NEW YORK — With Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” out of this year’s Oscar documentary derby, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ docu exec committee has winnowed contenders in the category down to 12 semifinalists led by such high-profile pics as Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me,” Stacy Peralta’s “Riding Giants,” Mark Wexler’s “Tell Them Who You Are” and Kevin MacDonald’s “Touching the Void.”
Other titles insiders said Tuesday were on the docu short list were Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman’s “Born Into Brothels” and Jessica Yu’s “In the Realms of the Unreal.”
AMPAS is expected to release its full list of semifinalists today. The 12 films will next be screened by Academy members and whittled to five final nominees.
Moore, who won an Oscar for his previous effort “Bowling for Columbine,” pulled “Fahrenheit” out of the docu Oscar race in September to compete as a best picture nominee, contending the move was aimed at opening up the docu race. Some saw the strategy as somewhat disingenuous, but either way, taking “Fahrenheit” out of the mix seems to have worked in juicing a host of hotly tipped front-runners.
Spurlock’s “Super Size,” which follows the helmer’s gastronomic adventures eating at McDonald’s for a month straight, was a Sundance pickup for Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films. The feature took in more than $11.6 million and leads the pack in B.O. take.
“Super Size” isn’t the only film with Sundance roots reaching the Oscar semifinals this year: Peralta’s “Giants,” the surf docu, historically opened the Park City fest last year and was subsequently bought by Sony Pictures Classics, which also rolled out Peralta’s “Dogtown and Z-Boys.”
Like “Super Size,” “Brothels” was another Sundance award winner. The film, which follows impoverished children of prostitutes in Calcutta, was ultimately picked up in a partnership between HBO and ThinkFilm.
Should IFC Films’ “Void,” the docu based on the book by Joe Simpson about his mountaineering adventures in the Peruvian Andes, become an Oscar nominee, it seems destined to rankle the competition. In the heat of the coming Oscar competish, some already contend that the film is not a docu at all, but a docudrama, as much of the film consists of re-enactments of Simpson’s book. Yet it seems to have made the climb to semifinalist.
‘Tell’ buzz building
Meantime, buzz is building for Wexler’s “Tell Them,” about the helmer’s auteur father Haskell Wexler. Last year, another son’s filmic view of his famous father, Nathaniel Kahn’s “My Architect,” was a fave among voters and nabbed a nom. ThinkFilm bought “Tell Them” at the Toronto Film Fest.
Indie banner Wellspring completed a well-timed pickup of Yu’s “Realms,” announcing the deal Tuesday. The film follows the life of Henry Darger, a Chicago janitor who penned the 15,000-page children’s fantasy novel of the docu title.
A handful of docus that would have seemed like shoo-ins to make the 12-film cut this year were disqualified due to having aired on television, either domestically or abroad. Knocked out of contention under such rulings were Jehane Noujaim’s “Control Room,” Ondi Timoner’s “Dig!” and Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar’s “The Corporation.”
‘Z,’ ‘Monster’ miss cut
Other hopefuls that qualified, but were turned down as of Tuesday were IFC’s “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” and “Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession,” Magnolia Pictures’ “Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst” and Daniel Anker’s “Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust.”
A full list of semifinalists is expected to be announced today.