Following a controversy-fraught screening season in which members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' (AMPAS) documentary branch waded through well over 100 DVD copies of eligible films, AMPAS has pared its for-your-consideration shortlist to just 15 titles.
Here's the Academy's shortlist, sorted in alphabetical order by title and listed with the responsible production companies.
- Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Never Sorry LLC
- Bully, The Bully Project LLC
- Chasing Ice, Exposure
- Detropia, Loki Films
- Ethel, Moxie Firecracker Films
- 5 Broken Cameras, Guy DVD Films
- The Gatekeepers, Les Films du Poisson, Dror Moreh Productions, Cinephil
- The House I Live In, Charlotte Street Films, LLC
- How to Survive a Plague, How to Survive a Plague LLC
- The Imposter, Imposter Pictures Ltd.
- The Invisible War, Chain Camera Pictures
- Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Jigsaw Productions in association with Wider Film Projects and Below the Radar Films
- Searching for Sugar Man, Red Box Films
- This Is Not a Film, Wide Management
This year, the Academy changed its eligibility rules for documentaries in an effort to narrow the field. Instead, as many films as ever were eligible for consideration, thanks in large part to a rule that said any documentary that was reviewed in The New York Times or the Los Angeles Times was eligible for an Oscar. Leaving aside questions about the wisdom of a plan that makes newspaper movie reviewers gatekeepers for the Academy, it turns out that those papers covered a lot of documentaries this year.
Even director Michael Moore, who helped change the rules this year, was upset by the outcome, claiming that filmmakers with enough money to spend ensuring a theatrical run for their films could buy their way into the Dolby Theatre, pushing aside other, potentially more worthy films.
For whatever reasons, the results were as confounding as ever, with some of the best-reviewed and most audience-pleasing docs of the year absent from the Academy's list. Missing were such titles as the widely screened Jiro Dreams of Sushi, The Queen of Versailles, and The Central Park Five.
There was one wrinkle in the selections this year that was definitely new — as Melena Ryzik pointed out in the Carpetbagger blog at The New York Times, at least three titles — Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry, Detropia, and The Waiting Room — were partially financed through Kickstarter.
The field will be narrowed to just five titles when the Oscar nominations are announced early on January 10, and the statuette will be given at the Academy Awards ceremony on February 24.
Image from How to Survive a Plague, IFC Films