The Cinema Eye Honors, the premier documentary-only awards ceremony on the circuit, announced their 2011 nominations tonight in a new fashion that I think more such shindigs could follows -- as the prelude to a party in a busy London bar, with free drinks and a Guilty Pleasures DJ on hand afterwards. It sure beats dragging yourself out of bed at 5am for the Oscars, no? Anyway, I was on hand to receive the news directly -- cheering too loudly when my favorites popped up in the nominee list (as they did with pleasing frequency) and savoring the forgotten joys of Charles & Eddie singles. Nice work all round.

As for the nominees, they perhaps offer a few pointers as to the films you should be looking out for in the documentary Oscar race -- though we all know how wilfully the Academy can sometimes ignore the obvious in this category. Four films are tied for the lead with four nominations apiece: no surprise that Asif Kapadia's UK box-office smash "Senna" ( which I glowingly reviewed here) and "Hoop Dreams" director Steve James's critics' darling "The Interrupters" are among them.

Both are likelier to show up in the Oscar race than Clio Barnard's unique hybrid doc "The Arbor" -- I doubt the Academy will approve its daring dramatization technique of using actors to lip-synch to recorded testimony. Managing three nods, meanwhile, was another high-profile entry, Oscar-winner James Marsh's human-chimp cautionary tale "Project Nim."

Big-name docs that didn't crack the top category, but found recognition elsewhere, include Wim Wenders's "Pina" (I must say I'm surprised this one didn't register for Best Cinematography), Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and Errol Morris's "Tabloid." Oh, and "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," which nabbed a spot in the Audience Choice category, to the great amusement of the London crowd -- and takes the record for the highest-grossing film ever to receive a Cinema Eye nod. On a more somber note, it's nice to see the late photojournalist Tim Hetherington score a posthumous nod or his short "Diary," six months after he was killed in action in Libya. 

Finally, the mention that most pleased me personally was the pair of nods -- Best Debut Feature and Best Cinematography -- for Alma Har'el, whose dreamy Salton Sea community portrait "Bombay Beach" I reviewed a few days ago, and remains one of my favorite films (let alone documentaries) of the year. I'll be rooting for her and "Senna" when the Cinema Eye awards roll around, this time in New York,  on January 11. 

The full list of nominations:

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking
"The Arbor"
"The Interrupters"
"Nostalgia for the Light"
"Position Among the Stars"
"Project Nim"
"Senna"

Outstanding Achievement in Direction
Clio Barnard, "The Arbor"
Danfung Dennis, "Hell and Back Again"
Steve James, "The Interrupters"
Patricio Guzmán, "Nostalgia for the Light"
Leonard Retel Helmrich, "Position Among the Stars"

Outstanding Achievement in Production
Erik Nelson and Adrienne Ciuffo, "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"
Mike Lerner, "Hell and Back Again"
Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz, "The Interrupters"
Renate Sachse, "Nostalgia for the Light"
Gian-Piero Ringel and Wim Wenders, "Pina"

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography
Alma Har’el, "Bombay Beach"
Eric Koretz, "Dragonslayer"
Danfung Dennis, "Hell and Back Again"
Katell Dijan, "Nostalgia for the Light"
Leonard Retel Helmrich and Ismail Fahmi Lubish, "Position Among the Stars"

Outstanding Achievement in Editing
Hanna Lejonqvist SFK and Göran Hugo Olsson, "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975"
Jennifer Tiexiera and Lizzy Calhoun, "Dragonslayer"
Joe Walker, "Life in a Day"
Jasper Naaijkens, "Position Among the Stars"
Gregers Sall and Chris King, "Senna"

Audience Choice Prize
"Bill Cunningham New York"
"The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975"
"Buck"
"Cave of Forgotten Dreams"
"Give Up Tomorrow"
"The Interrupters"
"Justin Bieber: Never Say Never"
"Project Nim"
"Senna"
"Tabloid"

Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film
Clio Barnard, "The Arbor"
Michal Marczak, "At the Edge of Russia"
Alma Har’el, "Bombay Beach"
Tristan Patterson, "Dragonslayer"
Danfung Dennis, "Hell and Back Again"

Outstanding Achievement in an Original Music Score
Harry Escott and Molly Nyman, "The Arbor"
Ernst Reijseger, "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"
T. Griffin, "Dragonslayer"
Antonio Pinto, "Senna"
John Kusiak, "Tabloid"

Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Animation
Justin Barber and Ryland Jones, "Women Art Revolution"
Mike Nicholson and Allison Moore, "Better This World"
Brent Green, "Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then"
Kinda Akash, "Project Nim"
Raynor Pettge, "Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure"
Rob Feng and Jeremy Landman, "Tabloid"

Spotlight Award
"Family Instinct"
"Last Days Here"
"The Pruitt-Igoe Myth"
"Scenes of a Crime"
"The Tiniest Place"

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking
"Il Capo," Yuri Ancarani
"Diary," Tim Hetherington
"Minka," Davina Pardo
"Out of Reach," Jakub Sto?ek
"This Chair Is Not Me," Andy Taylor Smith