Academy Awards for Best Documentary

Reviewing the 2014 Oscar Shortlist for Best Documentary Award

the-act-of-killing-pov-500-280Doc Soup Man Tom Roston thinks that The Act of Killing will make it into the top five nominations for Best Documentary at the 2014 Academy Awards.

Last week, the shortlist of 15 films eligible for the best documentary Academy Award was announced, and, perhaps for the first time in the history of the Oscars, there wasn’t a chorus of hem’s and ha’s and WTF’s!

“For the second straight year we have an incredibly strong short list of 15 compelling, well-received documentaries, ” Michael Moore told me, clearly in a triumphant mood, having spearheaded the revamping of the selection rules two years ago.

“It’s clear to me, and lot of people in the Academy, that going to a full-democracy system where everyone votes has been the key to the vast improvements we’ve seen, ” he said.

I agree. The shortlist used to be selected by committees of members of the documentary branch, and now the selection is made by the entire documentary branch. The emphasis used to be on greater curation and secretive selection that had allowed a few voters to tip the scales in favor of particular pet films and filmmakers. Now, there is both greater fairness and transparency.

Here’s the list:

The Act of Killing
The Armstrong Lie
The Crash Reel
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
First Cousin Once Removed
God Loves Uganda
Life According to Sam
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer
The Square
Stories We Tell
Tim’s Vermeer
20 Feet From Stardom?
Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington

What a stellar list! There only a few other films that could have been considered among the best fifteen of the year, and they include The Unknown Known, At Berkeley, Leviathan, Let the Fire Burn, After Tiller, American Promise and Valentine Road.

But I don’t think the exclusion of any of those films counts as an absolute travesty. (The only film I truly wish were on the shortlist, and that isn’t, is Is the Man who Is Tall Happy? but I recognize I am in the minority on this one.) And, in fact, some of the “snubbed” films provide strong arguments against the biggest worry about the new system: that the democratization would lead to just the most popular and powerfully-backed films making the list.

Frederick Wiseman’s At Berkeley and Errol Morris’s The Unknown Known didn’t make it, despite their top-notch pedigree. And Salinger, backed by Harvey “Oscar Iron Fists” Weinstein, didn’t either.

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