Yesterday, the shortlist of 15 films in contention for the Oscar were announced. Here it is, in alphabetical order:
Best of Enemies
Cartel Land
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
He Named Me Malala
Heart of a Dog
The Hunting Ground
Listen to Me Marlon
The Look of Silence
3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets
We Come as Friends
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Where to Invade Next
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

The biggest surprises are the inclusion of 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets and We Come as Friends. But perhaps not. 3 ½ Minutes, about the wrongful killing of an African-American kid who was playing his music loud, is very topical right now, and with Participant Media behind it, it also has clout. As for Friends, I wonder if there’s a strong enough foreign-born contingent in the Oscar documentary voting pool who favored the Austrian filmmaker, Hubert Sauper, who has been nominated before. It’s also a pretty engaging film, and I’m happy to see it got in.

I’m more annoyed that Montage of Heck, the HBO film about Kurt Cobain, and The Wolfpack, about the kids locked up by their paranoid and controlling dad in a Lower East Side apartment, didn’t make it. Montage is a more artful creation than, say, Amy, and Wolfpack is such an amazing revelation. The latter film may have its faults, but I thought it at least deserved to get to the list.

But, as long as my beloved Cartel Land made it, I’m not going to complain too much. Perennial Oscar favorite Alex Gibney has his Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief in there, so that should be very interesting to watch. I’d consider it one of the favorites to make it to the actual list of five nominated films, along with clear favorites The Look of Silence and Winter on Fire, He Named Me Malala and The Hunting Ground.

I’d put Amy or What Happened, Miss Simone? as most likely to upend one of the above, with Listen to Me Marlon or Meru also close contenders. You can never count out Michael Moore, whose Where to Invade Next is included. In this case, Moore might actually benefit from being a long shot contender. And Cartel Land isn’t an impossibility. I’ll be checking this list and revising it as the weeks go by.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen