Every Oscar season, the focus falls on the top actor races, how many times Meryl Streep has been nominated, and what people might wear to the ceremony. The award for best documentary of the year is often overlooked; the announcement often coincides with the time during the Oscar party when everyone lines up for the bathroom.
Why is this? Everyone is obsessed with depictions of “real” events through reality television, yet there is little to no interest in seeing real life through a highly-stylized, well-researched, authentic lens. We’ve talked about the life-changing potential of documentaries before, and still bet that you will be able to find something that will touch you, challenge you, or transform you in this year’s Oscars shortlist. Check out the 15 contenders!
Art and Craft
A “cat-and-mouse caper” that follows art forger Mark Landis and the man who is obsessed with exposing him.
The Case Against 8
A behind-the-scenes look at the unlikely group that took Prop 8 all the way to the Supreme Court and won.
A look at how money and the influence of two of the world’s richest men, David and Charles Koch, has changed the Republican party and the country’s political system at large.
Already awarded the Gotham Independent Film Award and the New York Film Critics Circle Award, this documentary takes a look at Edward Snowden and the leaks that rocked the nation.
Finding Vivian Maier
After a trunk full thousands of negatives is snatched up at auction, the story of a nanny, who was secretly an amazing street photographer, comes to light.
The Internet’s Own Boy
The story of Aaron Swartz, the prodigy who helped found Reddit and whose information access activism ensnared him in a two-year legal battle that ended with his suicide.
Cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky was on the verge of creating a Dune adaptation starring Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and Mick Jagger, but it fell apart. This doc takes a look at what could have been.
Keep On Keepin’ On
Shot over three years, this doc follows music legend Clark Terry, who was Quincy Jones’ first teacher, mentor to Miles Davis, and the first African-American staff musician at NBC on The Tonight Show, as he connects and mentors a blind piano prodigy.
The Kill Team
This story is about Specialist Adam Winfield, a 21-year-old infantryman in Afghanistan who tried to alert the military to heinous war crimes his platoon was committing. Nothing is done about the information, his platoon finds out, and things spiral out of control.
Last Days in Vietnam
Directed by Rory Kennedy for American Experience Films/PBS, this doc counts down the last days of the Vietnam War. As the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon and an official evacuation of South Vietnamese is held up in Washington, some Americans take it in their own hands to get their allies and friends to safety, however they can.
Based on his bestselling memoir, this film explores Roger Ebert’s legacy, from his Pulitzer Prize-winning film criticism to his on and off screen relationship with Gene Siskel, and beyond.
Winner of the Special Jury Award for Intuitive Filmmaking at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and lauded as a modern-day Grapes of Wrath, this movie tells the story of a small town in North Dakota that struggles to deal with the thousands of unemployed newcomers hoping for a better life.
The Salt of the Earth
A visual ode from co-directorJuliano Ribeiro Salgado in honor of his father, photographer Sebastião Salgado.
Tales of the Grim Sleeper
The story of a 25-year-long killing spree in South Central Los Angeles, the man accused of the crimes, and the community that supports him.
In this film executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, a small group of park rangers try to protect eastern Congo’s Virunga National Park, home to the last remaining mountain gorillas, from the oil industry and poachers, in the midst of a war.