Faced With Too Many Oscar-Qualifying Docs, Where Should Voters Begin?

Think of the sprawling field of documentary features to consider as a buffet. Oscar guru Tim Gray divides up the courses by topic.

20 Feet From Stardom

Members of the Academy’s documentary branch may see their 149 films as proof that reality bites.

Never fear. Variety will help you sort through this. Don’t think of it as a mountainous assignment. Think of these titles as a buffet: Just decide what kind of meal you are in the mood for. Here are various categories and a cross-section of titles that may appeal to your tastebuds.

America today: “After Tiller” (late-term abortions), “Best Kept Secret” (education), “Blackfish” (captive whales), “Dirty Wars” (covert ops), “Gideon’s Army” (public defenders), “Letters to Jackie” (Bill Couturie, letters of sympathy after JFK’s shooting), “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary” (notorious political prisoner), “The Unknown Known” (Donald Rumsfeld, exposed), “Valentino’s Ghost” (U.S. foreign policy).

International affairs: “The Act of Killing” (Indonesia gangsters re-enact murders), “Blood Brother” (Sundance-winning portrait of an AIDS hostel in India), “God Loves Uganda” (American Evangelicals in Africa), “Narco Cutura” (narco traffickers), “The Square” (Egypt), “Stolen Seas” (Somali piracy).

The economy: “Inequality for All,” “Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve,” “99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film.”

Hard to describe: “Approved for Adoption” (half-animated cross-cultural memoir), “Cutie and the Boxer” (an artistic N.Y. relationship), “The Missing Picture” (conceptual re-creation of Khmer Rouge atrocities), “Stories We Tell” (Sarah Polley, family matters, sorta/kinda), “Tim’s Vermeer” (directed by Teller of Penn & Teller, a look at art and creativity).

Gay issues: “Bridegroom” (case study on equal rights), “Call Me Kuchu” (a gay man fights Uganda’s legal ban), “Married and Counting” (cross-country odyssey), “The New Black” (minority activism in same-sex ballot initiatives), “Two: The Story of Roman and Nyro” (a gay couple and their children), “Valentine Road” (hate crimes in Oxnard).
The Internet and lack of privacy: “Terms and Conditions May Apply,” “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.”

And showbiz: The year’s highest-grossing docu is “20 Feet From Stardom” (the unsung story of backup singers), pictured above. Also, “Becoming Traviata,” “Casting By,” “CinemAbility,” “The Girls in the Band,” “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” “Muscle Shoals,” “The Muslims Are Coming!” (Muslim comics tour America), “The Network” (Afghanistan TV), “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer,” “Running From Crazy” (the Hemingway family), “Seduced and Abandoned” (James Toback in Cannes), “12 12 12.”

Whatever films you choose, make sure to spread the word.