The 2012 Academy short lists were announced recently and the list for Best Documentary—a collection of apolitical, liberal, biographical, historical and some punchy fare—is missing its usual heavy lifters and heavy hitters. Once again the prolific Werner Herzog has been shunned by the Academy despite winning awards and accolades for his Cave of Forgotten Dreams and for Into the Abyss. Other glaring omissions include The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, Budrus, A Film Unfinished, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator and At the Edge of Russia. It is, however, possible that some of these titles did not meet the anachronistic Academy requirement of having survived two seven-day runs in commercial theatres in Los Angeles County and Manhattan during the eligibility period.
The most inexplicable absence on the list of fifteen documentaries is a film that has met the eligibility requirements and then some: the perfectly shot, edited, conceived and constructed The Interrupters (film still above) by Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz has inconceivably not been selected. James has made the Oscar short list with four other films and needless to say we weren’t the only ones expecting to see his most recent and best work at the top of the short list for best doc this year. And while some critics were surprised to not see Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold and Crazy Horse on the roster, I’m hoping the Academy saw through the crass and empty postmodern commercialism of Pom and passed on the disappointingly boring flesh-obsessed verité found in Wiseman’s latest ethnographic offering.
Thankfully, there are two positively powerful political docs on the coveted list. Battle for Brooklyn and If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front look at peaceful resistance to gentrification and direct-action resistance to environmental destruction, respectively. Both are inspiring and inspired works that provoke the inner fighter to take a stand. They also reveal the inequities inherent in the American justice system and expose the ways in which the elite classes wield their power and shape social outcomes. Other solid entries on the list that are less political include Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, Pina and Project Nim.
My prediction for the Best Documentary Winner? With a history of awarding animal-themed documentaries (not of the Zoo variety though) I think the Academy will bestow the 2012 best doc honours to Buck. And if not Buck, then Project Nim. The full list is below, followed by trailers for each film, in order as they appear on the list.
· Battle for Brooklyn
· Bill Cunningham New York
· Hell and Back Again
· If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
· Jane’s Journey
· The Loving Story
· Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
· Project Nim
· Semper Fi: Always Faithful
· Sing Your Song
· Under Fire: Journalists in Combat
· We Were Here