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20 Great Documentaries to Watch on Netflix Instant

April 14, 2011  |  7:00am
5. Super Size Me (2004)
Director: Morgan Spurlock

Super Size Me was a documentary that America wished was a mockumentary, but it was all too true. Few other filmmakers have paid such a heavy toll for their projects as Morgan Spurlock, the host who subjected himself to 30 days of only eating McDonald’s food for three meals a day, always opting for the Super Sized servings when asked. One month and 24 1/2 pounds later, Spurdock revealed some of fast food’s dirtiest secrets. Gage Henry

4. Jesus Camp (2006)
Director: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady

This hard-to-watch film follows three children who attend a charismatic Christian summer camp called Kids On Fire in North Dakota. The kids speak in tongues, believe global warming is a political conspiracy, and bless a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush. There’s no need for a narrator or editorial opinion—the footage says it all. It’s no surprise that the camp closed after the film’s release. Kate Kiefer

3. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010)
Director: Alex Gibney
Alex Gibney was a presence in 2010 with four major documentary features. Client 9 was his tightest, his most personal and his best. Gibney has great sympathy for Spitzer and great anger at the powers that brought him down, but his impatience at the weakness Spitzer exhibited in making that fall possible is evident. As with most of Gibney’s films, expect a sharp intellect, crisp photography, brilliant use of music and a strong viewpoint.—Michael Dunaway

2. Iraq in Fragments (2007)
Director: James Longley

Applying the full spectrum of cinematic technique to a nonfiction film, Longley made one of the most striking movies this year, an immersive view of life in Iraq; a record of opinions and faces from across the country, all captured at close range. Robert Davis

1. Man On Wire
Director: James Marsh

In 1974, high-wire walker Philippe Petit fulfilled a longstanding dream by sneaking into New York’s World Trade Center, stringing a cable between the tops of the two towers, and—with almost unfathomable guts—walking across it without a net. The man is clearly a nut, but he’s also a great storyteller with a heck of a story, and Man on Wire gives him a chance to tell it. Petit’s stunt was both an engineering challenge and a test of, well, a test of something that most of us don’t possess in this much quantity. Filmmaker James Marsh uses standard documentary techniques, combining new interviews with a satisfying pile of footage and photographs, but his film has the suspense of a caper movie. The title comes from the report written by a police officer who was more than a little uncertain about how to respond to the audacity on display. Robert Davis

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