For film critics, the end of the year means casting an eye over the last twelve months of offerings and whittling down their “Best of” lists. Award season has begun, and as various regional critics associations (Houston! Chicago! Toronto! etc.) weigh in with their pronouncements, everyone begins the countdown to the Academy Awards, which take place at the end of February.

As the lists come in, it’s become clear that one documentary seems to have grabbed the critical spotlight. Man on Wire, by James Marsh, has been racking up accolades and awards from all over — so far, it has already won “Best Documentary” from critics in Los Angeles, Boston, New York, St. Louis, Austin, Toronto and scores of other locales and associations. (Check out the website Awards Daily to see the winners of all the critics awards.) In November, our own Tom Roston wrote that Man on Wire is one of the front runners to receive an Academy Award nomination. It looks like the film’s odds have gotten even better in the month since.

Still image for Man on WireMan on Wire is about Philippe Petit’s high-wire routine between the two towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Petit planned the stunt for month, figuring out how to bypass security, and then smuggle and rig the cable between the towers. Through interviews with Petit himself and his accomplices, Marsh paints an exhilarating portrait of Petit’s zeal, idealism and mischief. The New York Times called the film “thorough, understated and altogether enthralling.” Critics around the country have agreed — and audiences have too. The film has grossed almost $3 million in limited release, making it one of the highest grossing docs of 2008

Doc blogger and filmmaker AJ Schnack just published an email interview with Marsh, in which they discuss Man on Wire‘s journey from the Sundance Festival to award shows, Marsh’s favorite docs of 2008 and what he’s working on now.

Have you seen Man on Wire? Do you think it was the best documentary of the year? Let us know what you thought in the comments below.

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Former POVer Ruiyan Xu worked on developing and producing materials for POV's website. Before coming to POV, she worked in the Interactive and Broadband department at Channel Thirteen/WNET. Ruiyan was born in Shanghai and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media.