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'RBG' Leads Front-Runners in DGA, Oscars Documentaries in a Year of Blockbusters

RBG, the critically acclaimed documentary biopic delivering the backstory to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, seems to be the front-runner for documentary nominations — at least for the Academy Awards shortlist and the Director’s Guild Awards.

Others battling in the same category are Free Solo and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, according to an Awards Circuit analysis.

The “unexpected pop culture icon,” as IMDB calls Justice Ginsberg, continues to intrigue the masses as Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s Magnolia Pictures biopic depicts Ginsberg’s outstanding career and life while serving on the highest court in the land.

West and Cohen are among a bunch of first-time DGA nominees in the field, as Deadline reported, although the directors of National Geographic Documentary Films’ Free Solo have previous nominations under their belts. Other 2019 director nominees, as Deadline reported, include:

Morgan Neville for Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the Focus Features documentary about the beloved Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers TV children’s programming fame; Ramell Ross for Hale County This Morning, This Evening, an Idiom Film and Louverture Films regaling community in the historic south; Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin for Free Solo, a story about how climber Alex Honnold becomes the first person to ever ascend Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Capitan with no ropes or safety gear; and Tim Wardle of Three Identical Strangers, a story about identical triplets separated at birth for Neon and CNN Films.

Vasarhelyi and Chin were nominated in 2015 for the documentary, Meru.

Ross and his so-called “experimental film,” Hale Country This Morning, This Evening, appears to be gaining momentum following a “surprise” win at the Gotham Independent Film Awards in November, reported the Awards Circuit. The publication also wrote that one documentary, Minding the Gap, by director Bing Liu, was overlooked. However, Minding the Gap made the Academy Awards shortlist.

RBG leads the prestigious Academy Awards shortlist of documentaries, which means the academy narrowed down 166 submissions to only 15 coveted slots, according to critic Gregg Kilday of The Hollywood Reporter.

Kilday wrote there could be somewhat of an uproar among Oscar-nominated attendees on February 24, when the 91st Academy Awards ceremony airs from the Dolby Theater, if the best documentary feature award doesn’t secure a spot in the primetime telecast.

The 2018 documentaries considered have been “genuine crowd-pleasers — with several, especially the biopics, setting box office records,” wrote Kilday. Normally, the Academy hands out Oscars in about six categories during commercial breaks, so it remains to be seen how the best documentary award will play out.

Among the other documentaries on the Oscars shortlist — that also made the DGA nomination list — are Free Solo, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Three Identical Strangers and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Reaching the shortlist is an honor in itself. Other honorees include Charm City, Communion, Crime + Punishment, Dark Money, The Distant Barking of Dogs, Of Fathers and Sons, On her Shoulders, Minding the Gap, Shirkers and The Silence of Others, as listed on the Oscars website.

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