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The 50 Best Documentaries Streaming on Netflix 2014

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21. Connected: An Autobiography About Love, Death & Technology

Year: 2011

Director: Tiffany Shlain

Tiffany Shlain’s father was a renowned surgeon and best-selling author whose theories about mass societal shifts between left-brained and right-brained thinking, masculine and feminine energy, analytical and holistic worldviews challenged conventional orthodoxy. She continued her father’s iconoclastic ways, creating the Webby awards, creating great documentary films that made extensive and effective use of pastiche and collage, and becoming one of Newsweek’s “Women Shaping the 21st Century.” When she began designing a film that would be a collaboration, she had no idea that her father would become ill shortly after they began filming. The film changed, and quickly. What began as an academic exploration became the most personal of journeys for Shlain, and what would have been simply an intellectually stimulating film became a wonderfully moving one as well. Connected was one of the truly thrilling experiences of this year’s Sundance, and easily the best documentary in competition.—Michael Dunaway


15. Stories We Tell

Year: 2013

Director: Sarah Polley

With Stories We Tell, actress-turned-director Sarah Polley has proven herself a consummate filmmaker, transforming an incredible personal story into a playful and profound investigation into the nature of storytelling itself. The central mystery of her documentary—that the man she grew up believing to be her dad is not her biological father—is public knowledge and revealed in the film’s trailer. Yet Polley conceals and reveals information—starting with her relationships to her interview subjects—in such a way as to constantly surprise, even shock, her audience. The result is a film that entertains and delights viewers while elevating her investigation to art.—Annlee Ellingson

ha!  i'm watching this one tonight, as a matter of fact.  it has been recommended to me THREE times in the past three days.  i figure it's a sign that i'd better get on it!

3 times in 3 days?! Wow. 

right?!  i feel like the universe is shouting at me!  but i couldn't get through it in one sitting (not because it was boring, but because it was 2am) so i'll have to try again tonight.  my mom is visiting now.  maybe it's for us to watch together?  we'll see... the universe works in mysterious ways!

I still don't know how the universe works. 

neither do i.  my mom and i couldn't get through the documentary!

I don't know how insurance works.

haha!  geege.  :)

Emily so the documentary was dull? Or confusing? Or both?

well, i don't want to knock it until i finish it, but i have 40 minutes left and it feels like homework!

okay, i finished it.  the father was an interesting character and an excellent writer.  other than his words and revelations, i found it uninspiring and self-indulgent... like reading someone's diary drivel.

That's how I feel about most documentaries, so at least it's representative of its genre. :)

hahaha!  touche!

My favorite documentaries:

5. Waiting for Superman

4. Jiro Dreams of Sushi

3. Supersize Me

2. Wordplay (Will Shortz)

1. Spellbound

spellbound was amazing!!  i also loved supersize me and jiro dreams of sushi.  i will watch the other two and report back!

Waiting for Superman is about the US education system. It's compelling but sad.

Wordplay is about crossword puzzles. It's fun in the way Spellbound was fun!

Honorable mention goes to The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, about the guy who set the a Donkey Kong record, which was surprisingly compelling.

I loved Spellbound too. Something about those cute kids!

aw maaaan, your movie recs here are not available on netflix.  now i have to actually leave my house!  :)

Sorry Emily. The real world keeps trying to get us to leave our houses. :)

Have you checked Amazon Prime? They sometimes have different selections than Netflix. 

darn the real world!  my house is so comfortable!!

oh but wait, i can pay amazon prime $3 and just stay here...

Bless Amazon Prime. :)


3. Man on Wire

Year: 2008

Director: James Marsh

In 1974, high-wire walker Philippe Petit fulfilled a longstanding dream by sneaking into New York’s World Trade Center, stringing a cable between the tops of the two towers, and—with almost unfathomable guts—walking across it without a net. The man is clearly a nut, but he’s also a great storyteller with a heck of a story, and Man on Wiregives him a chance to tell it. Petit’s stunt was both an engineering challenge and a test of, well, a test of something that most of us don’t possess in this much quantity. Filmmaker James Marsh uses standard documentary techniques, combining new interviews with a satisfying pile of footage and photographs, but his film has the suspense of a caper movie. The title comes from the report written by a police officer who was more than a little uncertain about how to respond to the audacity on display.—Robert Davis

this is a great film, and it is also a fabulous children's book, winner of the 2003 caldecott medal.

the man who walked between the towers

I had no idea there was a children's book about it!

2003 is after 9/11. Strange. 

i know, 9/11 feels like yesterday.  but 2003 sounds so far away.

I hear you.

how cool that there is so much of the twin towers in this video!  it's like a tribute.  man, they were huge.

They definitely were huge.

It's amazing that he made the video just before 9/11 and had no idea it would be a tribute.

And of course Jiro Dreams of Sushi (#4) and Hoop Dreams (#1).

I made some sushi Jiro wouldn't dream of the other day. 

Ha! If you haven't seen the movie you should. It is so very awesome.

i LOVED that movie!!

It didn't feel like a documentary. It felt like so much more.

i agree.  it blew me away.  i thought about it for days... the devotion to his art.  amazing!

And inspiring. I still think about him. 

Not that the order really matters, but I'm surprised at how low 'The Act of Killing' is. One of the most powerful movies I've ever seen. 

I haven't seen it yet -- thanks for the recommendation!

Order matters a little but your recommendation matters more. 

My favorite of the year, "La Cosecha." It's in Spanish/subtitled. Follows 3 American children from migrant worker families. Heartbreaking. I showed it in school and saw a clear split in the kids who got this and the kids who didn't. 

A lot of misconceptions circulate around the issue of immigration, which is why I kept having to point out, "Yeah, but these kids are Americans." We can assume many of the family members may not be documented, but the film never says that, only that the kids are American. 

I looked at the cover, it did have both. It's such a key piece... I'll use it in school a lot. But when I see a lot of the anti-immigrant sentiment it makes me sad. Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days piece on that subject was great, too. It brought a legal Cuban immigrant who was a Minuteman together with an undocumented family. His whole line was "I was legal, my father did it the right way." His father was at the front of the line being a worker in a nationalized American firm, no doubt. Mexican farmworkers are not. I watch the consequences of the split families first hand. I can't imagine someone deporting a member of my family, or growing up missing yearbook time to pick crops. 

I'm with you. It's made me ridiculously supportive of all forms of immigration and amnesty. 

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