Friday, August 12, 2016

10 Documentaries on Netflix You Need to Watch Right the Fuck Now.

Hope Netflix and Chill is on the agenda this weekend. Let's talk a little before we go into the list. Documentaries are nothing new, they are an incredible art form that we can trace back to basically the beginning of film. Pioneers of documentary that wrongfully get classified as 'avant-garde' like Dziga Vertov from the Soviet Union, created the idea that the real or hyper real was the most important subject that film could approach (don't argue with me, I wrote papers on him). Since then, we've come a long way. Two of my all time favorite documentaries are sadly not on Netflix but for chrissake self out the 3.95$ and rent them on iTunes; Grey Gardens (directed by the Maysles brothers) explores the lives of socialites Big Edie and Little Edie Beale. They are a mother and daughter who were once a big deal with the Connecticut/Hamptons high society of the 30's and 40's, and by the 70's are living in squalor with a bunch of diseased cats in their old mansion called Grey Gardens. Both are hilariously insane and out of touch with reality, it's a form of verité (truth in French, sorry to be condescending) filmmaking first pioneered in the 60's by D.A. Pennebaker. It's one type of documentary aesthetic, for some it works for others, it doesn't. One more I'd like to mention quickly before we jump into the list is actually a documentary series directed by Michael Apted and a social experiment the likes of which the film community has never seen, have you not guessed it yet? It's the Up Series. Damn you Netflix for taking it down! It starts with 7 UP and checks in with a group of 7 year old kids from all walks of British class society, and returns every 7 years. The latest installment was 56 up, so do the math there are 8 films. It's truly monumental and astounding work and will really make you think about your life and how insignificant a lot of bullshit is. That's a crass way to put will make you re-examine your priorities, and have a full on existential crisis. ALSO, BEFORE I FORGET, I HAVE TO TELL YOU; WATCH MAKING OF A MURDERER. I CAN'T INCLUDE IT IN THIS LIST BECAUSE TECHNICALLY IT'S A SERIES NOT A FILM, BUT MY GOD IT'S SERIOUSLY SOME OF THE BEST FILMMAKING AND IS WHAT DOCUMENTARIES ARE AND SHOULD BE ALL ABOUT. IT'S THE BEST, DO IT. Without further's 10 I found of all years and perspectives and aesthetics in no particular order: 

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (dir. Kurt Kuenne)
Edited, composed, written, directed and everything else by Kurt Kuenne this doc examines the life of his best friend, doctor Andrew Bagby who was maliciously murdered by a spurned ex-girlfriend and a film he made for the child she became pregnant with shortly before she killed his father, so that he would one day be able to watch it and know the father that he would never meet, but you would never believe what ends up happening. It's a punch in the gut, and it lingers. That's why it's brilliant. 
Brother's Keeper (dir. Joe Berlinger)
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, literally ...three illiterate farmer brothers live quietly on their father's land, until their father dies under mysterious circumstances. One of the brother's is accused of the murder and considering he's barely able to communicate, is pinned against a criminal justice system that wants his blood, and he's barely prepared to help himself. It's also shot very much in the style of Grey Gardens and really puts you in a completely bleak and uncomfortable place. 
Tabloid (dir. Errol Morris)
This will not be the first time that Academy Award winning filmmaker Errol Morris will show up on the list, and this is the kind of film that John Waters would make if he made documentaries. It's so campy and lurid that it's wildly delicious. White trash beauty queen Joyce McKinney falls in love with a poor dope who happens to be mormon, her story goes that they kidnapped him and brainwashed him, so she kidnapped him back (I guess) took him to London and had sex with him while he was in 'captivity' to get rid of all the mormon nonsense in his head. This movie really speaks to the whole 'truth is stranger than fiction' thing.
Hot Girls Wanted (dir. Jill Bauer)
A Netflix original, this film is deeply disturbing and very matter-of-fact about a hugely controversial matter. It takes us into the seedy world of amateur porn, the irony of which is that it's actually not amateur. Girls are hired by a Craigslist pimp of sorts, specifically because they look very young innocent inexperienced and virginal; not Jenna Jameson clones. Apparently amateur porn is the hottest thing on the internet and sells more than regular porn. The industry thrives in Florida, where the laws are more laxed than California and you don't have to use protection (I know). It takes you inside a dorm of sorts where girls from small towns want to make it as porn stars. How's that for an American dream for ya? 
Blackfish (dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite)
Even if you care fuck all about marine mammals and have seen that Free Willy movie too many times, you need to see this film. It is not a nature documentary, it is not a crime documentary, and it's not an exposé, well kinda. Remember when Sea World was a thing? This film concerns itself with one particular whale in captivity of what someone referred to as a barbaric prison of sorts; Tilikum; an Orca who was kidnapped in the 70's in the Atlantic Ocean and brought to Sea World to be their main breeder. It talks at length in layman's terms about how intelligent regal creatures like Orca whales shouldn't be in captivity and what happens to them when they are, particularly what happened with Tilikum and his trainer Dawn Brancheau.
The Thin Blue Line (dir. Errol Morris)
This might be one of the greatest movies every made. It actually resulted in the exoneration of a wrongfully convicted man for Murder 1, and in the state of Texas we know what that means. Randall Adams and a kid named David Harris were implicated in the shooting of a police officer after they were pulled over for a minor traffic violation. My man Morris loves reenactments, and utilizes sound like no one before him. What he recreates is dream-like and entrancing; recreating a scenario from many different points of view, points in time, and perspectives. It's an incredible story told by an incredible storyteller. 
Into the Abyss (dir. Werner Herzog)
Veteran buzzkill director Werner Herzog has been making documentaries about death, nothingness, emptiness, depression, all that fun stuff for 4 decades now. He's a total picker-upper, but I have to hand it to him, every single film narrative or documentary has been absolutely unforgettable. This is one of his latest efforts, concerning two inmates on Death Row in....Texas (sensing a pattern here?) Both were convicted when they were barely legal adults, and both are very close to the end. It's like the updated movie version of the Truman Capote classic 'In Cold Blood'. 
The Queen of Versailles (dir. Lauren Greenfield)
This is a genius film, and if you've not seen it yet, well you're a loser and I hate you. Jackie Siegel is the small town blonde wannabe model who married a man her father's age; the wealthy financier and Vegas builder David Siegel. (picture a Jewish Donald Trump) So now they live in luxury in the Everglades, and Jackie's nouveau riche poor taste is too hilarious for even Woody Allen to parody. I mean she has a literal gold throne. She decides to buy a property that (I shit you not, is twice as big as The White House) and model it architecturally and aesthetically after the Palace of Versailles, but then the recession hits, the Siegels loos everything, and keeping up appearances becomes an increasing but hilarious struggle. 
Tab Hunter Confidential (dir. Jeffrey Schwartz)
I worked at the PR firm who ran the publicity campaign for this film so I'm a bit biased, but I'm also biased because I love the stories of closeted actors from the 50's who had to hide their true selves and live in lavender marriages as matinee idols as not to lose their career a la Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson. Tab Hunter was the Chris Hemsworth of that period. He was like a Hitler wet dream; blonde, athletic, tall, blue eyes, large package, and a face that looks like it was carved out of marble by Michelangelo. This autobiographical film let's Tab Hunter himself do the talking about the golden age of Hollywood and it's big world of secrets; him being the ultimate embodiment of that. 
The Hunting Ground (dir. Kirby Dick)
Gaga wrote the Oscar nominated song that brought everyone to tears when she performed it at the ceremony while behind her, standing vigilant, were many victims of sexual abuse on college campuses. Director Kirby Dick always pushes the envelope, whether it being exposing the hypocrisy of the MPAA or taking down sexism in the military. He's better at exposé that Michael Moore, he's probably the best at it. This film is going to sink its fingernails deep under your skin. Especially if you went to what you thought was an elite school like I did, and after I graduated with my master's from Columbia, I do remember the Mattress Girl, and this film shows us that she's just one of hundreds of thousands, and that's not even what's the most shocking. 
Below, visual supplements to entice you:


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