What to Watch Tonight

The top five films riding Oscar’s short list

Feeling locked into prime-time reruns and sappy holiday movies?

The truth shall set you free. Spend the night on one of the documentaries vying for an Oscar nomination.

Due to some rule tweaking gone awry, the Academy was drowning in a 147-film screening process (to give you perspective, that’s 21 more than last year). Many a popped kernel later, the field was narrowed to fifteen, which now make up the short list.

We whittled down the list further to the five you simply must see.

5. The Act of Killing
Indonesian death squad members responsible for massive killings reenact their murders for the screen. It’s so twisted, half the crew is listed as anonymous.
Where to watch: Theaters. Available for purchase January 7.

4. Cutie and the Boxer
Married artists working in their respective corners in their NYC studio, Ushio and Noriko battle for the spotlight in a festival doc sweeter than red bean ice cream.
Where to watch: Netflix streaming, Amazon, iTunes, $4-$15.

3. 20 Feet from Stardom
You know their songs but not their names. Morgan Neville’s doc (nominated for top prize at Sundance) gives voice to the joyful noise behind Ray Charles, Sting, David Bowie, and Mick Jagger.
Where to watch: Theaters. Available for purchase January 14.

2. Stories We Tell
Canadian Sarah Polley’s latest project digs through refracted memories for a truth rooted in her own family tree. And it plays out like a drama, each interview revealing little nuggets of scandal.
Where to watch: Amazon, iTunes, $4-$18.

1. Blackfish
He weighs six tons, could swallow a horse, and tears humans in half. What you don’t know: He was orca-napped from his mother’s side, starved, and kept in a black box at oceanariums. We’re talking about Tilikum, subject of the documentary that’s fish-slapping SeaWorld and marine parks alike. You. will. need. tissues.
Where to watch: Netflix streaming, Amazon, iTunes, $4-$15.

The five Oscar nominees will be announced January 16. For the complete short list, go to oscars.org.

Photo: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures