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AWARDS WATCH ’08 | Back and Forth: Debating The Doc Shortlist and More

AWARDS WATCH '08 | Back and Forth: Debating The Doc Shortlist and More

Continuing this year’s awards season coverage in indieWIRE, editor-in-chief Eugene Hernandez and assistant editor Peter Knegt chatted yesterday via instant message about the ever-evolving race. Topics for this installment include a look at the recently announced shortlist for the documentary feature category, as well as discussion surrounding our recent viewings of contenders like “Doubt” and “Australia.”

Eugene Hernandez: So, the doc short list is out. I guess the big surprise omission is Marina Zenovich‘s “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” That caught a lot of us by surprise. It felt like a shoo-in from the moment it debuted back at Sundance…

Peter Knegt: “Polanski” was definitely the most surprising omission. It seemed right up their alley. I was also a bit surprised by “Religulous“‘s snub. Though maybe I shouldn’t have bene considering the film – and Bill Maher‘s – incredibly divisive nature. But if you check out the comments on iW’s announcement, neither of those films were among the enraged commenters’ mentions. They came out for Kurt Kuenne‘s “Dear Zachary” and Margaret Brown‘s “The Order of Myths.” And one called the inclusion of Joshua Tickell‘s “Fuel” “an embarrassment”.

EH: Yes, I’ve spoken with a number of folks this week who’ve expressed disappointment over the exclusion of both “Zachary” and “Order.” Looking at the 15, which are the most likely to make it to the final five? I’d say “The Betrayal,” “Encounters at the End of the World,” and “Man on Wire” are strong contenders, along with Errol Morris. I’d love to see “Trouble the Water” make the cut. And “Pray The Devil Back to Hell” is also quite inspiring, it could get a spot.

PK: It’s hard for me to even try and suggest nominees, especially with my own hopes in mind, given the Academy’s tendency to make horrible, wacky choices here. But despite knowing that, I’ll still be shocked if “Man on Wire” doesn’t make it in. And I’d agree “Encounters” and “Standard Operating Procedure” seem to be more likely than the others. And that “Trouble The Water” would be an inspired selection.

A scene from A scene from Marina Zenovich’s “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.” Photo courtesy of HBO Documentary Films.

EH: AJ Schnack has again published an invaluable guide to the 15 docs, so we’ll have to spend more time studying that before we make our final guesses in January.

PK: I was just going to mention that myself. It’s not going to get more extensive than that. Schnack also makes note of the large presence of SXSW premieres on that list, and of ineligible non-nominees that I was not entirely aware of: “Young@Heart,” “Stranded: I Have Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains,” “Up The Yangtze.” And makes mention of how just two years ago, women filmmakers dominated this shortlist. This year, they snubbed Marina Zenovich and Margaret Brown, as well as Nanette Burnstein‘s “American Teen.” Only two of the 10 finalists are solely directed by a woman.

And it seems in general women aren’t in for a groundbreaking awards season. Did you see Kim Vonyar’s great piece for her new “Oscar Outsider” column at Movie City News?

EH: Yes, great point worth noting. It really hits home.

PK: And though it’s not like this is a new problem, its still really unfortunate. It just seems like this year it’s not even just a lack of female directors or screenwriters, but also that a lot of the big contenders barely have female characters. Think “Milk” or “Frost/Nixon” or “The Dark Knight.”

EH: Exactly. “Milk” barely has a women and Alison Pill does a great job with what she has to work with (as our recent video clip introduces).

PK: I understand – particularly with regard to “Milk” and “Frost/Nixon” as they are based in history – but where’s the female equivalents? “Frozen River” and “Wendy & Lucy” are the only female-directed, female-starring films I can think of that might gain any sort of year-end notices. Though notably, “Rachel Getting Married” is also largely a female-driven project, except of course for its director.

But anyway, perhaps we should delve into the past week’s buzz. The race is morphing so quickly!

EH: Yes, we’ve seen a lot this week.

PK: What did we say? By Monday between the two of us we will have seen everything but “Gran Torino.”

EH: Yeah, I mean, I saw “Doubt,” “Frost/Nixon” and “Australia.” None of which I feel are a lock for best picture at this point. Of those three, I think “Doubt” has the most potential to make it to Best Picture, but it’s definitely not a given at this point, even with the strong performeances what will get noticed, similarly for “Frost/Nixon.” You have a couple of biggies over the next few days.

PK: “Revolutionary Road tomorrow and “The Reader” Monday. It’s my Winslet weekend.

EH: You also saw “Australia.” What’s your prediction on its viability?

PK: Personally, I was not a fan. Unless it makes a pile of cash and mainstream audiences really embrace it (which they could, but I doubt it), its big hopes are art direction and costume design. Although reading newcomer Brandon Walters‘s bio in the press kit, combined with his delightful little performance, makes me wonder. Supporting actor is a pretty open race, nomination wise (winner wise its pretty much assured)

A scene from Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia.” Image courtesy of Fox.

EH: I have to say that “Australia” was a big disappoinment to me too. I’ve been a Baz disciple for many years. And as fresh and fun as it starts out, it becomes too conventional and tedious.

PK: I’m totally in agreement. The first hour is charming and interesting, and then it dives into a total mess. Thank god for Hugh Jackman‘s constant shirtlessness, or else I might have completely lost interest.

EH: So at this moment, “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Milk” are looking strong for best picture. We’ll see how they perform in theaters over the next couple weeks.

PK: In this very muddled race of mixed reaction contenders, I think box office performance will help certain films stand out in the crowd. If “Slumdog” really takes off at the box office (and so far, so good), and a lot of these upcoming contenders fail to impress, it might all of a sudden find itself the front runner. After “The Departed” and “No Country For Old Men,” a feel-good crowd pleaser like “Slumdog” makes a lot of sense.

EH: Any chance that an acclaimed film from earlier in the year, like “WALL-E,” could get some high profile Oscar love? That would be a lot of fun. Or is it too much of an outsider at this point?

PK: You know, its obviously still a huge dark horse, but “WALL-E” could really end up being the best-reviewed film of the year. And I wonder if one of the critics’ groups might end up rewarding it outside its “animated feature” trap, propelling it a bit. I keep thinking of the critic’s awards, and so far there really isn’t a film that stands out as an obvious winner.

EH: Anyway, we’ll stop there for now and pick this up next week before the holiday weekend. In the meantime, I am one of the so-called Gurus o’ Gold over at Movie City News and our current predictions were posted earlier this week. They went up before I saw “Australia,” but as I mentioned, right now I don’t see it figuring significantly at this point…

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