In our pop saturated, irony infused, sparkling world of entertainment, documentaries can feel like a little bit of a drag—the guy at the party who keeps trying to talk politics. And let’s face it, there’s a reason docs get a bad rap. We’ve all probably been here before. But, as NYMag’s David Edelstein wrote last year, docs are having a moment, and Edelstein didn’t have to reach too far to make his point—2013 was a banner year for non-fiction film.
These days docs are vastly easier to make than features (financially speaking, at least), and VOD has made it possible for niche-subject fare to find a passionate core audience in no time. Sure, they can’t all be gems, but when a great filmmaker finds a truly amazing story or subject a certain alchemy happens that can create something more moving, inspiring, and well, just plain entertaining than even the best feature or series.
What feel-good movie is going to strum your heartstrings better than Twenty Feet From Stardom. What thriller will keep you more riveted than Blackfish? And what fictional characters could you possibly invent that are cooler or more interesting than Ushio and Noriko of Cutie and the Boxer?
But while 2013 had what you can modestly call some doc “hits”, there have been a ton of great documentaries over the past decade that just haven’t gotten their due. We just added a handful of them and they’re a great cross-section of the lush doc landscape that Edelstein mapped out.
Here’s a taste:
The (Star-Studded) People Profile
If you liked Salinger and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, get to know another classic, larger-than-life, American character in Trumbo. Blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo’s strange, tragic, and often-hilarious story as told by A-list stars, friends, family, and the man himself.
The (Seedy-Subculture) Place Profile
Need a framework to help you better understand 50 Shades of Grey? Of course you don’t. But Fetishes is still a seedy, sexy, and funny journey worth taking. Veteran documentarian Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney, Battle for Haditha) looks at the full spectrum of human fetish via Pandora’s Box, a high-end New York S&M parlor. Sit back, relax and let Mistress Raven show you the ropes. Yep, there’s a dungeon.
Whether you’re a fan of An Inconvenient Truth or An Inconsistent Truth, you’ll want to check out Cool It. From Ondi Timoner, the director of Dig It! and We Live In Public (both Sundance Grand Jury Prize winners), comes a doc about controversial environmental/political activist and TED-talker Bjorn Lomborg. The guy has a plan to save the planet for $250 billion. And he’s pretty damn convincing.
Historical People Profile meets Archival/Ken Burns
For fans of Page One: Inside the New York Times and Bill Cunningham New York. Life magazine has produced some of the most iconic images of the 20th century. Get the Picture covers the life and work of John G. Morris, the mag’s long-time photo editor. Morris was at Life during the Spanish Civil War, the D-Day Normandy landings, Vietnam and Korea, and a lot of other events that, you know, changed the world forever. This is a fascinating exploration of photojournalism through the lens of one of the greats.