CLOSE

The Late Movies: 10 Great Documentaries You Can Watch Right Now (on Netflix)

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.

THE GARDEN
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!

FREAKONOMICS
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!

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
iStock
iStock

Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
NASA/JPL-Caltech
arrow
Space
More Details Emerge About 'Oumuamua, Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor
 NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties. Now, a team from the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy has published a detailed report of what they know so far in Nature.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid. New observations have researchers concluding that 'Oumuamua is unusual for more than its far-flung origins.

It's a cigar-shaped object 10 times longer than it is wide, stretching to a half-mile long. It's also reddish in color, and is similar in some ways to some asteroids in own solar system, the BBC reports. But it's much faster, zipping through our system, and has a totally different orbit from any of those objects.

After initial indecision about whether the object was a comet or an asteroid, the researchers now believe it's an asteroid. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our own.

'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form. The 750,000 asteroids we know of are leftovers from the formation of our solar system, trapped by the Sun's gravity. But what if, billions of years ago, other objects escaped? 'Oumuamua shows us that it's possible; perhaps there are bits and pieces from the early years of our solar system currently visiting other stars.

The researchers say it's surprising that 'Oumuamua is an asteroid instead of a comet, given that in the Oort Cloud—an icy bubble of debris thought to surround our solar system—comets are predicted to outnumber asteroids 200 to 1 and perhaps even as high as 10,000 to 1. If our own solar system is any indication, it's more likely that a comet would take off before an asteroid would.

So where did 'Oumuamua come from? That's still unknown. It's possible it could've been bumped into our realm by a close encounter with a planet—either a smaller, nearby one, or a larger, farther one. If that's the case, the planet remains to be discovered. They believe it's more likely that 'Oumuamua was ejected from a young stellar system, location unknown. And yet, they write, "the possibility that 'Oumuamua has been orbiting the galaxy for billions of years cannot be ruled out."

As for where it's headed, The Atlantic's Marina Koren notes, "It will pass the orbit of Jupiter next May, then Neptune in 2022, and Pluto in 2024. By 2025, it will coast beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects."

Last week, University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.
WIYN OBSERVATORY/RALF KOTULLA

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios