10 Great Documentaries

Are you a fan of documentaries? A while back, I wrote a list of our 10 favorites, but since then we’ve watched dozens more. So, here are ten more documentaries I’d highly recommend…

* Being Elmo is an award-winning documentary about the puppeteer who created Elmo, many children’s first friend.
* Happy explores what actually lifts our spirits; the bracingly honest interviews with people from Tokyo to Denmark to Louisiana offer surprising insights that honestly could change your life.
* Love Etc. follows five couples in New York City: young, old, gay, straight, falling in love, getting married, having babies, breaking up. Heartbreaking and beautiful.
* First Position chronicles five young ballet dancers in an international competition, as well as their wildly different paths to the stage.
* Elvis ’56 tells the story of how the naive young singer catapulted to intense world fame in just one year. Endearing and surprisingly poignant. (I just wanted to give him a hug!)
* Bill Cunningham New York profiles the cheerful octogenarian fashion photographer of the New York Times. While biking around NYC on a vintage Schwinn, he changed the way people see fashion.
* Touching the Void recounts the astonishing story of two friends’ disastrous attempt to climb a mountain in Peru. A leg is broken, a rope is cut…who will survive?
* Babies was a breath of fresh air when I was (very) pregnant. How reassuring to see four families raising happy children in such remarkably different ways.
* The September Issue reveals how the Vogue editors create the magazine, including fashion shows, photo shoot and lots of passive aggression. A must-watch for fans of The Devil Wears Prada—this is the real deal!
* Born Rich is a documentary about the experience of growing up as a child in one of the world’s richest families. Creator Jamie Johnson (an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune) profiled his own social circle, including Trumps, Vanderbilts and Bloombergs. These twentysomethings seem to have perfect lives, until you spot the cracks.

Have you seen any other good documentaries? What have we missed? I’d love to hear…

P.S. 10 more documentaries.
P.P.S. And apologies for the late post today! A pipe burst in our apartment, so we’ve been a little out of pocket this week:)

  1. I love documentaries, too! You must see #1 Tim’s Vermeer – so fascinating! and #2 Jodorowsky’s Dune. And thanks for your suggestions, too :)

  2. I just watched “112 weddings” this week, it was alright. You might like “the stories we tell”, long, but great! This is a fantastic list! There’s a few i still need to see!

  3. We just watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi…so interesting! Also, The King of Kong. Not exactly my favorite subject matter but interesting nonetheless. :)

  4. Prom Night in Mississippi

  5. I am a documentary junkie and between the comments and the link to the other post…I’m set for quite some time. THANK YOU!!!!

  6. Totally agree with the recommendation to watch Errol Morris’s The Fog of War. It is spellbinding; such a brilliant, thoughtful, powerful documentary–the kind of thing I will watch again and again, even though it breaks my heart.

  7. So many already listed that I love; no one’s yet named, Birth As We Know It – about alternative birthing method called orgasmic birth. Really fascinating. Youtube trailer’s here:

    Also, I second Valentino, Grizzly Man and Senna!

  8. Yes! First Position is so good!

  9. How to Survive a Plague by David France. It’s about a group of men in New York who rise against the epidemic of AIDS through the 80s and 90s. It’s phenomenal. . .and shocking how our governments lied to us and did nothing to help an entire generation of young men dying, all so recently. . .

  10. A great list. I’ve only seen The Septembrr Issue. Which i loved! I also recently watched one on Vogue Editors. Can’t remember the name. I’m adding 4 from your list to my must watch.

  11. I just watched the Queen of Versailles. Fascinating! About a couple in Orlando who are building America’s largest house and then the stock market crashes… and they almost loose everything.

  12. I don’t know if anyone recommended Martin Scorsese’s documentary on George Harrison, but it is top notch! “Living in a material world”…saw it on hbo and then bought it…so. good!

  13. I don’t know if anyone recommended Martin Scorsese’s documentary on George Harrison, but it is top notch! “Living in a material world”…saw it on hbo and then bought it…so. good!

  14. I don’t have time to read through all of the comments right now so sorry if someone else has suggested it, but “Forks Over Knives” is amazing. It discusses how we (Americans) eat too much animal based proteins and how it negatively effects our health.

  15. AAAHHHHHH! I’ve seen all of these but Touching the Void which I am watching RIGHT NOW. To say that I am on the edge of my seat would be a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE understatement. Are these men insane???? Great recommendation ~ thank you!

  16. i second 180 south. LOVED IT.

  17. my hubby’s a major doc geek (his twitter handle IS @filmingdocs) these are great recs!!!!

  18. Thanks for the suggestions. I’ve seen some and can’t wait to watch the others.

    And for those of you without kids, you’ll still enjoy Babies. Really fascinating look at human.

  19. Mad Hot Ballroom is another of my fav! Must see!

  20. C says...

    I recommend “Give Up Tomorrow”. It’s a very moving documentary about boys who were wrongfully convicted on murder. It has won several awards, including two from the Tribeca Film Festival. These boys have been in prison for 15 years with little hope of being released. Hope you can check it out at Thank you!

  21. Red Tent Movie: Things We Don’ t Talk About. Amazing documentary.

  22. I recommend 180 degrees south, and the big easy express

  23. Jo – have you ever seen “I like Killing Flies”? I’d be curious to hear a New Yorker’s perspective on it.

  24. “Being Elmo” is definitely one of my favorite documentaries! To me he sure is a man of compassion which we all need to practice a little more.
    I think my second favorite is called “Buck”. It’s the story about the real horse whisperer. If you love horses and the movie “The Horse whisperer” with Robert Redford… this is definitely a must see!

  25. “First Position” is a great ballet documentary and the best documentary I’ve watched recently!! If you watch the show “Breaking Pointe” (on hulu) you may recognize one of the girls!! Of course, “Babies” is SOOOO adorable!!!!!!!!!

  26. Thank you for sharing these documentaries! I just watched Love Etc, and was so touched by the stories.

  27. I loved these suggeations! You have such a great blog! =)

  28. Encounters at the End of the World ny Werner Herzog is the most beautiful documentary I’ve ever seen. Grizzly Man is great, too, but pretty disturbing. I also loved Trouble the Water and Fog of War. Other than those, it seems you’ve covered about everything! If you’re a Dylan fan, I’d recommend No Direction Home.

  29. Ever since you wrote about Love Etc., I have been dying to see it! However, I can’t figure out how to get my hands on a copy of the movie. I’m in Mpls for anyone that might have an idea. Thanks!

  30. The September Issue was a fun look I thought into her life beyond The Devil Wears Prada and Elmo was a great documentary. It was warming and uplifting and everything we like to think of when we think of Jim Henson.


  31. A must-see documentary is “Miss Representation”! It is about how women are portrayed in the media, but even more about how parents need to raise their children to prevent the derogatory connotation of women in media that sometimes you don’t even realize is occurring. I know that it was replayed on Oprah.

  32. My favorite documentary of ALL time is: Paris Is Burning!!!! It’s about the NYC “drag ball” culture in New York City (Harlem, mostly) in the late 80’s. Hilarious, uplifting, sad, beautiful and beyond quotable. I also loved Living Dolls (about a child beauty pageant contestant & her family – this was way before Toddlers & Tiaras!!!) but it is hard to find.

  33. I definitely recommend “I Am” — it will change your perspective and make you want to run out and hug someone! Brave ‘new’ ideas of how we are all connected and why compassion trumps competition every time.

  34. Ahh! Some aren’t on Netflix! How do you find them?

  35. I really love babies too. I also love Buck which is very good.

    New York Doll is excellent. It is about a groundbreaking punk rock band in the late 70’s that is not financially sucessful. This causes a downward spiral of one of its members, Arthur Kane. It is his life long dream to play once more with the now defunct band, New York Dolls. There are interesting interviews with Morissey and Patty Smyth and a suprise ending. Definitely not to be missed.

    Winged Migration is an excellent film as well. It documents the migration of geese and shows our world from thier perspective.

    Le quattro Volte is a charming film of a goat shepard from rural italy. It shows what daily life is like and many of the ancient tradtions that are still being honored in modern italy. Their is not any dialogue in this film, which would normally be torturous for me, but this film was mesmerizing.

  36. “Being Elmo” is the only one from your list that I’ve seen, but it was great! I was also crying happy tears, what a sweet man. No wonder why Elmo is such a sweet character!

  37. Love documentaries! They are my movie style of choice… that… and comedies :) I guess that’s why I (and America) love The Office and Parks and Rec so much.

    I sometimes think my life would make a lovely documentary. I can imagine scenes in it set to music, my family reduced to hilarious, poignant soundbites, etc.

  38. I love Unzipped (Isaac Mizrahi is hysterical) and My Date With Drew…adorable!

    My uncle has written & directed a fantastic documentary about a man who stole the Mona Lisa. It’s playing at the Mill Valley Film Festival this weekend!!welcome/mainPage

  39. 180 South is my favorite documentary of all time, and the music is so so good.

  40. You forgot SPELLBOUND. Riveting look at kids competing in the National Spelling Bee. I’ve seen it 3 times.

  41. Definitely see The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. A heartbreaking but incredibly touching story of post-tsunami Japan and how the cherry blossom festival gave the people something to be hopeful about. Just incredible.

  42. I think the most beautiful documentaries in the world are the Planet Earth series from BBC.

    Nothing like it! Our small child is mermerized.

    It’s so pretty we’ll also put it on the tv, and turn off the sound, when people are over so that it plays like art.

    A team of people scoured the world for years to capture the earth’s most gorgeous locations, it really is unique I think.

  43. Joanna-

    Funny things happened. We went off your list last time to rent some documentaries when my in-laws came. I put on Surfwise. My husband and I just got back from surf trip in Costa Rica, so it seemed perfect.

    Let’s just say that both my in-laws are conservative Christian ministers and did not appreciate it as much as we did. They were shocked. It was the first time they had met me.

    To top everything off, I sleep in the buff with the a/c off. Our place was hot that night and they had asked to turn it on. I woke in the middle of the night freezing and put on a silk, lace, slightly see-through robe. Only to come out of our room to see my father in-law reading the paper and seeing me half naked. I screamed at him, “PERVERT” due to my tiredness.

    So yes, Surfwise (I’m Jewish, which I think concerned them even more after the movie) and perverts. My brother in-laws said I am forever their favorite for that story.

    Thanks for the recommendations!

  44. WHEN WE WERE KINGS about the Ali v Foreman fight in 1974. Like Senna, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like the sport, it’s about capturing the mood surrounding the people and events. Contributions from Norman Mailer, Spike Lee etc.

  45. Searching for Sugarman – story of an American musician called Rodriguez who had little fame in the States but was huge in South Africa. Beautiful. Just see it.

  46. Sorry i Dont have any recommendations but thnks for sharing! will totally watch!

  47. Another great one is INSIDE JOB about the causes of the worldwide financial crisis. It will have you cursing at your TV screen! And I’M STILL HERE is a sort of faux documentary about Joaquin’ Phoenix’s 2010 breakdown.