I’m someone who’ll go to Netflix before anything else for entertainment. I know that’s not a unique characteristic, but it’s really true. As I write this I have the latest series of Grace and Frankie on in the background, and as I edited the rest of the paper I had new arrival to the service Accepted (2006, Justin Long, Jonah Hill et al) on. While I will never stop being frustrated at an old favourite disappearing from streaming, Netflix simply can’t be beat. And while original series and random teen comedies are nice, it’s the realm of documentaries where the app really shines. Here are my top documentaries you can watch right the heck now on Irish/UK Netflix.
Icarus is an obvious starting point for this list. The Netflix original was recently nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Feature), and honestly the Oscar nod was well-deserved. Icarus follows amateur cyclist Bryan Fogel as he tries to see if using P.E.Ds (performance enhancing drugs) could really make a (admittedly seasoned) amateur cyclist like him move like the pros. The race he’s using for this experiment does test its athletes, so he enlists the help of professional testers to try dodge the WADA tests from catching him out. As the film goes on it’s clear that neither Bryan nor his experiment are the most interesting things in the film – the strange Russian scientist helping him escape discovery is. Another wonderful Netflix Original worth watching.
If you ask anybody aged 18-24 to name a documentarian, I’d bet big money that they’ll name one of two people: David Attenborough and Louis Theroux. The former because of his huge role in educational & nature films throughout the last decades, and the latter, arguably, due to his work’s presence on Netflix (as well as a few meme-y Twitter accounts). Theroux is my go-to person when I need to get something done, or just to chill out with something likely weird but fascinating. His Weird Weekend series is a good place, but his visits with the Westboro Baptist Church and the WCW Powerplant top my recommendations. His best shows sadly seem to not be on Netflix quite yet, as his interview with Jimmy Saville and not-quite interview with Michael Jackson prove to be the most interesting shows in retrospect.
Lastly, and this may be a bit of an underrated pick in my opinion, is my favourite Netflix documentary. Honestly, if this disappears sometime soon I may be lost. Best of Enemies covers the debates between ‘liberal’ author Gore Vidal and conservative editor William F. Buckley during the 1968 Presidential campaign. These televised debates were essentially the prototype for political punditry we can’t seem to escape these days. In addition to this, the individuals involved, who I didn’t really know before watching it (Buckley was an unknown to me, and I only knew of Vidal’s involvement in cult-classic Caligula), are so fascinating, and how the film tells both their life stories, both of their sides of the story, is just exquisite. It’s almost criminal how not talked about this film is. A must watch if you haven’t already- hell, it’s a must watch even if you have.