Oscars 2015: Best Documentary Feature Shortlist

And now we have our Documentary shortlist. This is why I love December. All of this stuff starts getting announced within the same ten day span.

I previewed the entire list of what could be nominated a few weeks ago. there were 124 eligible documentaries. I pulled out 15 initially that sounded like they could make sense, and then pulled a list of 15 to see how close I could get to the actual list.

Well, here are the 15 shortlisted films. Spoiler alert: I had 9 of them.

That’s 9 on my actual pretend shortlist. 10 if we’re counting the initial 30 I pulled out. Not bad either way. Actually more impressive on the 9.

By the way, not gonna list the “snubs” because at this point, they’re done. Not gonna do us any good to look in the past, especially with such a wide range of potential nominees. That does nobody any good. Now, nominations snubs? Sure. We can talk about those. That’s different. That’s 5 out of 15, and there are clear favorites. But the ones that seemed like they would get on the shortlist and didn’t, not worth my time.

That said, here is your shortlist:

  • Amy
  • Best of Enemies
  • Cartel Land
  • Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
  • He Named Me Malala
  • Heart of a Dog
  • The Hunting Ground
  • Listen to Me Marlon
  • The Look of Silence
  • Meru
  • 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets
  • We Come as Friends
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Where to Invade Next
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

I missed Best of Enemies, Heart of a Dog, Listen to Me Marlon, Meru, 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets and The Hunting Ground. The Hunting Ground I had on my initial pull list of 30 though.

Here’s what they are, so we can go over them again quickly:

Amy — The Amy Winehouse doc by the guy who did Senna. It’s winning or being nominated for all sorts of doc prizes from what I’m seeing.

Best of Enemies — A documentary on the series of televised debates in 1968 between the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr.

Cartel Land — A look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy: the murderous Mexican drug cartels.

Going Clear — The Scientology doc that premiered on HBO back in March.

He Named Me Malala — A look at the events leading up to the Taliban’s attack on Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, for speaking out on girls’ education followed by the aftermath, including her speech to the United Nations.

Heart of a Dog — Renowned mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary artist Laurie Anderson reflects on the deaths of her husband Lou Reed, her mother, her beloved dog, and such diverse subjects as family memories, surveillance, and Buddhist teachings.

The Hunting Ground — An exposé of rape crimes on U.S. college campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll they take on students and their families.

Listen to Me Marlon — A documentary that utilizes hundreds of hours of audio that Marlon Brando recorded over the course of his life to tell the screen legend’s story.

The Look of Silence — A family that survives the genocide in Indonesia confronts the men who killed one of their brothers.

Meru — Three elite climbers struggle to find their way through obsession and loss as they attempt to climb Mount Meru, one of the most coveted prizes in the high stakes game of Himalayan big wall climbing.

3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets —  Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving November 2012, four boys in a red SUV pull into a gas station after spending time at the mall buying sneakers and talking to girls. With music blaring, one boy exits the car and enters the store, a quick stop for a soda and a pack of gum. A man and a woman pull up next to the boys in the station, making a stop for a bottle of wine. The woman enters the store and an argument breaks out when the driver of the second car asks the boys to turn the music down. 3 1/2 minutes and ten bullets later, one of the boys is dead. 3 1/2 Minutes dissects the aftermath of this fatal encounter.

We Come As Friends — As war-ravaged South Sudan claims independence from North Sudan and its brutal President, Omar al-Bashir, a tiny, homemade prop plane wings in from France. It is piloted by eagle-eyed documentarian Hubert Sauper, who is mining for stories in a land trapped in the past but careening toward an apocalyptic future.

What Happened Miss Simone? — A documentary about the life and legend Nina Simone, an American singer, pianist, and civil rights activist labeled the “High Priestess of Soul.”

Where to Invade Next — To learn what the USA can gain from other nations, Michael Moore playfully “invades” them to see what they have to offer.

Winter on Fire — A documentary on the unrest in Ukraine during 2013 and 2014, as student demonstrations supporting European integration grew into a violent revolution calling for the resignation of President Viktor F. Yanukovich.

– – – – – – – – – –

This is an interesting shortlist. The first thing that strikes me is that it has two music nominees. There won’t be two getting on. It’ll either be Amy or What Happened Miss Simone? Seeing as how Amy has won more precursor awards and is directed by the guy who did Senna, I’m gonna have to throw Miss Simone off my potential guess list.

Other ones that strike me as not having anywhere near enough to get to the nominations stage:

Listen to Me Marlon. I was surprised they shortlisted it. If it does manage to make the cut (I’ve been known to be wrong), it’ll be your clear #5 nominee with no shot at winning.

Going Clear — gonna be honest, this hasn’t felt like a serious nominee to me all along. It felt like it would go this far (the director won the category before), but it never felt as hard-hitting or “serious,” if that makes sense (it’s the way a lot of people view Beasts of No Nation as a ‘Netflix’ movie. This feels like an “HBO documentary”) as they tend to like. I could be wrong (I’ll stop saying that. I think it’s implied that I could be wrong about everything I say), but this feels like a red herring and has for a while.

Heart of a Dog — this just doesn’t feel like anything they nominate. There are three types of movies they nominate: “important” ones, like CitizenFour. Timely issues that reflect the thing that sucks in the world this year in Hollywood. Then there’s the ones like Finding Vivian Maier, where you discover this artist you didn’t know about. 20 Feet from Stardom, Searching for Sugar Man. The third type is “beautiful/movie.” Werner Herzog had that nature documentary that was gorgeous. Pina was a 3D Wim Wenders ballet movie that was apparently gorgeous. Man on Wire was beautiful in a different way. It’s rare for a movie to not be in that category. Maybe this one fits inside the latter category. Maybe it’s just a really beautiful film. As a logline, it’s a love letter to a woman’s dog. Sure, she’s Lou Reed’s daughter, and there’s that, but this really doesn’t feel like the kind of movie they go for. So I’m gonna leave it out and let it get on.

Meru — doesn’t feel like it cuts through the competition to make it any further. My feeling is, “If it doesn’t sound right, don’t overthink it.” I’ve no slightly amended that rule to include, “Wait, hold on… who made it?” Because last year, The Salt of the Earth was a Wim Wenders documentary. And I threw it out because it didn’t feel like a nominee. But they like to put certain people on. That has to be taken into account. This one doesn’t have directors I recognize, so I assume no go.

So that’s five I’m taking right off the top. I see 7 for sure that seem like they have good chances to get on. And 3 that I’m not entirely sure about. So we’ll start with those.

Best of Enemies is supposed to be a lot of fun and a nice throwback to the beginning of political pundits and all that stuff. Could get on by being entertaining, but it also seems like too slight a subject for them. There’s a certain kind of entertainment value documentary they got for, and this doesn’t feel like it. It’s easier for me to say no to this and to let it get on rather than to hold it on through some slight notion that it could get on. I gotta get to five somehow, so I’d rather feel confident in my five. So while I do think this could get on, right now, I’m siding toward no. Also of note: one of the directors made 20 Feet from Stardom.

We Come as Friends. Director was nominated once in ’04. It’s about the Sudan. They like that. The documentary is about this guy going around and meeting the locals. I’m not quite sure I’d pick this as a nominee. I could see it, but it’s easier for me to wrap my head around this not being nominated.

Winter on Fire — Netflix. They have a showing lately. Can’t tell if the Ukraine is a hot button issue for them. This feels a bit like The Square. Maybe it’s too similar for them to go for that again. We’ll see. I’m gonna lean toward no. But one of the “maybe” nos.

So those are the three I think maybe could get on. The other five I say are nos. Which leaves 7 possibilities:

Amy — absolutely has a chance. It’s winning all over, and feels like it’s in a lesser “Life Itself” spot this year, where it has to be considered on until it’s not.

Cartel Land — big issue, people seem to love it. I feel like we assume this is on until it’s not (though I’d be very okay with it not).

He Named Me Malala — not a great movie, and critics didn’t love it, but issue wise, this could get on based on that alone. I’d keep it on there until it’s not. I’d feel stupid not having this.

The Hunting Ground — college rape. Big issue. Big enough for the Academy? Hard to say. But enough for me to consider it in my top seven. Meaning if I don’t guess it for the category, it will either be my alternate or dark horse.

The Look of Silence — The Act of Killing was incredible. This is supposed to be great too. Do they nominate both of them? I don’t know. Do “sequel” documentaries make it on? I’m torn here. They went for it before, why wouldn’t I have it on? On the other hand, I’m feeling like this won’t actually get nominated. Tough call.

3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets — it’s about a very timely issue. Not exactly the issue we’re talking about (police killing unarmed teenagers and institutional racism), but it’s about a white man killing four black kids. It’s about how black people are automatically considered “dangerous” by police and other races. That could be enough to get this on. Don’t rule this out because the title isn’t great. This could easily get on.

Where to Invade Next — Michael Moore. He has to be considered on here. His last movie wasn’t nominated, but he got on for Sicko, and this seems to be a return to his playful style. So he definitely should be strongly considered.

So with all that said… if I had to pick a category right now, I’d say:


Cartel Land

He Named Me Malala

The Hunting Ground

Where to Invade Next

And with the rest of the potential nominees, here’s how I’d rank them in terms of odds for a nomination:

6. 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets

7. The Look of Silence


8. Best of Enemies

9. Winter on Fire

10. We Come as Friends

11. Going Clear

12. Meru

13. Heart of a Dog

14. What Happened Miss Simone?

15. Listen to Me Marlon

I have another month-plus to think about this (or not, and just wing it the night before nominations), so don’t hold me to any of this.


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