'RBG' Leads 2019 Oscar Nominations for Documentaries

In addition to being nominated for Best Documentary Feature, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg film is in contention for Best Original Song.

Magnolia Pictures

How do you snub Mr. Rogers? Maybe the biopic starring Tom Hanks will do better next year, because Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was surprisingly excluded from the Oscar nominations this morning. Just like Jane last year, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was ignored by the Academy in spite of winning numerous honors leading up to this oversight.

At least Minding the Gap earned a nomination, continuing our streak here at Nonfics with our annual poll topper going onto earn Oscar recognition five out of six years running. Not bad for a directorial debut. Sadly, Kartemquin Films didn’t find love in both documentary categories like last year. Their shortlisted short ’63 Boycott failed to earn a nomination in its category.

Speaking of double nominees, though, RBG managed a spot in two categories, Best Documentary Feature and Best Original Song, the latter recognizing Diane Warren‘s song “I’ll Fight,” which is sung by Jennifer Hudson in the film. Too bad subject Ruth Bader Ginsburg wasn’t also a winner in today’s Supreme Court decision regarding Donal Trump’s desired ban on trans persons serving in the military.

In addition to Minding the Gap‘s Bing Liu, the Best Documentary Feature category includes two other first-time directors, Hale County This Morning, This Evening helmer RaMell Ross and RBG co-director Betsy West. And all seven feature documentary directors recognized are nominated for their first Oscar. Only one of the 15 persons nominated in the category, Hale County producer Joslyn Barnes, has been recognized previously. She was nominated just last year, in fact, for producing Strong Island. More than half of those 15 nominees are women, by the way.

The nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject include a few more veterans. A Night at the Garden helmer Marshall Curry received his third nomination, albeit his first in this category (he was nominated previously for features Street Fight and If a Tree Falls), as did End Game co-director Rob Epstein, also for the first time for a short (he won Oscars for the features The Times of Harvey Milk and Common Threads). Lifeboat producer Bryn Mooser earned his second nod, having previously been honored as a producer of the short doc Body Team 12. In this category, two of the nine nominees are women.

In addition to the omission of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, it’s interesting to see that none of the three documentary features that managed eligibility and shortlist placement via qualifying film festivals — Communion, The Distant Barking of Dogs, and The Silence of Others — made it to the final round of contention. But not in favor of theatrical hits. In addition to the top-grossing doc of 2018, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, not being nominated, the fourth-highest-grossing doc of the year, Three Identical Strangers, was also snubbed. Box office successes Free Solo and RBG, however, were nominated.

Meanwhile, Netflix, which won the feature award last year with Icarus, has no horse in the race this year, as the shortlisted Shirkers failed to garner a nod. One of the company’s shortlisted shorts, End Game, kept them in the conversation.

Here is the full list of documentary nominees for the 91st Academy Awards, which will be held on February 24th:

Free Solo (review)
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap (review) – stream on Hulu
Of Fathers and Sons (capsule review) – stream on Kanopy
RBG (review) – stream on Hulu

Black Sheep – stream on YouTube
End Game – stream on Netflix
Lifeboat stream via The New Yorker
A Night at the Garden – stream on YouTube
Period. End of Sentence

“I’ll Fight,” RBG

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.