Variety Awards Circuit section is the home for all awards news and related content throughout the year, featuring the following: the official predictions for the upcoming Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Tony awards ceremonies, curated by Variety senior awards editor Clayton Davis. The prediction pages are Davis’ assessment of the current standings of the race and do not reflect personal preferences for any film or performance. Like any organization or body that votes, each individual category is fluid and subject to change. Predictions are updated every Thursday.

LAST UPDATED: Jan. 12, 2023

2023 Oscars Predictions: Best Documentary Feature

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Sony Pictures Classics

CATEGORY COMMENTARY: Oscar-nominated filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) could make history at this year’s Academy Awards.

With two films in the awards conversation as a producer — the narrative drama “The Whale” and doc feature “The Territory” — if nominated for both best picture and documentary feature, he would be the first person ever nominated for both categories in the same year.

“The Whale” is among the 10 films nominated by the PGA Awards nominees, and things are looking good for the film’s prospects. In terms of “The Territory,” it’s done very well with the precursors including winning Cinema Eye Honors and being nominated by the PGA and Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

National Geographic Films dominated the 2023 Documentary Motion Picture nominees for the upcoming 34th Producers Guild Awards. The studio landed three of the seven spots with “Fire of Love” from Sara Dosa, “Retrograde” from Matthew Heineman and “The Territory” from Alex Pritz.

Movies that seem to have strong support within the branch are HBO’s “All That Breathes,” the likely frontrunner at the moment, along with Sony Pictures Classics’ “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song” that has passion within the branch, both internationally and in the San Francisco Bay area.

Neon’s “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” leads the critics’ prizes, but as we’ve seen in the past, they tend to snub the presumed frontrunner such as “Jane,” “Apollo 11” and even this year with “Good Night Oppy” failing to make the shortlist.

Worth noting that “Moonage Daydream” is the only doc that is shortlisted outside of the doc category, and could factor into the best sound and editing category at BAFTA and the Oscars.

Some of the surprises from the Oscars shortlist included “Children of the Mist” and “Hidden Letters,” clearly have support, while “Bad Axe” and “Navalny” are having a surging moment that could propel one or both of the films into the lineup.

AMPAS nomination voting is open and closes on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 5 p.m. PT.

See the latest film predictions, in all 23 categories, in one place on Variety’s Oscars Collective. To see the ranked predictions for each individual category, visit Variety’s Oscars Hub.

See the 2022-2023 Awards Season calendar for all key dates and timelines.


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NAVALNY, Alexei Navalny, 2022. © Fathom Events / Courtesy Everett Collection Courtesy Everett Collection

And The Predicted Nominees Are:
RankFilmDirector(s) and Producer(s)Distributor
1“All That Breathes”Shaunak Sen (director and producer), Teddy Leifer, Aman Mann (producers)HBO Documentary Films / Sideshow
The darkening backdrop of Delhi’s apocalyptic air and escalating violence, two brothers devote their lives to protect one casualty of the turbulent times: the bird known as the Black Kite.

2“Descendant”Margaret Brown (director, producer), Essie Chambers, Kyle Martin (producers)Netflix
Follows descendants of the survivors from the Clotilda, the last ship that carried enslaved Africans to the United States, as they reclaim their story.
3“Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song”Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine (directors, producers)Sony Pictures Classics
This feature-length documentary explores the life of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen as seen through the prism of his internationally renowned hymn, Hallelujah.

4“Navalny”Daniel Roher (director), Diane Becker, Shane Boris, Melanie Miller, Odessa Rae (producers)CNN/Warner Bros.
Follows the man who survived an assassination attempt by poisoning with a lethal nerve agent in August 2020. During his months-long recovery he makes shocking discoveries about the attempt on his life and decides to return home
5“Bad Axe”David Siev (director, producer), Jude Harris, Diane-Moy Quon, Katarina Vasquez (producers)IFC Films
A real-time portrait of 2020 unfolds as an Asian-American family in Trump’s rural America fights to keep their restaurant and American dream alive in the face of a pandemic, Neo-Nazis, and generational scars from the Killing Fields.
Next in Line
6“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”Laura Poitras (director and producer), Howard Gertler, Nan Goldin, Yoni Golijov, John S. Lyons (producers)Neon
It follows the life of artist Nan Goldin and the downfall of the Sackler family, the pharmaceutical dynasty who was greatly responsible for the opioid epidemic’s unfathomable death toll.
7“Retrograde”Matthew Heineman (director, producer), Caitlin McNally (producer)National Geographic Films
Tells the story of the last months of the 20-year war in Afghanistan through the intimate relationship between American Green Berets and the Afghan officers they trained.

8“Fire of Love”Sara Dosa (director, producer), Shane Boris, Ina Fichman (producers)National Geographic Documentary Films/Neon
Intrepid scientists and lovers Katia and Maurice Krafft died in a volcanic explosion doing the very thing that brought them together: unraveling the mysteries of volcanoes by capturing the most explosive imagery ever recorded.

9“Moonage Daydream”Brett Morgen (director, producer)Neon
A cinematic odyssey exploring David Bowie’s creative and musical journey. From visionary filmmaker Brett Morgen, and sanctioned by the Bowie estate.

10“The Territory”Alex Pritz (director, producer), Darren Aronofsky, Sigrid Dyekjær, Lizzie Gillett, Will N. Miller, Gabriel UchidaNational Geographic
When a network of Brazilian farmers seizes a protected area of the Amazon rainforest, a young Indigenous leader and his mentor must fight back in defense of the land and an uncontacted group living deep within the forest.

Other Top-Tier Contenders
11“Last Flight Home”Ondi Timoner (director), David Turner (producer)MTV Documentary Films
12“A House Made of Splinters”Simon Lereng Wilmont (director), Monica Hellström (producer)Madman Entertainment
13“The Janes”Tia Lessin (director), Emma Pildes (producer and director), Daniel Arcana, Jessica Levin (producers)HBO Documentary Films
14“Hidden Letters”Violet Du Feng (director, producer), Mette Cheng Munthe Kaas, Su Kim, Jean Tsien (producers)Cargo Film & Releasing
15“Children of the Mist”Ha Le Diem (director), Swann Dubus, Phuong Thao Tran (producers)CAT&Docs

2023 Academy Awards Predictions


The 95th Oscars ceremony will be held at the Dolby Theatre and televised live on ABC on Sunday, March 12, 2023.

2022 category winner: “Summer of Soul” (Onyx/Searchlight Pictures)

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