Sizing Up the 15 Documentaries Vying for an Oscar

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Looking beyond the high-profile snubs to see which films have a chance to be nominated

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Project Nim / Bill Cunningham New York / Buck

The documentary branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is no stranger to controversy. In the past, when selecting the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, it has infamously snubbed such top docs as Hoop Dreams and Michael Moore's Roger & Me.

Naturally, this year's no different. Acclaimed films such as Hoop Dreams director Steve James's The Interrupters, Errol Morris's Tabloid, and Werner Herzog's Into the Abyss haven't even made the branch screening committee's shortlist of 15 finalists, which was announced late last week.

It's hard to explain these big-name omissions, particularly the repeated rejection of James, one of the great American social chroniclers. Senna director Asif Kapadia, whose acclaimed film about the late Formula One racer also failed to make the shortlist, tweeted that it was "madness" that The Interrupters was turned away.

Yet, while most attention has been focused on what was left out, there are a number of intriguing, somewhat lesser-known choices among the 15 finalists. These include Danfung Dennis's Hell and Back Again, about a marine struggling to readjust to civilian life, We Were Here, which chronicles the early years of AIDS in San Francisco, and Buck, about the horse trainer who inspired The Horse Whisperer.

Here, we assess each film's chance of becoming one of the final five nominees selected by the documentary branch members and announced on Jan. 24:

Our picks for the five to be nominated, then, are Buck, We Were Here, Project Nim, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, and Undefeated.


See also: The 18 Animated Films Vying for an Oscar

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Robert Levin writes about film and other entertainment topics for amNewYork, Inside Jersey, Backstage, and elsewhere. He is a member of the New York Film Critics Online guild.

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