Independent 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.
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:
- 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
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?
- Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)
- The Interrupters (Steve James)
- Senna (Asif Kapadia)
- Tabloid (Errol Morris)
- Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (Constance Marks)
- Page One: A Year Inside the New York (Andrew Rossi)
- The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Göran Hugo Olsson)
- Crazy Horse (Frederick Wiseman)
- I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad and the Beautiful (Jonathan Demme)
- The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock)
- Mama Africa (Mika Kaurismäki)
- Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (Michael Rappaport)
- The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (Marie Losier)
- Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (Matthew Bate)
- 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:
- New York Times: Documentaries and the Oscars: No Cinderellas at the Ball (1993)
- Roger Ebert: Anatomy of a Snub (1995)
- New York Times: Why Bold Documentaries Get Few Oscars (1998)
- The Nation: While the Academy Slept (2001)
- Time: Penguin vs. Bear: 1-0 (2006)
- New York Times: And the Documentary Nominees Aren’t… (2006)
- The Brooklyn Rail: Academy Award Doc Blues (2006)