I'm not sure Jane would have necessarily won this outright if it had been nominated, but it definitely might have -- I'd guess the fact that so much of the film relied upon found footage (genuinely fascinating found footage, it must be said) probably irked the documentary branch enough to box it out.
Still, voters came up with a pretty solid list of films, I think. Even after seeing all of them, I don't have a strong idea for which way voters might lean.
The one I have a hard time seeing emerging as the winner is Abacus: Small Enough to Jail. It's not as emotionally affecting as some of the other nominees, nor does it feel like the timeliest politically, now that the banking crisis is a decade in the rear view. (Though the movie's exploration of the struggles of immigrant communities could offset that). I found the movie compelling, but slightly muddled in certain areas -- the film seems (rightfully) outraged that this small bank serving New York's Chinatown was the only one prosecuted, but it also seems to pretty easily excuse some of the bank's questionable practices because of this. I'm certainly not opposed to a complicated take on the Abacus bank, but I think the filmmakers could have navigated the gray areas a little more carefully.
Last Men in Aleppo plays a lot like the feature version of last year's doc short winner The White Helmets (with multiple versions of that film's baby rescuing scene playing out throughout the film). I think the film's win potential depends on whether voters respond to the obvious power of the film (both in its horrifying images and the clearly heartbreaking epilogue), or if the sheer number of recent documentaries on Syria might make the film seem less unique (in addition to White Helmets, voters might also have sat through last year's other doc short nominee Watani: My Homeland, as well as this year's qualifying feature City of Ghosts).
Icarus is the kind of documentary whose sheer existence seems insane -- it began as one thing (honestly, a sort of self-absorbed doc about one man's attempt to chronicle his own doping) and through sheer kismet became something far more significant (an on-the-ground expose about the Russian athletic doping scandal). This certainly is a movie that feels hugely timely, given both the context of the Olympics and an avalanche of horrifying news about Russia's attacks on American democracy, and I could definitely imagine some voters using a vote for this film as a protest of sorts against Putin. I'm not sure the two halves of the film quite gel together -- much of the first part feels like filler once you get to the second -- but there's some pretty eye-opening stuff here regardless.
If I had a vote, it would be with Faces Places, which I think is a thoroughly lovely movie -- funny, creative, and very poignant. I actually wasn't prepared for how emotionally affecting the film would be, with its undercurrent of the impending mortality of one artist at the end of her life contrasted with the youthful energy of an artist still quite near the beginning of his. And as always, Varda the personality is a delight. The critics were obviously in its corner, and in the year of Varda's honorary prize, as well as fun stunts like her cardboard cutout appearance at the nominees' luncheon, perhaps there could be enough of a groundswell of enthusiasm to give her a competitive prize as well. But, I also think it could lose for the very reason I didn't think it would get nominated -- "serious" subject matter tends to carry the day in this category, and I think many voters could just find this too esoteric.
Strong Island is just as personal a film as Faces Places is, as one man tells the story of his family, his upbringing, and the tragic murder of his brother that changed his family's life forever. I think much of the film is an emotional knockout, tackling a lot of timely issues, from racial discrimination in housing, to the disposability of black bodies in America, to the filmmakers' own journey as a trans man and how that shaped his relationship with his family. In its story of one family, it manages to encompass a lot more than that, and I could see it hitting a sweet spot of both the personal and the political that could appeal to voters. Still, it's smallish in scope compared to some of the other films, and that "personal essay" quality could work against it compared to some of the more traditional docs on the ballot.
As I said up top, not sure which way I'm leaning for a prediction just yet, but wanted to lay some thoughts down.