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20 Great Documentaries to Watch on Netflix Instant

April 14, 2011  |  7:00am
10. Restrepo (2010)
Directors: Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
CNN has called the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan the deadliest place on earth, and that’s where filmmakers spent time embedded with a platoon of U.S. soldiers during heavy combat. Dealing with at least four fire fights per day instills a close comradery among the troops that is especially evident when one of them is killed. The film’s title comes from a fallen comrade.—Tim Basham

9. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
Director: Alex Gibney
Starring: Andrew Fastow, Jeffrey Skilling, Kenneth Lay, Peter Coyote, Gray Davis
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

In a cautionary tale of corporate greed, negligence and diffusion of responsibility, the leaders of Enron defrauded employees and investors out of millions, encouraging others to stay aboard a sinking ship while they were quietly bailing themselves out. Among the highlights of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is Alex Gibney’s montage that cross-cuts footage of Stanley Milgram’s 1961 social experiment with images of the chaos caused by Enron in the 2000 California energy crisis, narrated by phone calls between ruthlessly jovial Enron traders, all set to Los Straightjackets’ “California Sun.” The unexpected wit and verve with which this documentary tells its infuriating tale is what sets it apart. Emily Riemer

8. The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (2010)
Director: Julien Nitzberg
You can have Gene Simmons, the Palins and the Kardashians. I’ll take the Whites of Boone County, West Virginia for pure reality entertainment. Produced by the “Jackass” MTV folks, the film takes a close look at these modern day hillbillies with a bent for crime. They make the Gotti mob look like the Osmonds. Openly using and selling drugs, milking the government entitlement system and, maybe worst of all, giving their kids names like Cheyan and Tylor. In one scene Derek White demonstrates the “Boone County mating call” by shaking a bottle of illegal drugs and shouting, “Come and get it, baby.” Hank Williams III contributes some tunes to the movie with “Punch Fight Fuck!” being the most appropriate theme song.—Tim Basham

7. God Grew Tired of Us (2007)
Director: Christopher Quinn

This stirring documentary follows the trials faced by the Lost Boys of Sudan, both before and after their integration into American society. While their plight is dark, the film is ultimately an uplifting example of the adversity the human soul can face while still maintaining hope. “One of the things people come away with from the film,” director Quinn said to Paste in 2006, “something I didn’t really see as I was filming—was the critique on America. It’s easy to see where the excess is. The Lost Boys came here and were evaluating everything. John [Bul Dau] is hoping to see a communal celebration at Christmas, but it’s all quantifiable materialism.”—Josh Jackson

6. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
Director: Banksy
When renowned graffiti artist Banksy took the camera away from the man shooting his biopic and decided that the subject would become the documentarian (and the documentarian, the subject), the zaniest doc in years was born. Was it Banksy’s own attention and the pressure of the film that motivated Mr. Brainwash to become an international sensation in his own right, with his inaugural show in Los Angeles becoming the largest and most profitable in street-art history? Or was the artist born, not made? Or is his whole career just part of the whole huckster atmosphere of the film? Banksy’s not saying. But it’s certainly a wild ride to watch.—Michael Dunaway

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