This post is updated monthly. Updated for June HBO's most consistently excellent quality might be its deep roster of documentaries.
At any given moment HBO has dozens of high-quality documentaries available for streaming. It was certainly a tall task as almost every documentary by default seems excellent at first. How could anything that's presenting further context on an important or interesting real life story be anything but fascinating? Still, here are the absolute must-watches for when you need a dose of truth and discomfort. Home from Iraq In addition to being a brilliant actor, Tony Soprano actor James Gandolfini "actor" somehow doesn't feel like a strong enough term for the miracle of creation that Gandolfini pulls off in The Sopranos also felt strongly about his causes.
One of them was supporting American military veterans. Alive Day Memories is a rather atypical documentary as it features quite a bit of Gandolfini in addition to its subjects. But the passion and realness that Gandolfini brings to his conversations with Iraq War amputees and other injured veterans still makes for a remarkable, thoughtful viewing experience.
The first is a stiff television presence who couldn't make weekly sports show Any Given Wednesday work. The second is an absolutely genius-level eye for talent and strong sense of what documentaries the world is ready to receive. With Andre the Giant, Simmons' takes his 30 for 30 producing experience from ESPN and taps Jason Hehir to direct the fascinating real-life story of a man so large that the only realistic profession for him was "world-famous" wrestler. Writer Playwright Arthur Miller is one of the most important Americans ever.
And as one would respect from a talent so large and singular - the man was pretty fascinating too. Writer, director Rebecca Miller gets unprecedented access to the writer who died in This is rather unsurprising as Rebecca Miller is Miller's daughter.
The documentary is no less compromising or fascinating. It features one-on-one interviews with the man himself and details his life struggles from his many marriages to his fight against McCarthyism. Atomic Homefront Nuclear energy could very well be the future. Before it is, however, we're going to want to clean up the nuclear past.
Rebecca Cammisa's documentary examines a major American city, St. Louis, and its past as a nuclear processing site and eventual dumping ground during the Manhattan project. Atomic Homefront examines the consequences of St. Louis' nuclear legacy and what can be done to fix it.
As best it can. Becoming Mike Nichols isn't perfect. One might argue its even a bit too focused. Still, its subject just happens to be perfect.
Nichols, himself, appears in the doc shortly before his death in as he casually chats with his close friend Jack O'Brien. Becoming Mike Nichols is the Graduate director's final filmed appearance and it's a worthwhile, intimate one. Beware the Slenderman Beware the Slenderman is among the most recent and buzzworthy documentaries on our list. It's also quite great. It's the story of two young girls who attempt to murder their friend as a sacrifice to fictional internet boogeyman Slenderman.
While the marketing materials are all too happy to play up the spooky story angle and I thank them for all the fascinating art of Slenderman it produced the documentary is thankfully more level-headed. It's not just about scary stories or fear of new technology but rather an exploration of the confusions of youth. Cries from Syria Documentary footage of war and human suffering will never not be a vital part of journalism and filmmaking for as long as there is war and human suffering.
Hopefully this footage and those documentaries will all be as simultaneously uncompromising and respectful as Cries from Syria. Cries from Syria traces the beginning, middle and It's not so much a documentary as it is a desperate plea for help from an entire country of suffering people. That sounds like a tough watch and it is but it's still absolutely worth your time. The Last Five Years, that showmanship extended to signing off on a documentary about the last years of his life.
The documentary comes from Francis Whately who had previously directed David Bowie: Five Years, which covered the Thin White Duke's cultural peak in the late '70s and early '80s. The Diplomat How awkward must it be to have your son approach you and ask to make a documentary about your life? Thankfully for all of us, U. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said yes when his son David did just that. Holbrooke the younger does an excellent job of capturing his dad's wildly fascinating life story.
The Diplomat covers almost the entirety of Holbrooke's career as a friendly, yet resolute face the United States presented to the world for almost six decades. Holbrooke was a masterful ambassador, military officer and all-around diplomatic master. Getting to see his story from the perspective of his son is fascinating and poignant. Still, we must acknowledge some bias here both on the part of documentarians and ourselves.
Both documentarians and the stewards of this site just happen to gravitate to stories about journalists and other artists.
Artists and journalists are both dogged pursuers of truth - a topic documentaries should know a bit about. In this instance the artist in question is the irreplaceable Nora Ephron. Everything is Copy comes from Ephron's son, journalist Jacob Bernstein and it's a lovingly-crafted tribute to his mother.
Bernstein, secures interviews with many important people to his mother and they talk about the many factors that helped Ephron become one of the true voices of her generation. The Fence Here's another interesting thing about documentaries. You write about them for long enough and you eventually discover that most of them are almost always relevant. Critics and audiences love to point out that art, both scripted and non-fiction, often reflects the issues of today.
The reason for that sadly seems to be: The Fence is a documentary from about how the U. It's a documentary that examines the controversy surrounding the U. This was an incredibly powerful and well-known story and Ghosts of Abu Ghraib joins the pantheon of documentaries that offer the definitive depiction and interpretation of a controversial real-world event. Scientology Oh yes, you remember this one. Scientology is about as close to a definitive documentary about all the various mysteries and craziness of Scientology that we're going to get.
Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief. The Would-Be Madam of Crystal If you judged what this documentary was about based on photos alone, you would assume it's just a story about a woman and her many lovely parrots. Which would be great as the official Den of Geek position on birds is that they are good and nice. Still, the real subject of Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madam of Crystal is just as fascinating.
Fleiss spent years as a successful operator of an underground brothel to the stores before it became not-so-underground and she went to prison.
This documentary follows Fleiss' struggles to overcome her drug addiction and get back to work mastering the world's oldest profession. Cape Cod, USA is particularly so. It isn't preachy or saccharine.
It's just uncompromising in its honest depiction of the horrors of opioid addiction. This doc predates the U. The James Foley Story Jim: The James Foley Story keeps up two running traditions on our documentaries list. One, it's about a journalist. Two, it's directed by someone close to the subject - in this case, the subject's childhood friend.
In this case, however, the subject matter at hand couldn't be more tragic. James Foley was an accomplished, respected photojournalist who captured many indelible photos during wars and civil conflicts throughout the Middle East.
The James Foley Story focuses on the successful, vibrant life of its subject rather than his ghoulish, heartbreaking end. King in the Wilderness We particularly we self-assured whitefolk like to think we know Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We know what he stood for and we know what he accomplished. He's one of our few truly legendary American icons. But he was also a human being.
And he lived not too long ago. There are hours and hours of tape of film of the man speaking his truth. King in the Wilderness presents us with exactly that: Director Peter Kunhardt takes the viewer of a journey of Dr. King's entire life from childhood to his time as a conflicted leader to his tragic final days in Memphis. It's an American tragedy that's a must-watch. Life According to Sam Meet year-old Sam. Sam also has progeria, a rare genetic disorder in which the effects and symptoms of aging begin at an early age.
Life According to Sam is a supremely uplifting and bittersweet documentary. Rarely do we get docs that celebrate the lives of "normal" people.