"I've been watching a few great things on Netflix lately." I said this to a friend over Skype the other day. Thinking out loud about everything I'd watched recently, I realized I didn't just have a few recommendations... I had eleven. But who makes a list of eleven things?! So I did some research, poured myself a glass of wine, and watched one more.
I love Netflix specifically for its documentary selection. Maybe it's just me, but I always had a difficult time finding documentaries unless my local indie theater happened to be showing one. While Netflix has totally improved my access, I now have a new problem: indecisiveness. The options are overwhelming, no? Does anyone else feel this way? (#firstworldproblems, I know.)
Anyway, that's why I wanted to share my recommendations. If you know me at all, it makes sense that my choices are all art (dance, jazz, photography, painting, etc.) or food related. If those subjects aren't your thing, this might not be the list for you. Otherwise, read on.
Basquiat— Okay, not a documentary. But it paints a picture of the visionary but tormented person that was Basquiat and his role in the neo-expressionist movement. The cast is also fairly stacked for a film I’d never even heard of (hello, young Benicio del Toro).
Bill Cunningham New York— Do you read/watch Bill Cunningham’s weekly style column in the New York Times? He basically observes unique interpretations of street style and highlights interesting trends. Bill never seeks out the “it girls” or the glamour of Vogue parties. In fact, it seems like he barely gets paid anything. That’s what makes him so interesting, though—it’s the purest love for fashion you’ll ever see.
Chef’s Table— A documentary series that covers the lives and genius of six celebrated culinary stars. I love understanding what makes creative people tick and how they view success. Some of the chefs are true radicals, operating on a completely different plain than the rest of us. (Fair warning: you’ll feel hungry the whole time.)
Exit Through the Gift Shop—I really liked this one, but it’s a riskier recommendation. You have to like art, and furthermore, be interested in street art to get through this one. It starts as a documentary about Banksy and other street artists, but it ends up posing some important questions about art. What is it? What makes it “good”? Who can be an artist? etc. etc.
First Position—A documentary about the ballet world? Of course I’m watching this one. It looks at the demands on young, aspiring ballet dancers who have to face criticism and make sacrifices for their future careers at such young ages. Specifically, the film follows two aspiring dancers through their training and the process of getting accepted into a company.
The Green Prince—This one is about the son of Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, Mosab Hassan Yousef, who became an informant for the Israeli Intelligence agency, Shin Bet, for ten years. He wrote a book about his experience, what drove him to leave, and the background behind his decisions in between. Something I learned: I’ve never made a hard choice before.
Happy—Self explanatory. This one is about happiness, but it’s a refreshing departure from your typical “enlightened,” self-help type guides. It looks at what happiness means to different types of people across the world and questions the status quo narrative about what happiness is and how people find it.
Iris—A colorful, kaleidoscopic look into the world of Iris Apfel. Even though she’s a style icon, this isn’t a fashion film. It’s more of a narrative about creativity and enthusiasm for living. Iris draws inspiration from art, interiors, clothing, and other people. Her vibrancy challenges the idea of what it means to age and shows that self expression can be a transformative force.
Mind of a Chef—An idea similar to Chef’s Table, but executed very differently. Shorter episodes, more concentrated on how each chef views the world and channels inspiration into their food. Of course, I’m watching anything Anthony Bourdain is involved with (he produced and narrated the series).
Salinger—This covers the life of J.D. Salinger, whom I didn’t realize was so reclusive. It talks about his life, relationships, experiences at war, and how he came to write the cultural phenomenon that is/was Catcher in the Rye.
What Happened, Miss Simone?—I love Nina Simone’s music, so I was naturally curious about her life. Wow. I guess it’s because I’m in a different generation, but I didn’t know the extent of her involvement in the civil rights movement and the affect of her tumultuous personal life on her career (and vice versa).
Woody Allen: A Documentary—This is all about the inspiration and creative process behind Woody Allen’s work. I think his strategy must be an outlier in Hollywood. He consistently makes one film per year, even if he doesn't think it has great potential for success. I've never heard quantity over quality as a philosophy, but this is what works for him and has allowed him to create amazing work like Annie Hall and Manhattan. It's a super interesting take on how one artist gets the most from his creativity.