Rock Out With Your Doc Out
March 6, 2014 8:37 AM   Subscribe

If you guys were my real friends, you would have told me about Heavy Metal Parking Lot before now. Back in the day, I used to hear about great documentary films through the grapevine. I guess the best example of this is the Evening with Kevin Smith series. But I never seem to hear about these any more. Heavy Metal Parking Lot looks awesome. What else am I missing? Parameter: nothing really sad. Hands on a Hard Body was kind of a bummer to me, but it's still the sort of thing I'm looking for. Anything about, say, the Holocaust, is out of this league. Thanks, MeFites!
posted by Jane Austen to Media & Arts (106 answers total) 419 users marked this as a favorite
So... you're looking for interesting documentaries?

I enjoyed Morgan Spurlock's ComicCon documentary. I'm not a con or a comic book guy and it was an interesting look into a world that previous seemed alien to me.

I also liked Dave Grolh's Sound City.
posted by bondcliff at 8:47 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Searching for Sugarman!
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:48 AM on March 6, 2014 [19 favorites]

I highly recommend Cane Toads: An Unnatural History, The Art of the Steal, and Man on Wire.
posted by OrangeDisk at 8:50 AM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Absolutely Murderball. So much fun to watch. (And don't just take my word for it: It has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:52 AM on March 6, 2014 [9 favorites]

If you haven't heard of Heavy Metal Parking Lot, I think it's safe to assume that you haven't heard of American Movie either.
posted by Duffington at 8:54 AM on March 6, 2014 [14 favorites]

Top Documentary Films is a huge list of streaming documentaries. Might take some digging, but there is so, so much great stuff to find in there.
posted by ulfberht at 8:58 AM on March 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

Darkon, about live-action role players.

Also, previously
posted by exogenous at 8:59 AM on March 6, 2014

Not quite as fun indie underground as you're looking for, but just in case you hadn't heard of it, my favorite documentary of the past couple years was Queen of Versailles.

I would also feel remiss if I didn't say that the movie that gave me that feeling of "Holy shit, I can't believe this existed in the world and I didn't know about it" - is Dear Zachary. If you ever decide you're in a place where you can handle it, read as little about it as you can beforehand. It's not sad in the way that Holocaust movies or other movies about Issues are sad...but it is absolutely sad - it will will rip your heart right out of you. So, I'm not recommending it, exactly. I'm just letting you know that it exists.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:59 AM on March 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Exit Through the Gift Shop tends to spellbind even people who normally aren't into documentaries.
posted by jbickers at 8:59 AM on March 6, 2014 [20 favorites]

How about this: A Band Called Death, about a trio of African-American brothers from Detroit who started a long-forgotten proto-punk band in the early 70s. It has a 96% on RT, and is streaming on Netflix now.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:04 AM on March 6, 2014 [12 favorites]

Twenty Feet From Stardom - about back-up singers and amazingly compelling. Won the Oscar for best documentary this year and deservedly so.
posted by leslies at 9:08 AM on March 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes! Thank you! I've seen Queen of Versailles, Exit Through the Gift Shop and Art of the Steal. These are all good examples--I'm not sure where I heard about them, but I'm so glad that I did. Keep 'em coming.
posted by Jane Austen at 9:09 AM on March 6, 2014

Searching for Sugarman is amazing. For the first whatever many minutes, I hated it, thought it was typical fan boy BS, and was soon proven very very wrong in my first impression.

The World's Best Prom is surprisingly compelling. Try Snag Films - they have it sometimes.

Secret People - it's not sad! Really, it's a feel-good doc about leprosy.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:10 AM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Anything by Louis Theroux, he's got a really interesting non-threatening interview style that get's even the most hardened people to open up and talk about personal things.
posted by fallingleaves at 9:20 AM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have you seen The King of Kong?
posted by bibliowench at 9:25 AM on March 6, 2014 [19 favorites]

Hard to find, but worth the effort: This Ain't No Mouse Music (Disclosure: Mrs. Wallflower went to college with one of the filmmakers.)
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:27 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Beware of Mr. Baker
posted by jindc at 9:40 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Imposter
Indie Game
posted by jindc at 9:42 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Personally, I think Home Movie is one of the best. Heartwarming, crazy, funny...
posted by maya at 9:52 AM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

American Movie is a hilarious trainwreck with a heartwarming ending. It won the 1999 Sundance Grand Jury Prize.

Mark Borchardt: It's pronounced "COE-ven", man. What else could it be pronounced?
Actor: "CUH-ven". That's the proper pronunciation.
Mark Borchardt: No, no, no. No, no... "CUH-ven" sounds like "oven", man. And that's just... it doesn't work.

posted by mireille at 10:00 AM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I walked out of Rize with my mouth hanging open. It was amazing (and directed by LaChapelle).
posted by kinsey at 10:01 AM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Off the Charts - SONG POEMS!!
posted by maya at 10:18 AM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want more parking lot in your movies, may I recommend The Parking Lot Movie?
posted by gingerbeer at 10:20 AM on March 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Anvil: The Movie. It's a wonderful docu about a band that you thought were completely washed up, until ...

Imagine if Spinal Tap were real. Anvil is more outrageous. it has sad moments but is ultimately redemptive.
posted by scruss at 10:26 AM on March 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

Gray Gardens is the quintessential cult documentary. Could be too sad, or could be too odd to be sad, depending on your tastes.

Anything by Errol Morris.
Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King has been accused, by out-of-touch critics, of being a giant put-on, but David and Jad Fair are 100% genuine.
The Gleaners and I
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
The Yes Men, for even more Chris Smith. The trailer is really cheesy, though. I imagine the studio had no idea how to promote it.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:51 AM on March 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

The documentary tag on this very website has a plethora of films you might enjoy.

My recent obsession, BBC doc maker Adam Curtis, has many of his films available for free on

Medora is a great film about Basketball in a small town (more about the town than the team).

Welcome to Pine Point is one of my favorites.

This Orson Welles doc from 1982 is freaking fantastic too (now free again on Yt!)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:52 AM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Network Awesome curates You Tube videos every day around a single theme and has an extensive documentary archive covering wide variety of topics, mostly related to art and music.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:16 PM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

My wife and I recently watched Reel Injun (Native Americans and First Nation people portrayed in film) and really enjoyed it, after watching the only moderately decent Slanted Screen (Asian [men] in film).
posted by filthy light thief at 12:50 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry about the Chinese artist/activist, and Best Worst Movie, a very funny movie about an unlikely horror movie gaining cult momentum. I first heard about that one at a MeFi meetup!
posted by inkytea at 1:30 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The PBS series Independent Lens shows about a dozen docs every year. There's also the show POV, which compiles an annual list of the best documentaries.

Recently watched documentaries I have liked include Man on Wire, Exit Through the Gift Shop (which went in an entirely unexpected direction, but I'd avoided "spoilers" as I understood it had a twist of sorts), Blackfish, and the locally-to-me filmed As Goes Janesville (which aired on Independent Lens in 2012). Their distributor, Kartemquin Films, also had an acclaimed doc about an anti-gang-violence program in Chicago, the Interrupters (which I haven't seen).

Werner Herzog makes not only fictional movies, but absorbing documentaries. It's profoundly sad, but I still recommend his examination of a multiple homicide in Texas, Into the Abyss. (It's strikingly reminiscent of the non-fictional dramatization of a death penalty case, Dead Man Walking, if you've seen that.) But I was very impressed with the story that he has filmed both as a documentary and as a feature film, about a pilot shot down in Vietnam. The non-fiction version, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, was (if I'm correct) reworked into a feature What Would Dieter Do? on the DVD for the dramatic version, Rescue Dawn, which stars Christian Bale.
posted by dhartung at 3:05 PM on March 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh, I have Marwencol on my queue.

A few others i enjoyed online: Helvetica; Objectified; and Urbanized, all from the same filmmakers (and thematically joined).
posted by dhartung at 3:18 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not to be fighty, but, as much as I enjoyed American Movie, I found it depressing as in just thinking about it now is unsettling.

May not be your cup of tea on the sad standard.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:46 PM on March 6, 2014

Jesus, great thread. I've seen half of these, and need to see the other half.
posted by intermod at 7:38 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Monster Camp!!!!
posted by waitangi at 8:47 PM on March 6, 2014

I will second the Anvil documentary. So good.
posted by dhammond at 9:19 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

As hydrophonic mentioned, anything by Errol Morris is pretty good, but definitely consider checking out The Fog of War.

It's an utterly fascinating documentary about why people (in this case, Robert McNamara) make the choices that they do, especially during a crisis. Oh, and the soundtrack is really great too.
posted by Fister Roboto at 9:25 PM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

posted by bongo_x at 9:31 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm shocked no one has mentioned The Cruise.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:04 PM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin' About Him?) affected me a lot more than I expected (but then, I am a music dork of the right sort to really really love Nilsson). It's on Netflix, and I don't think you have to be a music dork to enjoy it, necessarily. It's got sadness, joy, humor, and some freaking amazing vocal performances.

There is also Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me. If you are the sort of person who likes one of these movies, I think you should see the other.

A completely different sort of music: Wheedle's Groove, about the Seattle soul scene from several decades ago, and reuniting a bunch of the musicians to play again.

Also Seattle-related, but this time about sports: Sonicsgate, the story of the theft of the Seattle SuperSonics. (I still haven't gotten around to seeing this one, but I've heard good things and I really need to see it.)

About a Seattle that no longer exists -- Streetwise, about the lives of a group of Seattle street kids in the early 80s. Lots of familiar sights for those of us who were here then. But worth seeing even if you have no connection with Seattle. I couldn't find a trailer, but the whole movie is on YouTube.

I love documentaries. I think we're in a golden age for them right now.
posted by litlnemo at 5:14 AM on March 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

I like video games, pizza, and robots so The Rock-afire Explosion is my jam.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:58 AM on March 7, 2014

My Kid Could Paint That, a documentary that starts by exploring the nature of modern art through a little girl and her talent for abstract art, and blossoms into a meditation on fame, journalism, and the media cycle.

Gosh I love this documentary so much.
posted by Quilford at 5:15 PM on March 8, 2014

Oh yeah!

Also definitely check out Forbidden Lie$, a documentary-cum-thriller following a woman accused of perpetrating a literary hoax. It's on YouTube. Lots of flair, very fun, you will probably find yourself murmuring 'holy crap' at the screen a few times.
posted by Quilford at 5:19 PM on March 8, 2014

Fuck For Forest, it just came out and sounds delightfully bizarre.
posted by yoHighness at 2:24 PM on March 11, 2014

Heidi Fleiss, Hollywood Madam by Nick Broomfield. Not what you think and staggeringly good.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:24 AM on March 12, 2014

Sound and Fury, if you're looking for a film to make you change your perceptions about (dis)ability and the importance of culture for human identity.
posted by ChrisTN at 7:53 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you can find it, Hitler's Hit Parade, about the popular culture of the Third Reich.
posted by tel3path at 8:32 AM on March 12, 2014

Seconding Man on Wire, which is probably the best documentary I've ever seen; it had me completely spellbound.

If you agree with Michael Moore's politics then you'll probably like most of his films. But even if you don't, Roger & Me is a masterpiece.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill sounds like a total snoozefest - it's ostensibly about a colony of parrots living on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill). But it's really surprisingly great, quite touching.

Finally, Live Nude Girls Unite!, one of my other all-time favorites for its blend of humor and social commentary with a pretty unexpected topic.
posted by jacobian at 8:54 AM on March 12, 2014

Wesley Willis' Joy Rides.
posted by avocet at 8:55 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are plenty of excellent suggestions above, and a search of most movie rating sites (imdb, rotten tomatoes, etc) can net you a bunch more.

Also, the web site for PBS Frontline has a bunch of fantastic news-docs you can watch online, truly a gem of the web.

Now on to some recommendations not made above:

Chasing Ice - documentary about the melting glaciers featuring some fantastic time lapse photography of retreating glaciers.

Sharkwater - an exposé about the global trade in shark fins and the devastating impact it has on the species.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room - an inside look at the leaders of Enron and their business practices that brought about the infamous fall of the company.

Inside Job - Narrated by Matt Damon, this doc explores the causes of the global financial crisis of 2008.

Air Guitar Nation - a fun look at the international air guitar competition (yes, you read that right) held annually in Sweden. I never imagined being impressed by someone doing air guitar! Very fun movie!

BBC Planet Earth - Not terribly informative but has amazing visuals of all sorts of beautiful creatures and events taken from across the globe. Narrated by David Attenborough for extra britishness.

I could go on and on, there are so many good documentaties out there! Have fun watching!
posted by Vindaloo at 9:57 AM on March 12, 2014

Hmm, going back and reading the actual question reveals that you are looking for more light-hearted stuff (in that case, don't miss out on Air Guitar Nation!).

So, with that in mind, let me add some more to the list:

Dogtown and Z-Boys - the story about a gang of teenagers and how they changed the sport of skateboarding into what it is today.

Riding Giants - a great movie exploring surfing culture in all its forms.

Okie Noodling - is the story about fishermen who catch catfish with their barehands in a practice called "noodling".

Around the World in 80 Days - Michael Palin (of Monty Python fame) takes us on a journey around the world in 80 days without ever taking a plane.

This Is Spinal Tap - Just in case you haven't seen it, this is the famous faux-documentary about Britain's loudest band, Spinal Tap.
posted by Vindaloo at 10:28 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Standing in the Shadows of Motown is a documentary of studio session musicians in Detroit for Motown Records. They are the ones that created the Motown sound.
posted by gloturtle at 10:46 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am a huge fan of Grizzly Man.
posted by beatrice rex at 11:05 AM on March 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

"25 Documentaries Every Arts & Culture Lover Needs To Watch Right Now" has some excellent recommendations and they are all available on Netflix. I just watched "I Think We're Alone Now" about two people who are obsessed with pop singer Tiffany. It watch it
posted by Otis at 11:21 AM on March 12, 2014

I don't have a lot of personal DVDs, but I have Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns, about They Might Be Giants on my shelf. Among other charms, it's got a number of famous funny people, among them Jon Stewart and Andy Richter, very seriously reading TMBG song lyrics to camera.
posted by JHarris at 1:33 PM on March 12, 2014

You probably have already seen these, especially the first, but just in case:

Spellbound — "...follows eight competitors in the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee."
A Life Without Pain — "...about children who can't feel pain"
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:15 PM on March 12, 2014

Any Errol Morris, but as mentioned above Fog of War is really excellent. His early doco The Thin Blue Line is also interesting in particular because it was so influential.

Docos on topics I have no interest in but loved just because they told a really good story:
Touching the Void, about a failed mountain climb, means I can never hear the Boney M song Brown Girl in the Ring the same way again; and
Fire in Babylon is about the 70s/80s West Indian cricket team and the racism they faced both at home and on tour - it made me fall a little bit in love with Viv Richards and the interviews with WI musicians were unexpected and very cool.

Topics I had an interest in but didn't expect such good documentary style:
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is a great look at a band who've been together for a really long time;
The Imposter, about Frederik Boudain - if you've not read anything about his case, there's some great articles which have been linked on MeFi but are best read after you've seen the doco, IMO; and
Spellbound about the Scripps National Spelling Bee, features such great kids that you really want to see them succeed.
posted by harriet vane at 7:17 PM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Fog of War - Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara is fantastic and available to watch on youtube. A 2003 American documentary film about the life and times of former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara illustrating his observations of the nature of modern warfare.
posted by Start with Dessert at 9:47 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

A great "mystery-solving" documentary:
Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles
posted by dhens at 10:47 PM on March 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Les Blank's documentaries Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, Gap-Toothed Women and All In This Tea are a lot of fun.

His documentary on Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo Burden of Dreams is also amazing and actually better, I think, than Herzog's film itself, because it manages to reveal Fitzcarraldo's megalomania as Herzog's own.
posted by quoquo at 11:21 PM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Waiting Room (2012) follows staff and patients in an emergency room in a California medical center through a single day. Watched this on Netflix Instant last night. It's serious, and grim at times, but not oppressively heavy, and it's terrific.
posted by FrauMaschine at 1:15 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Paradise Lost documentary series is excellent.
On the same subject, West of Memphis is brilliant.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:25 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

If a Tree Falls About the Earth Liberation Front and the trial of one of it's members.
Battle for Brooklyn About a neighborhoods fight with a developer over a new Basketball stadium
posted by HappyHippo at 2:19 PM on March 13, 2014

A is a 1998 documentary with in-depth access into the Aum Shinrikyo cult, who were responsible for the Sarin gas attack in a Tokyo subway. Very chilling and insightful on cult psychology. Read up on the context first, because the film drops you right in without much explanation.

Into Great Silence is nearly three hours and contains almost no dialogue or narrative content. You view slow, quiet life inside of a remote Carthusian monastery high in the French Alps - and that's pretty much it. The film has a deeply profound effect if you're willing to immerse yourself in it. Turn off your cell phone.

Nothing good can come of spoiling Cutie and the Boxer's story - but it's about life, art, creativity, relationships, competition, inspiration, gender, mortality, independence. It's also very funny.
posted by naju at 2:35 PM on March 13, 2014

Folks haven't made it clear enough that if you like odd documentaries you *really* need to get familiar with Errol Morris. 1988's The Thin Blue Line is an amazing, tightly edited and beautifully constructed film that takes you slowly through a serious miscarriage of justice, with a fantastic score by Phillip Glass. It was so powerful it got the subject of the film pardoned from his life sentence for a murder he clearly didn't commit. As harriet vane noted above, it was hugely influential in the documentary world and is a must-see.

Morris' A Brief History of Time, about Stephen Hawking, is another gem for someone looking at the lighter end of the documentary spectrum, as is his Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, a look at a robot bug maker, a topiary artist, a lion tamer and an expert on hairless mole rats. It's hilarious and fascinating, drawing odd links between the subjects, and I'd see either one of those before The Fog of War. Vernon, Florida is an early example of his style and is a thoughtful, funny gem, too, as is 2010's Tabloid.

And a big thumbs up to the earlier suggestion of Morris' short-lived TV series First Person. The first episode was many folks' introduction to the fascinating autistic woman and cattle slaughter expert Temple Grandin.

There are so many other great suggestions above, but I just wanted to make sure the guy who has for decades been making exactly the kind of documentaries you seem to like gets his proper respect here. Errol Morris is a treasure.
posted by mediareport at 6:45 PM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Between the Folds is a delightful documentary about modern origami.
posted by slogger at 8:15 PM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mondo Hollywood - it's essentially a snapshot of Hollywood and some of LA in '65-'67, with an emphasis on the odder aspects. Rather old, but fairly unknown. (NSFW in a couple of places because of bare breasts.)
posted by Hactar at 10:04 PM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Los Angeles Plays Itself, if you've ever lived in LA or are interested in urban landscape or 20th century social history or movies (it's impossible to release on account of it consists entirely of clips of other films, but you might try searching youtube, just sayin').
posted by Erasmouse at 6:33 AM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Similar in a way to American Movie, I was fascinated by Muleskinner Blues for a long time.

There was a spate of TV horror movie host docs released a few years ago that are worth checking out, including Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong!, about Creature Features on San Francisco's KTVU in the 70s and early 80s.
posted by gargoyle93 at 6:45 AM on March 14, 2014

My favorite documentary of all time is Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World, about people living in Antarctica. This scene about a depressed penguin is better than the actual trailer. Pretty sure the movie is streaming on Netflix.
posted by Corduroy at 6:31 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just saw Tim's Vermeer tonight - amazing film about a guy who has figured out the optical device he believes Vermeer used to make his paintings and how he sets out to prove the theory by recreating the room in a Vermeer painting and recreating the painting despite no painting background. The film was put together by Penn & Teller and features David Hockney.
posted by leslies at 7:47 PM on March 14, 2014

I just watched The Act of Killing on Netflix Streaming last weekend, and it has displaced all else as the greatest documentary (although I think of it as a David Lynch-ian horror film) that I've ever seen.

Thunder Soul will gladden your heart, and send you dancing through your house. Currently on Netflix Streaming.

The Square, in addition to being a blistering account of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, was a Kickstarter project and Oscar-nominee
posted by magstheaxe at 8:42 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding (??) Helvetica, Best Worst Movie, and The Indie Game Movie.

Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue - enjoyable history of horror movies starting with silent films and moving forward to current movies.
Nightmare Factory - another horror movie documentary film, but from the perspective of the makeup/effects guys. You get to see how they have branched out into other film types as well - I am always impressed with the stuff that is gory or realistic and wonder how it was done.
Buying Sex - a look at both sides of the prostitution debate in Canada. Probably a bit biased in one direction, but an interesting look nonetheless.
Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay - a pretty cool look into the world of magic, focusing on Ricky Jays influence and experiences.
Graham Chapman: Anatomy of a Liar - Graham Chapman biography with an interesting presentation.
A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman - the making of the Graham Chapman biography. :P Yes it's meta but still good.
The Elephant in the Living Room - a documentary about people in the US owning exotic animals. It's nothing special really, but there is a unifying story about a dude and his lions that will make you angry, sad, and completely sympathetic at the same time.
The Story of Film: An Odyssey - A really long, really enjoyable discussion of the evolution of film. Lovely insights into the motivations in certain film choices and shots.

Hitler's Children - I know you said no Holocaust stuff, buuuut, this one is a discussion with descendants of Goering, Himmler, and Goeth. It was an extremely interesting discussion, so maybe try it out sometime in the future.

I love documentaries :) Also, ALL of these are on Netflix Streaming currently if you want to give them a shot.

Also, also - Pom Wonderful Presents was pretty entertaining and a wonderful look behind the veil of advertising, and I am crazy surprised that it got out into the world as edited. :P

I hope you/someone enjoy(s) at least one of these.
posted by tkappleton at 9:31 PM on March 14, 2014

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth
posted by hypersloth at 9:32 PM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Stories We Tell is part biopic, part documentary about a mystery in Sarah Polley's family life. Fascinating from end to end.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:00 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

-The Endurance :P
-The Journey To Palomar!
posted by kliuless at 11:44 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mentioned above:

American Movie
Heavy Metal Parking Lot
Little Deter Needs To Fly
The Gleaners and I

Try these:
Hands on a Hard Body
Grey Gardens
Harlan County USA
Summer Camp by Sara Price, the producer of American Movie (I don't know if this is in distribution)
posted by zerobyproxy at 3:41 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Conan O'Brien Cant Stop is on Netflix streaming, as is the excellent Restrepo and the aforementioned Encounters at the End of the World. That penguin kills me.
It's older, but Touching the Void, is also a must see.
Do you like F1 racing? Make sure you check out Senna.
posted by Dr. Zira at 8:01 AM on March 16, 2014

Être et avoir (To Be and To Have) is a beautiful French documentary about rural school life. Another affecting portrait of school is Children Full of Life.

I also loved Touching the Void, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Some Kind of Monster... on the rock doc side, there's also the terrific Dig! about the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre (as with the Metallica doc, you don't have to be a fan to enjoy it; it won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2004).
posted by rory at 6:02 AM on March 17, 2014

The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off is a short documentary from Channel 4 with a terrible title. It's about a man called Jonny Kennedy who invited a film crew to record his last days and death, and it made me laugh very hard and get something in my eye, occasionally at the same time. It's on YouTube and on Amazon Instant thingie in the UK, and it is a glorious celebration of a very brave, funny soul.
posted by finisterre at 9:13 AM on March 17, 2014

A fantastic, panoramic film about NYC runway culture in the 80's, Paris Is Burning.
posted by Walleye at 5:19 PM on March 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I searched the page, and no one mentioned Sherman's March yet! This is a delicious, meandering portrait of the south in the 80's.

Here's the setup: dude wants to make a movie about General Sherman's march during the civil war, but just before he starts shooting, his girlfriend breaks up with him. So he makes a movie about that instead.

I remember being delighted with how simultaneously weird and boring and nice the movie was. It was recommended to me by the music group Ratatat, in an interview they did somewhere sometime.
posted by boghead at 9:35 PM on March 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Machete Maidens Unleashed! is pretty awesome. It's about the heyday of b-movie filmmaking in the Philippines.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:50 PM on March 17, 2014

Neither of these films are in my areas of interest, but they had me hooked:

GLOW: The Story of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling chronicles the rise and fall of the first ever all-female wrestling show through the stories of those who lived it.

Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony is a feature length documentary film that explores the cultural phenomenon of Bronies.
posted by sweetmarie at 10:00 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

i love docs too.... Here's my essential-viewing dozen.

1. The Up Series by Michael Apted (no other film comes close) - humanity.

2. Jiro Dreams Of Sushi - tantalizing
3. Afghan Star - amusing
4. The Queen of Versailles - carwreck
5. Last Train Home - capitalism
6. Brooklyn Castle - cheerful
7. Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present - calming
8. Bill Cunningham New York - fascinating
9. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters - adorkable
10. Inside Job - smart
11. Surfwise - family
12. The Office (UK) by Ricky Gervais ; ) - Slough
posted by dracomarca at 9:18 AM on March 20, 2014

If you liked Heavy Metal Parking Lot, you'll love Devil At Your Heels, which is as if one of the dudes at that concert grew up and became a daredevil. One of the best documentaries I've ever seen.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:00 AM on March 22, 2014

i can't BELIEVE that mention has not been made of this wonder:

- metal: a headbanger's journey. truly genius, the sort of thing to recommend to parents dealing with metal head kids (and metal fans too...) and paved the way for the production company to create other goodness such as iron maiden: flight 666.

- the treasures of long gone john (chronicles the life and times of sympathy for the record industry record label head honcho long gone john) -- highly recommended for rock history and seeing his amazing collections of stuff, and so much retro goodness.

- end of the century - the story of the ramones - it's hard to believe what a car crash this band is. an amazing sounding car

- the more family friendly pucker up - the fine art of whilsting.

- *adds to watchlist* - Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This Is Stones Throw Records

- seconding dogtown and z boys (feat. henry rollins (my, he's in an awful lot of docos...))

- speaking of which - a nice cheat for new documentaries about music is to check out what henry rollins is starring as himself in. eg upcoming = riot on the dance floor, dude, where's my music?
posted by gusset at 3:36 AM on March 23, 2014

Sound It Out is a really lovely portrait of a record shop in the North East of England and all the regular characters that drop in.
posted by pmcp at 6:54 AM on March 23, 2014

The American Scream was a joy to watch.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 3:34 PM on March 23, 2014

The Devil and Daniel Johnston is beautifully touching.
posted by cazoo at 6:18 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Two motorcycle documentaries:
Dust to Glory about the Baja 1000, the longest point-to-point offroad race in the world
Faster about MotoGP, the elite league of motorcycle roadracing
posted by workerant at 12:13 PM on March 25, 2014

Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory (website plays music on loading)

The Revenge of the Mekons (trailer)
posted by asok at 6:17 AM on March 26, 2014

A documentary on fishing from five years ago, might qualify as sad if you don't think anything can be done:

The End of the Line (Oceans)

And another music one:

The Unique Story of British Music and Street Style (10 minute episodes on Youtube or full length, low quality with Korean subtitles on Vimeo)
posted by asok at 6:47 AM on March 26, 2014

Specific to cycling:

A Sunday In Hell- impressionistic, beautifully filmed documentary about the annual Paris-Roubaix race. Also a good primer on road cycling tactics.

La course en tête- about Eddy Merckx, pretty much the greatest road cyclist to have lived.

Bonus: Vive le Tour! by Louis Malle.

I would also second any recommendation for Paris Is Burning. Beautiful, heartbreaking, but absolutely essential.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:20 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Less a documentary and more a concert film- Wattstax.

And of course, When We Were Kings.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:26 AM on March 26, 2014

Just a note that I've been tracking this thread and I've compiled a list of all the documentaries that have been mentioned, and how often, and I've even used a program to find the metadata for each one. That was as of a week ago — I'm waiting until the thread's about to close and plan to post the comprehensive list. If I forget, though, anyone interested should memail me for the list.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:47 PM on March 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

What a great list. Thanks to all for posting.
I would add Senna to this list. A great documentary about the greatest and probably most inspiring Formula 1 driver of all time, Ayrton Senna.
posted by walter lark at 11:30 AM on March 31, 2014

Best answer: Here's an index of the documentaries that have been mentioned (as a web page, with separate pages for details). It's sorted by number of recommendations, then title:


And here's they are, just listed:

4 Recommendations

American Movie
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The Fog of War

3 Recommendations

Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Heavy Metal Parking Lot
Man on Wire
The King of Kong
The Queen of Versailles
Touching the Void

2 Recommendations

A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman
Air Guitar Nation
Best Worst Movie
Bill Cunningham New York
Dogtown and Z-Boys
Encounters at the End of the World
Inside Job
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
Searching for Sugarman
Sound City
The Art of the Steal
The Gleaners and I
The Imposter
The Indie Game Movie
When We Were Kings

1 Recommendation

A Band Called Death
A Brief History of Time
A Life Without Pain
A Sunday In Hell
Afghan Star
Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry
Alive Inside: A Story Of Music And Memory
All in This Tea
Arena: The Orson Welles Story
Around the World in 80 Days
As Goes Janesville
Battle for Brooklyn
Between the Folds
Beware of Mr. Baker
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony
Brooklyn Castle
Burden of Dreams
Buying Sex
Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Chasing Ghosts
Chasing Ice
Children Full of Life
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope
Conan O'Brien Cant Stop
Cutie and the Boxer
Dear Zachary
Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
Decline of Western Civilization Part II
Devil At Your Heels
Dust To Glory
Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters
End Of The Century
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Òtre et avoir yt (To Be and To Have)
Fast, Cheap & Out of Control
Fire in Babylon
Forbidden Lie$
Fuck for Forest
Gap-Toothed Women
Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers
Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns
GLOW: The Story of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
Grizzly Man
Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King
Hands on a Hard Body
Harlan County USA
Heidi Fleiss, Hollywood Madam
Herb and Dorothy
Hitler's Children
Hitler's Hit Parade
Home Movie
I Like Killing Flies
I Think We're Alone Now
If a Tree Falls
Into Great Silence
Into the Abyss
Iron Maiden: Flight 666.
Keep America Strong!
La Course En Tˆte
Last Train Home
Live Nude Girls Unite!
Los Angeles Plays Itself
Machete Maidens Unleashed!
Mad Hot Ballroom
Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present
Metal: A Headbanger's Journey
Mondo Hollywood
Monster Camp
Muleskinner Blues
My Kid Could Paint That
New York Doll
Nightmare Factory
Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue
Off the Charts
Okie Noodling
Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton: This Is Stones Throw Records
Paradise Lost
Paris is Burning
Pom Wonderful Presents
Pucker Up
Reel Injun
Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles
Riding Giants
Roger & Me
Secret People
Sherman's March
Slanted Screen
Sound and Fury
Sound It Out
Standing in the Shadows of Motown
Stories We Tell
Summer Camp
The Act of Killing
The American Scream
The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off
The Cruise
The Devil And Daniel Johnston
The Elephant in the Living Room
The End Of The Line
The Endurance
The Journey to Palomar
The Office
The Parking Lot Movie
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth
The Revenge Of The Mekons
The Rock-afire Explosion
The Square
The Story of Film: An Odyssey
The Thin Blue Line
The Treasures Of Long Gone John
The Unique Story Of British Music And Street Style
The Up Series
The Waiting Room
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
The World's Best Prom
The Yes Men
This Ain't No Mouse Music
Thunder Soul
Tim's Vermeer
Twenty Feet from Stardom
Vernon, Florida
Vive Le Tour!
Watch Horror Films
Way of the Puck
Welcome to Pine Point
Wesley Willis' Joy Rides
West of Memphis
Wheedle's Groove
Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin' About Him?)
Apologies if I missed any or made other mistakes. The web index was auto-generated by a movie collector library app and it pulled metadata from other sites. I made an effort to ensure that the movies were identified correctly, but there may be errors.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:50 PM on April 1, 2014 [12 favorites]

Sorry, Ivan. I thought of three more.

The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner. The shots of him ski jumping are mesmerizing. Here it is on youtube. There are subtitles; you have to turn them on.

Vinyl - A Documentary on Record Collecting. There was an FPP.

So Wrong They're Right, about 8-track cassettes and the people who love them. Features quite a few people from the zine scene of the 90s.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:49 PM on April 1, 2014

Rewind This! about the development and decline of the VHS tape.
posted by JDC8 at 7:30 PM on April 14, 2014

Totally forgot about (and can't believe no one else mentioned) Style Wars, the awesome 1983 PBS time capsule about early graffiti and hip-hop culture that was released on DVD in 2003, became an instant cult favorite, and can be found in full on YouTube. A sort of sequel, Style Wars 2, came out late last year. FWIW, there's an exhibit of hundreds of small photos of subway graffiti from that era up through July 10 at City Lore Gallery in the East Village. It's a fantastic documentation of a brilliant cultural moment that's well worth seeing if you happen to be in the area.
posted by mediareport at 8:44 PM on April 21, 2014

Could you do me a kindness, and watch Winnebago Man?
posted by obscurator at 1:29 PM on April 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm like a year late on this (saw it via the best of 2014 labs thing), but I can't believe that no one mentioned The Natural History of the Chicken.
posted by togdon at 6:30 PM on January 11, 2015

« Older What's this site where you suggest a question to...   |   How important is height disparity to short guys? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.