Best Documentary Feature Oscar Shortlist: What Films You Need to See and Where to See Them

Drafthouse Films

As requested by readers, here is a ranking of the 15 films shortlisted for the next Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in order of what’s most essential viewing (this isn’t necessarily a ranking of best to worst) and where and how you can watch them before the nominees are announced next month:

The Look of Silence
Nonfics Rating: ★★★★★
Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing gives another look at the 1965 Indonesian genocide with a more personal story following the family of one of the victims. The Academy has to nominate Oppenheimer again for this better film, and they should be ashamed if they don’t give him the award this time, too.
Watch Now: Currently available on iTunes and streaming on Vimeo On Demand, VHX, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu and Google Play. Releases on DVD and Blu-ray on January 12, 2016.

Nonfics Rating and Review: ★★★★
This problematic but very affecting documentary by Asif Kapadia (Senna) is already winning a number of critics group awards for best documentary, and it’s also the highest-grossing of the year after Disneynature’s Monkey Kingdom. If the Academy is going to qualify a fully archival doc now, they better nominate Kapadia after snubbing his brilliant previous feature.
Watch Now: Currently available on DVD, Blu-ray iTunes and streaming on Vudu, Amazon Instant Video and Google Play.

We Come As Friends
Nonfics Rating and Review: ★★★★★
Hubert Sauper was nominated for his previous feature, Darwin’s Nightmare, 10 years ago. Not enough people are talking about his latest, which we think is another masterpiece. Thankfully it’s at least on the radar of the Academy’s documentary branch, and hopefully they continue to recognize this stunning achievement.
Watch Soon: Coming soon to DVD via BBC Home Entertainment, though no release date is known.

Best of Enemies
Nonfics Rating: ★★★★
This collaboration between directors Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon is definitely one of the best of 2015, remarkable for turning a couple of TV debates from 1968 into a riveting cinematic story, but the Academy might decide Neville doesn’t need the honor so soon after his 2014 win for 20 Feet From Stardom. Sorry, Gordon.
Watch Now: Currently available on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and iTunes and streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Nonfics Rating and Review: ★★
Hardly the best work of Alex Gibney, who won the Oscar in 2008 for Taxi to the Dark Side and was nominated two years earlier for Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, yet this is his most talked about film due to the subject matter. I could see it being nominated by the doc branch, but the rest of the Academy might not show it any love due to it being such a touchy topic in Hollywood.
Watch Now: Currently available on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes and streaming on Vudu, Google Play and HBO Go/Now.

What Happened, Miss Simone?
Nonfics Rating: ★★★★
Liz Garbus was nominated way back in 1999 for The Farm: Angola USA, and she’s due for another chance. But if Amy is a sure thing, it might be difficult for another music doc to be in the race. Still, lately Netflix is an obligatory distributor for this category and this is the better of their two possibilities (see the other below). Considering this has been such a great year for music docs, I’d be fine for once with at least two in the running.
Watch Now: Currently available to stream on Netflix Watch Instantly.

He Named Me Malala
Nonfics Rating: n/a
Davis Guggenheim is another who has already won an Oscar, for An Inconvenient Truth, and might not be deemed in need of a second. There’s a lot of money behind this doc, though, as it’s got a big distributor in Fox Searchlight, and it’s also about a very popular, inspiring, feel-good subject, young Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. It won’t be surprising to see it turn up among the nominees.
Watch Soon: Releases on DVD and digital outlets on December 15.

Listen to Me Marlon
Nonfics Rating and Review: ★★★
Music docs are rising in representation at the Oscars, but films dealing with Hollywood and cinema are still pretty rare in this race. The last feature seems to have been 20 years ago with The Battle Over Citizen Kane. We’re not huge fans of Stevan Riley’s doc on screen legend Marlon Brando, but it is fairly popular with other critics and people in the nonfiction film community.
Watch Now: Currently available via Showtime On Demand.

Nonfics Rating and Review: ★★★
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin made a very impressive doc, as far as how it was made and how great it looks, and it has a lot of fans. We’re not as in love with the film as a whole yet acknowledge its popularity. If the doc branch wants to celebrate cinematic scope, this will be one to beat for a nomination.
Watch Now: Currently available on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes and streaming on Vudu and Amazon Instant Video.

Heart of a Dog
Nonfics Rating: n/a
Laurie Anderson’s film about her dog is getting plenty of love from more indie-minded awards circles, but it’s unlikely to be an Oscar nominee.
Watch Now: Currently in theaters and continuing to expand its release through the new year.

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
Nonfics Rating: ★★★
This doc on the Ukraine protests and revolution is Netflix’s other shot at a nomination, but it’s not being talked about much at all. There’s also the chance that it’s too similar to but not as great as their past nominee The Square.
Watch Now: Currently streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly.

Cartel Land
Nonfics Rating: n/a
Outside of picking up a number of Cinema Eye Honors nominations, Matthew Heineman’s Sundance favorite on the Mexican drug war seems to have been losing steam during awards season. See it if you’re aiming to be complete but it probably won’t make it to the nominees circle.
Watch Now: Currently available on iTunes and streaming on Vudu, Google Play and Amazon Instant Video.

3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets
Nonfics Rating and Review: ★★★
Marc Silver’s doc is plenty topical right now, as it relates to the gun issue and racially charged shootings. So why hasn’t it received more buzz? See it whether or not it gets the nomination.
Watch Now: Currently available via HBO Now/Go

The Hunting Ground
Nonfics Rating and Review: ★★
Kirby Dick has been nominated twice, for Twist of Faith and The Invisible War, but he’s not going to get a third with this doc on sexual abuse and rape on college campuses. There’s just not much support behind it.
Watch Now: Currently available on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes and streaming on Vudu, Amazon Instant Video and Google Play.

Where to Invade Next
Nonfics Rating and Review:
Could Michael Moore be back at the Oscars following his 2003 win for Bowling for Columbine and 2008 nomination for Sicko? It’s loved by many but it’s hard to tell on a wide range because it’s not out yet. As you can see by our review, we would rather this one not take up one of this year’s slots.
Watch Soon: Opens theatrically on December 23rd.

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.