If you're looking for some informative and intriguing documentaries to watch on your next movie night or weekend binge, I've got you covered! I adore documentaries of all kinds – funny, dramatic, heartbreaking, happy, comedic, serious, satirical. You name it and I'll probably watch it. That's good news for you, too, because it means that I'm sharing a very well-rounded list of documentaries to watch the next time you're in the mood for a real look at something different. Most of them premiered in 2013, and none are more than a few years old, so they're definitely fresh!
Gideon's Army is one of the most eye-opening documentaries to watch this year. One of my old high school friends, who is now a public defender in Florida, recommended it, and I was immediately hooked. You get to see a different side of public defenders, which might change your viewpoint, depending on the one you have now, of course. However, you realize what they fight for, what they strive for, and how they sometimes have to find the balance between what they know and what they believe as they defend the people who are all too often classified as indefensible.
You won't find this on any best documentary lists, I don't think, but you should still take a chance. You might have seen the video of the man who publicly proposed to his girlfriend … at a UCLA game … on the Jumbotron. She, of course, publicly turned him down. His name is Patrick Moote, and his girlfriend turned him down because, among other things, she thought his penis was too small. Patrick thus takes us on a journey – a “cockumentary,” as he calls it – to discover the average size, what's too small, what's too large, how to make something that's too small into something too large, and if it really matters. He gets humiliated, no doubt, but around the midway point, you start wondering if he's doing it to himself. And there's a happy ending, even though every girl in the world now knows how he hangs.
Sarah Polley has been one of my favorite actresses since her days as Ramona Quimby, way back in the '80s. She's also one of my favorite directors, with a handful of really excellent films under her belt – Take This Waltz, for instance, which I love in spite of my general dislike of Michelle Williams. But here, she's not quite an actress and not quite a director, because her family is the subject of the movie. It's a beautifully done documentary, both in subject matter and cinematography, but I love the glimpse of her family, especially its history, its skeletons, and its myths. How often do we get to see the myths that families other than our own cling to and pass down through the generations?
Oxyana killed me. It takes place in a small town in West Virginia, Oceana, which the locals call Oxyana because there, as in far too many places in my home state, Oxycontin has become an epidemic. So many people in West Virginia are addicted to the drug that it's gained the nickname “hillbilly heroin.” In Oceana, the town's major economy is driven by coal mining – or was, until the mines closed. People living on the borderline of poverty now turn to the drug trade, which relies heavily on Oxycontin. The documentary is raw, eye-opening, and volatile, because you'll feel sympathy, anger, and disgust, sometimes all at the same time.
God Loves Uganda broke my heart, too – and yet so much of it makes so much sense. I don't want to get into any ethical, moral, religious, or theological debates, but this is worth a watch for so many reasons. Put simply, it explores the relationship between the evangelical movement in Uganda and the country's values and behaviors toward gay people. The surprise is that by the time you're finished, there's more than enough sympathy to go around – for everyone. Even I felt that way.
This documentary is just … it's gorgeous – but so unsettling and heart rending, as well. It takes place in Karachi, Pakistan, focusing primarily on three people: an ambulance driver forced into a role he doesn't necessarily want, a runaway boy, and a humanitarian, not long for this world, who tries so hard to make a change. It's somehow matter of fact in its portrayal, but it still rips out your heart – especially once you realize a few fundamental truths about Omar, the young runaway.
You've probably heard from many people that this documentary will change your life, and it will. It's a nature film, but it's so much more than that. As several reviewers have stated, it plays almost like a thrilling murder mystery, which seems irreverent but really isn't. It focuses on Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at SeaWorld who drowned when performing with Tilikum, a killer whale, in 2010. It highlights the plight of these animals kept in captivity, and will make you rethink everything you thought you knew and felt about this and similar situations.
These are among some of my favorite documentaries to watch, and I can watch a good documentary a million times before I ever get tired of it. Oxyana, as mentioned, struck me particularly, and Blackfish really did change my outlook. Even the funnier choices, namely Unhung Hero, pulled at my heartstrings in some way. Have you seen any of these? And if you've got any other new documentaries to share, please do – 2013 was a fantastic year for them!
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