3 Documentaries

So hot right now: documentaries.

I watch far fewer movies these. Having a newborn will do that to you, I suppose. But two films I’ve seen in the last several weeks were documentaries. They both reminded me how much I love the nonfiction film genre — one that is far too often ignored, mistakenly dismissed as boring and stuffy.

Here’s a quick highlight on them, plus one more that I saw fairly recently.

Amy 
In a word: devastating.
The best part: They never show the faces of the folks they interview — extraordinarily rare, especially for a biopic documentary. I’m still mulling over the intended effect, but regardless of why the makers chose that format, the result is a focused and confident portrayal of a fragile-yet-genius artist.
Why you should see it: I had written Winehouse off as crazy, and, for lack of a better term, trashy, albeit talented. This movie artfully peels back the layers of complications associated with substance abuse, manipulative men, unwanted media attention, and a rapid ascent into fame.

 

Meet the Patels
In a word: charming.
The best part: His parents are a total riot. The family dynamics portrayed are utterly endearing, but they are also depicted in a manner that feels realistic. They don’t edit out all the conflict or embarrassing interactions.
Why you should see it: It’s a sweet, entertaining film, but also has depth, as it raises interesting questions around marriage and commitment, love and compatibility, and matchmaking and the role of the family in the era of online dating.

 

CitizenFour
In a word: scary.
The best part: When you watch it, you feel like you are watching history in the making. One might think such a film would reek of self-importance, but it maintains a no-frills approach and successfully avoids getting preachy. Snowden comes across as a normal dude. For some reason I had always thought he was an arrogant jerk (totally unjustified assumption on my part), but here he’s an unassuming twentysomething guy who is trying to follow his convictions — but at a huge cost.
Why you should see it: It’s an important film. It covers an important issue. I had read plenty of articles on Snowden and government surveillance, but watching that story unfold in real time and seeing the how and the why firsthand added a whole new dimension to my understanding of the issue. And you should definitely see this before catching the upcoming Oliver Stone film.

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