The 2011 Documentary Oscars: My Shortlist

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Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup. You can also follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup Man Tom Roston proposes an entirely different list of 15 films that could have just as easily been deemed Oscar-worthy.


Oscar statue

Now that the initial hoopla over the announced 2011 Documentary Oscar Shortlist has died down, I’d like to take a more measured approach to the films deemed the best from the past year.

No, wait — What’s the fun in that?!

It seem like every year, the Academy’s documentary selection committee comes up with a head-scratcher of a shortlist, a list of 15 films that is then pared down to five nominees. This year was no exception.

So in honor of yet another weird one, I will propose an entirely different list of 15 films that could have just as easily been deemed Oscar-worthy.

First let’s start with Oscar’s actual list:

  1. Battle for Brooklyn
  2. Bill Cunningham New York
  3. Buck
  4. Hell and Back Again
  5. If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
  6. Jane’s Journey
  7. The Loving Story
  8. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
  9. Pina
  10. Project Nim
  11. Semper Fi: Always Faithful
  12. Sing Your Song
  13. Undefeated
  14. Under Fire: Journalists in Combat
  15. We Were Here

Now, here’s my alternate list of 15 films. The first five of my alternates list could have easily been considered for a final nomination, but I’m not going to be a hater here. Both lists are strong. So why not just call it a strong year for documentaries?

  1. Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)
  2. The Interrupters (Steve James)
  3. Senna (Asif Kapadia)
  4. Tabloid (Errol Morris)
  5. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (Constance Marks)
  6. Page One: A Year Inside the New York (Andrew Rossi)
  7. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Göran Hugo Olsson)
  8. Crazy Horse (Frederick Wiseman)
  9. I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad and the Beautiful (Jonathan Demme)
  10. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock)
  11. Mama Africa (Mika Kaurismäki)
  12. Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (Michael Rappaport)
  13. The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (Marie Losier)
  14. Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (Matthew Bate)
  15. Life in a Day (Kevin MacDonald)

There might be some regulations I’m not aware of that could have dictated a couple of the exclusions, but the committee selections are still confounding. For instance, you just have to figure that the branch is somehow prejudiced against director Steve James, who so famously got snubbed when his incredible Hoop Dreams was omitted.

What I’ve found, however, is that when the nominee selection is opened up to the larger documentary branch, the final five films seem to be the best picks from the wackier shortlist. And then, inevitably, the final winner is the most popular (or most trendy) amongst the nominees. Just look at the past five years of winners: Inside Job (2010), The Cove (2009), Man on Wire (2008), Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), An Inconvenient Truth (2006). As much as we like to hem and haw about the process, there’s a general logic that I can appreciate about it. Not that I won’t be tsk-tsking from the peanut gallery when the list is cut down to five on January 24, 2012.

I can skip the nominations cutoff and predict for you now, that the winner… will begin with a P!

You can watch the Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26, 2012.

Interested in reading more about the controversy surrounding the Best Documentary Feature nominations in recent years? Try these:

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POV Staff
POV Staff
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 300 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.
  • Matt

    hilarious you put our film ‘Little Man’ in there! 

  • Doc Soup Man

    Why not? We could also add Gotham winners Better this World and Scenes of a Crime!

  • gerald berke

    It would be GREAT to have both the list AND a link to the all the films… and a flat fee to watch them all..

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5JUOHZBWYYJFYWSH6Z4MLOR52M ss

    I think Buck deserves to be on the shortlist.

  • Mspat121

    ‘My Life as a Turkey’  was a wonderful surprise. 

    • Ccd1

      Yes!  Loved it!

  • http://www.wholesaleinsurance.net/ Shelby Term

    Glad you put Life in a Day in there! Its one of my favorite films. 

  • E8dory

    What about To Be Heard?

  • Vonnie

    Project Nim rules