The 15 short-listed feature documentaries were announced today by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For me the biggest mind-blower is the omission of Marina Zenovich‘s Roman Polanksi: Wanted and Desired — one of the sharpest and most persuasive inside-the-legal-system docs ever made, as well as a perceptive portrait of a fascinating and haunted artist. My guess is that some Polanski haters didn’t care for Zenovich’s generally admiring (and yet thorough and fair-minded) approach.

I don’t want to hear about any stupid disqualifiers because it played on HBO for a week or whatever. Academy disqualifiers is this realm are bullshit. Docs are always struggling for attention, and anything they can put together revenue- or attention-wise outside of theatrical should not be a penalty, for God’s sake.

I’m also a bit surprised that Alex Gibney‘s Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson — not a great film but certainly a professionally assembled and earnestly felt one — wasn’t included. And yet the dutiful and less-than-exceptional Trouble the Water — a piece about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina that I’ve been calling the “King Kong of hand-held jiggle-pan docs” — made the cut.

The 15 docs are At the Death House Door, The Betrayal, Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh, Werner Herzog‘s Encounters at the End of the World, Fuel, The Garden, Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, I.O.U.S.A., In a Dream, Made in America, the great Man on Wire, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Errol MorrisStandard Operating Procedure, They Killed Sister Dorothy and Trouble the Water.

The Documentary Branch Screening Committee viewed all the eligible documentaries for the preliminary round of voting. Documentary Branch members will now select the five nominees from among the 15 titles on the shortlist.

The 81st Academy Awards nominations will be announced on Thursday, 1.22.09, at 5:30 a.m. Pacific in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.