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20 Great Documentaries to Watch on Netflix Instant

April 14, 2011  |  7:00am

Netflix Instant doesn’t always have the latest movies, but it’s great when you’re in the mood for something less blockbustery, like a documentary. Many of the selections below made our Best of the Decade and Best of 2010 lists.

20. Food, Inc. (2009)
Director: Robert Kenner

Instead of filling his film with scary, hard-hitting footage, Kenner made a well-reasoned documentary that politely pushes you towards its viewpoint. This lack of radicalism has made the film one of the most effective propellers for expanding the farm-to-table movement.

19. William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (2010)
Directors: Emily and Sarah Kunstler
“Growing up it seemed like my father was at the center of everything important that ever happened.” If half the work of the documentary is finding a great opening line, Kunstler’s two daughters hit a home run in their debut feature. Their famous father was, in fact, at the center of many of the most famous events of the ‘60s: He marched with Martin Luther King and defended civil rights leaders, represented the Chicago Seven and negotiated on behalf of the prisoners in Attica and the Native Americans at Wounded Knee. But the girls’ perspective on him is tempered by reality, as later in his life he defended murderers, rapists, terrorists—anyone, it seemed, that would shock and offend. Their complicated view of him drives a fascinating portrait of a fascinating man.—Michael Dunaway

18. Ken Burns: Baseball (1994)
Director: Ken Burns

Burns’ documentaries on the Civil War, the Brooklyn Bridge, the National Parks, the West, the Shakers, Congress, Huey Long, Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, Mark Twain, Frank Lloyd Wright, radio and the Statue of Liberty are also available on Netflix Instant, but it’s April. Time for 22 hours of baseball history, plus his follow-up The Tenth Inning. —Josh Jackson

17. The Art of the Steal (2010)
Director: Don Argott
In the early 20th century, Albert Barnes rose from his blue-collar beginnings to considerable wealth, assembling what would become the most impressive collection of post-impressionist art in the world (181 Renoirs, 59 Matisses), currently valued at over $25 billion. He housed it all in an impeccably civilized foundation on private property outside the city of Philadelphia as an act of defiance against his lifelong enemies, the Philadelphia art establishment and city government. Then, as a final middle finger to those forces, he clearly demanded in his will that the collection never be sold, loaned or moved, and specifically never to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. You can guess from the title what happened next. An infuriating look at a government’s brazen attempt to steal a priceless collection from a foundation that Matisse called “the only sane place to see art in America.”—Michael Dunaway

16.Louder Than A Bomb (2010)
Directors: Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel
It’s impossible to be unmoved by these school kids, some from badly broken homes, who eloquently reveal their inner emotions on stage with “poetry slam”. The spoken-word competition climaxes with the largest high-school slam in the world, with competitors from clubs around the country. It’s a get-up-and-clap kind of movie.—Tim Basham

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