Movieblort’s Top Documentaries on UK Netflix (Part 1)
Navigating the many categories on Netflix can be a challenge but one thing it is great at doing is showcasing a great array of documentaries. With 410 in the documentary section alone, among a plethora of Ted talks, finding the perfect one can be difficult. Hopefully I can make the decision a bit easier for you with my choices below.
There are plenty of documentaries I have missed off, but this is the first part! This should be more than enough for you to sink your teeth into for now.
Any thoughts on these, or any to be included in the next ‘part’, let me know in the comments below! (Part 2 listed here!)
180 Degrees South
IMDB Description: The film follows adventurer Jeff Johnson as he retraces the epic 1968 journey of his heroes Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins to Patagonia.
A beautifully shot and inspiring documentary, and with a soundtrack by Ugly Casanova, it’s hard to not enjoy watching this. At its core, it is a documentary about the environment, exploration and gaining perspective on ‘life’. Sounds deep, because it kind of is.
Battered Bastards of Baseball
IMDB Description: A documentary on the legendary Portland Mavericks, an independent baseball team founded by actor Bing Russell that rocked the minor leagues in the 1970s.
There’s something very entertaining about a bunch of beer swilling, unkempt baseball players who end up sticking it to the big leagues, not to mention that camaraderie and community feel that was instilled in Portland as a result. So many stories make up this much bigger story, but bottom line is, they just wanted to play Baseball, and it’s incredible how much came out of this little venture.
IMDB Description: The Muppet Elmo is one of the most beloved characters among children across the globe. Meet the unlikely man behind the puppet – the heart and soul of Elmo – Kevin Clash.
A very uplifting documentary showcasing Kevin’s drive and determination to achieve his dreams. The product of those dreams being the much-loved Elmo character. Kevin seems like a genuinely decent person, and while I kind of expected some sort of dark secrets being uncovered about either Jim Henson or Kevin, you’re not given them whether they exist or not, and are instead left with an overwhelming good feeling. Which is exactly what Elmo wants you to feel.
IMDB Description: A documentary following the controversial captivity of killer whales, and its dangers for both humans and whales.
An extremely powerful documentary that has since had a direct impact on the profits and attendance at Seaworld. This is one of those docs that leaves you seething at the end, as it splices together unseen archived footage alongside talking head interviews to create a heart-wrenching yet chilling case for why the entrapment of animals, specifically Killer Whales, for entertainment purposes is all kinds of wrong.
The Final Member
IMDB Description: Thirty miles from the Arctic Circle, in the northern Icelandic town of Husavik, stands the Icelandic Phallological Museum – the world’s only Penis museum. Over 40 years, the founder and curator has collected every specimen from every mammal except for one elusive penis needed to complete his collection: The Human Specimen.
I usually like my documentaries with a little less penis than this, but in the case of The Final Member, I will make an exception. It is a frank, weird and tedious look at one mans quest to get a human penis for his museum, and an American guy who is keen to give it to him while he is still alive. Like that annoying friend who asks too many questions when organising something, his overt persistence to get this penis in the museum is both as funny as it is sad.
For The Bible Tells Me So
IMDB Description: An exploration of the intersection between religion and homosexuality in the U.S. and how the religious right has used its interpretation of the Bible to stigmatize the gay community.
Many documentaries regarding religion can come across as exploitative and one-sided. While they may have good intentions, the focus too much on the ridiculous to get cheap laughs and to mock. In the instance of ‘For The Bible Tells Me So’, it is fair, balanced and relatively impartial. While the overall messaging then becomes slightly convoluted due to the many different view points, you can’t help but appreciate the careful presentation of complicated and conflicting viewpoints for such a sensitive issue. It won’t shock or change the world, but does provide some context for those who wonder why religion is used against the gay community in some instances.
The House I Live In
IMDB Description: From the dealer to the narcotics officer, the inmate to the federal judge, a penetrating look inside America’s criminal justice system, revealing the profound human rights implications of U.S. drug policy.
There’s something strangely interesting about the American Legal system. Whether it’s wrongful imprisonment, mandatory minimum sentences, baffling oversights of vital evidence, corruption or drug policy – it’s just fantastic viewing when presented right, and a huge shame that in reality the US is no closer to sorting any of this out even with the legalisation of weed.
Compelling, highly detailed documentary. This ticks all the boxes.
If A Tree Falls
IMDB Description: A rare behind-the-curtain look at the Earth Liberation Front, the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America’s ‘number one domestic terrorist threat.’
If A Tree Falls provides a solid little insight into the radical activities of the Earth Liberation Front. Think of them as an extreme version of Greenpeace, whose tactics usually involve severe destruction of property of some sort. While you may not agree with the tactics implored by such an organisation, the documentary showcases all kinds of horrid acts. Violence from both law enforcement and ELF, plus the personal stories of some of their members, will anger you regardless what side of the fence you sit on.
A documentary on kids who attend a summer camp hoping to become the next Billy Graham.
Tweaky doc showcasing and exposing one of the weirder aspects of Christianity. Obviously this is such an isolated instance, its extreme views are unique to this section of Christianity and should not be taken as a generic view for religion and/or Christianity as a whole. However, both scary and unnerving, it is a well crafted and unflinching view of Evangelical Christianity in America. You may have seen it all before, it’s nothing new to highlight religious oddities, but there is something strangely compelling about this one in particular.
Mission to Lars
IMDB Description: Kate and Will Spicer’s brother, Tom, has Fragile X Syndrome, the most common form of inherited learning disability. He is also a massive fan of Lars Ulrich from Metallica. They made a promise to Tom that they would get him to meet Lars. Tom’s dream is their promise. Together they went on a Mission to Lars.
Low budget documentary following the journey of Tom to visit Lars Ulrich. Not as educational as the others on this list, very little time is given to explaining anything too in-depth about Autism and the same can be said for the Metallica aspect. If you are expecting a documentary about either, adjust your expectation. What you are given instead, is a heart-warming and honest road-trip documentary, where Metallica come out smelling like roses and you leave smiling as much as Tom does.
IMDB Description: Broken, desperate men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local Pastor risks everything to help them.
It would be easy to dismiss this from a UK interest perspective, assuming that this is just another humanitarian documentary based in the US, something that is completely irrelevant to us Brits. However, you could not be more wrong. It is an extraordinary portrayal of socio-economic issues in a small town, that gradually takes on a different course entirely becoming more of a personal study of one mans obsession to provide for his fellow-men. Equal parts tragedy and optimism, filled with plenty of twists, and one final big one saved for the conclusion, it is a documentary you will want to see through to the end.
Queen of Versailles
A documentary that follows a billionaire couple as they begin construction on a mansion inspired by Versailles. During the next two years, their empire, fueled by the real estate bubble and cheap money, falters due to the economic crisis.
This is just worth watching for the sheer ridiculousness of the entire situation. What is interesting isn’t the personal story about how they met, which felt more like a Desperate Housewives of *insert state* episode, but how David Segel made his money and how the family went into complete meltdown once it was gone.
I hate the thought of a timeshare; based on what I saw in this, combined with King of the Hill and that South Park ‘Ass-pen’ episode, the billions Segel made by swindling innocent people in his timeshare business only made his eventual financial collapse all the more entertaining. Combine this with the fact that they have 8 kids, they had to lose all their staff (which included 10-15 nannys), which resulted in a complete lack of order, dogs shitting all over the house, mess everywhere and culminates in their pathetic attempts at trying to “scrape” together millions to finish off this monstrosity, I didn’t feel sorry for them at all. You shouldn’t either.
The Short Game
IMDB Description: The Short Game follows the lives of eight of the best 7-year old golfers in the world as they train for and compete in the World Championships of Junior Golf.
A very fun documentary that plays out more like a movie. You don’t need to like golf to like this film, but whether or not you can stand kids will dictate how much you like this doc. Some kids appear humble, some kids appear snobby, some parents are as forceful and emotive as you would expect, but above all else they all genuinely love golf and that’s the main thing. You don’t find yourself feeling sorry for the kids – they put themselves in the competition through choice and accepted whatever came with it, for the love of the game.
IMDB Description: A group of Egyptian revolutionaries battle leaders and regimes, risking their lives to build a new society of conscience.
An intense and highly personal look at the Egyptian revolution in late 2011. Educational, compelling and eye-opening, the documentary shines a light on events that were largely overlooked by the media. The initial peaceful occupancy of Tahrir Square is spliced together with intimate interviews, but jolts you with shocking footage of the carnage that spilled out onto the streets as a result of military intervention. This oscar nominated doc is essential viewing, you become immersed in the euphoria of change and get goosebumps as the movement reaches tipping point, and feel sick as the danger intensifies. Currently holding a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s easy to see why.
IMDB Description: A group of brave individuals risk their lives to save the last of the world’s mountain gorillas; in the midst of renewed civil war and a scramble for Congo’s natural resources.
A fantastic Netflix Original documentary here, outlining and following the re-emergence of a civil war in Congo. Based out of the Virunga National Park, an area so rich with natural resources, that it is under increased threat on a daily basis. We are taken on a journey similar to that of a war movie, or crime thriller. The calm before the storm as it were, is quite simply showing key members in the National Park going about their days and explaining why they do it.
What comes next is shocking and real, and to go into any more detail would kill any form of suspense, shock, or disbelief you may have when watching. It is infuriating to watch, a documentary that by the end of it you will be asking yourself how you can help. Well compiled, intelligent and great a demonstration of investigative journalism – it is a genuinely brilliant piece of film making. One of the most important documentaries produced in recent time, and highly recommended.
West of Memphis
IMDB Description: As with the Paradise Lost film and its two sequels, West of Memphis follows the events of the West Memphis Three, a case in which three teenagers (Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin) were arrested for the murders of three 8-year old children
Fans of the recent docu-series ‘The Jinx’ and creepy podcast ‘Serial’ will enjoy this thriller of a documentary, as it examines the case of the West Memphis Three and their unfortunate encounter with the US Judicial System. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, the idea of wrongful imprisonment infuriates me, and the documentaries that follow those who look to overturn said decisions intrigues me. It’s easy to sit and observe from your armchair, when the evidence is presented in such a fashion that the outcome always seems so obvious to the viewer. However, in some instances, like this one, it is simply baffling how it could be so wrong regardless of artistic licence in presentation of the facts.
As the description says, it’s more or less an extension of the excellent Paradise Lost Trilogy, a series of TV Docs exploring the same trial in much more detail.
The World Before Her
IMDB Description: Two young women follow completely divergent paths in the new, modernizing India-one wants to become Miss India, the other is a fierce Hindu Nationalist prepared to kill and die for her beliefs.
A thought-provoking and at times, shocking documentary examining the lack of options for women in India. It doesn’t look to mock or incite any particular reaction from either side of the argument, but simply provides a platform for both to explain why they do what they do and how they came to make those choices. I would have liked to have seen more from the parents with regards to the Miss India side, as it’s clear from the Hindu-Nationalist side that the parents have a huge stake in controlling the future of their children. Although, I understand that the lack of focus on the parents with the Miss India perspective is shown to display the independence of pursuing that particular path as opposed to being shackled to a marriage with the sole purpose to have male children.
It leaves you fairly speechless afterwards and there are some abhorrent statistics in this documentary. It’s great that this has been made and will hopefully be one of many steps taken to raise awareness about the treatment of women within India.
Once again, this is only the first part. Feel free to let me know of any others to be included in the next part, or your thoughts on any of the above. Leave them in the comments, or tweet me @movieblort.
Good list…quite a few I want to see, especially Virunga. I would also recommend Stories We Tell, Life Itself and McCullin, all of which I think are still available to watch in the UK.
Excellent choices, and they are on my next batch of docs to watch. Thanks!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Some great films on here. I recently watched West Of Memphis – fascinating documentary – and also enjoyed Queen Of Versailles and Blackfish. Virunga has been sitting in my queue for a while now so I think I’ll give that one a look next. Thanks for recommending it. Have you tried The Thin Blue Line? That’s my favourite documentary of all the ones I’ve watched on Netflix. Great blog by the way!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Glad you enjoyed West of Memphis. You should check out ‘Paradise Lost: Trilogy’, ‘Crime After Crime’ and ‘The Central Park Five’ too. There’s just something incredibly fascinating about wrongful imprisonment. I see that Thin Blue Line falls into that criteria too? I’ll check it out!
Thanks for the kind words on the blog – same to you!
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thanks I’ll definitely give those a look. Also on that topic I enjoyed Aileen and Cropsey, although they’re perhaps a little less sophisticated than West of Memphis and Thin Blue Line.
True. I did think to include Cropsey, but it seemed a tad misguided with no real outcome. Purely speculative journalism, and there to simply get a reaction.
Loved Aileen, it will surely make the next list. The movie equivelent ‘Monster’ was OK too, Theron is unrecognizable, but as you said, a little less sophisticated and did seem a bit lazy.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I haven’t seen Monster but I’m interested to see it for Theron’s performance.
Great review. I love your list. It’s not all heavy subject matter either. Bastards of Baseball is so great, like a true life Major League (80s Charlie Sheen).
Paradise Lost is one of the best crime docs ever, right up there with Thin Blue Line. Too bad it’s not on Netflix. It’s worth hunting down. Have you see the drama based on West Mephis 5, called Devil’s Knot?
Doesn’t always need to be heavy matter all the time, but it does help captivate an audience. Arguably the heaviest documentary out there is ‘Dear Zachary’ – not available on UK Netflix, but I believe it is on Canada/USA. Worth your time for sure.
I have seen Devils Knot, but I didn’t know it existed until someone spoke to me the other month about it. They were describing the film, and I was thinking “that sounds pretty familiar”… took a while to twig that it was the same, so I watched it. I didn’t think much of it. Never going to be as good as the real deal (WM3/PL).
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hmm. Interesting. What’s Zachary about? You’ve got me intrigued.
Devil’s Knot was a good Canadian film focused more on the trial. I’d prefer a fictionalized movie about Damien Eckles, exploring his story more.
“Dear Zachary” is one of those ones where it’s best to know nothing going into it, and just watch it. It’s one of those documentaries you’ll only watch once. One of those documentaries that you shouldn’t speak about really…
I can’t give too much away, but if you can find it, watch it.
LikeLiked by 1 person
‘Nuff said… I’m on a mission to find this now.
Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll pop back if I find it and drop in my two cents.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Doesn’t look like it’s on Netflix, but it’s on Hulu/Amazon and on the second google result of “uflix.me”. Worth seeking out – just thinking about it now has me bummed out though 😦