OK, I still have a ways to go before I've seen all the narrative and animated feature nominees. But I did manage to catch all the documentary features (they're all streaming on Netflix). I recommend all five. Here's how I rank them, starting at the top.
1. The Square
This account of public protest in Egypt is both inspirational and cautionary. Mass protests bring down the dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak. It takes another round of protests to convince the military to give up power and conduct elections. One of the groups oppressed by Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood, comes to power, and seeks to impose its own tyranny on the people. (I can hardly believe this, but at one point the Brotherhood's leader proclaimed himself Pharaoh.) This led to yet another set of protests. Mind you, at times the rallies were met with deadly force; these people showed a lot of courage. I scratched out a few notes about the film here.
2. Cutie and the Boxer
By the time the film was over, I was charmed by this portrait of a quirky artistic couple in New York. Vivid, interesting people who sometimes made your heart ache.
3. Twenty Feet from Stardom
This film about unheralded backup singers is comfort cinema. The viewer feels ennobled by proxy as the talented people (mostly black women) who sing behind the stars get some deserved recognition.
4. Dirty Wars
America has done some bad, bad things. Remember the heroes who got Osama bin Laden? They were part of the Joint Special Operations Command, which had been conducting secret raids in various countries for years. Sometimes those raids involved the killing of innocent civilians. There is a logic that justifies such killing, but it is reasoning from a very dark place. This documentary follows a reporter as he learns about the activities of the JSOC. The film doesn't provide any simple answers, but boy does it ask some troubling questions.
5. The Act of Killing
This is the most astonishing film of the lot. Nearly fifty years ago, agents of the Indonesian government murdered many people they didn't like–in particular, people they suspected of being Communists. The killers have remained in power and have never been called to account for their murders. In the film, a documentarian offers to help them stage Hollywood-style reenactments of their misdeeds. They respond with enthusiasm, bullying modern-day villagers into participating in the project. After a while, this perverse form of LARPing becomes repetitive. Still, the mind is boggled.