributed theatrically by Neon.

The NatGeo trio comprises Fire of Love, Sara Dosa’s doc on an adventurous French couple who studied volcanoes but lost their lives to the dangerous pursuit; The Territory, the film by Alex Pritz that takes viewers into a section of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest where an outnumbered Indigenous tribe is trying to repel landgrabbers and miners, and Retrograde, director Matthew Heineman’s latest, which embeds with U.S. Green Berets and their Afghan Army counterparts as the Taliban relentlessly marches toward the capital.

As has been the case in recent years, films with an international dimension got significant love from the Doc Branch, which has added numerous international-based members to its ranks. In addition to All That Breathes, Shaunak Sen’s documentary about brothers in Delhi, India who care for injured birds of prey, documentaries with an international dimension that made the shortlist include A House Made of Splinters, Simon Lereng Wilmont’s touching film on Ukrainian children living in a temporary orphanage, and Children of the Mist, director Ha Le Diem’s film set in a Hmong community in Northern Vietnam. Hidden Letters, directed by Violet Du Feng and Qing Zhao, delves into a community in rural China where women developed a secret language as a way to cope with patriarchal oppression.

Seasoned filmmaker Ondi Timoner made the shortlist with Last Flight Home, her poignant film about her father’s last days, but doc newcomers also got recognition. David Siev, a first-time feature director, earned his place on the shortlist with Bad Axe, a film about his family and their restaurant in a small, conservative town in Michigan and the struggles they faced during the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Children of the Mist‘s Ha Le Diem, likewise, is a doc feature newbie.

The top two highest-grossing documentaries of the year made the shortlist: Brett Morgen’s David Bowie film Moonage Daydream, which has pulled in more than $12 million worldwide, and Fire of Love, which has tallied $1.6 million.

This is the full list of 15 shortlisted feature documentaries, followed by the shortlist of 15 short documentaries:

Fifteen films will advance in the Documentary Feature Film category for the 95th Academy Awards. One hundred forty-four films were eligible in the category.  Members of the Documentary Branch vote to determine the shortlist and the nominees.

The films, listed in alphabetical order by title, are:

“All That Breathes”
“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”
“Bad Axe”
“Children of the Mist”
“Fire of Love”
“Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song”
“Hidden Letters”
“A House Made of Splinters”
“The Janes”
“Last Flight Home”
“Moonage Daydream”
“The Territory”

Fifteen films will advance in the Documentary Short Film category for the 95th Academy Awards. Ninety-eight films qualified in the category.  Members of the Documentary Branch vote to determine the shortlist and the nominees.

The films, listed in alphabetical order by title, are:

“American Justice on Trial: People v. Newton”
“Angola Do You Hear Us? Voices from a Plantation Prison”
“As Far as They Can Run”
“The Elephant Whisperers”
“The Flagmakers”
“Happiness Is £4 Million”
“Holding Moses”
“How Do You Measure a Year?”
“The Martha Mitchell Effect”
“Nuisance Bear”
“Shut Up and Paint”
“Stranger at the Gate”
“38 at the Garden”

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