Last year, I published a list of notable documentaries that many readers found helpful. In these next few weeks, between eating and unwrapping, I get a chance to catch up on the documentaries that everyone is buzzing about. Netflix has always been a proud home to some of the world’s great docs, and if you’re a fan too, here are 12 great ones that will give you plenty to talk about at those big family dinners.
1. The Invisible War - Director Kirby Dick (This Film Not Yet Rated, Outrage) takes on the sexual abuse of women in the U.S. military in this hard hitting and rage-inducing documentary. The doc is on the short list for a Best Documentary Feature nomination at this year's Oscars, and has already racked up honors around the world since its debut at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
2. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is another shortlisted 2013 Oscar favorite. Director Alison Klayman explores the complex world of Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei. As the power of social media and art challenge the old guard in China, this film explains the limitations of art and the politics of suppression. Amazing archival footage and Klayman's unparalleled access make this one of the great films of the year.
3. The Queen of Versailles is equal parts “Honey Boo Boo” and “Too Big To Fail.” You will laugh and cry as you look at American consumerism and the complexities of the banking system through the eyes of one family, who happened to be trying to build the largest private home in the world. Lauren Greenfield (Thin) directs this riches to rags story that became an audience favorite at Sundance last year.
4. Marley - Perhaps the finest music documentary ever made, this intimate and fascinating look at the far-too-short life and career of reggae superstar Bob Marley was directed by Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland) and studies the influence Marley has had on music and global politics. If you don’t like music docs, don’t worry, this is so much more than just a music doc. Even big fans of Marley will learn something new about this artist and the mark he has left on the world.
5. Into The Abyss - Famed director Werner Herzog follows up last year’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams with a look into the equally cavernous topic of the human soul. He explores why we kill and why the state kills in this perfectly balanced look at the death penalty. We see crime and punishment from all angles in the style you have come to expect from Herzog.
6. Art of Flight - Red Bull Media does for documentaries what it does for soft drinks…adds a kick. The images in this extreme sports doc are drop dead gorgeous and the soundtrack rocks. This is a great one to just relax and watch. It is also a great way to show off that new HDTV to visiting family members. Enjoy!
7. Kevin - Jay Duplass directs this film portrait of his Austin music hero Kevin Gant, who seemingly disappeared from the world he was rocking in 1995. Jay makes no bones about his subjectivity here, he is a Kevin worshiper and wears it on his sleeve. The intimate look at the private life of this nearly unknown artist is artful and direct. Jay and his brother Mark are fine directors who emerged from Austin’s film scene, so he has a pretty interesting view of this near miss/near hit tale.
8. Jiro Dreams of Sushi - This film chronicles the comings and goings of a $300 per meal, 10 seat restaurant in Tokyo that has become a bucket list destination for foodies worldwide. More importantly, it is the tale of a father and son, the pursuit of excellence, and legacy. It is as small as the restaurant itself, but packed with passion and perfection. David Gelb directs.
9. 30 for 30: Jordan Rides the Bus - The 30 for 30 series is packed with great films, most of which are available to stream. Filmmaker Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, Tin Cup, White Men Can’t Jump) directs this film that captures one of the oddest moves in sports history, when NBA superstar Michael Jordan’s came out of retirement to play minor league baseball. It is a deeply human look at an icon from a feature director with style.
10. 30 for 30: The Two Escobars - International soccer star Andres Escobar and drug lord Pablo Escobar might seem as different as two men could be, but this amazing installment of the award winning ESPN documentary series explores the many similarities of these two high profile figures. Michael and Jeff Zimbaslist (Favela Rising) direct this great film.
11. Indie Game: The Movie - We have all heard about indie film and indie music, but this doc is a rare exploration of the world of Indie video games. We meet the people behind games like FEZ, Braid and Super Meat Boy, as well as the people who play them. It is a surprisingly engaging peek at the place where art and technology meet.
12. 6 Days to Air: The Making of SouthPark - This is no bonus feature. Director Arthur Bradford takes you behind the scenes for a week in the life of Trey Parker and Matt Stone as they put together an episode of the long running Comedy Central series “South Park.” It is great fun to look at the unique creative process of these crazy, dirty geniuses and experience first hand how they lampoon pop culture.
Well, there you have it, 12 great docs for the year. You keep watching and we’ll keep bringing them to you.
Chief Content Officer