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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ten best documentaries

Do you guys ever watch documentaries? My friend Scott and I have a monthly documentary club, and I thought I'd share ten of my favorites that we've seen over the past couple years. I'd highly recommend them all...

Surfwise tells the story of the Paskowitz couple, who drops off the grid to drive their nine kids around in a camper and surf all day.
Food, Inc. examines the American food industry and corporate farms. Not for the squeamish! (P.S. We've bought only organic meat and dairy since watching this.)
My Kid Could Paint That looks at the runaway success of a four-year-old girl whose paintings are compared to Picasso. But is she the real artist?
Man on Wire is a documentary about a wild French tightrope walker and his jaw-dropping (illegal) stunts.
Mad Hot Ballroom follows an adorable group of New York City fifth graders taking a ballroom dance program.
Deep Water tells the gripping story of an amateur sailor who (insanely) enters a solo race around the world.
The Up Series is a series of incredibly compelling documentaries that have tracked the lives of fourteen English schoolchildren since 1964, when they were seven years old. Every seven years, the filmmaker releases a new documentary that checks in on their increasingly varied lives. (They're now 53!)
American Teen follows five high-school seniors--a jock, princess, heart-throb, geek and misfit--in a small Indiana town.
Autism: The Musical chronicles five autistic children as they rehearse for a musical production.
Stranded lets the survivors of the famous 1972 Andes plane crash tell their story of survival.

Have you seen any other good documentaries? I'd love to hear!


«Oldest   ‹Older   201 – 280 of 280
Emily said...

The Business of Being Born! I am obsessed - whenever it's on TV I am glued. You should check it out before your little one makes his entrance! My mother was always a huge supporter of natural childbirth - she didn't have any drugs during her three deliveries and I thought she was crazy until i saw this movie! It was so inspiring - I am planning a home birth for my future babies now!

cheryl.andrey said...

Some of my favorites:
-Born into Brothels (absolutely stunning story and imagery)
- Grey Gardens (Classic)
- Word Wars (about the Scrabble championships)
- Vernon, FL (eccentric people to the max)

Laura @ the shorehouse. said...

I can't even tell you how much I'd like to be a part of this club!! What a great idea.

American Opera, about the pets left behind or lost during Katrina, was awesome. And Herb & Dorothy about the librarian and postal worker and their incredible art collection was also quite good.

Karen Turner said...

obsessed with born into brothels, which is really uplifting despite the depressing title!

Em said...

Two great new education documentaries coming out soon. The Lottery (chronicles 4 families trying to get into the charter schools in Harlem) and Waiting for Superman (Davis Guggenheim's new movie -- 2010 Sundance Audience winner).

Catharina said...

I love the idea of a documentary club, thanks for all the suggestions!!

Did you know there is an American version of the 7 Up series? It started in 1991, so far there are also 14 and 21. 28 should be coming up soon! :-)

Jaeve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jaeveberry said...

There's a new documentary called VANISHING OF THE BEES which will begin screening around the country after Honey Bee Awareness Day (8/21).

It is a hugely important and educational documentary about the disappearing honey bees and how it ultimately affects us as every third bite of food we eat depends on the pollination of honey bees. Every one should see this!

More info at

Via swissmiss:

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe the man would only have 4 years of life left.


- Albert Einstein

Jen said...

what a great post! i've just added a bunch more movies to my queue also - so thanks! Most of my faves have been recommended - loved Helvetica, Dogtown and Z - Boys, and Winged Migration. King of Kong was entertaining along with Anvil - and I don't like heavy metal music or play video games! I watched Beautiful Losers the other night - great film on a bunch of artists. Thanks for all the great recs!

addie anne said...

The Business of Being born is one I HIGHLY recommend.

The September Issue was interesting.

Herb & Dorothy was great

Crazy, Sexy Cancer was really good

and if you're into graphic design at all Helvetica is amazing.

amy said...

Every time I come back to read the comments here, I see more and more titles to add to my Netflix queue!

P.S. Isn't queue a weird word?

Becca Jane said...

Some of these look so interesting!

Winged Migration was really beautiful, and March of the Penguins was wonderful, but is super well known.
I think most of my favourite documentaries have to do with animals or birds

goodnightstars said...

I just watched "American Teen." What a heart-wrenchingly truthful documentary!

I just want to grab those high schoolers by the shoulders and tell them, "It's going to be ok! You will grow up and life will be better!"

Next on my list is the "Mad Hot Ballroom."

Anonymous said...

Want to see Babies really badly; but I must say, one of the best-if not the best- documentaries I've ever watched is Dear Zachary. A wonderfully heart-breaking movie (not for the faint of heart or people who hate to cry), but it is absolutely essential that you don't research anything about the storyline until after the film, as it'll absolutely ruin the effect.
.... Can you tell that I love the movie?

Maria said...

are you kidding me? sometimes i feel like documentaries are even MORE entertaining than movies :) i just watched herb and dorothy and it inspired us to pay a visit to the museum immediately afterwards!

Djeik said...

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Djeik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
brlracincwgrl said...

I have found myself beginning to love documentaries, so thank you for this list!

Hanna L said...

Transgeneration is hands down one of the best documentaries i have ever seen. It follows 4 transgender college students for a year and is mind-blowingly awesome. Watch it!

jennifer young said...

i really appreciate this list from you joanna! i love documentaries but have been a bit removed from the television/movie/documentary scene as of late. i've got to get on it! :) thank you!

Megan said...

Another vote for King of Kong. It's awesome, even if you don't care about video games. I also liked Ring of Fire and Jesus Camp.

Biz said...

i'm SO disappointed that you didn't include Young at Heart in your list! honestly, its like Glee meets the Golden uplifting and hilarious. if you haven't seen it, add it to your cue (sp?)...

missrantsypants said...

I thought I was up and up on my documentary watchin' but I guess not. I haven't seen any of these, though I've heard of most of them.
This year I saw Home, about the earth, and it was brilliant. I also have another doc called "The Least of These" that Im watching tonight.

Miss Crowland said...

I just saw The Cove and Sharkwater recently. Both excellent. One of my favourites of the past few years is The King of Kong, about Donkey Kong rivals...great great movie.

joyce. said...

I'll have to watch Seven Up and Man On Wire, I heard Capitalism, a love story, was good.

the good list said...

born into brothels. fabulous.

the good list said...

oh and beautiful losers

galit mastai said...

The Horse Boy.

An amazing film about an unruly autistic kid who is brought to Mongolia by his parents to receive a healing from Nomadic Shamans. Very powerful film, makes you think differently about illness.



PapayaDog said...

The Cove. It blew my mind.

Jen said...


- Any Errol Morris. Especially The Thin Blue Line, Fast Cheap and Out of Control, and Fog of War.
- Etre at Avoir. Definitely.
- Children Full of Life. A Japanese film that I still think about all the time. Definitely teary viewing!
- The Up Series is incredible. I can't wait for 54 Up.
- Hoop Dreams.
- Young @ Heart. Definitely.

So many great ones. Good idea to have a monthly club!

Danielle said...

Great suggestions! I would recommend "In A Dream" about Philadelphia artist Isaiah Zagar & "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" & "Bigger, Stronger, Faster."

Danielle said...

ALSO "Objectified" & "Beer Wars" & "I.O.U.S.A" are great.. A little different than most suggested but still interesting!

Charlie ' said...

i normally just know about these documentaries because i go to Apple to watch trailers :/ here in Portugal there's not much of that i would have to wait and then buy ou rent it somewhere ! <3

P.s. Loved the Blog .

Molly said...

I'm enjoying working through your list so much that I linked to your post today.
Thanks a bunch for sharing!

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J Koes said...

The Future Of Food is another good one, following up on Food, Inc

Oliver said...

I cannot recommend a documentary more than Dear Zachary: A letter to a son about his father. I've watched documentaries rabidly for the last 20 years or so, and I have never personally been so moved, outraged, and completely blown away by any film, documentary or otherwise, more so than this one. Absolutely impossible to stop watching once you've started it.

Every moment spent with the Bagby's is a testament to a parents love for their children. The outrage, despair, and heartache you feel after watching this will stay with you forever. I truly believe that. It's been two years since I first viewed it, and I still think of it at least once or twice a month. Go into this one blind. Do not read the reviews, or the synopsis. Add it to your Netflix queue, and start watching it. You'll either thank me or curse me afterward, but you will be blown away by this one.

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Documentaries said...

Food Inc. probably the best documentary on food ever made . After i saw it , i instantly uploaded it on my website .This documentary could be shown in schools.

Anonymous said...

The Cove is incredible, of course. I watched Deep Water upon your recommendation and was haunted by it, it was excellent. I Love Man on Wire, Rape of Europa and No Impact Man as well.

Some other favorites that haven't gotten as much attention:
-Sound and Fury, about a Deaf family deciding whether to allow their daughter to get a cochlear implant.
-Etre et Avoir, a very cute, touching movie about an elementary teacher and his class in France.
-The Philosopher Kings, fundamentally about the power of humanity; tells the life stories of janitors across the country. very powerful and a tearjerker, quite possibly my favorite film of all time!

kayla said...

Joanna - thank you thank you for this post. Documentary nerds, unite! This post has been so informative.

I wanted to recommend a few that haven't been mentioned yet.

Please see Marwencol - "about the fantasy world of Mark Hogancamp.

After being beaten into a brain-damaging coma by five men outside a bar, Mark builds a 1/6th scale World War II-era town in his backyard. Mark populates the town he dubs "Marwencol" with dolls representing his friends and family and creates life-like photographs detailing the town's many relationships and dramas."

The Devil and Daniel Johnston - "Daniel Johnston, manic-depressive genius singer/songwriter/artist is revealed in this portrait of madness, creativity and love." Also, if you are a fellow sewing nerd, Sublime Stitching offers embroidery patterns by Daniel Johnston.

Winnebago Man - about the "angriest man in the world," RV salesman Jack Rebney. Wow.

Finally, I'll reinforce the choices of others: Grey Gardens, King of Kong, Young at Heart, and the Bridge.

michelle said...

we watched "i like killing flies" a couple of nights ago. it was pretty interesting :)

Sydney said...

Def wanna see one of these!!! ASAP

betsie said...

I don't know if any of the other comments have mentioned this one, but I saw War Dance recently and was blown away (and I've seen a good number of documentaries, especially docs. that look at issues in Africa). It is heartbreaking, inspiring, and beautifully-made.

Anonymous said...

beautiful losers. in my top ten films of all time.

Hilda said...

Waste Land
is supposed to be RAD.. i have not had a chance to see it :)
i LOVE your blog! i check it every time i have a chance..

Anonymous said...

an amazing documentary:
Manufactured Landscapes.

I don't know if I feel impressed or devastated when I watch it. It really makes you think

Susan said...

One Day in September, Who Killed the Electric Car, Young at Heart and Food Inc are some favorites.

Anonymous said...

Here what i found -> vision correction

Sara Bradley said...

Love your suggestions and would add:
Buena Vista Social Club
Grey Gardens
Capturing the Friedmans
Hoop Dreams
Fog of War
Don't Look Back
In the Realms of the Unreal
The Thin Blue Line

Love the power of documentaries!

O'Melly said...

I LOVED Man on Wire!

A couple of my other faves are
"A souvenir of Canada"
"Okie Noodling"
"Born in Brothels"

Anonymous said...

I love Helvetica and Wordplay. They are two of my favorite films that just happen to be docs.

Resolved is a great doc about debate teams, exposes you to something you probably never even thought existed!

Staci Waddle said...

Inside Job. Excellent. Every American ought to watch it.

MrJeffery said...

'man on wire' is one of the best i've ever seen. i must get to the 'seven up' films eventually.

Lisa Benoist said...

Love this!

I see a lot of my favourites already - Young @ Heart, The Devil & Daniel Johnston and Tyson and Man On Wire and Touching the Void.

I also recommend Fuck - the story of the origins of this notorious word!

Life In A Day - the new doc by Kevin MacDonald. He and his team asked people on YouTube to document their life on July 24, 2010. They got 4500 hours worth of material and edited it...really interesting.

Bean said...

You should watch a doc called A Man Named Pearl, it's really good.

vrags said...

I loved Herzog's Cave of forgotten dreams and Encounters at the end of the world.

Sarah Morgan said...

I just watched Senna, a documentary about the life and death of Formula One driver Aryton Senna. Heartbreaking, but absolutely amazing!

viagra online said...

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craig said...

Great list, to watch all of these amazing documentaries check out

Nicole said...

Another good documentary I've seen recently is "Waiting For Superman." It compares education statistics with a handful of school children, and shows how "drop out factories" are poorly impacting America's grades and academic growth.

shansta said...

Awesome selection. Watch them all at

Anonymous said...

You should see 'Promises" and 'Waste land'. Both are beautiful.

I dress myself said...

Art & Copy directed by Doug Pray about advertising and inspiration. If you like Madmen you will love this.

In the Realms of the Unreal a documentary about Henry Darger a reclusive artist.

Stone Reader directed by Mark Mossman about Dow Mossman an American writer.

Hope you enjoy...

Mrs B said...

Garbage Warrior (amazing eco designer)

Tapped (I can't buy plastic water bottles now!)

Found and Fury (incredible debate within a deaf family over getting the kids cochlear implants)

I Like Killing Flies (surprisingly sensitive, the orig NY "soup nazi")

Malu Castro said...

I recommend Waste Land by Vik Muniz, it's really incredible.

Megan Mount said...

I love this idea and want to start a club with my friend. What is your process? Do you watch them separately, or with your friend? Do you watch multiple ones before getting together to discuss?

EDSkeggs said...


I just watched Happy on your recommendation above, and I am so HAPPY that I did. I've been in a bit of a blue place lately, feeling out of touch with happiness and with the role I want to fill in this world. After watching this documentary I feel reinvigorated and ready for what is to come. It really gave me that extra little boost that I needed.

On a related note, I want to thank you for what you do here on this blog. My roommate and I have been following you for the past couple of years, and we get such joy out of what you share with us here! Your candidness and your bravery and honesty are inspirational. Even the little things like posts about autumn colors or happy kitten video can really brighten up a day. I love reading your blog because you are so honest, and something about your honesty reminds me that I'm part of something bigger, that even though we may lead different lives, we are all in some way interconnected. I guess I'm posting a thanks because you deserve it. What you're doing here is a really beautiful thing and I've just realized that I've never thanked you and yet you've given me and my friends such joy!

Woof! What a post!

All the best,

A regular reader, Emily

Vintage Chick said...

Omg! I have a very long list to see now, I thought man on wire was amazing and am so looking forward to seeing these.

taylor said...

I would recommend “Love Hate Love” due to it being inspiring, I am also recommeding it due to my uncle Ben Tullipan being in it and telling his amazing story.
This film follows three families on a journey across five continents, as they strive to build world-changing legacies and prove that even the most horrifying acts of hate can be overcome by simple acts of love.

junglegirl said...

So many here that I love - here's one no one's mentioned yet: Birth As We Know It, youtube trailer here: It's about an alternative birthing method called orgasmic birth and is fascinating!

Also, I second Valentino, Grizzly Man and Senna!

lettertoanewmanager said...

I love the list and all of the other recommendations. In addition to those mentioned, I really loved Dark Days - about people living in the subway tunnels in NYC - tough with redemption though. Also, liked The heart of the game - a female hoop dreams.

Grace said...

Prom Night in Mississippi

Alane said...

Being a Michigan Native - you need to see Sugarman!

Unknown said...

180 degrees south is a beautiful, scenic documentary with Patagonia as the backdrop

Emily Peck said...

Two documentaries that are quite bizarre and disturbing but stuck with me!

1. The Bridge – a disturbing look at the high rate of suicides (more than any other bridge anywhere) that happen by people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.For one year, they filmed the bridge daily and captured 23 out of the 24 plunges to death, in addition to filming friends and family members of those who jumped.

2. The wild and wonderful White's of West Virginia:

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