For most of us when we hear the word ‘documentary’ we almost always think of one film – that one time we gave the genre a chance. More often than not that one time turned out to be great, but it didn’t refer us to any other ones. That is because we believe that documentaries would only suit a particular mood, one we are almost never in.
Not only is this wrong given the variety of approaches to documentaries, but it is making us miss on some of the best films out there.
Make the decision to watch a documentary, and trust us, what follows will not disappoint. Below are the best documentaries available to stream on Netflix, like all other movies on agoodmovietowatch.com they are handpicked, highly-rated on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, and little-known.
A documentary about girls and young women in developing nations around the world facing and confronting a myriad of cultural pressures and injustices. The personal stories of nine girls are written by celebrated female writers from their individual countries (spanning The Americas, Africa and Asia), recreated in dramatic fashion by director Richard Robbins, and narrated by famous actresses including Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep. Despite the often horrific nature of the girls’ hardships (slavery, rape, forced marriage, etc.), the film is an uplifting testament to the power of hope and determination, and a strong advocate for education as the key to advancement for young women the world over. It’s an important cinematic achievement and an undeniably necessary educational experience.
“As fragile as she was strong, as vulnerable as she was dynamic, she was African royalty. How does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?”. What Happened, Miss Simone? will teach you and surprise you no matter how much you think you know the soul singer, not only in its exploration of Nina Simone’s personal life and complexities, but by being both a personal and political documentary. As you get to discover an original singer with talents that reach all the way to performance art, you will also learn about a Civil Rights activist’s journey and an unstable woman’s struggle. The documentary is not about answering the question of what happened, Miss Simone? – it’s an exploration of why that question is so important.
An insightful documentary that profiles several video game developers who have eschewed mainstream opportunities in order to pursue their dreams of self-employment and independent game production. The film follows four developers over the months, days and hours leading up to looming launch dates for their creations, and captures many of the difficulties and anxieties therein. It’s an incisive peek inside the minds and hearts of four incredibly talented individuals, providing a unique perspective on their creative processes as well as their individual motivations, vulnerabilities and aspirations. You don’t need to be a gamer or have ever purchased a game console in order to enjoy this one — it’s a far more universal depiction of hard work, resiliency and accomplishment that virtually any viewer is bound to appreciate.
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 uncertaintiy, 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.
A documentary about two “climbing” friends who attempt to summit Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. I say climbing friends because they are both somewhat egotistical, yuppie risk takers and seem to be the type who are only friends when their interests align. Nevertheless, they are truly ambitious, driven adventurers. A storm hits and one of the climbers gets injured. They both know that this is a death sentence, and events go on from there. The story is epic and nearly unbelievable, but for the fact that it actually happened. I am not a climber, but the plot and story will speak to any adventurer who must accept inherent risks, including death, in their outdoor endeavors.
A documentary about the rise and fall of the Enron Corporation, the energy-trading and utilities conglomerate that gained worldwide attention in 2001 upon its headline-grabbing bankruptcy. Detailing the massive amount of fraud and malfeasance committed by the organization’s top executives, the film delves into the many intricate strategies and “special purpose” entities that were manufactured in order to hide enormous losses and debt from shareholders and the general public. It’s a fascinating and distressing examination of hubris and greed, with so many ethical considerations laid aside in the pursuit of financial gain. The film is as pertinent today as it was when it was released in 2005—perhaps even more so in this post-financial collapse era of increased distrust in corporate agendas.
An absolutely delightful documentary about the first round of testing on the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. Who knew that watching a roomful of scientists waiting for a blip on a screen could be so riveting? The science is explained in layman-friendly, easy-to-follow language, and the movie lends a fascinating and entertaining look behind the scenes at one of the world’s largest scientific collaborations.
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 oft-fraught relationships between fathers and sons. Truly a must-watch.
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 so powerful, so gripping, that 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.
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 at all times.
An equally interesting and terrifying must-watch documentary about the state of food in the United States, Food Inc is a sobering tour of where the stuff you eat comes from. Spoiler alert: it’s gross, and should be illegal but that shouldn’t stop you from watching this film, which zealously showcases the food industry’s corruption and vile practices. Don’t worry though, even at its most muckraking, Food Inc manages to mix entertainment with its information.
A documentary highlighting the challenged lives of three boys living in a small town in the heartland of America. The film follows the boys and their families, honestly portraying them and their dreams–dreams constrained by the realities of a mother in prison, or a father who can’t keep a job, or no father at all. If you liked Boyhood then you’ll love this film. If you grew up in a small town, then you’ll see parts of yourself here. And, at the end of it all, you’ll remember the struggles portrayed and realize that poverty is not solely an inner-city problem.
Producer/Director Beth Kargman has put together a wonderful documentary that follows six young ballet dancers to the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the most important of all ballet competitions worldwide. The prizes at the competition include awards of recognition, scholarships, and work with major dance companies. The dancers are in several age ranges and ethnicities. Michaela and her sister were adopted from Sierra Leone, where there was nothing but death and poverty waiting for them. Michaela has been told that blacks make unsuitable ballet dancers — bad feet, too muscular, wrong build, etc. Zamora lives in New York, far away from his family, but his father tells him there is nothing for him in Colombia and he has to go after his dream. Rebecca is a cheerleader and a ‘normal’ kid whose passion is dance, and Aaron doesn’t tell other kids he’s a dancer. All of them have great talents, obvious from their dance routines at the Grand Prix. First Position is a very inspiring documentary about youngsters from different backgrounds and social status with the dream of dancing professionally, and the sacrifices they have made to achieve their goal. The dancing is heavenly; I only wish there had been more of it.
How to Change the World is an insightful and candid documentary about the formation of Greenpeace in 1971 by a small group of environmentalists and activists in Vancouver, British Columbia. Beginning with their attempt to disrupt U.S. nuclear testing in Amchitka, Alaska, the film follows their subsequent efforts to thwart commercial whaling in the Pacific, their anti-sealing campaign in Newfoundland, and their ongoing efforts to defend the natural world against what they perceive as excessive human intervention and abuse. How to Change the World is as much a poignant tale of inspired activism as it is an interesting study of the organization’s early tribulations: idealism vs. anarchy, social movement vs. organizational structure (or lack thereof) and leadership vs. disunity. The voice of co-founder Robert Hunter (de facto leader of Greenpeace from inception) is heard posthumously throughout via narrator Barry Pepper, and it adds an impassioned air of gravitas to the film, detailing the many complexities Greenpeace experienced over the course of its early years of growth and development. A compelling and educational viewing experience.
The House I Live In is a truly exceptional documentary, directed and narrated by Eugene Jarecki, focused on America’s long-standing “War on Drugs”. Jarecki travels America to interview various individuals and families on both sides of the law, examining many personal experiences related to drug offenses, unjust legal policies and excessive incarceration. He further provides a fascinating historical account of the political and socioeconomic developments that brought about the formation of many depressed communities overrun by drug trade, as well as the interrelated political, legal and private-interest infrastructures that continue to both depend upon and profit from drug-related sentencing. An utterly stunning film that every American should see to truly understand all of the elements at play in the ongoing prohibition against drugs in America.
The impossibly true story of a mysterious Frenchman that claims to be the 16 year old son of a family from Texas that went missing three years prior. This movie is shot so well with a story so unbelievable that I had to look it up to believe that it was a real documentary instead of a fiction film played as true. Expect twists and turns at every corner, with brilliant storytelling from the real life people that lived through the whole thing. If Christopher Nolan created a 48 hour story, it would pale in comparison to this film.