And when Charles Ferguson was nominated for the 2007 film No End in Sight, a favorite, he lost out to a lesser known film Taxi to the Dark Side. This certainly could happen again.
Here's the low down on the 5 documentary features, their premise, why they could win, and what could keep them from winning the Academy Award. The films are ranked by my opinion of their win-ability.
1. Inside Job
Premise: Previous Oscar nominee Ferguson who took on the Bush administrations handling of the Iraqi War. This film's theme is the global financial crisis of 2008. The film has many interviews, and is assisted by the narration of film star Matt Damon.
Why it could win? Early favorite with important precursor award wins (Writers Guild of America and Directors Guild of America), the film deals with a relevant and contemporary topic, the director has been nominated before, and one of the Academy's own is the narrator. It also boast the highest box office gross of any of the nominees (a mere $3.9 million).
Why it might not win? It's not very fun, gimmicky, or feel good story.
Premise: A street artists, Banksy, who's known for his mysterious graffiti/art allows himself to be filmed by a french shop owner for a documentary, but when the documentary is awful and the shop owner develops his own passion for street art Bansky takes the reign on the films and presents and interesting snap-shot into a secret world.
Why it could win? Clearly the most fun film of the bunch, and most likely the most talked about. Not to mention, I think there would be some people eager to see what a Banksy acceptance speech might look like since he doesn't show his face or allow people to hear his voice. If the win doesn't happen, no one will know how that would have turned out.
Why it might not win? There's definitely a reason to question whether this film in itself a one big joke of a trick on audiences, and if that hunch was ever confirmed then it might make this documentary be the type that has an asterisk next to it's name in record books.
Premise: The film follows a platoon for a year in Afghanistan in one of the most dangerous places in the military struggle. The film shows this team in the Korangal Valley as they establish a new outpost (Outpost Restrepo) and the film is told using the words of the soldiers in a powerful and dramatic way. The film is directed by the journalist Sebastian Junger when he was on assignment for Vanity Fair.
Why it could win? Sebastian Junger is a great journalist. This film has a powerful captures scenes of the modern war that are so incredible and unseen that you feel like what is created is not only important but almost uncomprehendable. It carries the feeling of importance with it, as well as a "how did they do it" mystery. It's also a very contemporary topic.
Why it might not win? Heavy material, heavy clips, an honesty that people might not be interested in being exposed to without a message presented with the story.
4. Waste Land
Premise: An artist with Brazilian roots, Vic Muniz, travels to Brazil to work on an large scale art project with a social agenda to help the poor of his homeland. The project involves hiring "pickers" (people who work collecting recyclable materials at the large dump), to help him collect items to use in massive recreations of photos he takes of the pickers themselves. Lucy Walker directs capturing the behind the scenes magic and heart of the project.
Why it could win? Clearly, this film is the most feel good project of them all.
Why it might not win? Besides being a unique film, the uniqueness is really in Muniz's art and the how'd he do that creation of the artwork. The film itself lacks some of the sparks and buzz associated with typical winning films.
Premise: This is a film that deals with the impact and story behind hydraulic fracturing (fracking). This film is the first feature work of Josh Fox, and Josh Fox's narration and personal discovery associated with the natural gas trade in the United States is really what makes this film engaging. The film presents a strong social/environmental message as well as creates some urgency in the spread of the message of the film.
Why it could win? It's an engaging film, it captures the part of documentary films that many people enjoy with it's editorial style of investigative story telling. Josh Fox as a director has an endearing characteristic, that if people see this film that they might embrace. It also won the special jury prize at Sundance film festival.
Why it might not win? The film is the lowest grossing of all the documentaries (thirty thousand dollars), it was one of the surprise Oscar nominations, and has less buzz then other nominees.