If you haven't discovered Netflix and its instant streaming feature yet, it's pretty magical. I watch so many more movies now because of it -- and I'm much more quick to turn off the ones I'm not enjoying than I would be if I were renting the movies on physical discs, which means I end up trolling through a lot of crap to find the gems. It just so happens that I love documentaries -- especially dark, gritty ones -- and lucky for me, Netflix has plenty of them. Of the dozens and dozens I've watched all or part of over the past six months or so, I wanted to share the true standouts here.
GOD GREW TIRED OF US
There have been many documentaries about the conflict in Sudan and the many refugees it's produced, especially the (in)famous Lost Boys. This is easily the best of them. A fascinating look at the culture shock some of the boys experience when they come to America -- and how it's a more difficult place to succeed than they had imagined.
WHICH WAY HOME
It follows a group of kids from Guatemala who try to cross into the United States. If you liked Mary Full of Grace or Sin Nombre, this movie is just as gripping -- and it's real.
THE PARKING LOT MOVIE
This surprising little film documents the life of a parking lot in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the over-educated grad students, poets and philosophers who bide their time manning its gate. Hilarious, thoughtful, and charming.
SMASH HIS CAMERA
The life and times of the world's first famous Paparazzo, whose shots of Jackie O and Marlon Brando earned him lawsuits, restraining orders and a broken jaw.
MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN
Easily the most heart-rending documentary I've seen in a long time. Three generations of a white farming family in Zimbabwe fight for their land and their lives as Robert Mugabe's thugs try to intimidate them.
KURT COBAIN: ABOUT A SON
In a series of evocative interviews with rock icon Kurt Cobain, journalist Michael Azerrad captures the late artist's inner thoughts and personal memories about life, music, success and failure. Director AJ Schnack assembled intimate conversations into a poignant portrait of a creative genius and young man in pain. This emotional blend of imagery, music and voice about the infamous and elusive artist is a 2007 Independent Spirit Award nominee.
Filmmaker Scott Hamilton Kennedy's politically charged, Oscar-nominated documentary follows a group of low-income families struggling to protect a 14-acre urban farm in the middle of South Central Los Angeles from bureaucratic real estate developers. A lightning rod for controversy in 2004, this cause célèbre drew the attention of numerous activists and politicians, including Dennis Kucinich, Joan Baez and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigoisa.
CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY
A really insightful and well-made film about the Jack Abramoff scandal -- and Abramoff's life -- which has pretty much convinced me that money -- especially money in politics -- is the root of all evil!
So much fun! So thought-provoking! Based on the best-selling book, it's divided into chapters, each directed by a different well-known documentary director.
WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP
This is a weird one. Based on the found photography book of the same name, it's an experimental documentary that blends old footage and new -- evocative and dark, definitely a mood piece. Can't find a trailer for it -- just trust me!