20 Great Documentaries To Watch On Netflix Instant (2012)

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20 Great Documentaries To Watch On Netflix Instant (2012)
 

 

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 20 Great Documentaries To Watch on Netflix Instant (2012) :: Blogs :: List of the Day :: Paste

A handful of documentaries from last year’s list are still available as well:
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 Restrepo, God Grew Tired of Us, Client 9, Exit Through the Gift Shop,
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 The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, No End In Sight and No Direction Home.

20. Bill Cunningham New York
Director: Richard Press
Half of making a great documentary is finding a great subject, and Richard Press has absolutely done that in this affectionate treatment of the New York Times’ irresistibly charming octogenarian street fashion photographer.—Michael Dunaway

19. The Black Power Mixtape
Director: Göran Olsson
The Black Power Mixtape offers a steady drumbeat for justice, but it’s more of an introduction than an analysis. The parts never quite coalesce into a complete picture. But this poignant, alternative history will spark a hunger for knowledge.—Craig Detweiler

18. Last Train Home
Director: Lixin Fan
The world’s largest human migration. First-time filmmaker Lixin Fan looks at the generational and city/rural divides facing many Chinese families, as 130 million migrant workers venture to their home villages to celebrate the New Year.—Josh Jackson

17. Sweetgrass
Directors: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash
What’s all this nonsense about the “silence” of the lambs? The sheep who populate nearly every frame of Sweetgrass are bleat merchants of a spectacularly boisterous order. That incessant bahhhh, in all its variations, makes a hypnotic soundtrack for this absorbed and absorbing documentary about the end of an era: The camera follows Montana rancher Lawrence Allested, his posse of cowboys and one big-ass herd on its last grazing run across 200 miles of the Rockies in the summer of 2001. There’s no narration. Often, there’s no dialogue, aside from some salty campfire banter, cowboy jokes and all that ovine crosstalk. Sounds a tad dry, right? It’s not. The film’s poetic sweep comes with the territory. The waves of alabaster sheep, the endless blue horizon, the green grassy hills: It’s a pastoral wet dream of American splendor.—Steve Dollar

16. The Weather Underground
Directors: Sam Green and Bill Siegel
Long before Al-Qaida, the U.S. had its own terrorist factions. But while Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh have been almost universally reviled, the Weathermen were hailed in certain sectors as heroes. A small, radical off-shoot of the ’60s antiwar group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Weathermen were frustrated by the peace movement’s apparent lack of impact and took matters into their own hands. They first attempted to organize the working class and provoke violent protests and disobedience. But when that proved ineffective, they went underground and pulled off a string of spectacular bombings around the nation in the early ’70s. The documentary The Weather Underground, directed by Sam Green and Bill Siegel, looks at that time by combining old news footage and contemporary interviews with several members of the Weathermen. The former perfectly captures the early ’70s zeitgeist, when the peace-and-love faction was splintering, cannibalizing itself in its own discord. But it also reminds us of a time when a large segment of the population was willing to take to the streets to protest injustice and oppression thousands of miles away.—J. .Robert Parks

15. Bowling For Columbine
Director: Michael Moore
Michael Moore can sometimes seem glib and shrill, driving even his supporters nuts. But with 2002’s Columbine, arguably his most important film, he successfully tackles the insanity of America’s gun problem—a problem so insane that Marilyn Manson, in a candid interview, emerges as the voice of reason.—Nick Marino

14. King Corn
Director: Aaron Woolf
The most subsidized and ubiquitous American crop is explored in this documentary about two friends who plant an acre of corn and follow it from seed to food products. Director Aaron Woolf presents a provocative film about America’s increasingly controversial agricultural staple.—Emily Riemer

13. Trouble the Water
Directors: Tia Lessin, Carl Deal
Like a Shakespeare adaptation, Trouble the Water’s plot will be unreassuringly familiar: levee breaches, failed bureaucracy, general awfulness. Even without adding to the well-covered Hurricane Katrina narrative, documentarians Tia Lessin and Carl Deal still get it completely right. Edited around home videos by Kimberly Rivers Roberts, a vivacious 24-year-old resident of New Orleans’ 9th Ward, and subsequent footage by Lessin and Deal, Trouble the Water is an intimate, necessary take on Katrina.(Kim’s reference to “this President Bush character, whoever he is,” is as scathing as it needs to get.) Trouble the Water doesn’t make sense of Katrina or the N’awlins diaspora, but it communicates them wholly.—Jesse Jarnow

12. Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train
Directors: Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller
Howard Zinn first heard the crackling truths of Woody Guthrie’s “Ludlow Massacre” on the eve of a cultural revolution. Sprouting from a working-class Brooklyn villa, he latched onto the emerging ethos of anti-Nixonism in the ’60s. After earning a pulpit of his own, he loudly called the American war machine to task. You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train is an end-of-the-road homage to Zinn the historian, professor and activist, a man most likely to be remembered for his book, A People’s History of the United States, and least likely for his arson charges while tenuring at Boston University. Narrated by Matt Damon (who once, as Will Hunting, pointedly namedropped Zinn), the film serves primarily as a time capsule for a towering, albeit aged, leader of the New Left. The clout of Zinn’s worldwide impact still remains intact, begging us moderns to ground our future in the fugitive compassion of the past, rather than the unyielding and cyclical centuries of warfare.—Cameron Bird



11. Cool It
Director: Ondi Timoner
Talking to Sundance-award-winning documentarian Ondi Timoner is a little like talking to a whirlwind. It’s not just that she’s so accomplished (in documentaries about subjects as far-ranging as rock music, the Internet, cult-like churches and now global warming) and intelligent (she’s a c*m laude Yale grad who references Renoir and Mapplethorpe in her first answer). It’s that she jumps to and riffs on topic after topic like a jazz musician, with great little nuggets of insight at every stop along the way. To fully appreciate the interview, look for the audio version coming soon to Paste Culture Club. “We need to look at how much money we can put towards R&D right now, because we won’t switch until alternative energy is less expensive than fossil fuels. We just won’t. That’s why it’s not happening yet; it’s pure economics.”—Michael Dunaway

10. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Director: Werner Herzog
3-D skeptics might have to rethink their stance after witnessing Werner Herzog’s stunning tour of the oldest cave drawings ever found.—Josh Jackson

9. Best Worst Movie
Director: Michael Paul Stephenson
The 1990 horror flick Troll 2 features listless acting, klutzy special effects and not a single troll. It stars a whiny 10-year-old named Michael Paul Stephenson—who, two decades after the movie’s release and titanic flop, is still grappling with that disastrous first brush with stardom. Only a few years ago did Stephenson—by then an aspiring filmmaker—realize how oddly popular the movie had become, winning the strange hearts of B-movie aficionados worldwide. He also tracks down a number of his co-stars to gauge their enduring relationship to the film; obscurity, thwarted ego and general mental illness plague some, but George Hardy—the actor turned small-town dentist who played Stephenson’s father in Troll 2—becomes the documentary’s de facto star with his guileless, picket-fence grin. It’s a tale of despair, redemption and transcendence—like all the best movies, and all the worst.—Rachael Maddux

8. Into the Abyss
Director: Werner Herzog
Like all Herzog’s work, the film looks far beyond a single idea and, despite a transparent agenda, never sermonizes. Herzog merely puts his belief that capital punishment is wrong to the test, examining it from several angles. In typical Herzog fashion, he explores his subject through conversations between the filmmaker, whom we of course never see, and a plethora of related interviewees. Because it avoids didactic narration and biased statistics, this approach feels honest and reliable and, thus, humanistic.—David Roark

7. The September Issue
Director: R.J. Cutler
Filmmaker R.J. Cutler demonstrates once again that—as well as anybody—he can capture the interpersonal dynamics that drive a team of headstrong individuals. Or at least he can shape his raw footage so it seems so. He produced The War Room about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, and he pioneered reality TV with an innovative series called American High. His latest, The September Issue, documents the internal machinery of Vogue magazine as run by its editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour—tastemaker of the fashion world and the inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada’s title character. She’s a peach. As she a.ssembles the magazine’s big September issue, she squares off against factions within the industry and within her own editorial staff. I’m not sure the film will offer viewers a better idea of what makes Wintour and Vogue tick, but Cutler knows how to entertain, usually by selectively humanizing his characters. Even for those who don’t follow the industry, it’s great fun rooting for creative director Grace Coddington, who steadfastly defends her turf. Cutler makes her the film’s quiet hero.—Robert Davis

6. American: The Bill Hicks Story
Directors: Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas
Some say that real humor is usually fueled by strong emotions. That may help explain why Bill Hicks was one of the best comedians our country’s ever seen, since at his best his comedy was fueled by his rage, ripping apart a world he saw as full of inescapable stupidity and laziness. One of the main questions being asked by American: The Bill Hicks Story is how exactly Hicks became so angry, not to mention how much of the anger was an act and how much was genuinely who he was. There’s more than a touch of hagiography in American, which isn’t surprising since the film is made for fans. But there’s also enough of Hicks’ actual material to illustrate why he’s so well-regarded, and while the film occasionally skims through years of his life a little quickly, it’s simply because what needs to be said about that period is said best through his jokes.—Sean Gandert

5. Anvil: The Story of Anvil
Director: Sacha Gervasi
I’ll admit, when I first started hearing word of a documentary about a hugely influential but largely forgotten Canadian heavy-metal band now in their fifties, I suspected a hoax. Seeing the film only brought the Spinal Tap comparisons into clearer focus-the aging rockers suffering through demeaning gigs, the memory of the big show in Japan, the visit to Stonehenge, even an amp that actually goes to 11. But don’t just take my word for it; Dustin Hoffman told the director: “This is the most inspirational, moving, beautiful film I think I’ve ever seen. I hated heavy metal until tonight.”—Michael Dunaway

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 Grizzly Man
Director: Werner Herzog
This profile of nature lover Timothy Treadwell, who unwisely tried to live among wild bears in Alaska until he was devoured, cuts a Herzogian swath across the hillside: A man attempts to find harmony with nature but instead finds, as Herzog puts it, “chaos, hostility and murder.” Looming over the film is not only the horror of Treadwell’s demise but also an audio recording of the tragedy, taped inadvertently by the video camera in Treadwell’s tent. Herzog tastefully omits it from the film, but he makes the viewer aware of its existence. “The question of the tape which recorded Timothy Treadwell’s death and Amie Huguenard’s death is something that I had to address,” Herzog told Paste in 2007. “So I listened to it, and that’s the only time I appear in the film. You only see me from behind, listening to it with earphones. The moment I heard the tape it was instantly clear: Only over my dead body is this tape going to end up in the movie. I’m not into doing a snuff film, and I have to respect the dignity and privacy of two individuals’ deaths.”—Robert Davis

3. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Director: Banksy
When renowned graffiti artist Banksy took the camera away from the man shooting his biopic and decided that the subject would become the documentarian (and the documentarian, the subject), the zaniest doc in years was born. Was it Banksy’s own attention and the pressure of the film that motivated Mr. Brainwash to become an international sensation in his own right, with his inaugural show in Los Angeles becoming the largest and most profitable in street-art history? Or was the artist born, not made? Or is his whole career just part of the whole huckster atmosphere of the film? Banksy’s not saying. But it’s certainly a wild ride to watch.—Michael Dunaway

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 Senna
Director: Asif Kapadia
Kapadia was already a BAFTA-award-winning narrative director, but there are plenty of narrative directors who haven’t made the transition to documentaries effectively. He doubled the degree of difficulty by deciding to use all period footage of his subject, ’80s and ’90s Gran Prix legend Aryton Senna. He pulled it off in spades, and Senna is one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time, and one of the three best docs of the year.—Michael Dunaway

1.
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 Waiting for “Superman”
Director: Davis Guggenheim
In a year that gave us three major documentary features about the glaring need for educational reform in America, Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for “Superman” presents the most unavoidably compelling argument. In one of the biggest eye-openers, he shows that housing a man in prison (where inner city high school dropouts are statistically likely to wind up) costs three times as much per year as sending them (as kids) to even the most exclusive private school. Another—in order to bring the U.S. from close to last in developed-world education to close to first, we’d only have to get rid of the worst 10% of teachers. They’re on the wrong side of history, however, and one day this film, like An Inconvenient Truth, will be seen as one of the turning points in the conversation.—Michael Dunaway

9 comments for "20 Great Documentaries To Watch On Netflix Instant (2012)"

 6 years ago '08        #2
Gmengfx 75 heat pts75
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hot coffee should be on there to
 6 years ago '11        #3
case sensitive 
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Biggie & Tupac
Thug Angel
Rhyme & Reason
Rhyme & Punishment
 6 years ago '07        #4
crzyhaas13 3 heat pts
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the story of anvil is a great!
 6 years ago '09        #5
DesertEagle 48 heat pts48
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I saw Grizzly Man earlier today and a sad story indeed
 6 years ago '05        #6
itsallcalypso1 
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Dear Zachary is another great one. Just watched it a couple of weeks ago and it was one of the saddest and most infuriating documentaries I've ever seen.
 6 years ago '07        #7
Ham Rove 3510 heat pts3510
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lots of good docs on there, another one id recommend is

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idk if its on Netflix but its worth a watch.
 6 years ago '07        #8
jack_napier 
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forks over knives should've been on this list imo
 6 years ago '05        #9
Universal~Mind 59 heat pts59
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 case sensitive said:
Biggie & Tupac
Thug Angel
Rhyme & Reason
Rhyme & Punishment
Rhyme & Reason maybe.... The others?
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