Documentaries don’t always have the same budget and technological firepower as box office movies, but they often explore gnarly issues too challenging to take on in a fictional tale streamlined for mass audiences.
Sometimes they delve into humanitarian issues that Global Citizen campaigns on like extreme poverty or access to food and healthcare.
This year’s Oscar-nominated documentaries do just that. They’re historically dense, bracingly relevant, playfully alive, and brutally eye-opening. From the war fields of Syria to the streets of New York’s Chinatown, these films explore issues such as Olympic doping, the meaning of faces, and police brutality.
Regardless of the winner at the 90th Academy Awards in Los Angeles this Sunday, March 4, all the documentaries are worth watching. You can find them on Netflix, Youtube, and other streaming platforms.
Here are this year’s nominees.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail | Steve James, Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman
The 2008 US financial crisis exposed widespread graft and other crimes in the banking and financial sector. Many banks received fines and some mid-level employees went to jail, but the only bank to be charged with criminal misconduct was Abacus Federal Savings Bank, the 2,531st biggest bank in the country with one of the lowest default rates that serves Chinese immigrants in New York’s Chinatown. “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” explores how the bank emerged at a time when few Chinese immigrants in New York used banks and why a family-owned institutions was singled out by federal prosecutors, as flagrant offenders went free.
Faces Places | Agnès Varda, JR and Rosalie Varda
“Each face tells a story,” Agnès Varda, the famed French filmmaker, says in “Faces Places,” and that’s a theory that she goes on to test with the artist JR by making large murals of everyday citizens. The two artists have never collaborated before, but their synergy is immediately apparent in this moving road trip through the countryside of France.
Icarus | Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan
The scale of the Russian Olympic doping scandal was almost unimaginable before the story broke — 99% of Russian athletes had illegal enhancement substances in their systems. “Icarus” follows one of the masterminds, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, in real-time as the scandal unfolds and he lays out the motivations, tactics, betrayals, and reprisals of the grand scheme that rocked the world of sport.
Last Men in Aleppo | Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed and Søren Steen Jespersen
When buildings are leveled by bombs in the war fields of Syria, The White Helmets sift through rubble. When planes strafe community streets with bullets, The White Helmets shield people and lead them to protection. When chemical weapons leave neighborhoods saturated in toxic mist, The White Helmets carry bodies to places where it’s safe to breathe. They’re the emergency, first-responders in the seemingly endless civil war in Syria who relentlessly put their lives on the line to save their fellow citizens. “Last Men in Aleppo” covers their heroic travails.
Strong Island | Yance Ford and Joslyn Barnes
“The police had turned my brother into the prime suspect of his own murder.” That’s the chilling, dizzying, all-too-common situation the Ford family found themselves in when a police officer shot and killed 24-year William Ford Jr. at his home. “Strong Island” revisits the scene of the crime more than two decades later to find a family still reeling with the loss of their beloved son and brother and still trying to seek justice.