Cheat Sheet: What You Need To Know About The 5 Oscar-Nominated Docs


Each year the Academy chooses five documentaries to make the short list for the Best Documentary Feature category. We know it’s hard enough to see all nine Best Picture nominees, so we did you a fave and watched all the Oscar-nominated docs for you!

Below is our official cheat sheet about these brilliant docs. We break down the reasons these films are a big deal and how you can take the action on the issues in them.

+ Cutie and the Boxer


What It’s About: “Cutie and the Boxer” follows Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, who moved to New York City from Japan to realize their shared goals of becoming successful artists. Ushio is known as The Boxer because of a technique he uses that involves taping sponges to boxing gloves to create his works.

Why It’s Oscar-worthy: Although Ushio has achieved some acclaim as an artist, the audience learns that Noriko put her dreams on hold to raise a family with him. The documentary follows Ushio as he prepares for a new exhibit; meanwhile, Noriko’s semi-autobiographical drawings of a woman named “Cutie” and her husband reveal the struggles the couple has faced over the years. It’s an intimate look at the necessary sacrifices that are inevitably made when helping someone you love achieve his or her dreams.

Keep It Going: Embrace the spirit of the film and help organizations that support art education in school. Or, if you’re an artist, check out what Artists for Peace and Justice are up to and how you can get involved.

+ 20 Feet From Stardom


What It’s About: The documentary follows former backup singers like Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega and Merry Clayton as they recount their days working with music’s biggest names.

Why It’s Oscar-worthy: You know the songs, but now it’s time to know the singers.The film presents a riveting look at how the women struggled to overcome discrimination in an industry that wanted them to be heard but rarely seen. It also provides commentary from the singers they worked with, including Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Mick Jagger.

Keep It Going: Support organizations like VH1’s Save the Music Foundation that ensure music education is accessible to every child regardless of his or her financial situation.

+ The Act of Killing


What It’s About: In the 1960s, the Indonesian government was overthrown by the military, which used paramilitaries and gangsters to kill those who opposed the dictatorship. Over the course of a year, ONE MILLION “communists” were murdered. The documentary team followed former killers as they boastfully recreate scenes that represented the killings — hence the photo above.

Why It’s Oscar-worthy: “The Act of Killing” is brutal to watch for several reasons, but perhaps the most chilling is watching Anwar Congo reenact his killings while struggling with whether or not to feel remorse over the innumerable people he executed decades earlier.

Keep It Going: It’s crazy to think about the fact that these mass killers are living life safely and soundly in Indonesia. Human rights is imperative to people all over the world and one way to help out is by getting involved with Amnesty International.

+ Dirty Wars


What It’s About: After realizing nighttime raids in the Middle East might be coordinated attacks from what locals call the “American Taliban,” journalist Jeremy Scahill vows to uncover the dirty war America is really waging.

Why It’s Oscar-worthy: The documentary presents a troubling look at the seemingly senseless killings allegedly sanctioned by the United States government. Watching Scahill go to incredible lengths to seek out the truth under dangerous circumstances makes this a riveting film.

Keep It Going: Knowledge is power. Buy the book counterpart of the film. If you watch the film or read the book, make sure to Tweet about it with the hashtag, #DirtyWars.

+ The Square


What It’s About: The revolution made headlines around the world and now one documentary is taking audiences on a journey to where it all began. The astonishing film follows four people as they take part in the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Why It’s Oscar-worthy: The film is well worth your time, but it’s the buzz surrounding the documentary that makes it even more interesting. “The Square” is the first Oscar-nominated film from Netflix as well as the first to come out of Egypt.

Last week Jehane Noujaim, the Egyptian-American director, released an Arabic-language version of the film online. The move might seem unconventional, but it’s a brilliant move: Noujaim’s film hasn’t been released in Egypt yet, and the online version allows a way, albeit a risky one, to bypass the country’s censors in the meantime.

Keep It Going: Keep an eye out for Noujaim’s next films. She’s planning to use the footage she captured to turn out two more projects about the conflict.

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Photos: (Facebook,,, and IMDB)

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