I’m a huge fan of documentary films, always looking for the next diamond in the rough. Netflix, Amazon, and others have opened the floodgates lately with a slew of documentary subjects, but there’s so many to choose from where does one start? Here are 10 new-ish docs to entertain, inspire, and enjoy:
Gleason (Amazon Prime)
I put this at the top of the list so that even if you didn’t read any other documentary on here, you’d know about Gleason. Let me be up front: this movie is hard to watch. It documents the emotionally-wrenching account of former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason who is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and decides to capture as much of what he wants to share with his then-unborn son with a video diary while he still can. This movie is unflinching in the honesty it portrays in the strains disability can take on a family. You’ll come away from Gleason cherishing parenthood and cheering on an inspirational hero.
Asperger’s Are Us (Netflix)
The jokes in this documentary about an improv troupe comprised of members diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome are funny, but that’s not the showcase of this endearing documentary. Finding connection through a common interest and common diagnosis, we see four friends argue, laugh, and support each other to put on one last comedy show. Seeing how self-aware these guys are is insightful for those unfamiliar with Asperger’s, but the side story about one father’s love will connect with many parents.
Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (Netflix)
Do you love Raiders of the Lost Ark? Probably not as much as a group of kids from Mississippi who made a shot-for-shot remake of the movie over the course of seven years in the ’80s. If you’re unfamiliar with the cult VHS movie, or if you just want to know more about the story behind it, then you’ll enjoy Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made. Drug addiction, young love, and flaming sets are only some of the hurdles the cast will have to overcome to reunite years later to film the one scene they missed.
Finders Keepers (Netflix)
This movie is tied right up there with Tickled as one of the weirdest documentaries I’ve ever seen. Just imagine: if you happened to buy a barbecue grill at an auction and find a mummified severed leg inside, would your first thought be fame and fortune? This flick follows the story of one man who thinks his path to success is on a road with amputated limbs and another man who just wants his leg back.
Wizard Mode (Netflix)
Competitive pinball is a sport that takes fierce concentration and incredible skill. Robert Gagno is one of the top pinball players in the world but his skill isn’t the only thing about him that makes him stand out. Wizard Mode is a feel-good documentary about a young man striving to not only win a championship but how he endures everyday struggles associated with living on the Autism spectrum.
Elstree 1976 (Netflix)
Ever heard of a little movie called Star Wars? Well, the men and women auditioning for a small part in a space movie in 1976 hadn’t. While there’s not much about Star Wars that hasn’t already been documented, getting to hear the stories about the production from some of the lesser-known character actors sheds some new light and an interesting perspective on the movie epic of our time. This one is probably only captivating for fans of the George Lucas classic, and it does try to place a greater sense of magnitude for certain contributions than is necessary, but Elstree 1976 is a must for Star Wars fans who wonder what it would be like to walk in a Stormtrooper’s boots and be a part of such an iconic piece of pop culture.
The Last Man on the Moon (Netflix)
Everyone knows the name of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, but do you know the name of the last person to step foot on the moon? John Glenn’s passing is a harsh reminder that firsthand accounts of our achievements in the space race are dwindling. The Last Man on the Moon does a great job of capturing the history of one of the lesser known Apollo missions, the strain of the space program on an astronaut’s family, and a man who can legitimately be called an American icon.
Being Evel (Hulu)
Before the likes of Johnny Knoxville (who appears in this film) and Jackass made daredevils look like buffoons, Evel Knievel was the epitome of cool to an entire generation by performing death-defying stunts. As someone who broke nearly every bone in his body over the course of his career, this documentary gets a better look at the man behind the stunts, shortcomings and all.
I am Big Bird (Amazon Prime)
Big Bird has to be one of the most recognizable television characters of all time. Behind that beak is none other than puppeteer Caroll Spinney, who is also responsible for bringing the world Oscar the Grouch, among others. This story does a great job of not only capturing the history of the early years of Henson’s muppets but telling a beautiful love story of Spinney and his wife.
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (Crackle)
Ok, this pick isn’t a movie, but rather a collection of 15-20 minute videos featuring conversations between Jerry Seinfeld and his guest du jour. The series’ title does a good job of getting to the point of the essence of the show (two comedians in a car going to get coffee), but the substance of the conversation is so much more than that. This show (now in its ninth mini-season) is a comedy nerd’s gold mine. Comedians talk tricks of the trade, swap stories, and tell jokes in a relaxed environment, And while the footage is edited, you get a better sense of the “real” person behind the mic. If you like interview podcasts like The Nerdist or WTF with Marc Maron, you’ll love these video versions with your favorite funny men and women. Season 9 starts with weekly episodes January 5th.