A great documentary takes you inside a world you don't know; all of the following certainly fit that bill.
From lives you would never otherwise get to peek into, to stories that prove that "sometimes truth is stranger than fiction," the documentaries here are some of the best available for streaming on Netflix right now.
"Girl Model" is a subtle, disturbing look inside the world of modeling, from the perspective of a model scout who is a former young model herself. This is not an uplifting tale, but a look into the dark underbelly of the modeling world and the lives the young girls (13, 14) who are shipped from poor Russian towns, taken away from their parents and family and sent to New York, Milan, Japan and China — sometimes at their peril.
"Craigslist Joe" follows one man as he tests the limits of community in America by embarking on a cross-country trip with no money and no contacts. Relying on the kindness of strangers, most of whom he meets on Craigslist, he challenges (and handily defeats) the idea that we are losing touch with the idea of basic human kindness, and proves that despite reports of how social media and spending time online is making us less caring, that maybe the reverse is true.
"The Muslims Are Coming!" is an intentionally hilarious — and provocative — take on what being Muslim in America is, as told by a group of stand-up comedians. Members of the group, who are from various Muslim countries, and are represented by men and women who have their own interpretation of the faith, travel around the U.S., both performing for live audiences, and also doing outreach, which includes funny/serious segments like "Ask a Muslim anything," wherein people on the street do just that, and the comedians try their best to answer. An enlightening and genuinely funny look at what being Muslim in America post-Sept. 11 is really like ... but funnier.
"Tabloid" is the riveting, and deeply weird tale of a beauty queen and her Mormon lover. It's tough to describe more about this film by documentarian extraordinaire Erroll Morris (of "The Thin Blue Line" fame) because it would sound crazy, and maybe everyone in this movie is indeed that. But it's completely absorbing and utterly bizarre, which is the best kind of entertainment in my book.
"Meet the Fokkens" is one of those documentaries that is both weird, and heartbreaking. The Fokken sisters are identical twins who have been prostitutes in Amsterdam's red light district for their entire lives. In so many ways, they don't behave like how we think of older women behaving (one of them is still working as a prostitute because she can't afford not to) — but in many ways they might also remind you of your grandma.
"The Queen of Versailles" got a lot of press when it was in theaters, and for good reason: it's not only riveting reality-TV-like viewing, it also has a larger message about the limits — and costs — of consumerism. The Siegels are a long-married couple who set out to build America's most expensive (and over-the-top) home; but the story is about how two people embody the American dream, and where that endeavor takes them. (Read my full review here.)
"An Idiot Abroad" is a short comedy-travelogue series, wherein comedian Ricky Gervais sends his friend, the travel-phobic Karl Pilkington, to see various '"wonders of the world," including the Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, the Taj Mahal in India, and more. For anyone who loves to travel, it's a fun and funny take on the typical travel doc (yes, you actually do get to check out the locales visited, and the photography of the monuments and famous spaces seeks out the glorious views as well as the less-typical, often unseen views).
"Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story" may not be family viewing (depending on your family), but it does what documentaries were made for: It does a 180-degree turn on what you think about something — at least this film did so for me. While never a fan of Penthouse magazine, which Guccione founded, I was a die-hard reader of Spin magazine (which Guccione's son published), and Omni (which Guccione's wife headed) in the '90s. While everything about this iconic magazine publisher's life, from his unlikely start as a failed painter who wanted to provide for his family (and what a beloved father and husband he turned out to be!) to his meteoric rise and then end-of-life crash, was a surprise to me. The man behind a thousand centerfolds was shockingly and genuinely artistic and driven by innovation — until he couldn't keep up. Whether you like him or not, Guccione's is an incredible life story.
"Mansome" is Morgan Spurlock's latest foray into a subculture — this time it's the underground of American male vanity, and boy is it insightful (whether you're a man or a woman). Spurlock approaches most of his projects with plenty of irreverence and humor, and this one's no exception.
"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" documents the comedian's life, from her start as a young, brash stand-up comic to her relationship with her daughter, Melissa, to her love of fashion, to her incredible success in the latter part of her life. If you are a fan of Rivers, you will love this film, but even if you don't know her work that well, it's a wonderful portrait of a classic American performer.
"You've Been Trumped" covers real-estate developer Donald Trump's environmentally insensitive golf resort in Scotland (for which Trump fought — and lost a legal battle ). The documentary covers both the impacts on locals and the ecosystem of the resort, as well as the Donald's increasingly bombastic statements and fights with local and national government over the project. (For a full review of the movie, click here).
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