This is basically the opposite of my Netflix Quickies series. Instead of movies I picked randomly on Netflix Instant that I tried for a few minutes and hated, these are ones I fell in love with and watched all of. So definitely check them out.
By the way, these are all documentaries, because for some reason the only stuff I’ve given five stars on Netflix lately have been docs. Just been really lucky with them, I guess.
Girl Model (2011)
Directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin
A haunting doc about the Russian modeling industry—more specifically, the 13-year-old Russian girls who are sent to Japan with the vague promise of modeling contracts. I love a doc that doesn’t try to cover too much, and simply focuses on the micro as a way to address the macro. This one does exactly that, and does it beautifully. The photography is simple, yet deeply affecting. And all the people profiled here—both the good people and the bad—truly bare their soul. It’s everything you could ever want from an intimate, disturbing slice of life, and at 78 minutes, absolutely does not overstay its welcome.
I couldn’t help but think of Lost in Translation as I watched this. This movie basically hits every beat of loneliness and malaise that Sofia tries to, but without the cursoriness and snark that bogs down not just that work of hers, but all her work. Basically, if Sofia were mature and awesome at what she does, she’d be making movies like this. But she’s not, so the filmmakers behind this one are instead.
Directed by Vikram Gandhi
Fed up with the hypocrisy and narcissism of many self-professed gurus of the world, Vikram Gandhi decides to pretend to be one, as an experiment to see just how easy it is to build a devout following. Along the way, he experiences the reality of what it’s like to be worshipped, and his journey becomes very emotional and difficult. How does one hold onto one’s self in the face of those who eat up your every word?
Basically it’s part Borat, part Penn & Teller: Bullshit!—but with way more heart and restraint than both. And I’m not dogging those two at all. I like them a lot. But this one goes way deeper. This should be shown in high schools to spark debate and discussion and whatnot. Lots to talk about in regards to philosophy, psychology, and spirituality.
Foreign Parts (2010)
Directed by Verena Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki
Earns your trust from the very first shot and never breaks it. An unrelentingly minimalist fly-on-the-wall doc about a unique area of NYC—Willets Point, Queens—that not too many people know about. I have friends who have lived in the city all their lives and never heard of it. Basically, it’s an industrial neighborhood with no sidewalks or sewers, cramped with auto repair shops and scrap yards. Rows and rows of them, many offering the exact same services. The area has only one official ‘resident’—the rest of the people who live there are undocumented workers or homeless. There have been many attempts to be redevelop it over the last 50+ years, to no avail.
But this is not a movie about all that. These details are never even mentioned. It’s simply about the lives of some people who live and work there. The camera, quite simply, observes, and occasionally is there for them if they feel like talking. However, this is by no means a simple movie. It takes great finesse and skill to cut a movie like this—one that flows like an organic journey, with no artifice in the way. After this movie, you’ll truly feel as though you went and walked around somewhere surreal, and interacted with some intriguing strangers along the way.
I Like Killing Flies (2004)
Directed by Matt Mahurin
And now, something NYC I haven’t heard of. A diner called Shopsin’s, run by a quirky, cantankerous patriarch and his family, boasting a nearly 1,000 item menu. Seems like something I’d have heard of. I love off-the-wall shit like that. Not necessarily to eat at (I’m vegan) but to appreciate the mere existence of. Somehow it, and this fantastic doc, slipped by me.
Watching this jogged a lot of memories. During my teens, I worked at a disgusting, Hoarders-esque hole in the wall that was basically the video store equivalent of Shopsin’s. If we were in food service, we would’ve been shut down for mice and flies and dust bunniculas and worse. It was that bad in there. Which means it was technically worse than Shopsin’s. Which is a scary thought.
But this isn’t a shock doc or anything. It’s charming as shit. You’ll quickly look past your disgust for the surroundings because it’s just so much damn fun to hear Kenny Shopsin talk. He’s nuts, but he’s entertaining. If I had to be around him 24/7, I’d probably go nuts myself, but in small doses he’s a delight.
Monica & David (2009)
Directed by Alexandra Codina
This one really took me by surprise. A 68-minute doc on a husband and wife with Down’s Syndrome? Sounds like a cookie-cutter TLC special. But nope. This is some of the purest damn filmmaking you’ll see in a while.
There are shots peppered throughout that are some of the best god damn shitty-video-camera-plus-no-additional-light shots you’ll ever see in your life. Just look at the one I picked for the still. That shit would make Von Trier and Vinterberg eat their hat. Fuck a damn The Celebration.
And the dialogue is great too. This couple’s sweet nothings sound very effortlessly Mamet-y. More Mamet-y than anything Mamet has done in many years. Fuck a damn Phil Spector.
Another refreshing thing here is the attention to detail as far as depicting their daily lives. You really get a sense of their own personal day-to-day, which is a very hard thing to nail in editing. A lesser doc would’ve zipped past a lot of the quiet, simple moments that this one lingers on. Alexandra has an impeccable eye for finding the moments that are of the most importance to her subjects.
Do not miss this one. I mean yeah, watch all the other ones I mentioned too, but man, this one really kicked my ass. Beautiful fucking movie.