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The Documentary Oscar Shortlist Has Landed

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 3, 2013 at 2:00PM

Well, after we had the temerity to predict the Oscar shortlist of 15 documentaries, we didn't do half bad.
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"The Square"
"The Square"

Well, after we had the temerity to predict the Oscar shortlist, we didn't do half bad. Of the 15 documentary features selected by the beleagered Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences documentary branch--out of 147 qualifying films that they were supposed to watch on screeners--our top five all made the list. 

'The Act of Killing'
'The Act of Killing'

We listed Academy shortlisted docs "God Loves Uganda" and "Life According to Sam" as long shots, and failed to predict that "First Cousin Once Removed," "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," or Sebastian Junger's HBO eulogy for his fallen comrade, "Which Way is the Front Line from Here: The Life and Death of Tim Hetherington," would make the shortlist. 

Among the films we predicted that didn't make the cut are Sundance abortion doc "After Tiller," show business behind-the-scenes doc "Casting By," Errol Morris's high-profile interview with Donald Rumsfeld, "The Unknown Known," and AIDS story "Blood Brother." (We listed "Inequality for All," starring Liberal economist Robert Reich, as a long shot.)

Despite Academy member Michael Moore's recent drive to favor "feature" films over "television" docs--a distinction that I find hard to fathom in this multi-platform digital age--several of 13 submitted HBO films are on the list, including the Tim Hetherington doc and Lucy Walker's "The Crash Reel." And Alex Gibney is back on the Oscar shortlist with high-profile sports portrait "The Armstrong Lie," while his "WikiLeaks" doc "We Steal Secrets" did not make this cut.

The Crash Reel
Lucy Walker's 'The Crash Reel'

The trick now is for the doc branch to winnow down this list to the final five which will be announced Oscar nominations morning January 16 and sent to the entire Academy. 

The 15 films are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their production companies:

   "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

Academy Awards® for outstanding film achievements of 2013 will be presented on Oscar Sunday, March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live on the ABC Television Network.  The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

This article is related to: Documentary, Documentaries, Oscars, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Academy Awards, Awards, Alex Gibney, Lucy Walker, Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.