I caught a special screening of American Dream Tuesday night and it had me wondering if Barbara Kopple might get another Oscar nomination next year. She won her first Academy Award for Harlan County, U.S.A. in 1977 and her second for American Dream in 1991. She's got a new doc out right now, Shut Up & Sing, and while it isn't nearly as riveting as the other two docs, it is quite an achievement. Anyway, the Academy announced their shortlist of feature documentary contenders yesterday, and, sure enough, Shut Up & Sing is on it. This doesn't mean that the film has received an Oscar nomination yet, but it is one step closer.

The shortlist is simply a narrowing down of eligible documentaries from 81 to 15, selected by the Documentary Branch screening committee. This will make it easier for the Documentary Branch members to vote for the final list of five nominees, which the Academy will announce with the rest of the Oscar noms on January 23. I'm not shocked by how few of the 15 I've seen so far, even considering how many docs I caught at Tribeca this year, but I am disappointed in myself. I've only seen three from the list: An Inconvenient Truth; The Ground Truth; and, of course, Shut Up & Sing.

The thing is, most of the docs that have been critically acclaimed, like Deliver Us From Evil, still aren't calling my name at the end of the day. I know that docs aren't always uplifting, but lately I just haven't been in the mood for anything really depressing. Besides, I'm pretty skeptical about a lot of docs these days, even those that are well-received. The last two Oscar-winners were undeserving trash, in my opinion. March of the Penguins beating Murderball? Born into Brothels beating ... well, anything? Seriously though, 2005 was a bad year for quality documentaries. The five noms that year weren't much better than the self-serving winner, and too much attention was given to Fahrenheit 9/11 (at least it wasn't recognized at the Oscars) rather than to better films, like Control Room and The Corporation.

Like I said, I've only seen one-fifth of the films shortlisted, so I can't speak for this year's crop with any authority. Still, I don't foresee the group of finalists being anything as good as we saw in 2004. Man, that was a good year. Anyway, check out the 15 titles, with links to our reviews where available, after the jump.