Highly-rated yet little-known movies

agoodmovietowatch suggests excellent movies (and recently shows) that you might not know about.

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agoodmovietowatch

This is a documentary with a dark underbelly. When Bobby Shafran goes on his first day at college, everyone seems to recognize him. The person they're actually recognizing is his twin brother, as the two were separated at birth by an adoption agency. A third brother surfaces to make the story even crazier, but things take a darker turn when questions arise about why they were separated as toddlers and to what end. If it wasn't a documentary, this story would be an unusual science fiction on the themes of identity and nature vs. nurture.

7.7

This is a gripping and incredibly well-made documentary about the demise of the last two Brazilian presidents, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (2003-2011) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016). The first is now in prison, while the second was impeached.The Edge of Democracy is narrated in English by the filmmaker, Petra Costa, a renown Brazilian director. Costa intertwines her family history with Brazil’s, as her parents were activists who were sent to jail in the ‘70s (her mother was held in the same facility as ex-president Rousseff).This grounds the documentary and turns it into a personal story that illustrates the bigger political picture. The Edge of Democracy knows that you don’t know much about Brazilian politics, but makes that a source of suspense rather than a disadvantage. It’s a perfect instructive watch.

9.0
BF

Stories We Tell got on everyone’s radar when, back in 2015, it made the list of the all-time top ten list of Canadian films.That speaks to both the caliber of this movie and its relevance to North America. It’s in fact a first-person account about (and made by) actress Sarah Polley (Mr. Nobody, Exotica, Away from Her, Take This Waltz).In the film, she investigates the rumor that she was the product of an affair, and that her father might not be her biological father. Her family and suspected fathers are all storytellers, and many of them Academy Award winners.Ultimately, the movie becomes about her family’s remembrance of her now-deceased mother (the famous actress Diane Polley). It’s an examination of how the same story can be told so differently by different people and across time. Lies get added and truths are hidden, and all of that enriches Polley’s pursuit.

7.5

A 40 minute, often jaw-dropping movie about an innocent man accused of killing a teenage girl and the attempt to clear him from the murder. The man in question is Juan Catalan, a young father of two who had had a fair share of interactions with the law. His brother had recently been convicted for another murder case, and the witness to his brother's trial was the girl that Juan Catalan would be accused of killing. The fight to prove that he is innocent goes through different phases, one of which amazingly includes Curb Your Enthusiasm and Larry David himself. It's a crazy story told in a very straightforward manner. Don't expect the impact of Making a Murder or anything like that - but if you're in it for the story, you will not be disappointed.

7.4

In a stunning (re)introduction to James Baldwin, intellectual, author, and social critic, this movie digs very deep into the American subconscious and racial history. It is based off a book idea that would have studied the famous assassinations of three of Baldwin's friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., he wrote about 30 pages of it before he passed away in 1987. Raoul Peck picked up the project and made it into this movie, highlighting at the same time Baldwin's genius, his unique and always eloquent perspective as well as the beauty of his soul as a human being. A mesmerizing experience, it is an immensely sad fact that the narrative still feels as relevant now as it was in 1979, and as such this movie serves as a reminder on how far America still has to go.

8.9

The Salt of the Earth is a 2014 biographical documentary about famed Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Directed and narrated by Wim Wenders in collaboration with Salgado’s son, Juliano, the film tells Salgado’s life story from his childhood in northern Brazil, his early career as an economist, and ultimately the shift to photography that would lead him to over 120 countries as a world-renowned photojournalist. Shot in stunning black and white by Juliano and Hugo Barbier, The Salt of the Earth is a mesmerizing exhibition of one man’s lifelong dedication to capturing humanity and nature in remarkable states of peril, compromise and elegance. From the Brazilian gold mine of Serra Pelada to the Yali Tribe of Papua New Guinea to the war-ravaged people of Rwanda (to name just a few), the film follows Salgado’s career through his photography, accompanied by his personal accounts of his many encounters and impressions. It’s Salgado’s grace, empathy and kindness that shine the brightest—remarkable for a man who has seen (and photographed) the worst of humanity over the course of his lifetime. It’s an utterly enthralling experience, upsetting at times in its frank display of war and death, but it ultimately serves as an exemplary presentation of Salgado’s work and his intimate reflections upon a career dedicated to truth, awareness and beauty.

9.0
BF

Incredible footage combined with a great soundtrack will keep you frozen in your seat until global warming melts you off (so to speak). Chasing Ice is about a National Geographic photographer who tries to capture a complete overview of what climate change is doing to our planet. Consequently this movie took years to make and countless technical issues had to be dealt with in order to record the time-lapse videos. The result is mesmerizing, and captures something that has never been caught on camera before. This movie is evidence of what our planet is going through that everyone can relate to. Be prepared to be charmed and saddened at the same time.

9.0
BF

Zero Days is a fascinating and alarming documentary about the Stuxnet computer virus that raised red flags throughout the cyber-security world in 2010 due to its complexity and ambiguous threat. Told in urgent fashion with first-hand accounts from cyber professionals from around the globe, Zero Days details the efforts of analysts to painstakingly dissect the Stuxnet code, and ultimately determine that it was the wayward product of a joint effort between the U.S. and Israel governments to sabotage centrifuges inside Iran's Natanz nuclear plant—in the hopes of slowing their development of nuclear weapons. The unfolding mystery of this story plays out with urgency and dismay, as the implications of this covert operation unfold, including the legitimate threat of retaliation by the Iranian government. It’s a stunning real-life thriller from renowned documentary Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) that not only details the complexities of advanced coding in a remarkably evocative visual manner, but also spells out much of the modern espionage involved in making such an elaborate operation even possible. Ultimately, the message here is that cyber warfare is very much our new reality, and this film deserves to be seen by anyone with any degree of concern over our safety and security in the 21st century.

9.1
BF

An extraordinary documentary full of drama, comedy and heartbreak. It follows two penguins, a couple, for a year as they migrate, give birth and face hardships and tragedy. It captures never seen before moments that stand as a perfect illustration of survival in particular and life in general. All in a very well crafted documentary that you will find both instructive and deeply moving. Won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

7.0

The Look of Silence is an incredible documentary from Director Joshua Oppenheimer, a follow-up/companion piece to his award-winning documentary The Act of Killing. Both films focus on the Indonesian Genocide of 1965-66, where the military government systematically purged up to one million communists. In this film an optician named Adi Rukun meets with various members of the death squad that murdered his brother, under the guise of providing them eye examinations. As he questions them about their participation in the killings, they show little remorse and in fact provide lurid details to the many executions. It’s a stunning and provocative look at the legacy of historical violence, along with the insidious propaganda that provoked it then and continues to justify it to younger generations.

9.1

This is the story of an almost unknown musician of the 60’s and early 70’s, known as Rodriguez. He was shunned in his native U.S., but beloved in the most unlikely of countries, Apartheid-era South Africa. His bootleg albums circulated widely among his fans there, propelling him to extreme levels of fame. But he had no idea. This is a feel-good production that can also be sharp-witted when it needs to be.

9.5
BF

A striking and revelatory documentary focused on the behaviour of captive Orcas and their treatment within SeaWorld and other theme parks around the world. At the center of the story is Tilikum, a bull Orca that has been responsible for the death of three individuals, and the legal and ethical challenges that have arisen from apparent cover-ups by officials. What happened to Tilikum to make him adopt such behavior? First-hand accounts by former whale trainers and experts deliver fascinating truths about Tilikum and the species as whole, with particular attention on their remarkable intelligence and advanced social behaviors. Blackfish will undoubtedly change your perspective on whale captivity indefinitely. It’s certainly not to be missed by anyone who appreciates top-notch documentary film-making as honest historical record.

9.0
BF

Twinsters is a documentary about a young Asian American actress, Samantha Futerman (also co-director), who is contacted over the internet by a young French-Asian woman, Anaïs Bordier, who has been shown a video of Samantha on the internet — and cannot believe their remarkably similar physical appearance. After initial perplexity and uncertainty, Samantha and Anaïs are soon embroiled in excited correspondence and travel to meet one another in their respective countries — eventually confirming via DNA testing that they are in fact long-lost twin sisters given up for adoption 25 years earlier in South Korea. A remarkable true story with a wonderfully beating heart, Twinsters does a lovely job of not just spelling out the amazing story of the sisters’ unlikely connection, but also finding and exploring the growing love and affection between both the two girls, as well as their extended families and groups of friends. A truly touching and humanistic film-viewing experience.

7.5

Undefeated won an Oscar but since it’s a documentary, few sadly paid attention to it. It tells the story of a football team in a poor area in Tennessee. Kids without a bright future, until the new coach arrives. Yes, that sounds like a very old, cliché tale. But keep in mind it is a documentary, and the story it tells is powerful, gripping, and any familiarity quickly becomes irrelevant. Even if you have no interest in American football, or in sports in general, you will love it and more than likely find yourself reaching for the Kleenex at least a few times before the credits roll.

8.4

A documentary where people all around the world were asked to document their day on July 24th, 2010. 80,000 clips amounting to 4,500 hours were submitted from 192 countries, eventually being put together in a 90 minutes film to show what it is like to live a single day in today's world. Produced by Ridley Scott, and directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play); the film-making effort is nothing short of extraordinary. The succession of simple yet deep moments will give you an unprecedented look into just how different or similar your life, struggles, and aspirations are from the rest of the planet. It's moving, and extremely beautiful.

7.5

In the grand tradition of the ethnographic world tours like Mondo Cane, Samsara hits you in the face with the diversity and wonder of human life on earth. Unlike many of its predecessors, which often descended into colonialist gawping, Samara maintains a non judgmental gaze. This film uses no words or narration to travel the world showing you the breathtaking beauty of various countries, cultures, religions, cities, industries and nature. Shot on 70mm film, the definition and clarity has to be seen to be believed.

9.0
BF

You will be most astonished by this electrifying documentary if you are not a racing fan, and even more if you have never heard of Ayrton Senna. The movie matches this character in being captivating beyond belief; incredibly powerful and sublime. Director Asif Kapadia develops a compelling and exciting picture of F1 and the man that was Ayrton Senna. At a time when F1 cars were +1000hp fire breathing monsters and the grid was stacked with world champions, Senna rose above the rest to take 3 world championships and win the fabled Monaco Grand Prix a record 6 times. Unfortunately Senna's life was cut short at the age of 34 in a devastating racing crash. By many he is still considered one the best and most exciting racing drivers to have ever stepped into an F1.

9.5
BF

This surprising documentary follows Jiro, an 85 year old Japanese chef, his Michelin-starred restaurant in the Tokyo underground, and his eager sons. While ostensibly about sushi – and believe me, you’ll learn about sushi and see absolutely gorgeous images of the raw-fish creations – the film’s dramatic impetus is carried by the weight of tradition, the beauty of a labor of love, obsession, and the relationship between father and son. Truly a must-watch.

8.8

Man on Wire is a true technical masterpiece. You can almost feel the director telling the cameraman what angle to choose, or thinking about the questions that will generate the most resounding answers. However, this does not diminish the story this documentary tells one bit. It’s one that is glorious, riveting, and fun. It’s one where you feel like an insider to a world lived on and below wires, with high-stake risks. Hopefully the edge of your seat is comfortable, because this is where the movie will keep you till the very end.

7.9