Top Ten Documentaries on Netflix
First Position follows six young ballet dancers as they prepare for a competition, the New York Grand Prix, that will determine their future placement in advanced schools and careers. The dancers include Aran Bell, a young boy whose parents moved across Europe to get him the best dance education possible, Miko Fogarty, a technically flawless girl with a frighteningly overbearing mother, and Michaela DePrince, who was adopted from Sierra Leone and into an American Jewish family and struggles with both injury and underlying racial discrimination in ballet as the competition draws closer.
First Position is an obvious must-watch for dance lovers, but it's compelling for anyone who's interested in the lives of very young professionals and the competition to be the best.
Really, the less you know going into Crazy Love, the better. It's a documentary absolutely full of twists, where everyone is a villain and everyone is a victim. Watch it, and don't read a single other word about it before you do.
Most documentary-lovers have seen Blackfish, but it's a worth a rewatch, and absolutely worth bringing up just in case you missed it. Blackfish is the story of orcas in theme parks like Sea World, and how their treatment in captivity has contributed to violent whale-trainer deaths in recent years. The documentary includes footage of trainers being killed or seriously injured, so it's not for the faint of heart--or for anyone who wants to go to Sea World again.
For a documentary about a summer camp where children literally worship at a cardboard cut-out of George W. Bush, Jesus Camp manages to be quite ambivalent in terms of taking a point of view on extremely conservative Christian organizations like the (now defunct) camp in the film. Maybe it's because a subculture this over-the-top needs no commentary. This is a classic example of the magic of documentaries. Reality can be a whole lot stranger than fiction, and you don't need a whole lot of narrative point of view if the story is already there. Sometimes it's best to just stand back and let the eight-year-olds speak in tongues. And they sure do.
If you don't already know about Second Life--an online game/lifestyle/world that's far too complex to try to explain here--it may be worth it to read a little about it before you dive into Life 2.0. Whether or not you do some research beforehand, you'll still likely come out of Life 2.0 with a lot of questions about how Second Life works, but you'll have the stories of two people who fell in love online but fell to pieces in person and the man who was so angry at the world that he made his avatar in the game--a young girl--a mass murderer, to pique your interest into finding out exactly what all the fuss is about. But be careful; it's a pretty balanced documentary, and you might find yourself looking into Second Life a little too much after...
30 for 30: The Price of Gold
30 for 30: The Price of Gold is the story of former figure skater Tonya Harding, centered around the attack of her rival Nancy Kerrigan right before the 1994 Olympics for which Harding has been widely implicated. It's a sympathetic take on Harding and her past, but unflinching in its evidence that she was involved in the attack...no matter what Harding insists in all her interviews. Whether you remember the 1994 incident well or you're looking to catch up on your sports scandal histories, 30 for 30: The Price of Gold won't let you down.
In 1997, a grown man from France managed to convince the Spanish government, the U.S. government, and the Barclay family themselves that he was actually Nicholas Barclay, a seventeen-year-old boy who has vanished from Texas three years prior. Archival footage and interviews with Nicholas Barclay's family and with Frederic Bourdin, the impostor, illuminate how this could possibly have happened. It may seem like the big twist is revealed right there in the description, but don't worry; there are plenty shocks left to come.
And sometimes you just want to watch a documentary about kids who want to be magicians. It's absolutely a fun documentary, but it's also a reminder that just about anything can be seriously hardcore. These magicians are serious. Among the main characters are a boy with social issues, a girl facing sexism in the magic world, and one of the youngest boys on campus who has to cope with a sudden personal tragedy. A very good watch, especially if you want to pick up a few new magic tricks.
Okay, so using the melodramatic fake voice of a (actual) dead twenty-two year old maybe wasn't the classiest choice, but Tallhotblond isn't the classiest documentary. But it is a plot twist-filled story of one of the creepiest, most dangerous love triangles in internet history. But more than that, it's a psychological examination of why people create false identities, and what happens when you try to let those identities go. What happens when you fall in love with someone who was never there? Where do those feelings go? Tallhotblond suggests it's to very, very dark places.
If you're a fan of Fame, or the (tragically removed from Netflix) documentary Stage Door, you'll love Fame High. It follows a handful of teenagers at LACSHA, one of the most prestigious art high schools in the country. Two of the characters are just starting out their freshman year--one from a showbiz family, the other one from a broken home and a pressure cooker of a father, and two, a ballet dancer for trying for Juilliard and a harp player in danger of not graduating--are preparing to leave LACSHA and go into the real world. Though the film addresses many times the improbability of making it in show business, you'll be crossing your fingers right along with the kids.
Did I miss your favorite? List one you hated? Let me know in the comments!