‘Gift Shop,’ ‘Inside Job’ Make Oscar Doc Shortlist

List of 15 films omits high-profile docs “Catfish,” “Babies” and “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”

Last Updated: November 18, 2010 @ 4:43 PM

“Exit Through the Gift Shop,” “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” “Inside Job,” “Restrepo,” “The Tillman Story” and “Waiting for ‘Superman’” are among the 2010 documentaries that have made the Academy’s shortlist and remain in contention for the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Inside JobThe shortlist, which was announced by the Academy on Thursday, does not include the high-profile documentaries “Babies,” “A Film Unfinished,” “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” and “Catfish,” or the widely-honored “The Oath.”

A record 101 films qualified in the category in what was considered a particularly strong and varied year for non-fiction filmmaking.

The shortlist was compiled after volunteer members of the documentary branch watched and rated about 15 films each; depending on how much of the 150-odd member branch participated (branch governor Rob Epstein said it’s the vast majority) the competing docs were each viewed by between 15 and 20 voters.

The process has been criticized for the small number of voters who view each film; for disqualifying many of its most active and vital branch members, who aren’t allowed to vote if they have films in contention; and for being biased in favor of serious, issue-oriented documentaries. (For a summary, read “Inconvenient Truths About Oscar’s Documentary Process.”)

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” (below), a playful documentary about the art world from the elusive graffiti artist Banksy, was considered a strong possibility to be snubbed by the shortlist voters, but the selections cast a fairly wide net and will not likely lead to any great outcry.

The two missing films most likely to draw attention are Laura Poitras' "The Oath," which filmmaker and journalist AJ Schnack had pegged as one of the frontrunners ("I'm speechless," tweeted Schnack), and "Catfish," a widely-distributed release from Relativity that likely fell prey to controversy over whether it was a genuine doc or a put-on.

Exit Through the Gift ShopA second round of voting will narrow the 15 shortlisted films to five nominees.

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” and “Waste Land” are the only films on the Oscar list to also receive nominations in the top categories at International Documentary Association Awards and the Cinema Eye Honors, two of the other key awards in the doc field.

Films honored by those organizations but ignored by the Academy include “The Oath,” which received nominations from both, as well as “Steam of Life” and “Sweetgrass” (the IDA), and “Armadillo,” “Last Train Home” and “Marwencol” (Cinema Eye).

The last of those films was kept out of the Oscar race because director Jeff Malmberg thought the money required to meet the Academy’s requirements would be better spent on the film’s theatrical release.

Two of the shortlisted directors, Alex Gibney ("Client 9") and Davis Guggenheim ("Waiting for 'Superman'"), have won in this category in the past; a third, Charles Ferguson ("Inside Job"), has been nominated.

From the AMPAS press release, the following films make up the shortlist:

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” Alex Gibney, director (ES Productions LLC)
Enemies of the People,” Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, directors (Old Street Films)
Exit through the Gift Shop,” Banksy, director (Paranoid Pictures)
Gasland,” Josh Fox, director (Gasland Productions, LLC)
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould,” Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont, directors (White Pine Pictures)
Inside Job,” Charles Ferguson, director (Representational Pictures)
The Lottery,” Madeleine Sackler, director (Great Curve Films)
Precious Life,” Shlomi Eldar, director (Origami Productions)
Quest for Honor,” Mary Ann Smothers Bruni, director (Smothers Bruni Productions)
Restrepo,” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, directors (Outpost Films)
This Way of Life,” Thomas Burstyn, director (Cloud South Films)
The Tillman Story,” Amir Bar-Lev, director (Passion Pictures/Axis Films)
Waiting for ‘Superman’”, Davis Guggenheim, director (Electric Kinney Films)
Waste Land,” Lucy Walker, director (Almega Projects)
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, directors (Disturbing the Universe LLC)                          

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