After Alex Gibney’s “Taxi to the Dark Side” won the Oscar last year, films critical of U.S. policies at home and abroad again figure prominently on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ shortlist for the documentary feature prize.
Among the 15 selections are Steve James and Peter Gilbert’s death-penalty critique “At the Death House Door”; Ellen Kuras’ “The Betrayal,” about the impact of 1980s U.S. military operations on a Laotian family; “Fuel,” Josh Tickell’s examination of America’s oil dependency; “I.O.U.S.A.,” Patrick Creadon’s primer on the nation’s fiscal crisis; Carl Deal and Tia Lessin’s Hurricane Katrina chronicle “Trouble the Water”; and Errol Morris’ Abu Ghraib thinkpiece “Standard Operating Procedure,” his first docu feature since 2003’s Oscar-winning “The Fog of War.”
Also included are Werner Herzog’s visit to the South Pole, “Encounters at the End of the World”; Gini Reticker’s celebration of female peace activists in Liberia, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”; Daniel Junge’s true-crime account “They Killed Sister Dorothy”; and Roberta Grossman’s “Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh,” about a Hungarian-born Jew who fought to save her people during WWII.
Rounding out the shortlist are a pair of films about different types of Los Angeles urban warfare — Stacy Peralta’s “Made in America” and Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s “The Garden” — and a trio of meditations on the lives of artists: Scott Hicks’ “Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts,” Jeremiah Zagar’s “In a Dream” and James Marsh’s “Man on Wire.”
Absent from the shortlist are Marina Zenovich’s “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” Margaret Brown’s “The Order of Myths,” Kurt Kuenne’s “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father” and Gibney’s latest, “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.”
The documentary branch will review the 15 films and select its final five, to be revealed with the Academy’s other nominees Jan. 22.In other Oscar news, the org has tapped composer Michael Giacchino (nominated last year for “Ratatouille’s” original score) to serve as musical director of the 81st Academy Awards telecast.