So, as you heard here and probably elsewhere, the 15-film short list to be considered for the Oscar nomination for best documentary was announced last week. All I can do here now is throw out a big GULP; boy, was I wrong. In September, I cranked out my prognostications about what would be on the list and most of my guesses were off the mark. Here are the films that I predicted would be among the front-runners:
Man on Wire
Standard Operating Procedure
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired and Man on Wire
Shine a Light
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson
Encounters at the End of the World
American Teen
Bigger, Faster, Stronger
Trouble the Water
Chicago 10
Of those, only Man on Wire, Standard Operating Procedure, Encounters at the End of the World and Trouble the Water made it to the list. I guess that’s what happens when you follow the big lights — I was way too focused on the films that were big at the box office or at the film festivals. OK, lesson learned. The most glaring omissions were the Roman Polanski doc and Religulous; I have to wonder if that’s some revenge voting. HBO engineered that tricky under-the-radar theatrical release earlier in the year so that the film would be nominated and also make a splash for its TV debut. And Religulous is just a big, obnoxious, money-making doc, based on one irritating guy’s ego (Bill Maher). Still, despite its flaws, I’m shocked the Oscar committee chose to snub it and Polanski.
I want to add that somehow, I failed to mention The Betrayal (POV 2009) among my original guesses, but that was an oversight. I hope to do some better prognosticating for the next round, when the list is reduced to five. I will immediately put my other foot in my mouth and say right now that I bet those four — Wire, SOP, Encounters and Trouble, plus Betrayal — are the frontrunners to be the nominees.

Published by

Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen