The documentary branch has always been a fairly enigmatic group. In any given year you could always count on them to ignore one or two of the year’s more popular, visible documentaries in favor of less high-profile work. This seems like a fairly noble endeavor, considering the whole point of the Academy Awards is to theoretically reward the best work available – however, the voters usually turn right around and frustrate my pleasure with their idiosyncratic choices by choosing the most politically pandering documentary out there (see: “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Inside Job”), dismissing more innovative work for whatever film appears the most topical.
That’s been the trend in recent years, but yesterday the documentary branch decided to just go completely wonky. The 15 titles that make up this year’s documentary shortlist feature just about none of the contenders mentioned on this blog before; in fact, the only lay readers may have heard of before is “Project Nim,” that movie about a chimpanzee that you didn’t go see because there was definitely something about a woman breast-feeding a monkey in the trailer, and that’s just really creepy.
Among the snubs were perceived frontrunners “Senna” (the Indy-car racing one) and “The Interrupters” (the latest film by Steve James, director of the classic “Hoop Dreams”), not to mention Errol Morris’ “Tabloid,” “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey” and Werner Herzog’s “Into the Abyss.”
Interestingly, “Pina,” Wim Wenders’ 3-D ode tribute to dance choreographer Pina Bausch (and Germany’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film), DID make the cut. Take that as you will, but such eccentric work making it to the shortlist is a pretty good sign that it’s headed for a nomination.
If you’re a non-fiction nut, here’s the full shortlist for your perusal and examination:
- Battle for Brooklyn
- Bill Cunningham New York
- Hell and Back Again
- If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
- Jane’s Journey
- The Loving Story
- Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
- Project Nim
- Semper Fi: Always Faithful
- Sing Your Song
- Under Fire: Journalists in Combat
- We Were Here