Oscars Best Documentary spoiler brewing? ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ faces down ‘Fire of Love,’ ‘Navalny’

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” seemed like a lock to win Best Documentary. The political exposé on artist Nan Goldin and the fall of a pharmaceutical empire was cleaning up among critics’ groups throughout awards season – including New York, Los Angeles, and Florida – as well as being named one of the top-five docs of the year by the National Board of Review. 

But as we head toward the Oscars ceremony on March 12, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” feels more vulnerable than ever despite a comfortable lead in the Gold Derby combined odds. After missing a nomination at the Producers Guild Awards, director Laura Poitras lost to “Fire of Love” filmmaker Sara Dosa at the Directors Guild Awards. Then on Sunday at the BAFTA Awards, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” lost Best Documentary to “Navalny.”

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Let’s start with the PGA Awards, which take place this weekend. The PGA Award for Best Documentary has been around since 2007, and at first glance, its correlation with the equivalent Oscar category seems suspect. Since the PGA category’s inception, just seven documentaries have won both prizes. As far as nominations are concerned, five of the Oscar-winning documentaries failed to land a PGA nomination: “Taxi to the Dark Side,” “Undefeated,” “20 Feet From Stardom,” “Citizenfour,” and “Icarus.” That’s good news for “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” since five in 15 is hardly an anomaly. However, looking closer at these five discrepancies, you’ll find a pattern: in those five years, there was virtually no overlap between the PGA and the Oscar nominees. “Taxi” won the year that Roger Moore’s “Sicko” was the only film nominated for both. In the years of “Undefeated” and “Stardom,” there were zero overlaps. The documentary “Virunga” was the only film on both lists of nominees the year “Citizenfour” won the Oscar, while none of the seven PGA nominees were Oscar-nominated in the year “Icarus” took home the Academy Award. To put it simply, in any year that has had multiple overlapping nominees, one of those nominees wound up winning the Oscar. 

What also bodes poorly for “All the Beauty” is that the last two years have seen overlapping winners between the PGA and Oscar documentary categories, those two docs being “My Octopus Teacher” and “Summer of Soul.” The three films nominated for both awards this year are “Fire of Love,” “Navalny,” and “All That Breathes.” Unless we see a 15-year trend break, history suggests that one of these three films will spoil the party. 

“Fire of Love” currently seems like the most likely of the films (if any) to overtake “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.” It follows the love story of two scientists who dedicated their lives to investigating volcanoes, dying together in an eruption. It has a feel-good factor that could see it being a favorite among Oscar voters and could break through much in the way “My Octopus Teacher” beat out critical darling “Crip Camp” two years ago. Also going in “Fire of Love”’s favor is the fact that it too has won its fair share of critics’ prizes, in Chicago, Arizona, and Boston, among others – and has industry support as evidenced by the Dosa win at the DGA Awards. It helps, too, that it’s available on Disney+, making it widely accessible to the public. “Fire of Love” is second in our combined odds.

Another potential spoiler in the documentary category is “Navalny,” which follows the story of Alexei Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition who was allegedly poisoned by Vladimir Putin’s government. Though it didn’t do as well in critics’ circles as “All the Beauty” and “Fire of Love,” it crucially won the U.S Documentary Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, which “Summer of Soul” won last year. Its recent win at the BAFTAs makes it the one to be eyeing if any film does overtake the frontrunner. It would join the likes of “Icarus” and “American Factory” as documentaries critiquing socio-political issues in foreign countries to win Oscars. “Navalny” is widely available on HBO Max, and is third in our combined odds.

The third of the films nominated for both the PGA and the Oscar documentary categories is “All That Breathes,” a Hindi co-production about siblings Mohammad and Nadeem who rescue and treat injured birds. Also available on HBO Max, it won the top documentary prize at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Feature at the International Documentary Awards. Though the former has no Oscar overlap, the latter has been won by the likes of “O.J: Made in America”, “Citizenfour” and “Searching for Sugar Man.” “All That Breathes” has a difficult hill to climb, as it currently sits fourth in our combined odds.

PREDICT the 2023 Oscar winners through March 12

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