Oscars: 15 Documentary Features Make Shortlist

Oscar Documentary Semi Finalists

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced 15 documentary features in contention for Oscar, from a huge category of 147 films that had originally qualified. The list includes “20 Feet From Stardom,” the year’s highest grossing docu; “The Armstrong Lie,” “The Act of Killing” and “Blackfish” (pictured from left); as well as “Stories We Tell” by Sarah Polley, which won the N.Y Critics Circle Award today.

The semi-semi-finalists are, in alphabetical order by title, with their production companies:

“The Act of Killing,” Final Cut for Real
“The Armstrong Lie,” The Kennedy/Marshall Company
“Blackfish,” Our Turn Productions
“The Crash Reel,” KP Rides Again
“Cutie and the Boxer,” Ex Lion Tamer and Cine Mosaic
“Dirty Wars,” Civic Bakery
“First Cousin Once Removed,” Experiments in Time, Light & Motion
“God Loves Uganda,” Full Credit Productions
“Life According to Sam,” Fine Films
“Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer,” Roast Beef Productions
“The Square,” Noujaim Films and Maktube Productions
“Stories We Tell,” National Film Board of Canada
“Tim’s Vermeer,” High Delft Pictures
“20 Feet from Stardom,” Gil Friesen Productions and Tremolo Productions
“Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington,” Tripoli Street

It’s a good list, with a wide range of topics, from “Tim’s Vermeer” (a study of art, technology and creativity) to “God Loves Uganda” (American Evangelicals in Africa).

The Academy’s list includes four of the five films competing at this Friday’s Intl. Documentary Assn. ceremony: “The Act of Killing,” “Blackfish,” “The Square” and “Stories We Tell.” The fifth IDA contender is “Let the Fire Burn,” an acclaimed film that failed to make the cut with Oscar. Also omitted are Indie Spirit Award nominees  “After Tiller” and “Gideon’s Army,” plus Producers Guild nominations “A Place at the Table,” “Far Out isn’t Enough” and “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.”

Other surprising omission include “Letters to Jackie” (Bill Couturie, letters of sympathy after JFK’s shooting); “The Unknown Known” (Donald Rumsfeld, exposed); “Inequality for All” about the economy; “Casting By,” about Hollywood casting directors; and “Muscle Shoals.”

The Acad’s documentary branch determined the shortlist in a preliminary round of voting. Documentary Branch members will now select the five nominees. Nominations will be announced Jan. 16,  in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Oscars will be presented March 2.


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  1. MRS says:

    I have 5 on this list yet to watch. Regardless of my favorites (or the Academy’s), it was an exceptional year for documentaries. Even the ones on this list that I didn’t consider the strongest are quite interesting and well-done–there’s not a single one on the list I would say isn’t worth one’s time. Personally, I was blown away by THE CRASH REEL, which hit all the marks–poignant, layered, well-made, completely engrossing, and has a universal appeal. Any other year, I would say it would take the Oscar. Unfortunately for every other doc on this list (but fortunately for doc lovers), THE ACT OF KILLING will take the award. It is a stunning and ground-breaking work. STORIES WE TELL is my #3, but again, any other year, it could easily be #1. This year just produced an amazing amount of quality docs.

  2. Alan says:

    Pretty surprised that Blood Brother – which won both Sundance documentary awards (jury & audience) over many of these didn’t make the cut… still, no idea who watched/reviewed each…

  3. ajauxerre says:

    I enjoyed “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” but it was hardly special. The Pussy Riot film is the best music-related doc I saw this year, and the Levon Helm doc, “Ain’t In It For My Health,” belongs here, too.

    What got robbed? “How to Make Money Selling Drugs,” “The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear,” “The Girls in the Band,” “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” “These Birds Walk,” “American Promise,” “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia,” “At Berkeley,” “My Stolen Revolution” and “More Than Honey.”

    Of those that made the cut, the best five are “Stories We Tell” (should-be winner), “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer,” “The Act of Killing,” “The Square” and “Cutie and the Boxer.” I’d put “Blackfish” sixth.

  4. polarap says:

    So exciting to see Alan Berliner’s brilliant “First Cousin Once Removed” on the Oscar doc shortlist! My personal favorite among many other wonderful films. -Pola Rapaport

  5. Marcelina V. Souffle says:

    we love 20 Feet from Stardom. it is a very nice film to give credits to the unsung back up singers who are actually the real singers on the show!

  6. ed says:

    Blackfish all the way!!!

  7. J.E.Vizzusi says:

    “BLACKFISH” sweeps!

    Free Tilly!

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