Twist and shout
March 29, 2016 6:28 PM   Subscribe

What are some documentaries with good twists?

Having just watched and loved The Imposter (2012), and The Jinx last year, I am now in the mood to watch more documentary film and tv with twists and surprising plot development. They don't have to be true crime, just anything that will make my mouth drop open in surprise at how bizarre real life can be. Available on streaming is a plus.
posted by ariadne's threadspinner to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
An Honest Liar, about the Amazing Randi suddenly takes a left turn. I watched it on Netflix streaming and loved it.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:33 PM on March 29, 2016 [11 favorites]

The first one that comes to mind is Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (if you haven't read anything about it, avoid any plot summaries beforehand).
posted by cpatterson at 6:37 PM on March 29, 2016 [20 favorites]

The Staircase.

Note: the DVD set doesn't have all 10 episodes (or at least, the used copy I had didn't). All 10 episodes are available on iTunes.
posted by invisible ink at 6:41 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

posted by bondcliff at 6:41 PM on March 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief. It's about a Japanese host club, but there's a reveal part way through about its patrons.
posted by Hypatia at 6:46 PM on March 29, 2016

The end of This Film Is Not Rated has a fantastic punchline. It's not a twist, exactly, but it's a great ending.
posted by Sokka shot first at 6:48 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Great Happiness Space: Shit, I'd forgotten about that. It's a great twist (I knew it was coming, since I have passing familiarity with host clubs) but it's depressing as h e c k
posted by Sokka shot first at 6:49 PM on March 29, 2016

Capturing The Friedmans (warning: also depressing).
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:57 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

In a Dream
Cartel Land
posted by shesbenevolent at 7:03 PM on March 29, 2016

posted by SisterHavana at 7:15 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Radio Bikini
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:34 PM on March 29, 2016

The Imposter
posted by defreckled at 7:37 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, Exit Through The Gift Shop
posted by radioamy at 7:48 PM on March 29, 2016

Have you ever watched "Connections" by James Burke? It's 10 episodes and what he's trying to get across is the fact development of science and engineering is a web, with plenty of cross connections (hence the name). If you aren't familiar with the details of the history of science, it will genuinely surprise you again and again.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:00 PM on March 29, 2016

If you don't know anything at all about the story, Searching for Sugar Man has something of a twist, although it's fairly gentle. (Non-spoiler info: it's about Rodriguez, a mysterious Dylanesque musician who recorded two albums in the early 70s that became popular in apartheid-era South Africa. If you know much more, the twist will be spoiled.)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:07 PM on March 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Dear Zachary.... Omg. Times 10!!! That film permanently affected me. Wow.
posted by pearlybob at 8:27 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Overnighters has a surprise reveal about its main subject in the last third.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:34 PM on March 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

I just watched Surfwise on Netflix and loved it. The twist is a little subtle, but it takes you from "OMG I want these people's charmed lives!" to "oh dear, not all is well in Paradise but people are resilient" in an hour and a half, with beautiful surf footage. Really enjoyed it.
posted by Miko at 9:40 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dropped in to immediately second The Overnighters. It blew me totally sideways in the third act.
posted by mykescipark at 10:15 PM on March 29, 2016

Stories we Tell, by Sarah Polley. Very personal, without being too dramatic. Extremely well crafted narrative, enjoy!
posted by ouke at 11:20 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

51 Birch Street.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:44 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

2nding great happiness space
Fantastic film
posted by nathancaswell at 1:54 AM on March 30, 2016

Deep Water.
posted by heatvision at 3:54 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Queen of Versailles. It has a twist that the documentarian did not see coming when she began filming. Nobody saw it coming, really.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:37 AM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

My Kid Could Paint That
posted by ella_minnow at 11:11 AM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

But for the Grace of God?

It is about homelessness. It is extremely well done. I will not tell you the twist. Just watch it.

Yes, you can stream it.
posted by Michele in California at 11:22 AM on March 30, 2016

If an episode of Nova counts, B-29: Frozen in Time
posted by alikins at 6:38 PM on March 30, 2016

The Thin Blue Line, motherfuckers
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:07 AM on March 31, 2016

The Imposter, or Dear Zachary. I'm also a big fan of court room documentaries like The Staircase.
posted by Martinvermeer at 12:15 PM on April 1, 2016

Wow, thanks to everyone for the great response!

I've seen Catfish, and I loved Searching For Sugar Man, but most of these I haven't seen and many I hadn't even heard of. I'm excited to watch.
posted by ariadne's threadspinner at 6:45 PM on April 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Better This World.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 12:58 AM on April 4, 2016

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