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What documentaries should I "Watch Instantly" on Netflix?
December 7, 2008 12:13 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the best documentaries available to watch instantly on Netflix?

Now that I have the ability to watch streaming movies on my Mac via Netflix, I am addicted to rainy weekend afternoons drawing and watching documentaries. What films can you recommend in that genre, which are available on Netflix' "Watch Instantly" system? I most like movies about interesting and unusual people, and about people obsessed with one thing, but will watch a quality film about just about any subject.

Some that I've already seen and enjoyed (not necessarily on Netflix):

King of Kong
Darkon (about live RPG enthusiasts)
Wordplay (about crossword enthusiasts)
Deliver Us From Evil (pedophile priest)
Enron, Smartest Guys in the Room
The 7-Up series
Word Wars (scrabble players)
Bookwars (NYC booksellers)
The Notorious Bettie Page
Winged Migration
Some whose names I can't remember about people who raise and show ferrets/put their daughters in beauty pageants/go to to Star Trek conventions

Thanks in advance for your recommendations! If you love a documentary that I've missed and is NOT available to watch instantly, I'd still be interested.
posted by TochterAusElysium to Media & Arts (44 answers total) 144 users marked this as a favorite
 
POV made a deal with Netflix a while back that all of their docs would appear on Netflix. I'd search for them.

And then search for anything by Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Ken Burns, etc. Herzog may be a little too weird for your taste though.
posted by intermod at 12:28 PM on December 7, 2008


I should note that NOTHING is too weird for my taste. I did watch Herzog's "Grizzly Man" and enjoyed it. Thanks for the reminder, though, and the other good ideas!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 12:32 PM on December 7, 2008


I just watched Surfwise on Netflix and it was quite good. Even if you have no interested in surfing, it's a good portrait of a man trying to raise his kids unconventionally and the lasting impact of his decisions on his family.
posted by JuliaKM at 12:33 PM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


In the Realms of the Unreal
posted by lore at 12:34 PM on December 7, 2008


The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is a good one.
posted by Silune at 12:41 PM on December 7, 2008


I wish I could remember its name... There's a documentary I "Watched Now" on Netflix about what happens when a person without any known relatives dies. The documentary focuses on all the bureaucrats and other folk who have to step in and handle the corpse, the burial, and all the stuff the person owned.

It's really pretty fascinating.. If only I could remember the name! But I know the synopsis of the movie in Netflix made it pretty clear what it was about.
posted by Ms. Saint at 12:41 PM on December 7, 2008


I just watched Confessions of a Superhero the other night, and really enjoyed it. (Slightly more information on the movie from my blog.)
posted by gerryblog at 12:45 PM on December 7, 2008


I don't know if Up The Yangtze is on 'watch instantly,' but I highly recommend it. Another good one is Please Vote For Me, which was featured on POV.
posted by extramundane at 1:06 PM on December 7, 2008


I think the documentary that Ms. Saint is referring to above is A Certain Kind of Death. I haven't watched it yet, but it's been sitting in my queue, and the description definitely matches up.

Here's one that I really enjoyed that definitely fits the "people obsessed with one thing" criteria... The Chances of the World Changing. It is the story of a man who starts rescuing endangered turtles, and gets more and more involved until it essentially takes over his life.
posted by everybody polka at 1:20 PM on December 7, 2008


I haven't seen Darkon, but it sounds a lot like Monster Camp, another doumentary about LARPing.

I don't know if it's available on Netflix to "Watch Instantly."
posted by Wreath Ass at 1:30 PM on December 7, 2008


I've heard that My Kid Could Paint That is on watch instantly and I'd totally recommend it.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:31 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


There was a PBS documentary I watched recently on the Saint John's Bible. Its really good but I am not sure they have it on Netflix. Another one was about two prisoners who escaped from a Nazi camp...but I really cant recall the name! A few others- Into the Arms of Strangers, Born into brothels, Darfur now, Touching the void (docudrama) and The Magdalene sisters (movie based on a true story).
posted by xm at 1:35 PM on December 7, 2008


Oh, and unfortunately this isn't on Watch Instant, but I really enjoyed Lost in La Mancha, the story of Terry Gilliam's failed production of Don Quixote.

Also seconding Born into Brothels. Amazing story.

I also see that Carrier, PBS's miniseries documenting a deployment of the U.S.S. Nimitz, is on Watch Instant now.
posted by everybody polka at 1:56 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hearts and Minds, Life and Debt, Roger and Me, Send a Bullet, Bus 174, Century of the Self, Harlan County, USA, The Weather Underground.
posted by history is a weapon at 1:59 PM on December 7, 2008


LoudQuietloud: A film about the Pixies

Anything from the Blue Planet series.
posted by hazyspring at 1:59 PM on December 7, 2008


The Man in the Sand is about Billy Bragg making an album of Woody Guthrie songs and traveling around the US talking to people about Woody Guthrie. It's worth watching if you have any interest at all in folk music.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 2:01 PM on December 7, 2008


The Nomi Song
Capturing the Friedmans
Rivers and Tides
Spellbound
Crazy Love
Crumb
OT: Our Town
Shakespeare Behind Bars
Super Size Me
posted by scody at 2:05 PM on December 7, 2008


I don't know your stance on religion, but I thought Jesus Camp was incredibly interesting. The way the folks in the video instill values in those kids is frightening, IMO.
posted by cdmwebs at 2:08 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dark Days
posted by washburn at 2:12 PM on December 7, 2008


I'm interested in the answers to the question now that there's Mac capability for watch instantly.

I'd suggest Helvetica, about that font in particular, but also a lot about design in general.

I also suggest watching Ken Burns' documentaries (just do a search for his name and you'll see some titles available to watch instantly), for instance, I just watched Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip about early automobiles and the first attempts to drive across the country from SF to NYC in the early 1900s.
posted by five_dollars at 2:39 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Great Happiness Space is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen, and it's on there. I thought about it for days.

The Future of Food was good.

Nthing Crazy Love and The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.
posted by Nattie at 2:53 PM on December 7, 2008


I watched The Rape of Europa over netflix this past Thanksgiving.
posted by Sara Anne at 2:57 PM on December 7, 2008


Grey Gardens, of course.

You'd probably like Errol Morris' work, including Vernon, Florida, Gates of Heaven and the First Person series.

The Times of Harvey Milk is probably a good one, especially if you think you might be interested in seeing the new (fictionalized) Sean Penn movie.
posted by Madamina at 3:03 PM on December 7, 2008


Jesus Camp is really, really compelling.
posted by jbickers at 3:17 PM on December 7, 2008


I was going to suggest Maxed Out, which is about credit cards and our "debt addiction". But, I noticed that someone had commented in the Netflix member reviews to say that Frontline did a better job on the subject of credit cards and can also be watched online here on the PBS website. If you like Frontline, you can watch a lot of their shows instantly online on the main page.
posted by belau at 4:19 PM on December 7, 2008


These are all excellent suggestions, so I won't mark them all as best. But keep them coming, and thank you!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 5:00 PM on December 7, 2008


I just watched the outstanding doc "Methadonia" on NetFlix instant view.
posted by Jahaza at 5:26 PM on December 7, 2008


I can't tell whether it's available on instant view, but I recently rented The Future Is Unwritten, the Julien Temple documentary about Joe Strummer, and it was fabulous.
posted by immlass at 5:48 PM on December 7, 2008


Street Fight is an awesome movie.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 9:00 PM on December 7, 2008


The Life of Birds is available, as are a lot of "Life of" Attenborough docs. They are all excellent.
posted by clarkie666 at 9:37 PM on December 7, 2008


The Bridge is really interesting I thought. It is, however, pretty creepy and sad and somewhat depressing so save it for after the holidays. For God's sake after the holidays.

Ok, after re-reading your question. This one's apparently not available to watch instantly and maybe doesn't fit in with most of your list, but still fascinating, unnerving, provocative, controversial, etc. It's worth watching.
posted by sevenless at 11:25 PM on December 7, 2008


Take a look at Kevin Kelly's excellent True Films site. Lots of ideas there.
posted by clark at 5:04 AM on December 8, 2008


King Corn is interesting and a bit of an eye opener.

As an intersing side note, when you put "King Corn" into IMDb's search, this is what happens.
posted by kidsleepy at 12:06 PM on December 8, 2008


Another one I found in my renatl hisroty that's also available on Watch now:
I Like Killing Flies. Documentarian Matt Mahurin peers into Shopsin's, a hole-in-the-wall Greenwich Village restaurant that's been dutifully serving comfort food to satisfied customers for more than 30 years. Lording over the eatery is hilarious, ersatz philosopher/owner Kenny Shopsin, who caters to such regulars as writer Calvin Trillin. Shopsin dispenses tough love with his okra chowder and is just as likely to throw out customers as take their food orders.

And seconding Helvetica and Surfwise. And adding a recommendation for Air Guitar Nation, which unfortunately isn't available on Watch Now.
posted by kidsleepy at 12:13 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seconding Capturing The Friedmans, Spellbound and Crumb. Also, I'd now trust anything scody recommends. :)

Others not mentioned:
Bukowski: Born Into This - About poet/drunk Charles Bukowski. I had never heard of him before seeing this and it really got me hooked on him.

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson - About the African-American boxer, not the laid back singer. :) By Ken Burns (if you are a fan. If you aren't then skip.)

Taxi To The Dark Side - How torture is used in Afghanistan and Iraq

Little Dieter Needs to Fly-

Bigger, Stronger, Faster - Doc on steroid use in sports and regular people.

Scratch- Doc on scratching, turntablism, dj's, etc.
posted by eric-neg at 5:06 PM on December 8, 2008


Cocaine Cowboys
posted by JPowers at 10:25 PM on December 8, 2008


Revolution OS
posted by JPowers at 10:29 PM on December 8, 2008


Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

(Sorry about posting three separate times. Every time I hit Submit I thought of another fabulous film. And btw, all three films I've mentioned above ARE available on Netflix's Watch It Now.)
posted by JPowers at 10:31 PM on December 8, 2008


Fantastic suggestions. I also liked:

American Pimp
No End in Sight
posted by underdetermined at 5:05 AM on December 9, 2008


Must. Nth. The Great Happiness Space.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:15 AM on December 9, 2008


Your tastes seem to parallel mine, so I'm just going to start reeling off docs that we've shown over the last few years that I really enjoyed. I'll try not to repeat, bust excuse me if I do:

MURDERBALL
GRIZZLY MAN

THE UNTOLD STORY OF EMMETT LOUIS TILL
BE HERE TO LOVE ME
WHY WE FIGHT
DARWIN'S NIGHTMARE
THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON

BOYS OF BARAKA
UP FOR GRABS (one of my personal favorites)
WORDPLAY
THE HEART OF THE GAME
THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED
US VERSUS JOHN LENNON
F*CK
JONESTOWN: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE PEOPLE'S TEMPLE
IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS
DELIVER US FROM EVIL
CHALK (mockumentary, but still fun)
AIR GUITAR NATION
PLAGUES AND PLEASURES ON THE SALTON SEA

WAR/DANCE
TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE
BILLY THE KID (2007)
HELVETICA

MEETING RESISTANCE
NO END IN SIGHT
DARIUS GOES WEST
THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN
NEW YEAR BABY
FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO
GANJA QUEEN
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON
KURT COBAIN: ABOUT A SON
HEIMA: SIGUR ROS
CHICAGO 10
THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE
YOUNG @ HEART
BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER*
FORBIDDEN LIES
MAN ON WIRE

GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON
ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED
ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD
AMERICAN TEEN

RELIGULOUS

Wow. That's a lot to digest. I'll go back and bold the best of the best, but they're all worth a watch. Good luck!
posted by bjork24 at 5:08 PM on January 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to the True/False Documentary Film Festival in Columbia, MO. They've shown nearly every doc listed on this page, plus more, and did so well before they had their standard theatrical or DVD release. If you're anywhere near the area in late February, you should definitely consider attended. If it's not already, it's quickly becoming the preeminent festival for independent docs.
posted by bjork24 at 5:15 PM on January 3, 2009


Wow - thanks, bjork24 - I really appreciate that list and the link!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 5:37 PM on January 4, 2009


Touch the Sound is amazing and instantly available on Netflix.
posted by andreinla at 5:24 PM on June 25, 2009


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