9 First Impressions of the Oscars' Documentary Short List


The Academy's shortlist for Best Documentary Feature was issued late Wednesday, containing a robust mix of snubs, surprises and headscratchers. That list, along with a lightning round of initial impressions, follows the jump.

1. All right, here, so let's see:

· The Beaches of Agnes

· Burma VJ

· The Cove

· Every Little Step

· Facing Ali

· Food, Inc.

· Garbage Dreams

· Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders

· The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

· Mugabe and the White African

· Sergio

· Soundtrack for a Revolution

· Under Our Skin

· Valentino: The Last Emperor

· Which Way Home

Nothing against the films or filmmakers, many of which are very good, but come on. Ninety percent of prospective Oscar viewers decided to take a bathroom break just reading that list, let alone watching its final five compete March 7.

2. For the Academy to narrow down the year's documentary crop to 15 semifinalists and leave Michael Moore's super-topical, super-angry Capitalism: A Love Story off the list is more than just a snub. It's a referendum on stunts, self-aggrandizement, fact-fudging, decontextualization and superstar activism. It's also a wake-up call to Overture Films, which campaigned successfully for Richard Jenkins's Best Actor nomination last year for The Visitor and clearly took a short-list berth -- if not an actual nomination -- for granted with Moore. Anyway, it's like Mardi Gras for conservatives, who also allude (correctly) that Capitalism's underachieving box-office alone may have done it in for awards season. Either way, it's time for a change, Mike.


3. Wow. After all that innovation, audience outreach and Academy dispensation, We Live in Public (left)still got screwed.

4. Ugh, here we go again. Why is it that when the short list comes out every year, we can't help but focus first on what wasn't nominated? At least take a moment to tip your cap to these 15 and wish them luck going forward.

5. As much as I enjoyed last year's doc winner Man on Wire, its reliance on reenactments mitigated a lot of its nonfiction significance for me. Burma VJ, itself a terrific assemblage of civilian news footage from the front lines of Burma's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy marchers in 2007, is glued together with some of the same types of after-the-fact narrative snippets. It makes for engrossing viewing, but is the Academy's documentary branch really OK with this?

6. OK, back to the snubs: Anvil and Sacha Gervasi spent a year and a half on the road building awards-season goodwill as '09's Cinderella Story/Little Doc That Could/whatever other now-deflated Oscar cliché you want to use. Oh well! At least they got a decent box-office run and some nice merch sales out of it.


7. I used to think The Cove was a hands-down favorite to win next March, but against Food Inc., Valentino, and especially The Beaches of Agnes (the Academy probably feels like it needs to give 80-year-old director Agnes Varda something at some point), now I'm not so sure.

8. Enough, already, with all the complaints that Chris Smith's nightmarish one-man conspiracy-theorist show Collapse got snubbed. It didn't even qualify this year, thanks to the Academy's ridiculous Aug. 31 theatrical deadline. Know your injustices, please.

9. Tyson, we hardly knew ye.


  • NP says:

    I really don't want _The Cove_ to get it.

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