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86 Best Documentary Movies to Watch

A documentary that is immediate and plays out like a thriller. Beautifully shot in Virunga National Park in the Eastern Congo, the story focuses on the struggles between Park Rangers and a list of adversaries including poachers, oil company goons, and an Islamic revolutionary army. The stories of the endangered gorillas and the people who struggle to protect them will break your heart and at the same time give you hope in humanity. On top of this, the editing is superb and gives the film an intensity that rivals any recent thriller.

9.0

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

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

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Like all great documentaries, Angry Inuk is about way more than its tagline. At first glance, it's about how anti-sealing activism has been harming Inuit communities since the 1980s, to the point of instituting the highest rates of hunger and suicide anywhere in the "developed" world. But beyond, it's about the complicity of the government of Canada. A crushed seal-based economy means that the Inuit have to agree to oil and uranium mining in the Arctic.Angry Inuk is also about the corrupt behavior of animal rights organizations like Greenpeace: seals are actually not on the endangered animal list but NGOs focus on them because they make them money.It's an infuriating but incredibly important documentary. One that is not about how Canada has a bad history, but about how Canada is harming the Inuit right now.

8.8

It’s difficult to describe this miniseries as just one thing: it has elements of true crime, but it’s more than just a “Netflix true-crime show.” It’s also about an immensely empathetic and likable family man who joins the fight against the opioid epidemic.Dan Schneider, a small-town pharmacist, lost his teenage son to drug-related violence in New Orleans’ notorious Lower 9th Ward neighborhood. With corruption rampant in the city’s police department, he takes matters into his own hands and starts investigating his son’s murder.Beyond this murder, Dan notices a rise in opioid prescriptions from one doctor. Fueled by a relentless determination to protect other children from addiction, he quits his job and begins to gather evidence against this doctor and, by extension, the company responsible for the sale of Oxycodone: Purdue Pharma.

8.6

The Tragically Hip was a deeply beloved band from Ontario that peaked in the 90s with hits like Grace, Too or Nautical Disaster. The Hip, as their fans refer to them, had just finished recording their latest album in 2015 when the lead singer was diagnosed with a fatal disease. This movie is about them deciding to go on one last tour to say goodbye to their fans and country. Mostly, it’s about the singer, Gord Downie, and how his personality and love for the music shined through his illness. Picture someone who is giving an immaculate performance despite being a few weeks away from death, and a packed stadium of people singing along in tears - this is this movie. It’s truly an incredible story of human ambition, empathy, and the bond that music can create between an artist and a whole nation.

8.6

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This story of a filmmaker who stayed in Aleppo, Syria during the war, got married then had a child called Sama, is a mix of difficult and inspiring.There are stories of unsurmountable loss, as the filmmaker’s husband is one of the 30 remaining doctors in Aleppo (a city of almost 5 million), and she films many of the victims that come to his hospital. But while this is happening, there are also uplifting stories of resilience and rare but profound moments of laughter and joy.We’re growing too sensitized to violence in Syria, and this movie, possibly the most intimate account of the war, can stir back a much-needed awareness of the injustices that take place.When things get really bad in the documentary, it’s hard not to wonder where the humanity is in all of this. You quickly realize that it’s right there, behind the camera, in Sama and her mother’s will to live.

8.6