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Oscars: Documentary shortlist unveiled

Fifteen pics up for consideration include 'Paradise Lost 3,' 'Buck'

If documentary kudos are partly dependent on topicality, then “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” one of the 15 films that will advance in the Oscars voting process, certainly stands out: The third docu about the West Memphis 3 was just weeks away from its Toronto Film Festival premiere when documakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky got word that the film’s subjects were being released from prison after 18 years. After the Toronto screening, the film was recut to include their release, widely attributed to the filmmakers’ perseverance in covering the story.

Box office clicks “Buck” and “Bill Cunningham New York” are also among the 15 documentaries that will advance. The docu branch screened 124 qualifying films for the preliminary round, a far higher number than in most years, and documentary branch members will now select the five nominees from among the 15 titles on the shortlist.

In addition to “Buck,” the top docu released this year with $4 million, “Bill Cunningham New York,” about the venerable New York Times fashion photographer, had a solid theatrical run with $1.5 million. But other films that proved popular with auds, such as racecar driver bio “Senna” and “Beats Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest,” did not make the list.

Another notable omission was “The Interrupters,” from Steve James, the director whose “Hoop Dreams” was snubbed in 1995, sparking a backlash that changed the way the Academy picks docus.

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

Also omitted were Errol Morris’ “Tabloid,” Werner Herzog’s “Into the Abyss” and Chilean docu “Nostalgia for the Light,” chosen by both the Intl. Documentary Assn. and Cinema Eye Honors.

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