The Best Documentaries on Hulu Right Now

The Best Documentaries on Hulu Right Now

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Drawing its films from an eclectic mix of sources, and backed by the reach of Disney, Hulu has become a unique place to find original and at times unconventional fare. Take the documentary film: while some networks and streamers lock in on particular types of documentaries—often going the classical route of combining archival footage with talking heads or voiceover narration—Hulu also offers documentaries that are more than happy to play with the form. Through different structures, offbeat characters, and combinations of techniques, these documentaries can help you rethink the very way you think about things.

10. Three Identical Strangers (2018)

7.7

Country

UK, United Kingdom

Director

Tim Wardle

Actors

David Kellman, Ellen Cervone, Howard Schneider, Lawrence Wright

Moods

Feel-Good, Mind-blowing, Sunday

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.

9. The Painter and the Thief (2020)

7.8

Country

Norway, United States of America

Director

Benjamin Ree

Actors

Karl-Bertil Nordland

The Painter and the Thief opens with a great hook: an artist tracks down and confronts the man who stole her painting. In a surprising turn, the two become close and develop an intimacy that deepens when she begins to paint the troubled man.

Yet, director Benjamin Ree pushes past where other documentarians would have been content to stop, and instead begins to deconstruct the very narrative we’ve followed up till now. At its core, this is a film about the way we tell stories about ourselves and others, and how often people don’t fit into the neat categories we set out for them.

8. Apollo 11 (2019)

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Todd Douglas Miller

Actors

Buzz Aldrin, Deke Slayton, Gene Kranz, Jim Lovell

Moods

Instructive, Sunday, True-story-based

What makes Apollo 11 stand out is its sharp minimalist approach, allowing the archival footage of the mission to the moon to speak for itself. It’s stunning to think that at one point or another we had collectively seen a bulk of the footage in this film, and yet somehow let it lay dormant until the moon landing had been reduced to black and white stills in our collective imaginations. Not only does this film reinvigorate the moon landing with the power that it once held, but it does so in a way that is more thrilling than anything the Marvel CGI wizards could muster. The vibrant score adds a layer of ferocious tension, while the breakneck pace gives the feel of a rollercoaster ride. If there is any fault to find here, it is most definitely with the film’s MAGA style yearning for a time and place that never existed. Spare us the teary-eyed patriotism and the clips of Nixon, a disgraceful criminal, and vile racist, yammering on about the world becoming one. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic example of why most biopics should just be documentaries and why the fanatical fear of spoilers is a tad silly. Spoiler alert: they land on the moon.

7. American Animals (2018)

best

8.0

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Bart Layton

Actors

Al Mitchell, Ann Dowd, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner

Moods

Gripping, Suspenseful, Thrilling

This crazy heist movie is told in a very original way. Because it’s based on a true story, the movie (with actors and a story) is sometimes interrupted by the people it’s about. The opening scene even reads: “this movie is not based on a true story, it is a true story”. Two friends decide to rob their local library from rare books worth millions. They’re driven by money but also by wanting something different than their monotonous everyday lives in Kentucky. The need for a change is a big theme in this movie, but the story and the way it’s told never cease to be breathtakingly thrilling. American Animals stars amazing actors like Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk), Evan Peters (Kick-Ass), and many more; but perhaps equally as notable is the director: Bart Layton, who is fresh from his amazing 2012 sleeper-hit The Imposter.

6. Flee (2021)

best

8.5

Country

Denmark, Estonia, Finland

Director

Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Actors

Behrouz Bigdeli, Belal Faiz, Daniel Karimyar, Fardin Mijdzadeh

Moods

Discussion-sparking, True-story-based

When Amin sits down for a tell-all interview about his troubling past, his memories come to life in vivid animation. Sometimes they are sweet and intimate, like when he recounts his time as a playful boy in a much freer Afghanistan. But often, they’re marred by the unbelievable horrors of refugee life. Now a successful academic and soon-to-be husband, Amin discovers the inescapability of his status and identity, the reality of which continues to threaten his safety to this day.

Relevant and vital, Flee sheds some much-needed light on an often-overlooked phenomenon. More than just displaying factoids and numbers, it relays the specific unease and constant vigilance that comes with fleeing one’s home. But as Amin’s story, it is also richly detailed and wonderfully personal; for all its harsh exposés, the film leaves enough room for Amin’s stirring realizations about love, identity, and sexuality.

5. Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)

best

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Questlove

Actors

B. B. King, Chris Rock, Fidel Castro, Jesse Jackson

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Easy, Feel-Good

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film’s pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

4. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

best

8.8

Country

Japan, United States of America

Director

David Gelb

Actors

Daisuke Nakazama, David Gelb, Hachiro Mizutani, Harutaki Takahashi

Moods

Feel-Good, Inspiring

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.

3. I Am Not Your Negro (2017)

best

8.9

Country

Belgium, France, Switzerland

Director

Raoul Peck

Actors

Bob Dylan, Dick Cavett, H. Rap Brown, Harry Belafonte

Moods

Instructive, Smart, Thought-provoking

In a stunning and vivid (re-) introduction to the Black intellectual, author, and social critic, James Baldwin, this movie digs very deep into the American subconscious and racial history. It tells the story of America by telling the story of “the negro” in America, based on a book Baldwin started to write, which 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 before he passed away in 1987. Haitian director and activist Raoul Peck picked up the project and made it into a movie, earning him an Academy Award nomination. Narrated by none other than Samuel L. Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro highlights, at the same time, Baldwin’s genius, his unique eloquence, and the beauty of his soul as a human being. It is a sad truth that Baldwin’s denouncements feel as relevant today as they did 50 years ago. As such, this movie serves as a sobering reminder of how far America still has to go. A mesmerizing experience!

2. 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.

1. 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!

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