Making A Murderer
With all the internet and social media hype we’re hoping you’ve already got this one in your queue and are racking up the couch time trying to finish it before someone spoils it for you. If not, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? GET ON IT! This riveting 10-part documentary series follows the story of a man, Steven Avery, facing murder charges after already spending 18 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. The characters, mysteries, and intrigue would be incredible and fascinating if they were just a work of fiction, but that it’s all true makes it all the more terrifying and mind-blowing. An absolute must-watch, this series does, in spades, what all great documentaries should aspire to do, make you rethink the state of the world and status quo.
The Act Of Killing
The beauty of documentaries is the way they can manipulate the viewer by choosing whose story to tell. Director Joshua Oppenheimer interviews celebrated right-wing paramilitary “heroes” who as their history goes, helped “save” Indonesia from communism. Pretty straightforward stuff, until Oppenheimer pulls the chair out from under them, offering these avid film buffs, who got their start selling black market movie tickets, if they would be interested in re-creating their “heroic acts” through cinematic re-enactments. The results go from the comically absurd to the nightmarishly horrific as these wanna-be B-movie actors and directors reveal themselves to be death squad murderers and rapists through musical dance performances and western and film-noir set-ups. The genius of this Oscar-nominated film, which was produced by Werner Herzog and Errol Morris (the Spielberg and Lucas of documentary film) is that it lets these mass murderers dig their own grave, showing us that evil is not always a demonized caricature, but often the victors of war or maybe even a hero, which is far more scarier.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
An instant classic among foodies, this beautifully shot feature introduced a longtime legend to a new generation. First-time filmmaker, David Gelb, follows Jiro Ono, the octogenarian sushi master of Sukiyabashi Jiro, the only Michelin three-star sushi restaurant in the world. Gelb smartly treats Jiro’s unremarkable 10-seat sushi bar, hidden in an underground Tokyo subway station, as sacred ground, shooting Jiro’s eye-popping food creations and samurai-like process with sweeping cinematic flair (a la the popular Planet Earth series) over an epic score by Phillip Glass. As we delve into the life and times of the cheerful workaholic and his two “next-in-line” sons, the family drama plays out like a Shakespearean-drama directed by Akira Kurosawa. A must see for anyone who is a fan of food.
30 for 30: The Two Escobars We would watch ESPN Film’s “30 for 30” 30 days a month if we could. The Emmy-nominated documentary series is less about the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, but the human drama of athletic competition. There are so many of these hour-long docs to recommend (The U, Raider Nation, and The Fab 5 are excellent), but our favorite is “The Two Escobar’s,” detailing the parallel lives of two of the most beloved and hated men in Colombia’s history. World Cup Team captain Andres Escobar and international drug kingpin Pablo Escobar shared a last name and love of country and soccer, but were two vastly different men whose destinies crossed in the 1992 World Cup, when heavily-favored Colombia lost to the United States thanks to Andres’ infamous goal into his own net. This moment in time would set-off a series of events that would lead to violent ends for both men. Directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist help us read between the white lines of sports, crime and politics, to tell this tragic story.
The list of the “greatest movies never-made” makes us break out the Michael Jordan crying face meme. From Tim Burton’s Superman Lives (starring Nic Cage!) to Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon, these would-be films tickle our fancy, sparking our own imaginations of “what if?” Frank Pavich’s bittersweet doc goes a step further, letting filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky tell the fascinating story behind his doomed attempt to make Frank Herbert's Dune. The engaging Chilean cult director, best-known for his acid-Western (yes, acid western), El Topo, secured rights to the classic sci-fi tale and put together a “who’s who in 70s pop culture” to work on his ambitious adaptation, which included a score by Pink Floyd and a cast of Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger. Jodorowsky took his passion project to Hollywood to secure financing with an Old Testament-sized script that would equate to a 14-hour film. He was laughed out of town, but his genre-defining illustrations, concepts and storylines, which he left behind with predatory producers, “influenced” blockbusters such as Star Wars, The Terminator and Alien, while director David Lynch’s lame 1984 version of Dune (with Sting) was a box office turd.
Man On A Wire
Man on Wire is one of those cases where the documentary is actually better than the big-budget Hollywood-version. The Walk, directed by the great Robert Zemekis and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a decent film, but falls short of James Marsh’s 2008 bio doc chronicling French daredevil Philippe Petit’s lifelong dream to high wire walk between New York’s Twin Towers. Petit, who tells his story in his own French accent, is a clearly a madman, but a determined one, who walks the thin line between being hated and worshiped. Marsh uses interviews, re-enactments and home videos to build-up the drama, as Petit’s meticulously planned stunt, which involves a cast of characters plays out like a classic heist movie. Although Petit’s feat is incredible, some of the most poignant, can’t-miss moments are the archival footage of the Two Towers being built from the ground up.
Some honorable mentions If your queue is still light...
Salinger - Sheds light on the iconic writer of “The Catcher In The Rye”.
Virunga - Deep dive into the battle to save mountain gorillas in Africa.
Surfwise - An unorthodox family travels and surfs; like the Brady Bunch at the beach.
No No - The incredible true story of how Bad boy MLB legend Dock Ellis onced pitched a no-hitter on acid.