1. The Imposter (2012). About a boy who went missing in Texas, then a young man from Spain makes the claim he’s the missing boy 3 years later, despite an accent, different colored eyes, hair, etc. And the family supports the claim, but there’s more to it. One of those stories that if it weren’t true, no one would believe.
2. Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I always thought making sushi was kind of a lazy art because it’s really just a rice ball and uncooked fish. But it was awesome to see someone who put so much dedication into the art and to realize that sushi is quite a complex art if you do it right. It made me really appreciate those who specialize in any field. Highly recommend this one.
3. My Octopus Teacher on Netflix. I knew that the octopuses are pretty smart, but the documentary took it to another level. The documentary was based on this guy who went diving every day for 300+ days to befriend an octopus and earn her trust. He recorded the octopus playing with fishes, developing hunting strategies, etc. The octopus even wanted scritches from him. Amazing cinematography, too. 10/10 would recommend.
4. The Bridge. The filmmakers document people jumping to their death from the Golden Gate bridge. One of the most depressing films I’ve ever seen.
5. The Social Dilemma on Netflix. Really changed my views on social media.
6. Planet Earth is really an incredible series, there isn’t a single episode that didn’t leave me speechless at some point.
7. Restrepo was fucken insane. I was deployed in the same area during the exact same time (summer, 2008). Just a different unit. When it came out I watched it with my family and kept pausing the video to show them photos of me in the exact same place they were.
Sebastian Junger also wrote a book besides the documentary called War. Highly recommend.
There’s a follow-up doc called Korengal that’s on Amazon right now which documents how those dudes are doing today.
8. Icarus. This one was such a fucking ride. Imagine going from simply trying out doping to see if you could win a small biking competition to literally uncovering one of the biggest doping scandals in Olympic history.
9. Dreams of a Life is about a woman who’s found dead in her apartment, in a state of decomposition that shows she had been dead for three years. Not many shows or movies make me cry, but this one did. Like actual sobbing.
10. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – a thoughtful, incisive look at the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, otherwise known as Mister Rogers. It is terrific.
11. Ken Burn’s The Vietnam War.
It should be seen in every history classroom in the US.
One of the most comprehensive and horrifying documentaries I’ve ever seen. Soldiers on both sides, diplomats, spies, and citizens who were caught in the middle all share their experiences and perspectives.
US education doesn’t come close to painting a clear picture of the war. What a tragic waste of life. That era was so monstrously fucked up that anyone who watches it will think: “Today isn’t so bad.”
As the New York Times put it, the documentary: “Will break your heart and win your mind.”
12. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond. It’s about Jim Carey being a fucking nut while filming Man on the Moon. His work as Tony Clifton is great shit.
13. BlackFish. Really opened up my mind to what SeaWorld and zoos in general do with animals in captivity such as Orcas. Only went to SeaWorld once when I was 17 and I’ll never go again.
14. Tickled. I have so much trouble trying to get people to watch this since it’s kinda hard to describe without spoiling and/or making it sound like some sort of fetish porn. But it is soo good.
15. If you haven’t already, you should also watch The Dawn Wall. It’s a fantastic documentary about climbing El Capitan, and how one of the best big wall climbers ever became the first person to climb a new route up El Cap, a route which is widely considered to be one of the most technically difficult climbs in the world. It’s available on Netflix
16. Mommy Dead and Dearest the documentary about Gypsy Rose Blanchard convincing her boyfriend to kill her abusive mother. For over 14 years her mother confined her to a wheelchair when she had no need for it. It was crazy that no one in their lives knew and that she got doctors to do multiple surgeries on her daughter she didn’t need.
17. There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane. A story about functioning addicts, enabling, and pure trauma. Touches home to many people experiencing similar family dynamics. Heartbreaking.
18. Compliance. I actually watched the film dramatisation first not knowing it was based on reality and spent the film complaining it was ridiculous and far fetched. No one could be that stupid. A whole restaurant staff, all this moronic? No, it’s too much.
Then I found there was a documentary and watched that. If anything the real people were even more cretinous than the film made them seem!!
19. The Keepers totally opened my eyes to the pedophiles in the Catholic Church. I went to a Catholic grade school in that era, and that documentary blew my mind.
20. Abducted in Plain Sight and Capturing the Friedmans. It really blew my mind while I was watching those insane family dynamics. The stupid decisions and the way they justify, deny, or try to normalize such insane behavior. I still wonder how on earth they managed to get everyone involved to talk about it on camera.
21. American Murder; The Family Next Door.
I remember reading about it in 2018, so I knew the outcome (who murdered whom), but I had no knowledge of the details.
I’ve met pathological liars in my lifetime, yet it still blows my mind (to answer the question) that people truly think they can get away with blatant and obvious lies. It’s laughable when murder isn’t on the table.
The documentary was well edited using pre-recorded data, so it felt more chilling to me.
22. Anything by Werner Herzog but specifically Grizzly Man.
A very sad and strange and unbelievable account of a man who lived in the wilderness among grizzly bears. Some documentarians would romanticize the situation but Herzog’s blunt and completely unromantic commentary makes it amazing.
23. Murderball (2005). Maybe not mind-blowing so much as eye-opening. This documentary was, at times, really tough for me to watch, but it helped me confront and overcome my own preconceptions about the wheelchair-bound.
24. Tiger King was great because it started out normal but each episode just got weirder and weirder. By the end, all I could think was…. too much happened and almost all of it was crazy.
25. Three Identical Strangers. This was fucking crazy. Fascinating and equally horrifying. Everyone should watch.
26. The Last Dance. I am the most marginal basketball fan ever and I was riveted by this show.
27. How to Die in Oregon. Watched it once and had the most emotional reaction to any doc/movie I’ve ever seen before. Can’t watch it again, but I would highly recommend that YOU check it out. In my opinion, society should extend much grace and mercy to terminally ill people who wish to live (or not) on their own terms.
28. David Attenborough’s newest film, A Life on Our Planet. Attenborough calls on his witness statement in which he shares his concerns regarding climate change and describes his personal experiences seeing the destruction of our planet over his 90 years. It was a fantastic documentary, and I would very much recommend it.
29. The Fog of War took me by surprise. I didn’t know much about the Cuban Missle Crisis beforehand but I learned a lot about how close we came to all-out nuclear war. There’s a ton of other details from that era as well that really surprised me.
30. They Shall Not Grow Old. Incredible WWI remastered footage.