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Oscar 2013: Michael Moore Documentary Branch Rule Changes Effective?

The Queen of Versailles movie Jackie and David SiegelOscar 2013: Have Michael Moore's Documentary Branch rule changes been effective?

[See previous post: "Jailed Iranian Filmmaker Jafar Panahi Among Oscar 2013 Best Documentary Feature Semi-Finalists."] At the beginning of the year, Academy Governor Michael Moore announced several changes in the voting rules for the Best Documentary Feature category. Currently, eligible movies must be screened at least one week in either New York City or Los Angeles, and must have earned a published review in either the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times. Instead of separate voting committees for specific batches of eligible films, every Documentary Branch member can now nominate any eligible entry. (Image: Lauren Greenfield's The Queen of Versailles movie about a billionaire American couple who embark on the construction of a mansion inspired by the Palace of Versailles – but then the Great Recession hits.)

Those changes were supposed to prevent made-for-television documentaries from entering the race while increasing the quality of potential Oscar 2013 contenders – i.e., if the documentary got distributed in either of the U.S.'s top two urban markets, it must have been better than those that didn't find distribution. By the same token, the rules were to have made it easier for popular documentaries to make the cut.

Well, among the high-profile 2012 releases missing from this year's list of Best Documentary Feature semi-finalists are the following: Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, and Frédéric Tcheng's Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel; Lauren Greenfield's Queen of Versailles; Ron Fricke's Samsara, which became Oscilloscope Laboratories' biggest commercial hit ever; David Gelb's Jiro Dreams of Sushi; Kevin Macdonald's Marley; Amy J. Berg's Peter Jackson (co)produced West of Memphis; and Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon's New York Film Critics Circle winner The Central Park Five. Ah, and John Sullivan and Dinesh D'Souza's 2016 Obama's America, too. More on that last title, the year's most successful documentary at the U.S. box office, in a follow-up post.

Weeks before the list of semi-finalists was announced, Michael Moore himself referred to his plan (or at least part of it) as a "miserable failure." One doesn't have to be a soothsayer to predict more Documentary Branch rule changes in the very near future.

According to the Academy's press release, the members of the Documentary Branch "viewed the eligible documentaries for the preliminary round of voting." Now, how many members actually watched all eligible 126 documentaries – or even just half of them – will remain a mystery for all eternity. Anyhow, Documentary Branch members will now choose five nominees from the 15 titles on the shortlist. After that, the entire Academy membership will be allowed to vote for the winner.

The 2013 Academy Award nominations will be announced on January 10, 2013. The Oscar ceremony will be held on February 24 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

Lauren Greenfield's The Queen of Versailles movie photo: Magnolia Pictures.

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