The Best Documentaries on Hulu (Spring 2018)

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The Best Documentaries on Hulu (Spring 2018)

Hulu may not be known for its movie selection—let alone for its documentary library—but as Netflix continues to shed its non-original content, the TV streaming service and its similarly-minded peers (such as Amazon Prime, who shares a lot of these titles) reap the benefits of what Netflix loses. This means that Hulu features an idiosyncratic mix of recent critical darlings like Weiner, Whose Streets? and Step, some of the best documentaries of all time, and even Hulu originals, like Ron Howard’s Beatles documentary.

Not that we’re typically into shilling out praise for a streaming service owned by a faceless mega-corporation who continues to advertise with FOX News (and Sean Hannity in particular), but Hulu also has a lot of great stuff to offer in the wake of Netflix’s resilience when it comes to dumping half their library every month.

Here are the 50 best documentaries on Hulu right now:

the-kill-team.jpg 50. The Kill Team
Year: 2014
Director: Daniel Krauss
The Kill Team, winner of the Best Documentary Feature at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, focuses on one of the more incendiary stories of the Afghan War theater, in which members of an American unit were accused of deliberately targeting and killing innocent civilians, all for simply the thrill of the kill. Directed by Daniel Krauss, Oscar-nominated for his short The Death of Kevin Carter, the film unfolds chiefly through the perspective of Adam Winfield and his parents, Christopher and Emma. When, in early 2010, 21-year-old Winfield heard about and witnessed members of his platoon murdering innocent civilians—planting so-called “drop weapons” on the corpses to make it appear as though they were terrorists—he reached out to his father by instant message, unnerved by these heinous war crimes. Left on his own and with threats against his life by the commanding officer, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs (who was at the center of these actions), Winfield would find himself drawn into a moral abyss, eventually forced, in May of that year, to make a split-second decision. When the platoon’s actions were later discovered, Winfield was among five charged with premeditated murder in a military court. (Six more would be charged with participating in a cover-up.) The Kill Team is certainly bracing in its forthrightness. With extraordinary access to the key individuals involved in the case—including the candid confessions of two other members of the so-called “Kill Team,” Jeremy Warlock and Andrew Holmes—Krauss’ briskly paced film takes a thought-provoking look at one of the types of stories of war that is so frequently forgotten once the first wave of stateside civilian outrage dissipates after a couple of news cycles. —Brent Simon

birthright.jpg 49. Birthright: A War Story
Year: 2017
Director: Civia Tamarkin
Birthright: A War Story refocuses attention from what many people probably believe is the entirety, or at least the main component, of the “debate” over abortion legality: the rather philosophical one over the “personhood” of a fetus and at what point we transit from being a clump of cells to a person with legal rights. What Birthright clarifies deftly and chillingly is that the “personhood” conversation is the tip of a really terrifying iceberg. Criminalizing abortion leads to a loss of the medical knowledge of how to perform one safely, which can lead to maternal death. The strength of Birthright: A War Story is the spotlight it places on what’s really at stake in this exceedingly misguided debate. “A woman’s right to choose” means much, much more than the right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy. This documentary is distinctly polemical—every woman on camera is a victim of the system and every “pro-lifer” is a wingnut—and ultimately it would have strengthened the film’s message to balance things a bit more, but that doesn’t make its message any less important. Imagine having a miscarriage—which, if you have never had one, is a crushing experience—and being unable to see your doctor because it might prompt social workers or even police officers to start digging through your trash to see if there were any beer bottles in there and charging you with felony child endangerment if there were. Imagine dying of sepsis because your OBGYN would lose her license for treating you. Imagine missing life-threatening conditions because you can’t get blood drawn without the results being available to law enforcement. These things aren’t crazy imaginary scenarios. Don’t watch this documentary expecting an artistic masterpiece. Do watch it if you want to understand what we’re really talking about when we talk about overturning Roe v. Wade. —Amy Glynn

manny.jpg 48. Manny
Year: 2014
Directors: Leon Gast, Ryan Moore
Manny follows the life of famed Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao. It’s a beautiful story that plays like a feature film, with a role that Pacquiao himself would probably want to play. Coming from humble beginnings, we see the man rise to being the most famous face in the Philippines, but we also see an ego that extends beyond the world of boxing. His attempt at recording an album is embarrassing, as is his acting in several films. His foray into politics has been met with mixed results, and in 2014 he announced that he would be coach and player on a Filipino basketball team. Yet, the film shows Manny’s ability to laugh at his mistakes and smile through the difficulties. —Tim Basham

we-are-x.jpg 47. We Are X
Year: 2016
Director: Stephen Kijak
They’ve sold 30 million albums over three decades. Their fans faint and cry at the mere sight of their long spiked hair. Influencing countless bands and selling out stadiums around the world, including the Tokyo Dome 18 times (which seats over 55,000 people), X Japan is one of Japan’s most important bands of all time, and you probably haven’t heard of them if you live in the States. Formed in the ’80s by two troubled teens, the band built up its fan base as well as its member count by presenting a new look and sound to the Japanese public. Pioneers in the Visual Kei movement (a mixed look of glam, punk and heavy metal, with a dash of androgyny and a speed metal sound), the band inspired a movement, but their inability to break out in the United States has been a sore spot for the group. Finally, a chance for this to change arises with their first performance at Madison Square Garden. This is where Stephen Kijak’s documentary We Are X starts, but where it goes? Chronicling the band’s meager beginnings to their domination of the Japanese market, the story is anything but straightforward. Kijak weaves multiple narratives and unexpected twists together beautifully, even subtly, allowing the viewer to see the world of X Japan through the eyes of its front man, Yoshiki. This is all real, and it gets weird. —Joshua Wilmott

grim-sleeper.jpg 46. Tales of the Grim Sleeper
Year: 2014
Director: Nick Broomfield
Filmmaker Nick Broomfield should have had plenty of source material to work with here, as the “Grim Sleeper” did his thing for a quarter century before finally being apprehended. But because his victims were doing their thing too—trying to feed their bodies, and often their addictions, by walking the streets of South Central LA—few people noticed or cared when they disappeared. There was no interest from the media at the time, and not much more from law enforcement. Broomfield’s film, made for HBO, says as much about society’s dehumanization of these women as it does about the inhuman acts perpetrated against them. —Allison Gorman

whitey.jpg 45. Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger
Year: 2014
Director: Joe Berlinger
Acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper and Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills) turns his focus on the trial of the infamous Boston mobster. Bulger was a fugitive for 16 years, with 12 of those years on the FBI’s Most Wanted List before finally being nabbed in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011. We hear directly from the former crime boss of the Winter Hill gang, who contends he was never an FBI informant, contradicting the official record. Boston critics weighed in that, pleased to have such access to his subject, Berlinger never really challenges Bulger on his claims. But it’s still a fascinating portrait of one of the most colorful and memorable criminals in American history. The Hollywood counterpart, Black Mass, starred a nearly unrecognizable Johnny Depp as the ruthless mobster. —Sharon Knolle

the-summit.jpg 44. The Summit
Year: 2013
Director: Nick Ryan
K2 might be overshadowed—in terms of height and the publicity it receives—by Everest, but many consider it an even bigger challenge. Traffic jams on the way to the summit can and do occur, and the results can range from frustratingly tedious to deadly. In 2008, a series of events unfolded on the mountain resulting in 11 deaths, one of the worst mountaineering disasters in recent history. Nick Ryan’s documentary, The Summit, attempts to dissect and explain what happened in painstaking detail through interviews with survivors, vividly shot recreations, and chilling footage from climbers who were on the mountain at the time. The descent is often the most dangerous part of any climb, and this proved especially true over a few days in August 2008. Twenty-two climbers set out for K2’s peak from Camp IV (at about 8,000 meters) in perfect conditions, but almost immediately a problem arose when a passage became clogged with people moving too slowly. This occurred in the “death zone,” the area on a mountain above 26,000 feet where the lack of oxygen can easily lead to disorientation, and where fatalities are most common. Ryan seamlessly blends together recreations shot in Switzerland with actual footage from the mountain, and intersperses fascinating and, at times, heart-wrenching interviews. Despite all of the tragedy and death that occurred on that dark August night in the death zone, there are moments when the viewer can get caught up in what drives someone to conquer a mountain like K2. When the image of the perfectly pointed peak shadowing the horizon across the Pakistani border into China appears on screen, shot on a climber’s video camera from the summit, one can understand, to at least some extent, what sends someone up the mountain. And if you enjoy mountain-climbing drama, Kevin McDonald’s Touching the Void is also worth watching on Netflix.Jonah Flicker

seymour-intro.jpg 43. Seymour: An Introduction
You could be excused for assuming that the documentary Seymour: An Introduction was just a vanity project for director Ethan Hawke, who has the means and the name to engage in such thing. But if you assumed that, you’d be missing quite a powerful film. Hawke first met composer, pianist and piano teacher Seymour Bernstein at a dinner party, and was immediately taken with him, as viewers will be, as well. As he began spending more time with the octogenarian, he became more and more taken not only with his life story, but also with his views of art and of life well lived. Seymour: An Introduction turns out to be part biopic, part artistic musing and part late-night “meaning of life” discussion, and Hawke shows a deft touch in balancing the three. He takes a remarkable individual who’s influenced his life and thinking, and shares him with the rest of us. It’s a generous—and a moving—piece of filmmaking. —Michael Dunaway

the-cove.jpg 42. The Cove
Year: 2009
Director: Louie Psihoyos
With all the immediacy and excitement of the best action movies, The Cove follows along as animal rights activists undertake a covert mission to save dolphins being captured and abused in the seaside town of Taiji, Japan. The documentary doesn’t just uncover the inhumane treatment of highly intelligent mammals, but it also reveals the real dangers faced by activists around the globe trying to shine a light on institutionalized injustice. Directed by Louie Psihoyos, The Cove won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Documentary. —Allison Gorman

where-to-invade.jpg 41. Where To Invade Next
Year: 2016
Director: Michael Moore
Where To Invade Next works like a Frankenstein’s Monster of Michael Moore’s favorite themes, making it a nice, if redundant, stroll down memory lane. As he travels from country to country with the express purpose of stealing their “best parts,” familiar issues like universal healthcare and affordable education become Exhibits A through Z about how to make America a better place. Released at a time when America, steeped in toxic cynicism, is in a stranglehold with race, violence and poverty, Where To Invade Next still retains its relevance even when it’s actively slight—or just plain bad. Filled with winking, easy jokes which skirt racist stereotypes and beset by a fluffy glibness, the film often hobbles itself with its own intentions instead of letting the undeniably powerful subtext breathe. Still, as compared to previous Moore entries: Change doesn’t seem quite so impossible. In the last decade, America has made small but necessary strides in LGBT rights, gun control, mental illness awareness and the fundamental dignity of human beings. Who’s to say we can’t keep going? —Michael Snydel

do-i-sound-gay.jpg 40. Do I Sound Gay?
Year: 2014
Director: David Thorpe
“That’s so gay” has become a rather colloquial—albeit still offensive—phrase in American culture. But outside of its discriminatory undertones lies the crux of an interesting debate: Are there actual, distinguishable gay traits? That question drives David Thorpe’s 2014 documentary, Do I Sound Gay? Starting with the premise of the “gay voice,” or a specific tonal inflection commonly associated with people in the gay community, Thorpe explores the ways nature versus nurture versus stereotype helps form the gay identity. The writer-director tackles how things like misogyny, masculinity and bullying result in internalized homophobia and code-switching, which then impact how gay men present themselves. The biographical-meets-analytical series of conversations allows its subjects and viewers the chance to explore both the more organic and culturally constructed perceptions of what it means to be gay. Thorpe approaches a rather heady conversation with intent, but also cleverness and ease, making Do I Sound Gay? an engaging look at where the literal and metaphorical gay voice comes from. —Abbey White

the-challenge.jpg 39. The Challenge
Year: 2017
Director: Yuri Ancarani
The Challenge lives up to its title in more ways than one. Literally, Yuri Ancarani’s documentary is about a falcon tournament held in a desert in Qatar, in which Qatari sheikhs gather to participate in hunting competitions and bird auctions. But on an aesthetic level, Ancarani issues a challenge of his own: The Challenge eschews a standard informational talking-heads style in favor of a fly-on-the-wall approach, at times recalling Frederick Wiseman in his deliberate forsaking of context. Only, Ancarani’s film feels nothing like those of Wiseman. Instead, with its impeccably framed wide compositions, immersive long takes, and a cross-cutting narrative style that touches on the work of Matthew Barney—or, in a considerably more mainstream vein, Christopher Nolan—The Challenge feels like avant-garde art more than anything else. Ancarani, an Italian filmmaker and video artist, may be an unapologetic aesthete in his gaze, but in The Challenge he rarely allows visual beauty to overwhelm genuine anthropological fascination. Though the film isn’t exactly chock full of dialogue, the bits of conversation we do see and hear demonstrate, among other things, the reverence with which these upper-crust Arabs regard falcons and falconry. The Challenge is a genuine pleasure just to simply sit back and watch. The cinematography, which Ancarani did with Luca Nervegna and Jonathan Ricquebourg, frequently takes the breath away with its majestic desert landscapes, as does the lush (if perhaps a tad over-assertive) orchestral score by Lorenzo Senni and Francesco Fantini—used sparingly, but packing an indubitable punch when it pops up on the soundtrack, by turns excitable and contemplative. The Challenge’s biggest coup, though, comes with the literal bird’s eye view footage it includes. It’s an enthralling way to end a consistently stimulating film, keeping us aloft before, as the falcon finally catches its prey, sending us back down to earth. —Kenji Fujishima

american-teen.jpg 38. American Teen
Year: 2008
Director: Nanette Burstein
A teen’s fate changes from minute to minute, text message to text message, and nothing illustrates this fast and fickle phenomenon better than the shifting skin conditions of a nerd: One minute a veritable lunar landscape, the next a blessedly and surprisingly clear expanse, if a little shiny. You’re cool; then you’re not. You’re hopelessly in love; then you’re not. You’re feuding with a friend; then you’re not. You’re filled with inconsolable rage and a need for revenge; then a day later you’re ready to forgive yourself or someone else. Documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein skillfully and artfully captures this speedy and perpetual shifting of fortunes for four archetypal teenagers—the nerd, the jock, the popular girl and the artsy outsider—in American Teen, a documentary that is at once MTV slick and earnestly warm. Though the territory tread here is not new, Burstein manages some special feats: Her cameras are somehow present for these kids’ most raw and defining moments, and she manages to very quickly make us care for every character, no matter how flawed, self-absorbed or downright mean. The kids, who at first seemed so aware of the cameras, and maybe even emboldened by them, soon appeared to forget all about them—a skill perhaps acquired by a generation raised on reality television and somehow accustomed, or welcoming, to cameras in their faces. American Teen focuses on a Breakfast Club-like assortment of 17-year-olds at a high school in central Indiana: Colin, the basketball player who’ll end up in the Army if he doesn’t get a sports scholarship; Hannah, the loveable art-geek who pulls a Pretty in Pink and dates a popular boy; Megan, the popular girl whose mean streak stems from a family tragedy; and Jake, the band nerd who is often invisible at school but occasionally gets the girl. Missing is diversity of race, and—more surprisingly—the somewhat newer crop of teenage archetypes: the bulimic, the self-cutter, the super-slut, the Ritalin addict, the potential school shooter. But American Teen is stronger without calamitous characters, whose traumas might’ve overpowered the film, desensitizing the audience and leaving little room for the important nuances of love, conformity, friendship, heartbreak and yearning. That—plus the cartoon-animated dreams and nightmares of these teens—makes the film resonate. —Christine Van Dusen

place-table.jpg 37. A Place at the Table
Year: 2013
Directors: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush
The dark side to all those choices we face at an American supermarket and why a nation should be ashamed is featured in the poverty documentary A Place at the Table. Directed by Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson, A Place at the Table opens brilliantly, quickly tackling possible stereotypes by featuring Rosie, a white fifth grader in Colorado who has to depend on charity from friends and neighbors to have enough to eat. Not only does she have to deal with a growling tummy, but she has to deal with failing grades caused by that growling tummy. Her teacher, herself a part of the hunger cycle in the past, tries to help and has some success. The problem is we learn there’s millions of Rosies out there. How many? Try 1 in 4 American children. It turns out that hunger in the U.S. doesn’t stop with children, although they are a significant part of the nearly 50 million who are undernourished or don’t know where their next meal comes from. A Place at the Table doesn’t just show a collection of families struggling with hunger; it also shows how they band together with others to spur action from politicians. However, as with most issues, politicians have the uncanny ability to turn victory into defeat. The film doesn’t go too deep into the government’s perpetually failed policies regarding the agribusiness machine. (For that, check out Food Inc.) Nevertheless, A Place at the Table does educate the audience on how food can be in short supply in a land of record obesity, and on the harm that scarcity causes to this and future generations. —Billy Tatum

rsz_last_days.jpg 36. Last Days Here
Year: 2011
Directors: Don Argott and Demian Fenton
During the mid-1970s, a doom metal band influenced by the likes of Black Sabbath emerged onto the scene. Although the group never achieved commercial success, their music has been influential to artists such as Hank Williams III and Phil Anselmo, in addition to maintaining an underground fan base. Last Days Here follows the frontman of the metal band Pentagram, Bobby Liebling, and his struggle to shake drugs and finally get his due respect. Leibling’s first appearance in the doc serves as unsettling proof that you can survive as a drug addict, but you won’t be doing anything that resembles living. The singer’s road to recovery is certainly a bumpy ride, but throughout the documentary, viewers can see the fire of redemption shine in Liebling’s eyes. He may have missed his initial break in the ’70s, but second chances are real. And it’s certainly impressive what can be accomplished when one has the power of rock ‘n’ roll on their side. —Shawn Christ

diana-vreeland.jpg 35. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
Year: 2006
Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland
For someone who was the editor-in-chief of Vogue for nearly a decade, it’s amazing how well Diana (dee-yahhh-na) Vreeland lived out the philosophy that the best things in life are free. In Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, a dazzling fashion documentary directed and produced by her granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Diana’s legacy is shown to have more to do with imagination, personality and a bit of lunacy than with anything sold on her pages. Lisa was prepared to discover a different side to Diana other than her eccentricity and hyperbolically glamorous fashion spreads (think models in couture gowns scaling the sides of Russian cathedrals). But what she didn’t expect was how open Diana was to other people and ideas from low culture as well as high. In a flurry of nearly 30 interviews laced throughout the film, fashion bigwigs like Manolo Blahnik and Diane Von Furstenberg, as well as former employees and family members who knew her on a more quotidian level, recount her inordinate amount of creative vision and the power she had to inspire others. The film hops, skips and jumps through blips in Diana’s childhood and highlights of her career, but Lisa has a knack for tying things together. Diana’s role in creating the fashions of the ’60s with the likes of Twiggy, Lauren Hutton and blue jeans reflects her love for the freedom of the ’20s, when she used to spend nights dancing in Harlem and gallivanting through Paris. It can be hard to keep up at points—not with the plot, but with the amount of inspiration that Diana can still strew over an audience. The film is as much a tribute as a documentary. The Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” plays through the opening credits. In hindsight, the choice a pretty appropriate for someone whose life arched over the fashion industry: a colorful constant that never failed to amaze. —Gabrielle Lipton

cocaine-cowboys.jpg 34. Cocaine Cowboys
Year: 2006
Director: Billy Corben
Cocaine Cowboys is a stimulating head rush of a documentary, diagramming the surreal and vicious history behind Miami’s notorious drug wars during the ’70s and ’80s. Director Billy Corben constructs a hyperactive slideshow of neon glitz and harrowing interview footage, packing grainy, hand-held police video around direct accounts of some of the most infamous movers behind the trafficking. Corben focuses on three main characters in the film; playboy distributor Jon Pernell Roberts, crafty smuggler Mickey Munday and remorseless hit man Jorge “Rivi” Ayala. The first two deliver rags-to-riches tales of their makeshift entrepreneurship as they pioneer cocaine deliveries from Columbia to U.S. shores. The real star, though, is Ayala, who nonchalantly recounts his contract-killing spree with the affable demeanor of a family member reminiscing at the dinner table. The footage moves disturbingly fast for a nonfiction film, injecting the audience into the tumultuous era’s strung-out decadence and anxiety with an authenticity the History Channel rarely achieves. —Sean Edgar

dirty-wars.jpg 33. Dirty Wars
Year: 2013
Director: Richard Rowley
With a story that’s every bit as riveting as an episode of Homeland, director Richard Rowley’s cameras follow war journalist Jeremy Scahill in his pursuit of the truth about an American special forces/anti-terrorist military group apparently performing raids that are illegal, not to mention immoral, in foreign countries. Even though he serves as narrator, Scahill is more than an observer as he deals with veiled threats to his safety while he continues to appear on broadcast news networks and in front of investigating panels. It’s an incredibly revealing, and terrifying, story of our military’s poisonous underbelly—a story that most of America knows nothing about. —Tim Basham

leonard-cohen-im-your-man.jpg 32. Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man
Year: 2005
Director: Liam Lunson
Even in his final years, Leonard Cohen drew a wider range of fans than a grey-haired troubadour in patent-leather shoes might rightly have expected to, and Lian Lunson’s documentary provides ample reasons why. Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man is a loving tribute, both a concert film shot in Sydney and a series of interviews with Cohen himself. Cohen’s life may be too eventful to summarize with brief anecdotes or burnish with fawning praise, but if someone’s going to wax poetic about him, it may as well be the articulate, sincere musicians in this film. Instead of mapping the many turns of Cohen’s journey, Lunson gives us his songs, reinterpreted in front of an audience by his famous fans like Rufus Wainwright and Nick Cave and beautifully recorded with Cohen’s poetry out front. The self-indulgent performances typical of a tribute are few, trounced by a number of knockout renditions from artists who both honor the songs and make them their own. Wainwright performs three songs. When he sings “Everybody Knows,” the fan who wishes for a more complete look at Cohen’s life may have to admit that the journey’s essence is in the music. The movie closes with the one number sung by the reclusive songwriter himself. It’s not live, and a lip-synched performance done for the cameras is an odd finale for a concert film, but it’s still a kick to see Cohen singing “Tower of Song” with U2 as his backup. Lunson aptly positions the band on a tiny stage with a glittering mylar background, like they’re in somebody’s basement lounge, a setting as classy, poetic and funny as the man himself. —Robert Davis

page-one.jpg 31. Page One: Inside the New York Times
Year: 2011
Director: Andrew Rossi
The always entertaining New York Times reporter David Carr could easily have been the focus of the entire documentary about the process of putting the Grey Lady’s news pages together, but director Andrew Rossi smartly uses Carr as an appropriate voice of experience, albeit an unabashed defender of the paper. The grizzled, ex-drug-addict journalist who died in 2015 was a film editor’s dream as he spoke in sharp, insightful and seemingly effortless sound bites. “If you work for the media long enough,” says Carr, “eventually you’ll type yourself back to your own doorstep.” —Tim Basham

tabloid.jpg 30. Tabloid
Year: 2010
Director: Errol Morris 
Since his breakthrough feature, 1988’s The Thin Blue Line, every one of Errol Morris’ features has essentially been about searching for the truth. It’s been a wide-ranging exploration, one that’s been equally fruitful delving into the mysteries of the universe and displacing common beliefs about Vietnam. With Tabloid, Morris continues probing into this theme, but here he’s found a case in which everyone is lying and the truth itself may be unobtainable—which is likely why its story fascinated him so much. —Sean Gandert

Enron.jpg 29. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Year: 2005
Director: Alex Gibney
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

ai-weiwei-never.jpg 28. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Director: Alison Klayman
Year: 2012
Alison Klayman’s loving portrait of China’s dissident artist Ai Weiwei may strike some as hagiographic—but how can it not be? This is a man who would be a major artist no matter what his national origin. Yet both his art and his story are made infinitely more fascinating by the incredible courage and steadfastness he shows in openly defying and mocking one of the most evil regimes on Earth. He’s smarter than them; he’s more talented than them; he’s more charismatic and popular. But of course: They have the guns. That the fight seems evenly matched may be the greatest tribute of all. —Michael Dunaway

no-place-on-earth.jpg 27. No Place on Earth
Year: 2013
Director: Janet Tobias
In 1993, American cave enthusiast Chris Nicola traveled to Western Ukraine for two purposes—to learn more about his ancestral roots and to explore the Gypsum Giant cave system that is home to some of the world’s largest horizontal caverns. When Nicola stumbled onto some miscellaneous artifacts—a key, a comb, a woman’s shoe—he also stumbled onto a much shrouded and forgotten piece of World War II history. In No Place on Earth, director Janet Tobias explores this profound discovery, shedding light on a incredible story of endurance. In 1942, several Jewish families fled their homes near the Nazi-occupied town of Bilche Zolote, seeking shelter in nearby Verteba Cave. Upon being discovered by the Germans, several members of the subterranean community were captured and executed. Those who evaded detection or escaped capture quickly found a new home in Priest’s Grotto, a larger, more remote cave further from town. Thirty-eight people descended into Priest’s Grotto, staying in hiding for a total of 511 days between the two caves. Some of the exiles stayed underground for 344 consecutive days, marking the longest known cave habitation in recorded history. Tobias’ engrossing picture moves along much more quickly than a chronicle of a year-and-a-half underground in hiding seems it should. Once we move past rugged New Yawker Chris Nicola’s account of his discovery and into the reenactment of the Jewish community’s descent and time underground, the film opens up into a beautifully portrayed narrative of survival. Thanks to some stunning photography and the vivid memories of our intrepid narrators, No Place on Earth transports us deep down into the earth—illuminating an important shred of living history. —Cameron McAllister

thunder-soul.jpg 26. Thunder Soul
Year: 2010
Director: Mark Landsman
During the early ’70s, there was a group in Houston that was acclaimed by some as the greatest funk band in the world. Amazingly enough, it was made up of high-school students, the Kashmere High School Stage Band. After 35 years, alumni return to give legendary band director Conrad “Prof” Johnson one more concert as he nears the end of his life. Mr. Holland’s Opus meets The Commitments, but real. —Michael Dunaway

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