Amy Winehouse, Marlon Brando, Scientology, campus rape, Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Mexican drug cartels and American vigilante groups, and the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s are among the topics explored in the 15 films that have made the shortlist in the Oscar race for Best Documentary Feature.
Those topics are represented by the shortlisted films “Amy,” “Listen to Me Marlon,” “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” “The Hunting Ground,” “Best of Enemies,” “Cartel Land” and “The Look of Silence,” all of which advanced to the next round of Oscar voting.
Other films that made the cut include “He Named Me Malala,” “Heart of a Dog,” “Meru,” “3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets,” “We Come as Friends,” “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” and Michael Moore‘s “Where To Invade Next.”
The shortlisted films:
“Amy,” On the Corner Films and Universal Music
“Best of Enemies,” Sandbar
“Cartel Land,” Our Time Projects and The Documentary Group
“Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” Jigsaw Productions
“He Named Me Malala,” Parkes-MacDonald and Little Room
“Heart of a Dog,” Canal Street Communications
“The Hunting Ground,” Chain Camera Pictures
“Listen to Me Marlon,” Passion Pictures
“The Look of Silence,” Final Cut for Real
“Meru,” Little Monster Films
“3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets,” The Filmmaker Fund, Motto Pictures, Lakehouse Films, Actual Films, JustFilms, MacArthur Foundation and Bertha BRITDOC
“We Come as Friends,” Adelante Films
“What Happened, Miss Simone?,” RadicalMedia and Moxie Firecracker
“Where to Invade Next,” Dog Eat Dog Productions
“Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” Pray for Ukraine Productions
As has been the case since a rule change four years ago, the shortlist consists largely of high-profile non-fiction films, and doesn’t contain the kind of glaring oversights that have caused controversy in the past.
Among the high-profile films left off the list are “Armor of Light,” “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” “Meet the Patels,” “Racing Extinction,” “The Russian Woodpecker,” “(T)error” and “The Wolfpack.”
In a year long on music-themed docs, Winehouse and Nina Simone films made the cut, but “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” “Janis: Little Girl Blue,” “Song of Lahore” and others did not.
Musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson did land on the shortlist with the idiosyncratic “Heart of a Dog,” a meditation on her dog — and much, much more.
The shortlist contains several films from past Oscar winners: Moore won for “Bowling for Columbine,” “Best of Enemies” director Morgan Neville won for “20 Feet From Stardom,” “Going Clear” director Alex Gibney won for “Taxi to the Dark Side” and “He Named Me Malala” director Davis Guggenheim won for “An Inconvenient Truth.” Past nominees include Hubert Sauper (“We Come as Friends”), Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (“The Hunting Ground”), Joshua Oppenheimer (“The Look of Silence”).
This is a year lacking the kind of frontrunner that emerged in recent years with “Citizenfour,” “Searching for Sugar Man” and “20 Feet From Stardom.”
“The Look of Silence,” a companion piece to Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated “The Act of Killing,” is the only non-fiction film to be nominated by the Gotham Awards (where it won), the Spirit Awards, the IDA Documentary Awards and the Cinema Eye Honors.
“Amy,” “Cartel Land,” “Listen to Me Marlon” and “Heart of a Dog” were nominated for at least two of those awards.
The rules for how the shortlist is created were changed four years ago, with the process shifting from small committees to a vote from the overall branch, whose members received screeners of all 124 eligible films.
Each member is allocated a certain number of must-view films, which are randomly assigned so that every competing film is viewed by voters. But they are also free to watch and vote for any other film, which helps higher-profile docs that members would have already seen or would be inclined to watch.
An additional change from an averaged-score system to simply counting the number of votes each film receives means that a movie’s chances increase as does its number of viewers.
Since the rule change, the shortlists have for the most part contained fewer baffling omissions and prompted fewer outcries than in previous years, although some voters have complained about the workload required to see a good percentage of the eligible films.