5 Reasons Why The Academy Needs To Re-Think Their 2011 Documentary Short List

It should go without saying that whenever there are awards given out, or nominees named, people will have their favorite choices, and their favorite snubs.   However, when it comes to this year’s documentary short list, released by the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences denoting the films currently still in the running for their Best Documentary Award, there are a few snubs that are either simply shocking, or a hint at something possibly a bit bigger.

First, without discussing who was left off, let’s take a look at the nominees.

The biggest nominee here has to be Wim Wenders’ brilliant dance documentary and love letter to fallen friend Pina Baush, Pina.   Also a Best Foreign Film possibility, the film is easily one of the best documentaries of the year, if only out done by one film from a Criterion approved filmmaker, which we will discuss later on. Joining it is James Marsh’s documentary Project Nim,   the sports documentary Undefeated, Bill Cunningham New York, Buck, and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.   Here is the full list:


‘Battle for Brooklyn’ (RUMER Inc.)

‘Bill Cunningham New York’ (First Thought Films)

‘Buck’ (Cedar Creek Productions)

‘Hell and Back Again’ (Roast Beef Productions Limited)

‘If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front’ (Marshall Curry Productions, LLC)

‘Jane’s Journey’ (NEOS Film GmbH & Co. KG)

‘The Loving Story’ (Augusta Films)

‘Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory’ (@radical.media)

‘Pina’ (Neue Road Movies GmbH)

‘Project Nim’ (Red Box Films)

‘Semper Fi: Always Faithful’ (Tied to the Tracks Films, Inc.)

‘Sing Your Song’ (S2BN Belafonte Productions, LLC)

‘Undefeated’ (Spitfire Pictures)

‘Under Fire: Journalists in Combat’ (JUF Pictures, Inc.)

‘We Were Here’ (Weissman Projects, LLC)


But, those astute readers may notice the absence of just a few names.   Herzog? Steve James? In a year that has seen a cavalcade of brilliant pieces of non-fiction filmmaking, some of the mightiest releases have seemingly been left to the side.   Well, it’s about time the Academy gets called out on it.   Here are the five reasons why they need to re-think this short list.

5. How To Die In Oregon And The Rise Of The TV Documentary

In today’s world of filmmaking becoming a far more democratic artform, in which everyone and their mother has the ability to craft a worthwhile bit of cinema, this writer finds that the true extent of the artform is being pushed on the small screen.   Yes, I know that the Academy distinctly states that a film must premiere on the big screen within the calendar year, but this leaves out a bunch of great documentaries found on the small screen.   ESPN has been making waves with their critically acclaimed and hugely popular 30 For 30 series, but the true king of the TV documentary this year has been Peter Richardson’s How To Die In Oregon.   An emotionally devastating look into the legalization of physician-aided suicide in Oregon, the film is both beautifully made, and thought provoking.   Doing everything a great documentary should do, it’s a shame that this film will be relegated to the outskirts, and likely forgotten about following its release earlier this year on HBO.

4. The Arbor And The Experimental Documentary

To say that the Academy is often behind the eight ball when it comes to more experimental pieces of work is putting it more than lightly.   Hence the lack of Clio Banard’s masterpiece, The Arbor, on this list.   The most experimental of documentaries this year, The Arbor tells the story of troubled young playwright, Andrea Dunbar.   However, instead of featuring stock footage and simply talking heads, the film uses interviews with those in her life, but instead performed by actors.   Tossing in performances of scenes written by the writer, the film is both one of the most thought provoking and heartbreaking pieces this year, but it’s also simply one of the greatest films that 2011 has to offer.   Unlike any documentary you’ll see this year, you won’t soon forget this thing.   Too bad the Academy did.

3. Herzog’s Burden

While I have yet to see Herzog’s latest film, Into The Abyss, the fact that it was snubbed here gets to something a bit bigger. Throughout what can only be called an iconic career, the German mad man has found himself a nominee at the Oscars a whole one time, for his 2007 film, Encounters At The End Of The World.   No Grizzly Man, no Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, and now no Into The Abyss.   Maybe he doesn’t make the type of films that hits the Acadmey’s soft spot? He is very much an iconoclastic filmmaker with a style wholly his own, and one that has been known to, ahem, smudge a few facts here and there.   However, he also makes distinctly cinematic films.   The Documentary branch is the rare branch that rarely has actually in theater screenings for their films, opting for screeners, as they are dealing with filmmakers who may not have funds to back a huge 35mm screening or screenings.   Therefore, maybe something gets lost in translation? All this writer knows is that the Academy needs to stop worrying, and learn to love the Herzog.

2.  Dragonslayer

When a title of a film is that awesome, there becomes no need for any punny one liners. Released earlier this month, Dragonslayer was met with much critical acclaim (including a recent review here by yours truly), which followed its film festival run to a t.   Another brilliant documentary from 2011, Dragonslayer is at times a bit bombastic, but cinematically, it is to filmmaking what the Sex Pistols were to music.   The epitome of punk rock.   Featuring a fantastic soundtrack, the film is both an ode to the fallen skaterpunk, and also a deeply powerful look into the life of a man dealing with the world, responsibility, and his God honest drive to be the best that he can be.   Far from the prettiest film of the year, this is one of the most heartbreaking, and well made.

1. What The Hell Does Steve James Have To Do To Get Some Love Around Here?

Obviously, the biggest snub here has to be Steve James’ The Interrupters.   The year’s best documentary, Steve James has crafted yet another masterpiece, a film that not only rivals his all-time great film Hoop Dreams in length, but nearly does so in quality.   A moving look into a group of people looking to help better their world, the film plays as the right documentary, at the right time.   In a cinematic world where documentarians look to tell the tale of people attempting to destroy their world in the hopes of bettering only their wallets, this is the polar opposite.   Think it the ‘too doomed to succeed’ story of former gang members helping out their world to the ‘too big to fail’ documentaries when been receiving the past few years, it’s an unjust and impossible to defend absence.   Academy, you should be ashamed of yourselves.   I demand changes.

What do you think? What are some of the biggest snubs in your eyes?