6 Best Documentaries to Watch When You’re Bored
For most mainstream moviegoers, the cinema is a place to escape from the troubles and worries of everyday life. It’s the reason that so many animated, sci-fi, and fantasy films are among the highest-grossing movies of all time while documentaries often go unwatched by the general population. People are often simply looking for way to be entertained and shed their fears, obligations, and concerns with the insanity of the outside world. The trouble is that — especially for the serious cinephile — the major studio releases at the multiplex often just aren’t very good. That’s why it’s nice to know that there is an entire subset of films out there that aren’t concerned with helping viewers dispel thoughts of the real world. In fact, their mandate is quite the opposite.
Documentary films may not appeal to all moviegoers, but they are certainly powerful tools to enlighten the viewer on a particular subject matter or even to serve as inspiration to better oneself in some way. In any case, they manage to put things in perspective and deliver a meaningful message on a variety of topics, providing a welcome change of pace from fictionalized drama. In the past decade or so, the mainstream popularity of documentaries has continued to rise. For that reason, we’re taking a look at some of the best documentary films that could prove to be the perfect antidote for viewers looking for something fresh to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
1. Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
Written and directed by Amy Berg, this film explores the life of Catholic priest Oliver O’Grady, who confessed to molesting and raping dozens of children in Northern California over the course of two decades. Deliver Us from Evil was nominated (but lost) the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, but it did win the Best Documentary Award at the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival. The film currently stands among the best-reviewed releases of that year, earning a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
2. Man on Wire (2008)
Moviegoers who remember last year’s awards season may recall the Robert Zemeckis film The Walk, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as high-wire artist Philippe Petit. This 2008 documentary film chronicles the story of the real-life Petit, who daringly (and illegally) walked along a wire from one of the World Trade Center towers to the other back in 1974. Energized by Petit’s unique spirit, Man on Wire earned universally positive reviews from critics, many of whom consider director James Marsh’s film far superior to Zemeckis’s dramatized version.
3. Waltz with Bashir (2008)
Documentaries aren’t often given the animated treatment, and that’s part of what makes this Israeli release so powerful and different. Writer and director Ari Folman uses the film to reconstruct his lost memories from serving as a soldier during the 1982 Lebanon War. Though officially banned in Lebanon, the film earned a wide range of accolades after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and was widely considered one of the best films that year for its innovative approach to telling Folman’s story.
4. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)
Jiro Ono is an elderly sushi master and owner of the highly rated Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant in Tokyo. This film discusses Ono’s ongoing search for the perfect sushi roll and his passion for the art form of preparing the food itself. Moreover, Jiro Dreams of Sushi looks at Ono’s relationship with his oldest son Yoshikazu, who will eventually take over the restaurant. The film is a lovely portrait of what happens when obsession becomes a positive motivator, ultimately leading an individual to his or her greater calling in life.
5. Blackfish (2013)
Having premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, this highly controversial documentary reveals the story of Tilikum, an orca at SeaWorld. The film opened up a major dialogue regarding the captivity of killer whales on a grand scale. Individuals from within SeaWorld argued that the film misrepresented their park. The backlash of the movie greatly affected attendance. In fact, the effect of Blackfish even reached over to Pixar Animation Studios, where the setting of Finding Dory was changed from a SeaWorld-esque theme park to a marine institute.
6. Life Itself (2014)
In the world of film criticism, few figures are as beloved as the late Roger Ebert. Along with longtime partner Gene Siskel, Ebert made film critics mainstream in the 1980s, and this film — based on Ebert’s 2011 memoir — take a close look at the man himself and his undying passion for the art of film. Featuring footage of Ebert, new interviews with filmmakers, and an interview with Ebert’s widow Chaz, director Steve James’s film version Life Itself fittingly received universal acclaim from critics.
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