‘Life Itself’ and ‘What Now? Remind Me’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

Most people don’t get to see documentaries until they arrive on a home video platform of some kind, whether it’s DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, iTunes, TV, Netflix streaming, etc. Join us every Tuesday for a look at what documentaries and reality programming is recommended by myself and other contributors to the site. As always, if you know of something we missed or should be aware of, drop us an email or a note down below.

Here are our ordered picks for December 30, 2014:

1. Life Itself

[Premieres on CNN on Sunday, January 4th] — Steve James’s film of and about Roger Ebert is my #1 documentary of the year, as you can see on our posting of our annual poll results (on which it’s #3), and this site’s #7 best doc of the year. Here’s part of what I wrote on that latter list: “As a film it’s a masterpiece of biographical adaptation (it’s based on Ebert’s memoir of the same name) and documentary portraiture […] a work that aligns the making of a film about a life to reviewing a movie (or other artform) in a fair and balanced way, enough that a documentary subject or scrutinized artist (such as Martin Scorsese, who executive produced and appears in the film) respects the product even when it’s negative. Above the meta themes, though, is also the most emotional story on film this year. Never mind your subjective feelings about Ebert, you can’t not be choked up about his death by the end, for the sake of the heartbreak it causes his loved ones on screen, particularly his wife, Chaz Ebert.” (★★★★★)

Also available on iTunes and VOD.

2. What Now? Remind Me

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — This is Daniel Walber’s #1 doc of the year. Here’s what he wrote for another Home Picks last month:“Much has been made of Joaquim Pinto’s What Now? Remind Me as an all-encompassing documentary about life as it is lived by one man, and to a large extent that’s true. It’s an epic in miniature, a film built from a year of clinical trials and medically required rest, watching television and flipping through books, relaxing in the sun and hanging out with gigantic dogs. Pinto has been living with HIV for two decades. Yet his conception of the virus’s metaphysical implications is one of the many departure points from which Pinto leaps into the cosmos. More than a film about a single man’s experience, What Now? Remind Me is about life itself, well beyond even the single-species perspective of humankind. Pinto places AIDS at once in the specific context of Portuguese colonialism and the history of human evolution at large. Cartoons, piano sonatas, Freud, the murder of David Kato, Facebook and Portuguese Renaissance humanist Francisco de Holanda drift on and off the screen with remarkable equality of influence. Resting on a heartfelt, deep sensuality and flying into the stars with an age-old, spiritual wisdom, What Now? Remind Me is the best documentary of the year.” (★★★★★)

Also available on DVD, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

3. Expedition to the End of the World

[New to Vimeo On Demand] — This doc is #4 on my person list of the best docs of the year and the kind of adventurous nonfiction cinema I wish was made more often. Daniel Walber gave it a positive review here, but I’d like to share a bit of my own from Film School Rejects: “When a movie as magnificent as Expedition to the End of the World comes along, it’s hard to find the right words to describe it. Awesome comes to mind, but that sounds so broad. […] The title of the film refers to both the edge of the earth as well as its demise, and yet the journey in question is hardly one of alarm. Just as the physical end of the world is an illusion, given that it’s not flat, the temporal terminus is just a point somewhere amidst the infinity. Expedition to the End of the World follows a group of explorers sailing toward the North Pole along the Northeast coast of Greenland, a trip made possible only recently thanks to global warming, in order to study the newly exposed environment on every level. Scientists aboard the schooner Activ include a geologist, a geochemist, a marine biologist, a zoologist, an archaeologist and a geographer. There are also artists along for the adventure, aside from the filmmakers, which provides for some of the doc’s deepest discussions, on art versus science and ultimately how each is important for our understanding the universe.” (★★★★★)

Also available on Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and Target Ticket.

4. Art and Craft

[New to Amazon Instant Video] — Another doc that appears on many best-of list submissions to our poll. Here’s the beginning of Dan Schindel’s review: “One of the most delightfully unusual stories on film this year. Directors Jennifer Grausman and Sam Cullman found a terrific subject to work with, and while there are plenty documentaries that squander promising characters and subject matter, what makes this one stick out is its marvelous tone. If you didn’t know it was real, you could mistake it for a Christopher Guest mockumentary, so perfectly does it play with its quirky collective of people and the strange things that are happening to them. It has the right balance of dry remove and the willingness to peek closer in moments of vulnerability.” (★★★★)

Also available on iTunes, Google Play and Xbox and Sony VOD.

5. Crazy Horse

[New to Fandor] — Frederick Wiseman‘s 2011 film of Paris’s Le Crazy Horse nude cabaret club is one of my least favorite Wisemans, but even then it’s better than most docs. From my review at Spout: “The bits I do like a lot include an ironic scene in which stylist Fifi Chachnil has difficulty undressing a mannequin, a routine featuring the tap-dancing twins Roman & Slava and anything involving shadow play, especially the film’s bookending hand shadows, which I could watch forever, especially if continually set to Danny Elfman’s Edward Scissorhands score. There’s also a running theme in both the dance numbers and the doc itself regarding illusion, which is fitting for the films of a director who so many people mistake for being genuinely vérité.” (★★★★)

Also available on DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes and Xbox and Sony VOD.

6. The Dark Matter of Love

[New to Vimeo On Demand] — This documentary by Sarah McCarthy is like two films in one. First you’ve got the story of the Diaz family over the course of a year after adopting three orphan children from Russia — one 11-year-old girl and two five-year-old twin boys. Then you’ve got a film about the science of love and the parent-child bond and how adoption relates to that. The latter part involves some fascinating old films on the subject via studies of animals plus two psychologists who watch footage shot for the doc and comment, sometimes with the parents (it might have been more interesting had the doctors never interacted with the family). McCarthy focuses on the adopted girl, which seems sort of unfair to the boys, but the kid has a real magnetism that makes you wonder if you’re seeing a future star in her early years, saved from obscurity when brought to America. (★★★★)

7. Nas: Time is Illmatic

[Now Airing on Showtime] — From Landon Palmer’s list of the must-see music docs of this year: “Is this film about the making of a landmark 1994 rap album a hagiography of its subject, celebrated hip-hop artist Nas? Absolutely, but One9’s Time is Illmatic makes a convincing, well-argued, and enthralling case for the immortality of its subject’s debut album. Using a combination of contemporary interviews, archival footage and Nas’s return to his muse, the Queensbridge housing projects, Time is Illmatic stages a substantive overview of the aesthetic, political and biographical context of the album Illmatic. Where many music documentaries settle for received wisdom and hyperbolic declarations about the importance of their subjects, Time is Illmatic provides a rich and compelling history lesson that makes a detailed case about how and why Illmatic changed hip-hop.” (★★★★)

Also available on DVD, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes and Google Play.

New to DVD [and/or Blu-ray]:

American Wrestling Stars

‘Bridgend’ (Virgil Films and Entertainment)

Bridgend [Nonfics rating: ★★★]

Coast to Coast Trekking England the Wainwright Way Part 1

Coast to Coast Trekking England the Wainwright Way Part 2

Cold War Roadshow (American Experiene)

Himalayan Dwellers

Michael Jackson: The Journey

Moveable Feast With Fine Cooking — Season 1

Pat’s Greatest Hits 2014

Richard Pryor: Icon

The Rise of Isis (Frontline)

Witness to Gettysburg

Yoga for the Rest of Us with Peggy Cappy: Back Care Basics

Yoga for the Rest of Us with Peggy Cappy: Easy Yoga for Easing Pain

Yoga for the Rest of Us with Peggy Cappy: Heart Healthy Yoga

Yoga for the Rest of Us with Peggy Cappy: More Yoga for the Rest of Us

Yoga for the Rest of Us with Peggy Cappy: The Secret to Strength and Balance

Yoga for the Rest of Us with Peggy Cappy: A Step-By-Step Yoga Workout

‘What Now? Remind Me’ (The Cinema Guild)

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

The Dark Matter of Love [Nonfics rating: ★★★★]

Daughters of Dolma

A Life in Dirty Movies

This Ain’t No Mouse Music

Sexy Baby

What Now? Remind Me [Nonfics rating: ★★★★★]

‘The Ambassador’ (Zentropa Films)

New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

The Ambassador [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Fandor

Art and Craft [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review] — Amazon

Blast! — Fandor

Burden of Dreams [Nonfics rating: ★★★★★] — Fandor

…But Film is My Mistress — Fandor

Byeway — Doc Alliance

The Castle — Doc Alliance

Chop Suey — Fandor

Chronicle of a Summer — Fandor

Close-Up — Fandor

Crazy Horse [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Fandor

Crop — Doc Alliance

A Day on the Drina — Doc Alliance

The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan [Nonfics rating: ★★★]

Discovering William Greaves

Dreams and Burdens — Fandor

Expedition to the End of the World [Nonfics rating: ★★★★/★★★★★; Nonfics review; Film School Rejects review] — Vimeo On Demand

Experience of Exorcist — Doc Alliance

General Orders no. 9 [Nonfics rating: ★★★]

Frames — Fandor

Ice Warriors: USA Sled Hockey — Amazon

Imitations of Life — Doc Alliance

Legends of the Knight — Vimeo On Demand

Let’s Get Lost — Fandor

A Letter to True — Fandor

The Life and Times of Allen Ginberg — Fandor

Liv and Igmar — Fandor

Living Broke in Boom Times — Fandor

Living Small — Vimeo On Demand

Mambo Cool — Doc Alliance

The Mirror — Amazon

Nefarious: Merchant of Souls — Amazon

The New Public — Amazon

Normalization — Doc Alliance

Oscar Micheaux: The Czar of Black Hollywood — Vimeo On Demand

President Wanted — Doc Alliance

Presumed Guilty — Fandor

Rabindranath Tagore — Fandor

Real Man’s Film — Doc Alliance

The Reckoning — Fandor

Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania — Fandor

Sand Wars — Amazon

Show! — Doc Alliance

Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Fandor

State of Fear — Fandor

States of UnBelonging — Fandor

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

Symphony of the Soul — Vimeo On Demand

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love — Fandor

Must-See Nonfiction TV:

(All Times Eastern)

Wednesday — 12/31

‘Nas: Time is Illmatic’ (Tribeca Film)

12:05am: Nas: Time is Illmatic [Showtime East]

3:05am: Nas: Time is Illmatic [Showtime West]

5:05am: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Family Zone]

7:00am: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO East]

8:20am: Shut Up and Play the Hits — SD version [Epix 2]

8:30am: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime 2 East]

10:00am: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO West]

11:30am: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime 2 West]

1:00pm: Blackfish [CNN en Espanol]

3:00pm: American Commune [Al Jazeera America]

8:00pm: Elvis on Tour [TCM]

8:00pm: Nas: Time is Illmatic [Showtime Showcase East]

9:30pm: King Corn [Fusion]

11:00pm: Nas: Time is Illmatic [Showtime Showcase West]

11:30pm: Gimme Shelter [TCM]

Thursday — 01/01

‘Tim’s Vermeer’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

12:30am: King Corn [Fusion]

3:15am: Jimi Hendrix [TCM]

5:00am: The Total Balalaika Show [TCM]

6:00am: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime Next]

6:35am: Tim’s Vermeer [Starz Cinema]

11:00pm: Food, Inc. [Pivot]

Friday — 01/02

‘American Commune’ (Mundo Films)

1:00am: Nas: Time is Illmatic [Showtime 2 East]

4:00am: Nas: Time is Illmatic [Showtime 2 West]

10:00am: Crips and Bloods: Made in America [Fusion]

12:20pm: Kings Point [HBO 2 East]

3:00pm: American Commune [Al Jazeera America]

3:20pm: Kings Point [HBO 2 West]

Saturday — 01/03

‘The Queen of Versailles’ (Magnolia Pictures)

2:30am: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz [Pivot]

3:00am: The Cove [Animal Planet]

4:50am: Louis C.K.: Hilarious — SD version [Epix 2]

6:00am: Mondays at Racine [HBO East and HBO Latino East]

9:00am: Mondays at Racine [HBO West and HBO Latino West]

9:35am: Tyson [Starz in Black]

7:00pm: The Queen of Versailles [CNBC]

8:25pm: Tyson [Starz in Black]

9:00pm: The Last Waltz [AXS TV]

10:00pm: The Queen of Versailles [CNBC]

11:40pm: 12 O’Clock Boys [Showtime Next East]

Sunday — 01/04

‘Life Itself’ (Magnolia Pictures)

1:00am: Food, Inc. [Pivot]

1:00am: The Last Waltz [AXS TV]

2:00am: Crips and Bloods: Made in America [Fusion]

8:00am: A Place at the Table [Pivot]

12:00pm: Cesar’s Last Fast [Pivot]

1:45pm: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime Next East]

2:00pm: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz [Pivot]

9:00pm: Life Itself [CNN]

11:00pm: Life Itself [CNN]

Monday — 01/05

‘The Dark Matter of Love’ (Double Bounce Films)

4:00am: Winged Migration [Outdoor Channel]

4:00am: American Commune [Al Jazeera America]

4:00am: Soul Power [Starz Edge]

6:10am: The Other Dream Team [Epix East]

9:10am: The Other Dream Team [Epix West]

3:00pm: The Dark Matter of Love [Al Jazeera America]

9:00pm: Inside Job [Pivot]

10:00pm: Rich Hill [PBS]

11:30pm: Inside Job [Pivot]

‘Last Days Here’ (IFC Films)

Tuesday — 01/06

2:30am: Nas: Time is Illmatic [Showtime Showcase East]

4:20am: Every Little Step [Starz Cinema]

5:30am: Nas: Time is Illmatic [Showtime Showcase West]

6:00am: The Newburgh Sting [HBO 2 East]

6:00am: Worst in Show [Logo]

9:00am: The Newburgh Sting [HBO 2 West]

12:20pm: Last Days Here [Showtime Next]

1:05pm: Bears [Starz Kids]

6:20pm: Last Days Here [Showtime Next]

8:00pm: Bears [Starz Kids]

11:00pm: Bully [Pivot]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.