Yesterday afternoon, the Academy announced its documentary shortlist. As we mentioned at the time, the headline was that EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP had defied most of the odds to hurdle what we thought would be the most difficult barrier stopping it from winning the Oscar - making the shortlist at all - while the most shocking snub was the failure to advance Laura Poitras' THE OATH, a film that we had pegged as a frontrunner and which had already been nominated for the top award at Cinema Eye, the IDA and the Gothams.
But more about those in a minute.
So, first off, it's not a terrible list. I've seen a few folks contend that it's off-the-charts bad, and trust me, I've seen off-the-charts bad, and this isn't that.
It's curious, that's certain, but mostly because it's actually the kind of list that I think the Academy has been hoping for for years - a slick, brassy list of 15 that's chockablock full of big films and big directors: there's 5 million-dollar grossers in the bunch (the first time that has ever happened) and that doesn't include the headline-grabbing films about Pat Tillman and Eliot Spitzer and natural gas fracking, nor a just-opening, crowd-pleasing film about Brazilian garbage workers.
That makes at least 9 high-profile titles out of 15, which explains why a number of Oscar prognosticators felt pretty good about this year's list (and their pre-announcement predictions, which had centered on films that had a big theatrical launch and therefore that they'd actually heard of - not usually a good barometer).
A lot of these are big productions, too (which makes sense when you consider that Best Picture at the Oscars goes to the producers, not the directors), and for the first time in several years, many if not most of the big players seem to have a horse in the race - Sony Pictures Classics, Weinstein Co., HBO, NatGeo, Magnolia, Paramount, Cinetic, Oscilloscope (those that don't, like Roadside, either weren't really in the doc game this year or, like Zeitgeist and IFC, missed out with their own high profile titles).
And there are big name directors - two Oscar winners (Gibney and Guggenheim) and another nominee (Charles Ferguson), not to mention perhaps the world's most famous anonymous street artist.
This is the kind of shiny list that a lot of people can be (and likely are) pretty happy with, both inside and outside the Academy.
There are always going to be "snubs". It's getting so that I dislike even using the word, because a "snub" almost implies that there's something unusual going on. But if there are 3-5 or more "snubs" every year, it hardly seems novel. Feels like we need a different word.