5 Oscar nominees you actually need to see

Spanish-language promotional poster for "No." (Monsieur X Studio)

Spanish-language promotional poster for “No.” (Monsieur X Studio)

Have your friends banned you from singing Les Miserables’ anthem “Do You Hear the People Sing” one more time? Can’t stand hearing again and again about how Osama Bin Laden was or wasn’t found? If you want to watch something that will inspire and incite you, check out these five Oscar-nominated films that deserve much more attention than they’ve gotten.

No

Chile’s first film in the Oscars will bring you back to 1988, when acid-washed jeans were hot and Chile was holding a referendum to decide whether they wanted to keep General Pinochet or not. In comes René Saavedra (played by Gael Garcia Bernal), who tries to use his commercial advertising skills to revamp the anti-Pinochet campaign. I really appreciated the scenes where the opposition movement is debating how they want to communicate — do you speak of the anguish, the trials and the political prisoners, and pay homage to the suffering, or do you try to lift fear by inspiring people with a positive message of the future? There’s a good chance you will come out humming some catchy pro-democracy jingles. That’s right — jingles. Right now it’s only playing in theaters in New York and Los Angeles, but hope for a wider release.

Nominated: Best Foreign Language Film

5 Broken Cameras

While lots of films about Palestine are all about politics, this documentary also gives us a poignant personal story. The film was created by a Palestinian villager, Emad Burnat, who first bought a camera to document the life of his youngest son, but ended up also capturing years of his town’s nonviolent resistance to Israeli settlements. The West Bank village of Bil’in has become well known for its people’s courageous efforts; however, what gives this film its strength is the footage of family life behind the resistance — scenes like the one when Burnat’s son’s first words are “wall” and “army,” or even the most casual friendly gathering. The quiet juxtaposition of these moments with the scenes of marches and tear gas are a powerful combination. You can watch it on Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and Amazon (so there’s really no excuse not to see it).

Nominated: Best Documentary Feature

How to Survive a Plague

What stands out in this documentary is the relentless determination of the gay-rights groups ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) to not take “no” for an answer. The film presents the chronology of the battle against AIDS that took place in the streets, in the press and in the laboratories. Come for the bold, creative resistance tactics; stay for the fiercely passionate leaders who have no choice but to fight. You can watch it via pretty much anything (YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, iTunes).

Nominated: Best Documentary Feature

Gatekeepers

Never has a documentary about six old guys been so startling. These aren’t just any old guys in suspenders, though — they’re the six surviving heads of Israel’s security agency Shin Bet. It’s astounding that these men who have each been in charge of one of the world’s most clandestine organizations are now so publicly critical of the failures of the Israeli government. It gives you the perspective of those responsible for harsh crackdowns against Palestinian civilians and militants, including what these men consider their triumphs and their regrets. If you want a film that leaves you optimistic about peace in the Middle East, this isn’t it. If you want to hear Avraham Shalom say, “[We’ve become] a brutal occupation force similar to the Germans in World War II,” then go get yourself a ticket.

Nominated: Best Documentary Feature

Inocente

In this short documentary, the directors explore the life of the most endearing and creative teenager you could ever meet. Inocente covers her face and jeans with beautiful colors, which is her way of coping with the difficult life of being a homeless, undocumented 15-year-old living in San Diego. It’s a vibrant, character-driven short that made me want to cheer for this girl and buy all her paintings (though I could do without the film’s soundtrack).

Nominated: Best Documentary Short

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