Off Topic: Let's Talk About Documentaries

Say what you like about Netflix, it’s extremely good for one thing and that’s documentaries. I’ve been watching a lot of them recently and would love some recommendations!

I have a lot of favourites.

The Civil War by Ken Burns is a real favourite of mine. I love the style of it, the narration, the heart-breaking stories. It’s a real piece of incredible history. This is not on Netflix, but you should try and pick it up somehow.

I really enjoyed The Jinx, a super recent HBO documentary series. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Just watch it and watch it till its insane conclusion.

A couple of other recommendations:

— Downloaded: a documentary by the man who played Bill in Bill and Ted’s Excellent adventure of all people. It’s about the rise of Napster. It’s top notch. — Jiro Dreams of Sushi: difficult to describe this one. It’s about a man who makes the best sushi in the world. Obviously there’s more to it than that! Watch it. — Fog Of War: this is nothing more than a one-on-one with Robert S. McNamara the Secretary of Defence for the US during the 60s. It’s incredible.

Okay, now for the reason why I wrote this post in the first place: give me recommendations! I want some new stuff to watch!


    My favourite is a short but hilarious Scottish documentary about a very young heavy metal band called Heavy Metal Junior: a Portrait of Pre-Teen Rebellion. Average age of the kids is 11.

    One of the kid's fathers reminds me so much of David Brent it can be painful, and a Christian mother struggling to make excuses for her son's blatantly pro-devil lyrics are highlights. Probably not on Netflix, but easy enough to view online.

      If you like heavy metal documentaries, check out "Anvil: the story of Anvil". It's fantastic.

        Yep, that is a good doco. Another one I enjoyed is Last Days Here, about Pentagram's lead singer's battle with addiction.

    Blackfish on Netflix, real life horror stories about Orca living conditions in theme parks

      Blackfish is pretty amazing. I would 100% recommend this.

      I've tried to recommend this but people dismiss it as some sensationalist "free the whales" docudrama to make SeaWorld look bad on trumped up BS.

      It's... not that. And there's no way you can present the facts and make SeaWorld look good.

        Do they know it's a different SeaWorld to the one in Aus? Just wondering why they'd defend it...

          They're not defending SeaWorld, they just don't want to watch Blackfish - presumably because PETA and other animal rights groups have been harping on about how Sea World and other aquatic theme parks trap animals in conditions that are bad for them for decades and they're probably just sick of hearing it, and don't feel the need to watch another doco about it.

          I don't want to give them too much info about what it's really about because I don't want to spoil it in case they do watch it.

          Last edited 21/07/15 1:02 pm

        Yeah I mean the whole SeaWorld side of things is important, but it's also a great analysis of the psychology of Orca's, not only how intelligent they are, but a case study on mental illness in general. A lot of the stuff related to attacks, the stuff in Spain, it's compelling because it's all so murky and dark. Like you said, making SeaWorld look bad is just kind of incidental in the end.

    The ecstasy of order, it's a documentary focusing on a NES Tetris tournament. It's really good.

    Jiro Dreams of Sushi was quite good. An interesting look into someone who has dedicated their whole life to a single pursuit, and the ways that single-mindedness has shaped his life both for better and worse.

    I haven't caught that many documentaries on Netflix yet, I've been doing Star Trek marathons as well as trying to finish The Office (I'm up to season 8) and make some time to watch the rest of the new season of Orange is the New Black. I watched a few documentaries on Chinese history but nothing that stood out as noteworthy.

      The Office US is not on Netflix? I haven't seen it on there.

        It's probably available on the US version, a lot of people use VPNs to access other countries libraries because they're significantly bigger than Australia's currently is.

          Yeah, I plan on doing that once I get through a bunch of the Aus stuff.

            The only show I'm really hanging out for is Parks & Recreation, which I assume we'll get eventually. I'm guessing Foxtel might hold a license to it currently.

        I'm watching it on US Netflix, didn't know it wasn't available on the AU one.

          We have the UK one available. Which I always thought was better after watching the first episode of the US one and it being a complete copy.

          But it went on a lot longer and seems to have a pretty good following so I would like to watch a bit more and maybe reconsider.

            I haven't watched enough of the British one to compare, but Ricky Gervais was involved with the making of the US version, even to the point of a cameo in one episode. It does start to get a bit silly in the later seasons - it's hard to make an office environment interesting for that long - and it definitely took a hit in quality when Steve Carell left at the end of season 7.

            First season was terrible, second until later seasons are much better

    I just watched "An honest liar"; the bio of James Randi. He has done so much to fight for reason and science, and he inspired Penn and teller, who are just so great.

    I also really liked the Ken burns series on the prohibition era in the US. It's not quite as good as the civil war, but it's massively enlightening about our current taxation system! Gangsters, fascism, corruption, and income tax; all the evils.

    I also really like watching the new series of Cosmos every now and then. It's not particularly high-end science, but Degrasse Tyson is incredible at extolling the virtues of science without offending the ignorant.

    But the way he says "come with me" needs work for the next season.

    Last edited 21/07/15 11:31 am

      Is the James Randi one on Netflix? He's great and I'd love to watch a doco about him!

        Can't remember if it's only on the US version, but it came out a couple of weeks ago.

      James Randi is a boss, I'll check that out as soon as it's available on Australian Netflix.

    Anything with David Attenborough narrating. Seriously, he could read an annual statement or a book about the vagaries of accounting practices and still make it the world's most exciting subject matter :-)

    Also a lot of his documentaries are stunningly shot.

      I agree they are amazing. How much say does he have in them, how they are shot etc. For all I know he could be just reading a script.

      I've often said that David Attenborough could tell me the sky was red and I would believe him.

    Fog of War is my all time favourite documentary. However, I didn't realise it was on Netflix, will have to watch it again tonight.

    Edit: It's not on Netflix, I just assumed this article was referring to documentaries only on Netflix :(

    Last edited 21/07/15 11:34 am

      It's on Ireland, Netherlands and UK Netflix.

    Being Elmo is cute an an awesome watch i would recommend that.

    All of the Planet Earth series.

    Atari: Game over, for all the gamers out there.

    Bowling for Columbine. Great docu recommend if you havent seen it.

    I love anything to do with US politics/health care/food industry. That stuff is insane. Dem bitches be cray cray!

      Seen Fed up? Oh man, the power of the US lobbyists is insane! You feel bad for Michelle Obama getting bitch slapped by them for thinking of the children.

      I enjoy all of those doco's too, they're enjoyable like horror films to me. Frankly, I'm shocked that despite all of these examples of the appalling abuse of power there, the people haven't revolted (even though it's their right to and they're all armed for it).

      Last edited 21/07/15 11:44 am

        Fed Up is great. It inspired Kevin Smith to cut sugar out of his diet and he's losing weight by the stone.
        A great doco and a real eye-opener.

    Touching The Void is an astonishing and terrifying tale of survival after a mountaineering disaster. Some of the best made recreation footage I've ever seen as well.

    Otherwise, I tend to watch TV documentary miniseries, like the stuff Michael Mosley puts together. Or maybe a bit of Louis Theroux.

    Last edited 21/07/15 11:36 am

      Apparently, they needed to re-write the rules for Oscars of how much "real" footage was to be required in a doco for it to be eligible for the "Documentary" award. Because all the footage apart from the interviews was re-enacted, some argued it was a "dramatization" rather than a "documentary".
      Excellent recommendation, that flick is harrowing as shit.

        Oh cool, I never knew that. Thanks :)

    Ken Burns's Baseball is good also. Provided you like baseball.

    I started watching Print the Legend (not finished it yet). Gives a history of 3D printing - very interesting to see how a small startup really appears to catch the industry heavyweights offguard with how popular consumer 3D printing would be.

      +1 on this, I watched it to the end and it was very interesting and informative.

    The Internet's Own Boy.
    Saw it on SBS 2, was fascinated by it.

      I watched this on Netflix for the first time yesterday. Fascinating is indeed the word I would use. It's tragic, but inspiring as well.

    I've really been enjoying the Cosmos: A Spacetime Oddyssey series (presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson), but you need a US VPN to watch it.

    The ESPN 30 for 30 series is fantastic. Highlights for me are "The 2 Escobars" - about the Colombian soccer team during Pablo Escobars reign over the Medellin Cartel, "Once Brothers" - about how the Yugoslavian split & subsequent conflict affected the friendship of NBA players Drazen Petrvic & Vlade Divac and "Hillsborough" - about the Hillsborough disaster during the Liverpool vs Nottingham Forrest game in the late 80's.
    Another war doco I thought was great besides the ones mentioned is "Restrepo". It covers a deployment during the Afghanistan war.

    Last edited 21/07/15 11:50 am

      You should check out The Announcement. Its a tear jerker about Magic Johnson quitting basketball after contracting HIV.

    The team that made Jiro made Chef's Table, which is a series on Netflix. It's great. Speaking of Netflix, they have an original doco on Nina Simone that came out a few weeks ago that's very good.

    Man on Wire, obviously. I know they're doing a feature film on the same story, but it's totally unnecessary. Genuinely teared up at Man on Wire.

    Jesus Camp is one of the scariest films I've ever seen. About religious indoctrination in America. Children chanting "righteous justice." Horrible.

    Anything by Errol Morris is great, but I'll second The Fog of War. Mcnamara is such a good subject.

      Jesus Camp. Ugh.
      The scenes where they're focussing their anger by "breaking the cups of sin" and taping the children's mouths closed gave me the bad kind of goosebumps.
      Those ones, as well as every other scene in it.

      That Nina Simone one was pretty revealing. And never knew she played piano in her songs. Really talented.

    The Imposter is amazing, even half way through you ask "did this really happen?" Shot in a really interesting way for a doco too. Another great but heartbreaking doco is Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.

    I see Netflix had just added a few PBS docos as well. I watched one on The Tower of England and another on Highclere Castle, pretty cool!!

      Ah yeah, like 8 or so "Secrets of [places]" just went up. Going to check them out this week.

    searching for sugarman, man on wire, blackfish, enron smartest guys in the room, food inc, the cove, the armstrong lie

      Enron is an excellent doco. Food Inc. seemed a bit too sensationalist for me.

    I watched The Queen of Versailles on the weekend, that was fairly interesting. I also watched Mitt which is basically an on the road embedded piece about Romney's 2012 presidential campaign.

    If you're a big fan of music, check out Twenty Feet From Stardom. It follows notable backup singers, those who have worked in the industry under huge names like the Stones, Stevie Wonder, Meatloaf, Springsteen. It shows how amazingly talented they are and reveals a dark side to the industry, low pay, demanding hours, lack of appreciation. Some could be superstars but can't deal with the spotlight, while others never get a chance in the industry. All I've showed it to have loved it, it really makes you appreciate the classics more. Gimme Shelter gives me shivers now

    Last edited 21/07/15 12:07 pm

    The Great Chicken Wing Hunt is the most profound documentary ever made.

    Huge doco fan. Here are some I heartily recommend:

    - Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
    - The Fog of War
    - Touching the Void
    - Deep Water
    - Anything by Louis Theroux or John Safran
    - Blackfish
    - Wonders of the Universe

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