How to Watch Every Oscar-Shortlisted Documentary

Your guide to the 15 possible nominees in the documentary category

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Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

For most Academy Awards categories, contenders will include world-famous names and titles, but that’s not always the case. In the documentary category — the shortlist for which was released on Monday — many of the films (150, now whittled down t0 15) played only in large-market cities and, even then, in art houses.

But, thanks largely to video-on-demand (and the Oscar publicity push that can get movies back in theaters), many of the 15 films can still be watched right now from the comfort of your own home (or at least somewhere nearby).

Here’s our run-down on each of the films and how you can check them out.

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The Act of Killing

Directors: Joshua Oppenheimer, with Anonymous and Christine Cynn

What It’s About: The filmmakers ask people who once led Indonesian death squads to participate in fictional reenactments of the real mass-killings they perpetrated.

How You Can Watch It: The film opened in a small number of non-festival U.S. theaters over the summer and will play in a few more in January; it will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on Jan. 5, 2014.


The Armstrong Lie

Director: Alex Gibney

What It’s About: Prolific documentarian Gibney wanted to make a movie about Armstrong’s comeback story but, in the middle of the project, cycling’s doping scandal gained speed. The resulting film isn’t just about Armstrong and his ultimate confession; it’s also about how the director himself was fooled for so long.

How You Can Watch It:  This one’s currently in theaters in many cities across the country, or opening soon.



Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

What It’s About: Told through news footage and interviews with former whale trainers, the film is an indictment of the practice of keeping orcas in captivity — focusing on SeaWorld, and one whale in particular  — and how that problem may have contributed to several fatal whale-human interactions.

How You Can Watch It:  This movie opened in U.S. theaters over the summer and is now available on DVD, iTunes and video on demand.


The Crash Reel

Director: Lucy Walker

What it’s about: At first, this film seems to be about the snowboarding rivalry between Shaun White and Kevin Pearce — but when Pearce suffers a life-threatening injury on the slopes, the movie begins to look at the sport in a new way.

How You Can Watch It:  The film is in theaters Dec. 13.


Cutie and the Boxer

Director: Zachary Heinzerling

What It’s About: An unconventional New York romance, this film traces the decades-long relationship between the painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife.

How You Can Watch It: The movie’s limited U.S. theatrical release happened in August, but you can find it on iTunes.


Dirty Wars

Director: Rick Rowley

What It’s About: A journalist, Jeremy Scahill, sets out to cover a U.S. raid in Afghanistan but, as the film follows him, he gets deeper into matter of the secret wars many Americans don’t even know their country is fighting.

How You Can Watch It: It’s available in several formats via the film’s website.


First Cousin Once Removed

Director: Alan Berliner

What It’s About: The filmmaker spent five years following his cousin, poet Edwin Honig, as he slowly succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease.

How You Can Watch It: The doc is available on HBO online and on-demand.


God Loves Uganda

Director: Roger Ross Williams

What It’s About: In following missionaries who comes from America to teach Ugandans about the Bible, the film draws a parallel between the way the Christian right attempts to shape African culture and previous versions of colonialism.

How You Can Watch It: A smattering of screenings is planned for the coming weeks,


Life According to Sam

Directors: Sean Fine, Andrea Nix

What It’s About: The movie’s subject is a family that comprises two doctors and their teenage son, Sam, who suffers from progeria, a rare disease that causes the aging process to accelerate. Though progeria is fatal and little-understood, Sam’s parents strive to find a way to keep their son alive.

How You Can Watch It:  The doc is available on HBO online and on-demand.


Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

Directors: Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin

What It’s About: The film takes a look at the deeper meaning of the Pussy Riot arrest and trial, an event that gripped Russia and the world.

How You Can Watch It: The film is available on DVD.


The Square

Director: Jehane Noujaim

What It’s About: The filmmakers spent years following young Egyptian revolutionaries in order to tell the personal stories behind the country’s recent history.

How You Can Watch It: In addition to a few screenings, there’s a Netflix premiere date planned for January.


Stories We Tell

Director: Sarah Polley

What It’s About: Polley interviews members of her own family while trying to uncover the secrets held by her late mother.

How You Can Watch It: The film is available on DVD.


Tim’s Vermeer

Director: Teller, of Penn & Teller

What It’s About: The film’s eccentric subject, who doesn’t even know how to hold a paintbrush, decides to replicate a Vermeer painting with 100 percent accuracy.

How You Can Watch It:A second theatrical release is planned for January.


20 Feet From Stardom

Director: Morgan Neville

What It’s About: The backup singers who lent their voices to some of the biggest  names in pop-musical history are finally put in the spotlight.

How You Can Watch It: The film opens in theaters Dec. 6 in several cities and will be released on DVD in January.


Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington

Director: Sebastian Junger

What It’s About: Junger, the journalist-turned-filmmaker of Restrepo fame, examines the work and life of his friend and colleague Tim Hetherington, a photographer who was killed while working in Libya.

How You Can Watch It: The film is available on iTunes.