You could argue, depending on your definition, that films like 'The Social Network' and 'Secretariat'are documentaries. They are at least easily considered nonfiction films. If they were books they'd be in the nonfiction section along with the book equivalents of documentaries. Though they both play a bit loose with facts this isn't enough to call them historical fiction. We lump them in with fiction films by calling them narrative features, but I've never quite understood this choice of terminology. Many docs have narratives, too. Perhaps the best phrasing is something more like "dramatic nonfiction films." Nah, there are more and more documentaries filled with drama lately. How about the reverse, "nonfiction dramas"?
We all have an idea in our heads of what documentaries are. And neither those two "nonfiction dramas" nor any of this season's other "based on a true story" movies, including 'Conviction,' fit the bill. Is the confusion all the Academy's fault? The Oscars are partly the reason so many biopics and uplifting stories of horses and justice are released this time of year. They also have a semi-definition of docs in their eligibility rules stipulating that contenders can only "employ partial reenactment." How much constitutes "partial" is dependent on the Academy's documentary branch, and of course perspective changes (the partial reenactments of the relative doc 'The Thin Blue Line' disqualified it more than 20 years ago), but you can bet they'll never include films as fully acted out as 'The Social Network.'