It’s easy to get overwhelmed with Netflix’s enormous library, especially if you are trying to branch out from lighter fare like “The Avengers” or “Terminator 2.” But there are some documentaries on Netflix that are doing some great storytelling without being too heavy-handed or sleep-inducing. They are fascinating and in some cases, educational. I found 7 must-see docs—sorted by category—with an alternative (but just as fascinating) pick. Enjoy.
Must-See: “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”
Werner Herzog, probably best known for “Grizzly Man,” takes nuanced look at the 30,000-year-old cave paintings in Chauvet, France. His film explores the birth of art and storytelling.
Alternate Pick: “Microcosmos”
Everything small is huge, capturing, through amazing macrophotography, the busy lives of insects. If you think a movie filled with close-ups and time-lapses of bugs might be dull, this doc will change your mind.
Must-See: “The Thin Blue Line”
It’s a shame more of Errol Morris’ documentaries aren’t available online. He’s one of the most influential filmmakers out there. His doc style re-enactments and his to-camera interview techniques have been copied and popularized throughout the industry. This doc centers around a drifter (Randall Adams) passing through Dallas, Texas who was convicted and sent to death row for a murder he did not commit. The impact of this film actually helped Adams get his conviction overturned.
Alternate Pick: “The Act of Killing”
Nominated for an Oscar in 2014, this provocative doc follows former Indonesian Death Squad leaders who gladly reenact their crimes for the camera. This could be one of the better docs you’ll ever see.
Must-See: “The Elephant in the Living Room”
Just under the surface of so many towns in America, there’s a larger than expected amount of people who keep exotic animals as pets in their homes. Not cute squirrels or raccoons, but we’re talking full-grown African lions to pit vipers (arguably the third most venomous snake on earth). The film deals with what happens when untrained owners keep these animals in unfit living conditions. It’s not a question of “if” the animals will act out but “when.” It’s terrifying and fascinating at the same time.
Alternate Pick: “The House I Live In”
With recent news of politicians clamoring for the change in mandatory drug sentencing, this documentary shows why those voices are growing louder. The questions this doc highlights are some of the questions the American judicial system fight with every day.
Must-See: “Muscle Shoals”
Alabama locals and music purists claim there was something magical in the air at Muscle Shoals Recording Studio and maybe they’re right. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, some of the best blues, rock and country music were birthed in the tiny brick building which is now listed on The National Register of Historic Places. From Aretha Franklin to the Rolling Stones, countless musicians have passed through Muscle Shoals hallowed halls and created countless classic tunes.
Alternate Pick: “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”
A once semi-popular metal band, Anvil, whose days of glory have been long gone, are eager to be the kings of hard rock again. This doc follows the band on their never-ending attempt to get to the top.
Must-See: “Man on Wire”
In this beautiful and poetic tribute to the Twin Towers, acrobat Philippe Petite, recounts his mission—unbeknownst to anyone working at One Trade Center—of sneaking onto the roof, setting up a cable and performing his tightrope act, walking, between the two towers, across the two hundred foot chasm. It’s a wonderful doc that almost seems like an old heist movie from the gritty 70s.
Alternate Pick: “Touching the Void”
The true story of two young guys who successfully climb Siula Grande in the Perucian Andes (a feat never achieved before), only to face horror on their decent when one of them breaks their leg. The duo face so many difficulties, you’ll think this is a work of fiction.
Must-See: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”
A look at the art of simplicity and a never-ending devotion to passion and craft—in this case, the art of creating the perfect piece of sushi. The film follows 85-year-old, Jiro Ono, a master sushi chef and owner of the 3-Star Michelin restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, in Tokyo, Japan.
Alternate Pick: “Three Stars”
This doc looks inside the kitchens of the Michelin Guide’s highest star rated restaurants in the world, and see what it takes to maintain that rating. If you’re a fan of the recent crop of completive restaurant shows that have cropped up or you’re just a hardcore foodie, this is essential viewing.
You see it all the time in the news and you wonder, how these rich professional athletes with their huge contracts lose all their money? Well, there’s some good, but many more incredibly ridiculous reasons—all are heartbreaking in their own way. Everyone from sports agents to retired athletes explain in this ESPN 30 for 30 documentary.
Alternate Pick: “Senna”
Brazilian Formula 1 racecar driver Ayrton Senna’s life story is recounted through archived footage and interviews of Senna, his friends, family and fellow racers. Considered one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time, his life and tragic death make this doc more like a high-stakes drama.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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