Three of this year's Oscar-nominated documentaries are streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video right now. Hurry and you can catch them before Sunday night's Academy Awards show.
How to Survive a Plague (streaming on Netflix Instant and Amazon Instant Video; not rated) David France's Oscar-nominated documentary chronicling the birth of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power – better known by their cheekily imperative acronym, ACT UP – will send shivers down the spine of any viewer old enough to remember the confusion and, yes, powerlessness of the pre-drug AIDS era. The film uses masses of archival footage, much more of it than of present-day interview footage, and the effect is not to re-create the anger, sorrow, brief joys and lasting bitterness of the early struggle, but actually make viewers feel they are living (or re-living) it. ACT UP's brilliant marketing materials (posters, stickers, slogans – of which the most famous is "Silence = Death") and their articulate, intelligent, usefully channeled pure rage were the blueprint for all successful activist organizations to follow them, and their successes in getting AIDS-fighting drugs to market strike the only "happy" note of what is still a terrifying health crisis. – Jessica Bryce Young
The Invisible War (streaming on Netflix Instant and Amazon Instant Video; not rated) One advertisement in this charged documentary proclaims, "It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman … the Army needs you." Tragically, in the unresolved cases of many military men and women, there was no foretelling that the armed forces would also rape them. This sad film uses high-paced military promos to further incite infuriated repulsion over the horrific stories its brave subjects bring to light. It's jarring and deadly depressing and leaves you desperate for immediate and necessary change. – Ashley Belanger
Searching for Sugar Man (streaming on Netflix Instant and Amazon Instant Video; PG-13) In 2012, Swedish documentarian Malik Bendjelloul put together this fascinating documentary about enigmatic '70s rock/folk singer Sixto Rodriguez. The film follows the efforts of two fans, Stephen "Sugar" Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, who want to find out whether the rumored death of Rodriguez – who had supposedly set himself on fire onstage and burned before a live audience – was true. If not, they wanted to find out what had become of the man who never quite made it big in the United States but had a huge following in, of all places, South Africa. It's part detective story, part fable, part love letter to the Detroit musician. The tale is so surreal and implausible that it's almost difficult to believe, at times, that it's true. But that's the beauty of this doc – it draws you in with its tall tale, then traps you with its gritty reality. – Erin Sullivan