A Guide to the Oscar-Nominated Documentaries, And Where You Can Watch Them

The Academy Awards will be handed out this Sunday, and this year’s crop of Best Documentary Feature contenders is especially strong. If you love to learn about politics, society and the world at large through non-fiction film, then you have to check out these nominees:




I couldn’t figure out why a documentary about a trio of skateboarders would get a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, until I watched for myself and was mesmerized. It’s not actually about skateboarding, it’s a real life millennial coming-of-age tale that thoughtfully delves into issues of race, class and toxic masculinity.

Better still, it makes its strongest points by showing rather than telling. Instead of telling you what to think, it’s providing rich source material for you to draw your own conclusions. I could not recommend this film more highly.

Watch it: Streaming on Hulu and the Roku Channel




The most popular justice on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, gets the documentary treatment. I suspect that many of the young liberals who rep RBG merch have limited knowledge of the judge’s formative years and past experiences, but this film does a great job of breaking down her story. Even if her career had ended before being appointed to the nation’s top bench, Ginsberg would have her place in history as a preeminent attorney arguing on behalf of women’s rights.

This documentary is not to be confused with On the Basis of Sex, a new biopic starring Felicity Jones based on Ginsberg’s life, which is not nominated for any Oscars but did receive mainly favorable reviews from critics.

Watch it: Streaming on Hulu and Hoopla (free with most public library cards)




Man, this one is extremely hard to watch, but important nonetheless. Director Talal Derki goes undercover in a radical Islamist household in Syria and reveals a duality that will leave you conflicted. While it’s horrifying the way the father Abu is indoctrinating his sons with a bleak outlook on the world, there’s no denying how much love there is between him and his kids.

The tender moments are so sweet you almost momentarily forget he’s training his sons to enact terror. No, it’s not anywhere near enough to forgive Abu for his violent ideology, but seeing a human side of someone most of the world considers evil is a reminder of just how complex our species is.

Watch it: Streaming on Kanopy (free with most public library cards)




This National Geographic doc follows Alex Honnold and his attempt to climb the 3,000-foot El Capitan without the aid of ropes or harnesses. Though the film tackles themes of risk and perseverance, the real appeal is soaking in the stunning visuals and camerawork on his way up the rock formation.

Watch it: Still in theaters, and available for purchase through YouTube, Apple, Amazon, etc.




If you’re looking for a more standard narrative, you’ve come to the wrong film. Hale cuts between scenes of African American people in Hale County, Alabama. Alone, the scenes are of everyday activities and rarely extraordinary, but in sum, they give a beautiful picture of a population that’s underrepresented in the media.

Watch it: The documentary recently aired on PBS’s “Independent Lens” series and can be streamed on the PBS website until February 25; in other words, go watch it quickly!


If your time is limited, you can also check out the five nominees for Best Documentary Short, which I will recap in brief fashion, including a link to watch it:

  • “End Game” – A look at how practitioners guide patients through end-of-life care. (Netflix)
  • “Period. End of Sentence” – With menstruation being a taboo subject in India, women in the country are only recently starting to use sanitary pads. (Netflix)
  •  “Lifeboat” – Follows the volunteers who rescue migrant refugees whose boats sink in the Mediterranean Sea. (Short of the Week)
  • “A Night at the Garden” – Archival footage of tens of thousands of Americans attending a Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939. (A Night at the Garden)
  • “Black Sheep” – A black man describes growing up in a prejudiced part of Essex and the measures he took to be accepted by his racist peers. (Short of the Week)


Hannah A
Hannah A29 days ago

thanks for posting

Tabot T
Tabot Tabout a month ago

RBG is excellent! I highly recommend it!

pam w
pam wabout a month ago

"RBG" is a dynamite film!

Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohnabout a month ago

Many thanks to you !

Elaine W
Elaine Wabout a month ago

Great information. Thanks.

Peggy B
Peggy Babout a month ago


Carol C
Carol Cabout a month ago

Many thanks for this list of thought-provoking documentaries. We have RBG from Netflix, and look forward to seeing the others.

Fran F
Fran Fabout a month ago

Thanks for this info.

Alea C
Alea Cabout a month ago

I've never heard of Kanopy or Hoopla but I will check both the films, and the sites, out.

Janis K
Janis Kabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.