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The Top 25 Best Documentary Feature Winners So Far

Here comes another one! Continuing a tradition I’ve been keen on for years, I’m ranking the new crop of Academy Award winners. For nearly all of the Oscar categories, you’ll see me list the top 25 recipients of that prize. Sometimes, our newest winner will appear. Other times, they’ll be relegated to the Honorable Mention category. Who knows, maybe one or two won’t even make the cut? It’s a list series that I’ll do each and every single year, in the weeks after the ceremony concludes. So, while this is a fun way to think about the Oscars in the aftermath of the latest telecast, it’s also a beginning for another column here on the site. Of course, definitely show us your own lists as well, in the comments section below. We’re definitely keen to know what you think!

Today, I’m looking at the Best Documentary Feature category. Non-fiction cinema is its own beast, and one look at the winners in this field reveal some all-time classics. At the same time, anyone who pays attention to how the Best Documentary races have gone in recent years will know that the best films are rarely even nominated by Oscar. So, the Academy Awards do more recently pull from a reduced field. Still, there’s tons of movies I was able to pull from. For me, Michael Moore‘s Bowling for Columbine is still the best of the bunch, but there’s no shortage of quality here. Where does the most recent winner in My Octopus Teacher rank? Find out below…

Here are what I consider to be the 25 best winners of the Best Documentary Feature Oscar, to date:

Bowling for Columbine

25. Woodstock
24. Inside Job
23. Undefeated
22. 20 Feet from Stardom
21. I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School
20. Searching for Sugar Man
19. The Last Days
18. In the Shadow of the Stars
17. American Dream
16. Anne Frank Remembered
15. Born into Brothels
14. Free Solo
13. Citizenfour
12. Taxi to the Dark Side
11. Harlan County, USA
10. One Day in September
9. Man on Wire
8. The Fog of War
7. March of the Penguins
6. OJ: Made in America
5. When We Were Kings
4. The Times of Harvey Milk
3. An Inconvenient Truth
2. The Cove
1. Bowling for Columbine

Honorable Mention: American Factory, Amy, The Eleanor Roosevelt Story, Icarus, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, and My Octopus Teacher

My Octopus Teacher

Stay tuned for another category later on this week or early next week!


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Brian H.
Brian H.
2 years ago

This category which is the opposite I think of the last category you did (production design) probably has gotten it wrong more than any other category in opinion. But despite that there are some fantastic winners. My top 8 was very hard to put in an order I could settle on. There are some greats that weren’t even nominated let alone didn’t win. Good list by you…we did agree again on 1 but my number 2 was very close. I think Fog of War is the only documentary that ended up in my top 5 of the year that also won in this category. So I almost put that number one but I couldn’t get away from Bowling for Columbine (possibly just because I re watched that more recently). There were other docs that didn’t win that got in my top 5’s. I had a hard time with OJ’s doc because it’s so great but I was incensed that it was even eligible. Also because it beat a doc that probably would have been first on this list if it had won (I am Not Your Negro). Below is my list.

1. Bowling for Columbine
2. Fog of War, The
3. Searching for Sugar Man
4. Inside Job
5. Taxi to the Dark Side
6. The Times of Harvey Milk
7. Cove, The
8. When We Were Kings
9. American Factory
10. OJ Made in America
11. Icarus
12. Citizenfour
13. Free Solo
14. One Day in September
15. Undefeated
16. Woodstock
17. Amy
18. American Dream
19. 20 Feet from Stardom
20. An Inconvenient Truth
21. Anne Frank Remembered
22. Murder on a Sunday Morning
23. Man on Wire
24. Born into Brothels
25. Last Days, The
H/M: In the Shadow of Stars, Into the Arms of Strangers, The Long Way Home, March of the Penguins and My Octopus Teacher



Written by Joey Magidson

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