Best-ish Recent-ish Documentaries

My boss asked me for an assignment list of documentaries to watch on the plane so people looking over at his computer screen won’t be weirded out by nude scenes and violence.   Seriously.  And so like the efficient blogger I’m hoping to be, I decided to parlay this into a post, with the added side bonus of making a gratuitous list.  Lists are beautiful.

A few things you should know.  1. I like documentaries that make me a shed a tear.  Not a lot, and not always a sad tear.  Just a tear.  2. If a documentary has the slight tendency to take on the polished gloss of a reality TV series…let’s just say I’m not opposed.  3. Extensive usage of slow pans on still images equals not paying attention anymore.  Sorry, Ken Burns.  4. I like stories that bring up art of any kind.  5. Also, a major plus if they are on instant Netflix.  (Did you see that?  A list within a list. Lovely.)

As I finalized my shortlist, I realized that my favorite documentaries are almost all about strength – whether that means people who just can’t help but be themselves, independent of environment, situation or time in history, or people who have such fervent belief in something that no one and nothing can sway them.  I like remembering that sometimes, people can be amazing.

In no particular order, here they are…

1. Herb and Dorothy – I’ve talked about them before.  How cool are they?  By the way, the Kickstarter campaign for the sequel, 50×50 was successful – I’m so excited to have been able to pitch in and am even more excited to see the results.

2. Glass: A Portrait of Phillip in 12 Parts – A glimpse into the world of the feverishly dedicated and wildly talented Phillip Glass, this very personal look into his public and private life is both amazing and a little cringe worthy.  Genius comes at a price, don’t you know?

3. A Man Named Pearl – A friend, and ex-coworker of mine gushed about this documentary for days upon days.  I finally ran across it on Netflix and it is such a sweet, lovely piece.  Ostentatiously it’s about Pearl’s craaazy topiary garden, it really pulls in so many very universal truths about love, beauty and overcoming obstacles.  Road trip, anyone?

4. Young@Heart – This one was a lot of tears.  I happened on this one on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  About a group of senior citizens in a chorus in Massachusetts that covers everything from Sonic Youth and Coldplay to The Ramones, Young@Heart makes you realize (or re-remember) that age really is a state of mind.

5. Bill Cunningham New York - “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do. That’s the key to the whole thing.” This documentary follows around Bill Cunningham, the New York Times   photographer, as he goes on his daily bike rides through New York City documenting the styles of the times.  More important than his photography, his gentle spirit and sense of humanity and integrity shine through on screen and make you just want to curl up and have some tea with him.  Also, my dad would appreciate his frugality.

6. Man on Wire – Um, Phillipe Petit, more than anything, wanted to walk a tightrope across the two former World Trade Center buildings.  Why??  The correct answer is, why the f–k not.

7. Public Speaking – A hilarious portrait of Fran Lebowitz, doing nothing more than speaking her mind about everything from the state of Times Square, to the color of her car and being a judge.  Directed by Martin Scorsese and produced by Graydon Carter, Ms. Lebowitz is both the quintessential and iconic New Yorker.

8. Unmistaken Child – Another Sunday afternoon find, this documentary about a Tibetan monk’s journey to find the reincarnation of his teacher is an incredible story about what it means to have faith.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a very personally specific list that spoke to me. What do you think??

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