50 Informative Documentaries to Watch Now

50 Informative Documentaries to Watch Now

January 25, 2024

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All documentaries talk about something real in the world, but there’s a fine line between docs that just ramble on and regurgitate established facts at us, and docs that really zero in on a subject—getting us to care about something we might never have paid attention to before, and potentially changing the way we think about everything. Here at agoodmovietowatch, we’ve compiled a list of the best little-known documentaries that really believe in what they’re saying and hope to pique your curiosity and command your attention. And since these films are highly-rated not just by critics but by audiences too, you can trust that watching them won’t feel like you’re just stuck in school.

1. Senna (2010)

best

9.5

Country

France, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Asif Kapadia

Actors

Adriane Galisteu, Alain Prost, Arnaldo Jabor, Ayrton Senna

Moods

Dramatic, Inspiring, Instructive

If you’re not a fan of F1 racing, you might not know who Ayrton Senna is. If you are, there is no way you don’t know. However, this 2010 British-French documentary packs so much thrill and emotion, you don’t have to be a racing enthusiast to be engrossed by it.

So, who is Ayrton Senna? At a time when F1 cars were +1000HP fire-breathing monsters and the grid was stacked with world champions, the Brazilian racing driver rose above the rest to take 3 world championships and win the fabled Monaco Grand Prix a record 6 times. At the age of 34, a devastating car crash took his life.

Director Asif Kapadia develops a compelling, emotional, and exhilarating portrait of F1 racing and the man that was Ayrton Senna. He is still considered by many to be one the best and most exciting racing drivers to have ever stepped into an F1 car. The documentary too, is a thrilling pursuit: moving, psychological intriguing and absolutely nerve-wracking!

2. Icarus (2017)

best

9.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Bryan Fogel

Actors

Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan, Don Catlin, Grigory Rodchenkov

Moods

Dark, Instructive, Mind-blowing

Director Bryan Fogel, who you might know as the guy behind Jewtopia, initially set out to chronicle his exploration of doping to win an amateur cycling race. He starts off by reaching out to experts to help him with obtaining and administering said drugs, one of which points him towards Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory. Rodchenkov eagerly agrees to help him out.

Little did he know that his Russian acquaintance would transform Fogel film from a self-experiment documentary into a true-crime political thriller, when the scientist admits to being involved in a state-sponsored doping scheme of epic proportions on camera. Putin is obviously not amused.

Aside from all the madness that unfolds in this Netflix production, it’s Rodchenkov’s likeable and eccentric personality that makes the story more relatable and human as well as giving you a rare glimpse into the upper echelons of a country like Russia. As the plot thickens, one can’t help but think that Fogel too is in over his head. Rightly award-winning, this is gripping stuff even if you’re not into sports!

3. Honeyland (2019)

best

9.3

Country

Macedonia

Director

Female director, Ljubomir Stefanov

Actors

Hatidze Muratova, Hatidzhe Muratova, Hussein Sam, Nazife Muratova

Moods

Instructive

The first movie to be nominated for both the Documentary and Foreign-Language Oscar categories and the most awarded film of the 2019 Sundance Festival, Honeyland quietly accompanies the last wild beekeepers in Europe over three years. It portrays the lonely and primordial life of Muratova, which is centered around harvesting honey according to the rules of her ancient ancestors and caring for her ailing mother.

Originally planned as an environmental documentary, this film evolved into something completely different, as it often goes with immersive documentaries, when the Macedonian directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov met beekeeper Hatidže. The film takes another sudden turn when Muratova’s life is upended by a nomadic family settling next door, threatening her tradition, her way of life, and her natural environment.

This unbelievable cinematic journey is a feast for the eyes thanks to the amazing work done by cinematographer Samir Ljuma. However, despite the awe-inspiring imagery, Honeyland never imposes on its subject, creating an incredible intimacy with Hatidže’s life and her natural environment. Breathtaking!

4. George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)

best

9.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Martin Scorsese

Actors

Astrid Kirchherr, Billy Preston, Bob Dylan, Brian Epstein

Moods

Instructive, Long, Slow

Living in the Material World tells the story of one of the most influential musicians of recent history, the “quiet Beatle” George Harrison. It is, in turn, told through the eyes of one of the most prominent filmmakers of recent history, the always amazing Martin Scorsese. Famous for his feature films, Scorsese has been a champion of documentary films and an avid maker of them. Drawing on archive footage, home movies, and many newly recorded interviews, including with Paul and Ringo, Eric Clapton, Phil Spector, and Terry Gilliam, he tells the complete story – and this is to be taken quite literally – of an indeed quiet, torn, and searching human being as well as an immensely talented, inspiring, and spiritual artist. This heart-felt and intimate 3.5-hour documentary is an awe-inspiring exploration of Harrison’s time with The Beatles as well as his subsequent solo career as a musician and as a philanthropist. In case you had your mind made up on who’s your favorite Beatle, Scorsese might make you rethink.

5. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton (2017)

best

9.2

Country

Canada, United States of America

Director

Chris Smith

Actors

Andy Dick, Andy Kaufman, Bob Zmuda, Carol Kane

Moods

Dark, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

After his first serious role in The Truman Show in 1998, Jim Carrey got a shot at playing his idol, the late comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufmann, in Man on the Moon in 1999. When he got the role, a role of a lifetime, Carrey decided to honor Kaufmann’s legacy by transforming into him (and his alter ego Tony Clifton) and, in true method-acting fashion, never to leave character. Jim & Andy is the result of 100 hours of behind-the-scenes footage shot at the Man on the Moon set, which was withheld for 20 years over fears of Universal Studios that people would think Carrey was an a**hole. While Carrey was a complete and utter imposition to the film’s director, Miloš Forman, and everybody else on set, including Danny DeVito, his transformation (or obsession) was a unique, transformative experience for Carrey, who had been sick of fame and acting before he took on this gig. Whether you buy into this view or see it as a vanity piece of a complete maniac, this is one of the most unique and insane documentaries on Netflix. A mind-blowing portrayal of a complex mind.

6. Zero Days (2016)

best

9.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Alex Gibney

Actors

Allison Cohn, Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, David Sanger

Moods

Instructive, Intense, Mind-blowing

Told in urgent fashion with first-hand accounts from cyber professionals from around the globe, Zero Days is a fascinating and alarming documentary about the Stuxnet computer virus. Originally codenamed “Olympic Games” by the people that fathered the worm, Stuxnet is a virus in the true sense of the word. It not only maliciously feeds off the host, but it also replicates itself as soon as it is implanted, which is exactly what it did when it was used by the US and Israeli secret services to sabotage centrifuges inside Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant—making them spin out of control. All this is brilliantly unpacked by renowned documentary maker Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), who manages not only to detail the complexities of advanced coding in a remarkably evocative manner, but also to send out a well-researched alarm call about the future of war. Ultimately, the message here is that cyber warfare is very much part of our new shared reality. This film deserves to be seen by anyone who is even remotely concerned about global security in the 21st century.

7. Best of Enemies (2015)

best

9.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Morgan Neville, Robert Gordon

Actors

Christopher Hitchens, Dick Cavett, Gore Vidal, John Lithgow

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Instructive, Smart

Do today’s political talk shows often feel like meek, scripted, and predictable affairs to you? Would you rather have that euphoric feeling you get when watching someone smart and eloquent talk about important ideas? Multiply that by two and you get Best of Enemies. In 1968, ABC covered the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach and the historic Democratic National Convention in Chicago by airing a 10-part series of nationally televised debates between two ideologically opposed and sharp-minded public intellectuals: Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley. The former was an ardent and openly bisexual liberal and progressive. The latter an elitist cultural conservative, whose magazine, National Review, vowed to always support the most far-right candidate viable for office. This confrontational set-up is not only credited with ushering in an era of pundit politics, but also with producing some of the most entertaining intellectual debate ever to be seen on TV. When’s the last time you saw anybody unironically being called a “crypto-Nazi” on national television?

8. Inside Job (2010)

best

9.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Charles Ferguson

Actors

Andri Snær Magnason, Ann Curry, Barack Obama, Barney Frank

Moods

Instructive, Mind-blowing, Thought-provoking

This Oscar winning documentary is no standard film. Even by being beautifully crafted and having an amazing soundtrack–soundtracks are important–it does not miss its core story for a second. A delivery so good and so crisp that it will make you go “the sons of b” and “those motherf” more times than Joey from Friends got laid in 1999. On a more serious note, Inside Job is a great and complete technical overview of the financial meltdown. I know the word “technical” scared you there, but it shouldn’t! The movie is simple, uses charts and colors for all of us who once thought figures and formulas were too complicated to understand — it even makes you go, “hey, this is not so difficult to understand. Them motherf.’ The movie is also very exciting: no spoilers but all I can say is that there are b*s trippin in there.

9. The Act of Killing (2012)

9.0

Country

Denmark, Finland, Germany

Director

Christine Cynn, Female director

Actors

Adi Zulkadry, Anwar Congo, Haji Anif, Herman Koto

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

Joshua Oppenheimer’s daring feat is a documentary unlike anything ever done. Despite it being one of the most difficult things to watch for any human being (or because of it), The Act of Killing received praise across the board, including an Academy Award nomination. Without Oppenheimer’s efforts, you might have never heard of the unspeakable events that happened when, in 1965-66, Suharto overthrew the then-president of Indonesia and a gangster-led death squad killed almost a million people. Did they pay for their crimes? Quite the contrary: said gangsters went on becoming political mainstays in modern-day Indonesia, are still now heralded as heroes, and admit to all these crimes with a smile and not a hint of regret. The gruesome twist of this documentary is that Oppenheimer asks them to re-enact the killings in surreal, sadistic snuff movies inspired by the murderer’s favorite action movies. You are forced to stand idly by as they re-create brutal mass murder and joke about raping a 14-year-old. However, somewhere amidst this terrifying farce, the killers, too, have fleeting moments of realization that what they’re doing is wrong. If you make it through this in one piece, try watching its more victim-focused follow-up The Look of Silence. Bone-chilling but very powerful stuff.

10. Virunga (2014)

best

9.0

Country

Congo, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Orlando von Einsiedel

Actors

André Bauma, Emmanuel de Merode, Mélanie Gouby, Orlando von Einsiedel

Moods

Instructive, Raw, Thought-provoking

Orlando von Einsiedel’s epic documentary is at once a stunning natural film, an intimate human drama, and an intense political thriller slash investigative report. The titular Virunga National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site in Eastern Congo, serves as the magnifying glass through which we witness the natural, human, and political crisis of this embattled and volatile region. There are poachers killing endangered gorillas, the bloody business of Big Oil companies, government forces fighting a myriad of militias, and, lastly, the three individuals struggling to protect Virunga and its mountain gorillas from death and destruction. The result is a snap-crackle-pop-type situation, like sitting on a powder keg. The film captures all this superbly with great editing, compelling real-life material, and gripping action. Virunga’s intensity can rival a well-made fictional thriller any day of the week.

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