If it wasn’t clear from this morning’s National Board of Review awards, the Oscar race is in full swing. And today, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences narrowed down the year’s documentaries to a shortlist of 15 feature films that are under consideration for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. It’s a highly competitive race, as it is every year, but this category has a reputation for being tricky not only when it comes to the winner, but when it comes to selecting the nominees. Films one may feel are “sure-things” sometimes don’t make the cut, so while it’s exciting to see the films that will be competing, this race is far from over.
If there’s a favorite at this point it’s probably the Amy Winehouse doc Amy, which is a great and emotional and kind of spectacular film. There’s also formidable competition from He Named Me Malala, which didn’t necessarily win over critics but certainly covers worthwhile subject matter. And I’m hoping that Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence—his companion film to the essential The Act of Killing—makes the nominations cut, as it’s an incredible and important piece of filmmaking.
Wholly absent here is The Wolfpack, an utterly fascinating documentary that certainly had critics buzzing at Sundance and beyond. And the visceral Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is what I perceive as the most egregious snub—a truly great piece of filmmaking by director Brett Morgen. Alas, neither film made the shortlist cut for the Academy.
Personally I was also bowled over by Cartel Land, which takes a brutal look at the drug war from both the U.S. and Mexican points of view. Although it’s real life, it plays out with the tension of Breaking Bad’s best episodes. Best of Enemies is also one of the year’s most engrossing docs, and I’m still needing to catch up on The Hunting Ground, Listen to Me Marlon, and Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next. As I said, it’s been a great year for documentaries, which makes narrowing this shortlist down to five candidates that much more difficult.
Check out the shortlist below, and sound off with your favorites in the comments. The nominations for the 86th Academy Awards will be announced on January 14th, with the ceremony taking place on February 28th.
“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