20 Oscar Nominated Documentaries You Can Stream Right Now


Beyond the recommended homepage on your favourite streaming service, there’s a whole treasure trove of award-winning documentaries.

Sure, you’ve probably seen a bunch of the films I’m about to tell you about—but all of them? Come on, pal. Scroll on through for 20 Oscar-winning and nominated docs you should tick off the list this evening.

Searching for Sugar Man

Filmmakers Stephen Segerman and Craig Bartholomew really stumbled upon the story of a lifetime with this one. Rodriguez was hailed as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the 1970s by his dedicated cult following, but rumours of his death slowly began to spread as the musical genius seemingly vanished from face of the earth. Searching for Sugar Man is the story of Segerman and Bartholomew’s quest to find out what happened to the mysterious Rodriguez, and for those of you who are yet to experience this absolute classic, I’ll leave it at that—you’ll thank me later.

Stream now on Stan.

Man on Wire

On August 7th, 1974, a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire illegally rigged between the New York World Trade Center’s twin towers (it took him six years of planning to set up the 110-story-high tightrope). Man on Wire features Petit’s personal footage of a number of his dangerous high-wire feats on monuments all over the globe, including the time he gave the local Sydney law enforcement a run for their money after walking across a wire he’d set up on the Harbour Bridge.

Stream now on YouTube.

Buena Vista Social Club

If you’re looking for something a little slower-paced and entirely stress-free, this is the documentary for you. Wim Wenders’ 90s documentary about veteran Cuban collective, Buena Vista Social Club, is a portrait not just of the legendary musicians, but the island home which birthed their melting-pot sound. The group’s 1997 debut album went on to sell millions of records worldwide, and the documentary scored an Oscar nomination at the 1999 Academy Awards.

Stream now on Hulu. 

Strong Island

Strong Island tells the story of the 1992 murder of 24-year old Black school teacher, William Ford. Shot in the chest by 19-year-old white mechanic Mark Reilly, the crime never went to trial and the killer was never convicted. An all-white grand jury ruled that the crime was a ‘justifiable shooting’ as a result of self-defence… sound familiar? The film was ten years in the making for Ford’s brother Yance and now, three years after its release, it’s still devastatingly relevant.

Stream on Netflix. 

Minding the Gap

Filmed over six years, Minding the Gap follows a group of friends as they deal with family trauma, adolescence, and identity, finding solace in skateboarding and their friendships with one another. Director and filmer Bing Liu did an incredible job of translating his and his friends’ most vulnerable moments into a portrait of young adulthood in modern-day America, and it was entirely deserving of the Oscar animation it scored in 208 (before being beaten to the top prize by Free Solo).

Stream on Hulu.

13th

If you hadn’t already seen Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary 13th yet, then there’s a high chance you’ve seen it pop back up in your feed in light of the BLM protests over the past few months. From start to finish, DuVernay lays out uncomfortable truths about racial inequity and mass incarceration in the US (one jaw-dropping statistic is that the US has less than 5% of the world’s population but almost 25% of the world’s prisoners). If you don’t finish this film with a boiling sense of outrage, you haven’t been paying attention.

Stream on Netflix.

Fire At Sea

Few films captured the horrors of the European migrant crisis like Fire at Sea did back in 2016. Shot on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa during the European migrant crisis, filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi uses the slow-paced lifestyle of the island’s locals as a juxtaposition for the dangerous—and sometimes fatal—ocean crossing that many refugees undertook, fleeing persecution and war in their home countries. Not only did it get nominated for the 2016 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, it was also the first documentary to ever win the top award at the Berlin International Film Festival. With today’s never-ending cycle of bad news, it can take a lot to cut through the noise and make people care about people and places far from home, and Fire At Sea does just that.

Stream on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99.

Murderball

Wheelchair rugby puts all other contact sports to shame, and Murderball is all you need for proof. The players tackle, bump and crash into each other with full-speed ferocity, often knocking each other sideways in their purpose-built wheelchairs. This documentary follows the rivalry between the Canadian and US teams in the lead-up to the 2004 Paralympic Games, and it’ll blow your mind.

Stream on Amazon Prime Video.

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

What began as peaceful student demonstrations in Ukraine in 2014, morphed into a violent revolution between everyday citizens and a corrupt government that lasted 93 terrifying days. The president at the time, Victor Yanukovych, ordered his private police force to take over, and 50 citizens were gunned down in what’s now known as the Maidan Massacre. The government’s tyrannical grip on the city lasted three long months, but after one million people flocked to Kiev to join the fight (included a 12-year-old runaway who defends himself with a slingshot and helps to repair his fellow citizens’ mobile phones), the people won.

Stream on Netflix.

I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro is a journey into Black history that connects the Civil Rights movement to the current #BlackLivesMatter protests, making it particularly essential viewing for the year 2020. Based on James Baldwin’s manuscript for Remember This House (a personal account of the lives and assassinations of his close friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.), the film puts a magnifying glass on the state of race relations in modern America, in Baldwin’s own words and complemented by an absolute treasure trove of archive material.

Stream on Stan.

Amy

If you’ve seen the award-winning Amy already, you don’t need a reminder of how crushing this film really is. Seeing one of modern music’s most talented musicians go from an excitable and rebellious teen, to an exhausted and heavily-addicted by-product of fame, makes this film incredibly hard to watch. But, being allowed access to a side of Amy Winehouse that was entirely different to her portrayal in the blood-sucking paparazzi media of the time, is a huge gift to anyone who sits down to watch this. Spliced with home videos and interviews with friends, family, collaborators, love interests, and Amy herself, it’s a deeply intimate portrait of a once-in-a-generation artist who’s sorely missed.

Stream on Netflix.

Bowling for Columbine

Can you believe it’s been nearly 20 years since Michael Moore released Bowling for Columbine? Unsurprisingly, thoughts and prayers haven’t kept American schoolkids safe from school shootings since then—hundreds of school shootings have taken place across the country since 2002, including 11 mass shootings (classified as an incident where there are four or more victims). This documentary was definitely a trailblazer of its time, so if you were either too preoccupied or still a twinkle in your father’s eye when it was released back in the early 2000’s, now’s the time to check it out.

Stream on Hulu.

The Edge of Democracy

Director Petra Costa delves into the tumultuous recent history of Brazil’s democracy, through her own experience of growing up in the years following military dictatorship. She takes viewers inside her country’s (and her own) bright-eyed hopes for a functioning democracy with charismatic leaders at the helm. But, sadly, it wouldn’t last, and corruption and an impeachment drove a wedge through everyday Brazilians and left the country divided.

Stream on Netflix.

What Happened, Miss Simone? 

Directed by Liz Garbus, this biographical masterpiece tells the story of Nina Simone the music icon, but perhaps more importantly, it shines a light on Nina Simone the activist. Heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement (she grew up next door to Malcolm X and his family), Simone was a determined advocate for Black rights, all while juggling a successful music career and struggles with mental health. It’s a fascinating portrait of incomparable talent, and you should definitely give it a watch right now.

Stream on Netflix.

Faces Places

Faces Places sees an unlikely friendship between iconic French director Agnes Varda (also known as the ‘grandmother of French New Wave’) and French street artist JR, 55 years her junior. The pair travel the French countryside in JR’s ‘Inside Out’ van creating art and ruminating on life—a film that’s become all the more profound after Varda’s passing in 2019 at 90 years of age.

Stream on Amazon Prime Video.

Exit Through The Gift Shop

Directed by Banksy, this documentary tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles, and his obsession with street art. The film has been pieced together using Guetta’s home videos—he documents his every waking moment on film—of which there were around 10,000 hours. Here’s hoping the film editors got paid overtime for this one.

Stream on Stan.

Of Fathers and Sons

Filmmaker Talal Derki hoodwinked a radical Islamic father, Abu Osama, into allowing him access to his family under the guise of being a pro-jihadist photojournalist sympathetic to his cause. The documentary focuses on Osama’s two sons, who are forced to fight their father’s father’s father’s father’s (you get the gist) war, and begin military training with the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra. It’s a confronting, uncensored look into the life and ideology of a radicalised family, and it’s scary as hell.

Stream on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99.

Gasland

Josh Fox’s 2010 documentary Gasland starts with him reading a letter from a natural gas company to his family, offering $100,000 to drill for gas on their land. He then sets out on a mission to document the effects that natural gas drilling (or fracking, as it’s since become commonly known) in small communities across America, finding chronic health problems and water contamination as scarily common by-products of the incredibly harmful drilling process.

Stream on Stan.

20 Feet From Stardom

Finally, backup singers got the spotlight they deserve in Morgan Neville’s 2014 Oscar-winning doc. The film takes a behind-the-scenes look at the careers of backup singers Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Táta Vega, and Jo Lawry, among many others.

Stream now on Stan.

Honourable Mentions (films that were royally snubbed)  

Though they missed out on being nominated for the Oscars, Paris is Burning, Hoop Dreams, Gimme Shelter, and One Child Nation are just a few must-watch docs also available to watch now on streaming services.

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