Oscar Best Documentary shortlist announced

15 films chosen from 124 contenders.

by Anne-Katrin Titze and Amber Wilkinson

Evgeny Afineevsky (Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom), Alex Gibney (Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief), Michael Moore (Where To Invade Next), Kirby Dick (The Hunting Ground)
Evgeny Afineevsky (Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom), Alex Gibney (Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief), Michael Moore (Where To Invade Next), Kirby Dick (The Hunting Ground) Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

This year's Oscar Best Documentary shortlist was revealed today. Asif Kapadia's affecting portrait of Amy Winehouse, Amy; William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal battling in Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon's high-spirited Best Of Enemies; Matthew Heineman's look at grassroots militia in Cartel Land; Davis Guggenheim's He Named Me Malala; Laurie Anderson's Heart Of A Dog; Stevan Riley's look at Marlon Brando in Listen To Me Marlon; Joshua Oppenheimer's The Look Of Silence, executive produced by Werner Herzog and Errol Morris; Hubert Sauper's We Come As Friends; Nina Simone in Liz Garbus's What Happened, Miss Simone?; Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi's Meru; Marc Silver's 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets; Evgeny Afineevsky's Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom; Alex Gibney's Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief: Kirby Dick's The Hunting Ground and Michael Moore's Where To Invade Next made the cut.

Liz Garbus, Morgan Neville, Asif Kapadia
Liz Garbus, Morgan Neville, Asif Kapadia Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Ten of the 15 films selected were screened in DOC NYC and the directors attended the Morning Manifesto - DOC NYC Short List Filmmakers in Conversation event last month.

Last year's Best Documentary Oscar winner Neville (for 20 Feet From Stardom) and Gordon mirthfully and wisely embed the verbal duels between Buckley Jr., the conservative trailblazer, and Vidal, renowned author and iconoclast of the left, into the surroundings in Best Of Enemies. We start out with archival footage of Vidal's Italian villa, in which he gives a tour of his bathroom and proudly points to photographs hanging over the bathtub that place him with Buckley at the Democratic Convention debates in Chicago in 1968.

Oppenheimer, whose The Act Of Killing lost out to Neville's film in 2014, returns to the subject with The Look Of Silence, arguably an even more stark examination of the legacy of violence in Indonesia, where the victims of the 1965-66 massacres still live alongside, and in fear of, the perpetrators.

What do Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris, Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, and Viva Zapata!, Daniel Mann's The Teahouse Of The August Moon, Edward Dmytryk's The Young Lions, Gillo Pontecorvo's Burn!, Lewis Milestone's Mutiny On The Bounty, Guys And Dolls directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and One-Eyed Jack's have in common? Brando the movie star in Riley's documentary, Listen To Me Marlon, becomes Marlon, the man.

Davis Guggenheim, Joshua Oppenheimer, Matthew Heineman at DOC NYC
Davis Guggenheim, Joshua Oppenheimer, Matthew Heineman at DOC NYC Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi's Meru, three of the world’s most accomplished mountain climbers, Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk and Chin himself, attempt to conquer nature, outward and inward, to reach the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru, the heretofore impossible peak in the Himalayas. The footage is breathtaking, the obstacles seem insurmountable, the trust and friendship between them has to be complete and you will find yourself cheering them on as though you were the nun in The Sound Of Music, maybe not to 'climb every mountain,' but to make it to the summit of Meru with the help of a portaledge.

There is also a strong showing from the UK, with Kapadia's film on the all-too-short story of singer Amy Winehouse already scooping up accolades, including Best European Documentary at the European Film Awards this week. His film about Winehouse's tragic trajectory would make an worthy - if melancholic - double-bill with Garbus's examination of the life of Simone, told largely, like Listen To Me Marlon, from the dead star's perspective.

With the debate on gun violence raging in the US, the inclusion of Silver's 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets - the measured examination of the trial of Michael Dunn, who shot an unarmed teenager and claimed a 'stand your ground' defence - is a timely one. Gun violence also raises its head in Cartel Land, which sees Heineman risk the dangers of Mexican drug gangs to question the nature of vigilantism.

124 documentary features were submitted to the Academy for consideration. The five films to receive nominations will be announced on January 14, 2016, along with all the other Oscar nominations.

The Oscars will be handed out on February 28.

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