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Now Streaming: Your Oscar Documentary Hopefuls

on Wednesday, Jan. 22nd

Okay, so it’s not quite the entire list, but four of the five contenders for this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature are ready for you to watch right now if you are a Netflix subscriber.

Netflix is hoping that you will watch The Square, the doc about the Egyptian revolution, that the company picked up as its first original documentary. That turned out to be a savvy distribution pick, as it also garnered the streaming service its first Oscar nod.

The red envelope service has been plastering Greater Los Angeles with billboards for The Square in a marketing campaign that is almost certainly calculated to help with the Oscar race. Netflix, after all, ran a whole Emmy campaign for House of Cards, complete with election style lawn cards in L.A.. If the rules for the Best Documentary Feature were the same as that for Best Picture, then I’d mark The Square as a shoe-in thanks to the high visibility campaign.

However, the rules are a little different in doc-land.

Rule 11, Part III, subsection C, paragraph 2 of the Academy voting regulations states:Final voting shall be restricted to active and life members of the Academy who have viewed all of the nominated documentaries.

Final voting shall be restricted to active and life members of the Academy who have viewed all of the nominated documentaries.

Which is pretty much there to make sure that the documentary section isn’t a popularity contest in the same manner that Best Picture is. With that in mind, and the disclosure that I haven’t seen the other three nominated documentaries yet, I’d put my office wager on The Act of Killing.  The Square is a solid piece of filmmaking about a big moment in recent history. In any other year I’d measure the other contenders against it, but The Act of Killing exists on an entirely different plane. When I saw it with an audience months ago you could have heard a pin drop in the theater from about three minutes in.

The tale of a genocide in Indonesia as told through the eyes of the perpetrators is an examination of the human capacity for evil quite unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. By the time the credits had rolled I’d felt like I’d learned something about the nature of life itself. Something that is hard to put down in words.

Then again, who knows? One of the other three docs could run away with the prize. The best part about the era that we are living is that we can watch any of them on demand. Cutie and the Boxer, about a 40-year marriage of two artists and military expose film Dirty Wars are both streaming on Netflix along with The Square and The Act of Killing. Meanwhile, background singers brought to the foreground tale 20 Feet From Stardom can be found on iTunes and Amazon for rent.

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