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Doc race waddles with ‘Penguins’

'March,' 'Murderball' vie for Academy noms

B.O. hit and audience fave “March of the Penguins” is among the 15 documentaries — up from the traditional dozen — that have been shortlisted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for possible nomination in Oscar’s docu feature category.

“After Innocence,” “The Boys of Baraka,” “Darwin’s Nightmare,” “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Favela Rising,” “Mad Hot Ballroom,” “Murderball,” “Occupation: Dreamland,” “On Native Soil: The Documentary of the 9/11 Commission Report,” “Rize,” “Street Fight,” “39 Pounds of Love” and “Unknown White Male” round out the semifinalists.

Announcement caps a lucrative year for nonfiction films, with Warner Independent Pictures’ “Penguins” waddling its way to $76 million domestically, making it the second-highest-grossing doc after last year’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Paramount Classics’ “Ballroom” grossed more than $8 million, while “Murderball,” “Enron” and “Rize” all have passed the $1 million mark.

Absent from the semifinalists’ circle are Werner Herzog’s acclaimed “Grizzly Man” and comedy docu “The Aristocrats,” which have grossed more than $3 million and $7 million, respectively.

Three of the shortlisted selections — “Baraka,” “Murderball” and “Favela” — were released by ThinkFilm, the indie distrib behind last year’s docu Oscar winner “Born Into Brothels.”

Expansion of the shortlist from 12 to 15 was a natural result of the quality of the 82 films eligible for consideration, said Academy governor Arthur Dong.

“We’ve been getting great films,” he said. “We wanted to cast a wider net, and be able to give our voters the wider choices that are out there. Fifteen is a manageable number.”

This is the second year that the Academy has opted to go public with its shortlist. In previous years, the docu branch kept the list secret to prevent distributors from promoting films as if they had already been nominated.

“It used to be that the documentary category wasn’t the most-talked-about category, and in recent years it has been,” Dong said. “The public wants to know, and it doesn’t hurt for the public to know. It creates excitement.”

The final five nominees will be announced with the rest of the Oscar noms on Jan. 31.

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