Almost two decades after the most famous Oscar documentary snub of all time, the Academy is at it again.
Steve James' "The Interrupters," one of the most acclaimed docs of 2011 and a film that most observers put at the top of the list of films most likely to be honored by the Academy this year, did not make the shortlist of 15 feature documentaries still in contention for the Oscar.
In 1995, James's "Hoop Dreams" failed to receive a nomination, leading to a huge outcry and the creation of new rules governing the Oscar doc process.
Also read: Celebrating the Annivesary of an Oscar Snub
The snub of "The Interrupters" (left), in which James followed former gang members devoted to stopping the violence in inner-city Chicago, is not the only surprise on the list of 15 films that were chosen in the first round of voting.
Other films that failed to make the shortlist are Werner Herzog's "Into the Abyss," Errol Morris's "Tabloid," Asif Kapadia's "Senna" and Patrizio Guzman's "Nostalgia for the Light," the only documentary to be nominated for the top honor by both the International Documentary Association and the Cinema Eye Honors.
In fact, only one film that nominated by either the IDA or Cinema Eye, "Project Nim," made the shortlist.
As for what first-round Academy voters did like, the list included a surprising number of lighter docs and portrait films, as opposed to the serious, issue-oriented films that usually dominate the category.
"Bill Cunningham New York," "Buck" and "Pina" all made the shortlist – which came as something of a shock in the case of the last film, a 3D dance documentary that many observers figured would be crippled by the fact that first-round voters watch the films not in theaters but on screeners.
The Harry Belafonte biopic "Sing Your Song" and the death-row doc "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" also made the shortlist; both had high profile debuts on HBO but were quietly qualified for the Oscars with low-profile one-week theatrical runs before their cable debuts.
"Paradise Lost 3," which concludes a trio of films instrumental in getting the West Memphis 3 released from prison, is one of several films that fit the usual mold in the category. Also included on the list are such serious films as the Afghanistan war doc "Hell and Back Again," the environmentally-themed "If a Tree Falls," the AIDS chronicle "We Were Here" and the story of a longtime Marine fighting to uncover contamination on a military base, "Semper Fi: Always Faithful."
"Undefeated," a high school football film that will be released by the Weinstein Company, made the list as well.
The shortlisted films, with directors:
"Battle for Brooklyn," Michael Galinsky
and Suki Hawley
"Bill Cunningham New York," Richard Press
"Buck," Cindy Meehl
"Hell and Back Again," Danfung Dennis
"If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front," Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
"Jane's Journey," Lorenz Knauer
"The Loving Story," Nancy Buirski
"Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory," Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
"Pina," Wim Wenders
"Project Nim," James Marsh
"Semper Fi: Always Faithful," Tony Hardmon and Rachel Libert
"Sing Your Song," Susanne Rostock
"Undefeated," Daniel Lindsay and TJ Martin
"Under Fire: Journalists in Combat," Martyn Burke
"We Were Here," David Weissman and Bill Weber