Thanks to a tiny cartel-like group within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the best-reviewed feature documentary of the year has already been eliminated as an Oscar contender in that category.
Herzog told Treadwell's story with interviews and, more important, 100 hours of haunting archival footage shot by Treadwell himself. Those tapes show Treadwell at times talking to some of the earth's deadliest creatures up close, as if was bantering with a class of third graders.
A website called www.criticstop10.net, which ranks films according to how well they fared on 613 critic best-film lists, says "Grizzly Man" appeared on 154 lists for 2005 and was ranked No. 1 by nine critics.
According to the site, "Grizzly Man" stands ninth among all films, one place behind Steven Spielberg's "Munich," and ahead of such best picture contenders as "The Constant Gardener" and "Walk the Line."
Among 79 "Cream of the Crop Critics," "Grizzly Man" ranks eighth, just ahead of "Crash."
And when it comes to documentaries, "Grizzly Man" is by far the best-reviewed film. It appears on twice as many top 10 lists as runner-up "March of the Penguins," the most successful documentary at this box office last year.
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Time's Richard Schickel went so far as to rank "Grizzly Man" No. 1 among all films in 2005, ahead of "Munich," "Crash" and "Cinderella Man." Schickel called it "the year's oddest, and therefore most arresting, film."
Film critic groups in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto have already honored it as best documentary. The National Society of Film Critics named it best nonfiction film. On Wednesday, the Directors Guild of America named Herzog as one of its five nominees for outstanding directorial achievement in documentary film even though he's not even a member of the guild.
So why is "Grizzly Man" already out of the running for an Oscar?
Because it didn't make the cut of 15 feature documentaries picked from among 82 by a small group of academy members to be worthy of consideration for the five nominee slots that will be announced Jan. 31.
The 134 eligible members of the academy's documentary branch will pick via committee from among those 15 films — as long as they watch them — to determine which ones qualify for the five prized nominations. The academy's 5,798 eligible members then are allowed vote on which nominated documentary gets the Oscar after promising to watch them in a theater.
But none of those members gets to vote for "Grizzly Man," because the decision has already been made for them.
Asked why he thinks "Grizzly Man" didn't make the cut, Arthur Dong, one of the governors from the documentary branch, said: "We have certain procedures in our nomination process. It didn't rise to the top 15."
Members of the filtering group don't discuss openly why they voted the way they did, Dong said, so he doesn't have a clue why it didn't make it.
The "certain procedures" Dong refers to have led to another black eye for the academy, which in the past overlooked such films as "Hoop Dreams," "Roger & Me" and "The Thin Blue Line."
For a documentary, an Oscar nomination and win can be a coup not only artistically, but financially when it comes to DVD sales. In recent years, such documentaries as "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "March of the Penguins" have proved there's gold to be made in the genre.
"Grizzly Man" grossed $3.1 million at the box office, respectable for an art house documentary, and is said to be doing well on DVD.