Over the past few years, I spend the time off during the holidays catching up on TV series I have been meaning to watch, but hadn’t had time to before. For instance, I watched Call the Midwife one time, because it was only one season, or my greatest accomplishment in binge-watching: all seven seasons of The West Wing in one month. That’s an hour-long (42ish minute) program, y’all. This year, I decided to watch Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and couldn’t stop watching. To preface, I usually reserve my documentary watching for when I’m sick (idk why, tbh), but I was on this kick of following Tony to places I probably will never be able to go to otherwise, and are usually off the beaten path.
My addiction to Parts Unknown led to a spiral of watching the documentaries on my Instant list that had been waiting for me to press play for months or even years, and I finally got around to it. So, I’m here to share them with you. Whether you’re sick or need to pause from your Friends binge-ing, here are a few of my favorite documentaries I’ve watched over the past few years that you can watch on Netflix Instant right now.
Watch if you like: Friday Night Lights, football, underdog stories, Oscar-winning movies, crying
Elevator Pitch: A small, predominantly black, high school on the outskirts of Memphis has a football team with the worst record. A white coach who volunteers his time helps them to possible victory. But like FNL, it’s not really about football at all.
Watch if you like: Dance, ballet, seeing kids do things better than you
Elevator Pitch: The journey of six kids on their way to one of the biggest most important ballet competitions in the world. You’ll leave impressed with their dedication and inspired to do something with your life.
Watch if you like: Dance, ballet, First Position
Elevator Pitch: As opposed to aspiring young dancers, this one features four professional Russian dancers – and you’ll be glad you didn’t grow up in Russia.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Watch if you like: Sushi, Japan, food, elderly people
Elevator Pitch: If you love sushi, you’ll love this 85-year-old sushi master in Tokyo, who owns a world-renowned restaurant and the interesting relationship he has with his son and eventual heir.
Kings of Pastry
Watch if you like: France, Top Chef, pastries, cooking, stressful situations
Elevator Pitch: The French take the art of cooking seriously, and even hand out special medals/collars to distinguish the elite chefs from others – and the competition to win said prize involves years of dedication and endless amounts of patience.
Watch if you like: Humanity
Elevator Pitch: A guy gives up pretty much all he has and travels around the country making money and sleeping in homes all found off Craigslist. The result is a surprisingly moving story proving that despite the fact we live in a diverse country with people who have vastly different views on life, it’s not hard to find the good in people.
Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
Watch if you like: Art, performance art, any modern museum
Elevator Pitch: Marina Abamovic has been a top performance artist for decades, and this movie follows her acclaimed The Artist Is Present exhibit at New York’s MoMa, which is a retrospective on her career. It shows how she connects with new people through her piece in which she sits and stares at visitors, and also reconnects her with one of the biggest loves of her life.
Watch if you like: Politics, Mormons
Elevator Pitch: It doesn’t matter that you know how it ends. It also doesn’t matter if you voted for Mitt Romney or not. What matters is that this movie gives you an inside look of the day to day life of a Presidential campaign over the course of six years – and how it can all come crumbling down in one night.
Anything North Korea
Watch if you like: Asia, secret societies, investigative reporting, hidden cameras
Elevator Pitch: From Lisa Ling’s faux eye surgery documentary to Frontline‘s secret hidden cameras, these specials give you an inside look to one of the world’s most secretive and oppressive countries. Forget The Interview, these are the only North Korea movies you need to see.
Watch if you like: Fascination with Scientology, The Duggars
Elevator Pitch: These kids aren’t just regular kids – they’re kids who think they have prophetic powers and attend a Christian summer camp to learn how to become the next “Billy Graham” and “take back America for Christ”. Go into it knowing because of this movie – the camp closed.