Analyzing this year’s sobering assortment of documentary short subject Oscar players

This year's line-up of documentary short Oscar finalists is a heavy bunch. Three deal with terminal diseases, one touches on post-traumatic stress, another focuses on the heart-wrenching fallout of natural disaster and social policy and still another observes the psychological rigors of a particularly gruesome occupation. Only one of the films fully eschews troubling stories of struggle. Perhaps that's less a commentary on the films themselves than the world they're documenting.

In any case, it's a rich assortment. And it will really come down, in a few cases, to what “type” of film voters want to pass on through to the next stage. Because – and not to be too reductive – there are a few instances of similar turf being trodden, though never with diminishing returns or impact. Each of the movies is expertly rendered and tells a vital real-world story. No surprise, then, that they've made it this far.

So once again I've taken a deep dive into all the finalists. Much like with the animated shorts, I'm happy I'm not the one who has to whittle it down from here, but I imagine all viewers of the lot will return to their regular lives a little more enlightened. Learn more about this year's contenders below, with accompanying trailers where available.

The five Best Documentary Short Subject Oscar nominees will be announced alongside all other nominees on Jan. 15, 2015.