Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The highest grossing and most honored political documentaries of 2018

As I promised twice, today I examine political documentaries, both good and bad.  Here are the most lucrative political documentaries of 2018 from the top 200 at Box Office Mojo.
99    Won't You Be My Neighbor?    $22,835,787
117    RBG    $14,017,361
119    They Shall Not Grow Old    $13,562,516
145    Fahrenheit 11/9    $6,352,306
151    Death of a Nation    $5,885,881
The only one nominated for an Academy Award is "RBG," which has two, Best Documentary Feature and Best Original Song, which   On the other hand, both "Fahrenheit 11/9" and "Death of a Nation" have four Razzie nominations each, making this field a combination of the best and worst among political documentaries, although that's not strictly true for "Fahrenheit 11/9."  It has nominations at the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, Cinema Audio Society, and Writers Guild of America in addition to its Razzie nominations for worst actor and supporting actress.  On the other hand, "Death of a Nation" has only its four Razzie nominations.

Including the other two movies in the top 200 grossing films of 2018 cements the impression of the field being a combination of the best and worst in political documentaries.  "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" was not only the top grossing documentary of 2018, it was the most honored, earning 39 wins and 34 nominations, including Best Documentary Feature or its equivalent from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Awards Circuit Community Awards, Chlotrudis Awards, Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, Golden Trailer Awards, and PGA Awards, along with numerous local critics associations and film festivals.  While it's not explicitly political, Mr. Rogers' example of kindness and civility makes for a striking contrast to the current state of political discourse.  On the other hand, "They Shall Not Grow Old" is about the British military in World War I, so it is explicitly about a function of government.  It has four nominations, including one from BAFTA for Best Documentary ("Free Solo" won) and another from the Motion Picture Sound Editors (Golden Reel Awards).

Outside of the top 200, “Of Fathers and Sons” is the other political documentary feature nominated for an Oscar.  Joining it and "RBG" as political documentaries at the Oscars are four of the five nominated short subjects, "A Night at the Garden" about an infamous Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden, "Black Sheep" about racism in England, "Lifeboat" about rescuing refugees from Lybia, and "Period, End of Sentence" about ending the stigma of menstruation in India.  If the members of the Motion Picture Academy wanted to send a domestic political message, they could vote for "A Night at the Garden," but "Black Sheep," "Lifeboat," or "Period, End of Sentence" winning would make statements about racism, xenophobia, and sexism, respectively, so they might work nearly as well and one or all might be better movies to boot.

Since I mean this entry to be a way of compiling a list of eligible documentaries for the Coffee Party of Entertainment Awards for movies, I'm going to add the political and government movie nominees from the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, Cinema Eye Honors Awards, and International Documentary Association not already mentioned.*  From the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, the nominated films are "Crime + Punishment," "Dark Money," "Hitler's Hollywood," "John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Science Fair," and "The Sentence," all of which I discussed last October.  The Cinema Eye Honors Awards add "On Her Shoulders" about Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, "The Final Year" about the last year of the Obama Administration, and "This Is Home: A Refugee Story" about Syrian refugees in the U.S.  Finally, the International Documentary Association contributes "Sky and Ground" about Kurdish refugees, "Jane Fonda in Five Acts" including the actress's activism, and "Mercury 13" about the women who were also initially selected to fly in space.

I think that's a complete enough roster of documentaries for this year's awards, but I could be surprised.  Last year's winner was "Saving Capitalism," which would not have made a comparable list as it didn't earn a nomination at a major awards show until it was nominated at the 2018 News and Documentary Emmy Awards.  I'll see what the voters nominate.

That's it for documentaries.  Stay tuned for the political speculative fiction films of 2018 after Valentines Day.

*Including TV movies, but not series.  I'll save those for an entry about the eligible works for the television awards later this year.


  1. I wonder why, women, and girls, were first punished for having a period? the custom, seems irrational. In my own life, there were times I thanked all the gods and angels, when I got mine.

    1. I'm sure it's the reaction and motivation of men, not women, that led to that. However, I don't know the timing, although menstrual taboos go at least as far back as Leviticus, the third book of the Bible. I went to grad school with someone who would know, Beverly Strassmann, an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan. She's an expert on menstruation, including menstrual taboos.