The Academy Shortlists 15 Documentary Features, Leaves Many Out

We Were Here, one of 15 documentaries on the shortlist.

The Academy’s documentary branch is no stranger to controversy as their confusing rules often disqualify many of critics groups’ favorite films in a year. This year proves no different as the Academy releases their shortlist of 15 documentary features that will eventually be narrowed down to five. Numerous of this year’s favorite documentaries were not included on the shortlist, leaving the race now wide open.

The two most notable omissions were the films that I also had at the number one and two spot on my Oscar predictions for the category. Steve James’ The Interrupters and Asif Kapadia’s Senna were both not included on the list of 15 finalists, despite being two of the best reviewed movies of the year. Another film that was surprisingly ignored was Errol Morris’ Tabloid. Morris won the Oscar seven years ago for his film The Fog of War, but that still remains the only time he has ever been nominated. Werner Herzog had two documentaries this year with Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Into the Abyss, but neither will be getting Oscar nominations. Cave of Forgotten Dreams was ineligible because it received a limited release last year, but it’s a mystery why Into the Abyss was snubbed. This means that three of the greatest documentary filmmakers working today – Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, and Steve James – will not be getting Academy recognition this year.

Films that were included on the list include highly praised movies like We Were Here, which examines the impact of AIDS on San Francisco, Bill Cunningham New York, which provides a detailed portrait on the New York Times’ longtime fashion photographer, and Project Nim, which looks at an experiment by American scientists to raise a chimp like a human. Those seem like the three frontrunners at this point, but the order is always subject to change. Look for detailed prediction updates on Best Documentary and Best Animated Feature coming this week.

15 Documentary Features on the Shortlist

Battle for Brooklyn
Bill Cunningham New York
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Jane’s Journey
The Loving Story
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Project Nim
Semper Fi: Always Faithful
Sing Your Song
Under Fire: Journalists in Combat
We Were Here

Many of these titles can be found available either on DVD or on Watch Instantly platforms.

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  • matt85

    Alex! I know this is a little off topic, but i want to ask you: How do you feel about the undefined number of Best Picture nominees and how will it affect your final predictions before the announcement of nominees? Thank you

    • It’s kind of annoying, but it doesn’t really bother me that much. Plus, I imagine it is one of those rules that won’t be around for a very long time. I just hope that all Oscar pundits rank their Best Picture predictions to make them accurate. Otherwise anybody could just pick 10 films and when 7 are announced, claim they got them all correct.

  • This is particularly frustrating to read – not merely because Tabloid, The Interrupters and Into the Abyss are high-profile docs worthy of being nominated, but because, for me, those three films each have a fighting chance of making my 2011 top ten list. Another frustrating omission is “Being Elmo,” which I saw this weekend and quite enjoyed.

    While looking over the Academy’s voting process, which they outline on their site, the rules are fairly ambiguous. basically, submitted films seem to be viewed “by members of the Documentary Branch, which will use an averaged score system to produce a shortlist of 12 to 15 films. Five nominees will then be chosen by a second round of balloting, using a preferential voting system.”

    That seems to make sense, unless I am missing something big, so part of me thinks that my consistent dismay with the “best doc” category (their omissions last year were equally egregious) has less to do now with the rules than the branch of voters themselves, whose Joan Rivers-taste seems questionable at best.

    That said, “Project Nim” and “We Were Here” are two terrific (eligible) docs, and absolutely worth checking out

    • er, that’s “Joan Rivers-hating taste.” Pardon my typo.

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