‘The Act of Killing,’ ‘Stories We Tell’ Make Oscar Documentary Shortlist

In a year with a record number of entries, voters go for a solid lineup of mostly high-profile docs

Last Updated: July 10, 2014 @ 7:56 PM

Joshua Oppenheimer’s disturbing examination of mass murders in Indonesia, “The Act of Killing,” Jehane Noujaim’s chronicle of the Egyptian revolution, “The Square” and Sarah Polley‘s look at her family’s tangled history, “Stories We Tell,” are among the 15 films that have made the Oscar shortlist for documentary features, the Academy announced on Tuesday.

In a year with a record 151 entries in the category, voters chose a slate of mostly high-profile films, which also included the anti-Sea World doc “Blackfish,” Lucy Walker’s “The Crash Reel,” the art-world docs “Cutie and the Boxer” and “Tim’s Vermeer” and the year’s top non-performance doc at the box-office, “20 Feet From Stardom.”

Also on the list: “The Armstrong Lie,” “Dirty Wars,” “First Cousin Once Removed,” “God Loves Uganda,” “Life According to Sam,” “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer” and “Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Times of Tim Hetherington.”

Particularly given the abundance of noteworthy non-fiction features from 2013, it is inevitable that the Oscar shortlist would stir up controversy by leaving off some celebrated contenders – which is what will likely happen with the omission of “After Tiller,” “Gideon’s Army,” “Let the Fire Burn” and “Leviathan,” four highly-regarded films that won recognition from other awards bodies.

Also missing were “The Last of the Unjust” and “At Berkeley,” new works from Claude Lanzmann and Frederick Wiseman,  two of the most acclaimed non-fiction filmmakers of the era.

After years in which the shortlist was chosen by small committees, and years in which it was greeted with controversy over the films that were omitted, the Academy changed its rules last year to allow every member of the Documentary Branch to vote for the shortlist, and to receive screeners of all eligible films. The resulting 2012 shortlist was considered one of the strongest and least controversial in years.

This year, though, was an even harsher test of the new system, with branch members having to choose from a record 151 eligible films.

Also read: Here They Are, All 151 Oscar-Qualifying Documentaries (Exclusive)

The system presumably favored higher-profile films that branch members were more likely to have seen, or more apt to pull out of their huge stack of screeners – although to make things fairer, each member was given a random list of 13 films and urged to watch those 13. That process guaranteed that each eligible film was recommended to between 15 and 20 members.

And this year’s shortlist definitely leaned toward better-known docs; several films with HBO backing or studio distribution made the list, which provides a good survey of the years higher-profile docs without representing the smaller, more indie side of the field.

The list:

“The Act of Killing,” Final Cut for Real
“The Armstrong Lie,” The Kennedy/Marshall Company
“Blackfish,” Our Turn Productions
“The Crash Reel,” KP Rides Again
“Cutie and the Boxer,” Ex Lion Tamer and Cine Mosaic
“Dirty Wars,” Civic Bakery
“First Cousin Once Removed,” Experiments in Time, Light & Motion
“God Loves Uganda,” Full Credit Productions
“Life According to Sam,” Fine Films
“Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer,” Roast Beef Productions
“The Square,” Noujaim Films and Maktube Productions
“Stories We Tell,” National Film Board of Canada
“Tim’s Vermeer,” High Delft Pictures
“20 Feet from Stardom,” Gil Friesen Productions and Tremolo Productions
“Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington,” Tripoli Street


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