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. So, this may be the most important post of the week for fans of nonfics. 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 31, 2013:
1. The Act of Killing Director’s Cut
[New to iTunes] — I don’t like referring to the long version of Joshua Oppenheimer’s provocative look at the celebrated death squad leaders of Indonesia as the “director’s cut.” To me, it should have always been the only cut (it is in most of the world). But it has to be noted because most of you who have seen the film in the U.S. saw the “theatrical cut,” which is also available now on iTunes. Both versions are currently for purchase only while the rental is a week away. Just buy it, and get the longer cut because it’s more for your dollar and of course because it’s the one the filmmakers intended and prefer. If you’re like me, you’re going to want to re-examine this film a number of times, even if you’re like me and don’t love it. There are a lot of people who think it’s a remarkable film who never want to see it again, though, so there is a chance that owning it will seem like a waste. Whether you check it out now or wait the week, at some point you must see The Act of Killing, which topped the 2013 Nonfics critics poll as well as many individual critics’ top docs of 2013. Now that the true version has been released in America just under the wire, I’ll admit it’s at least somewhere in my top ten, too.
Also available in “theatrical cut” version on iTunes.
2. Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — I’m going to admit it, I’m not as into this music doc as a lot of other people, either. But it did come in at #2 on Landon’s list of must-see music docs of the year. He wrote: “Many documentaries have attempted to make their case for the great unsung heroes of rock. But none stage their argument as convincingly or comprehensively as Drew DeNicolaand Olivia Mori’s investigation of the inventive ’70s group Big Star…the film communicates its love for Big Star via an overview of the band’s enthusiastic critical reception and fan base, the detail of which rivals the film’s portrayal of the band itself. No hyperbole is needed in making the case that Big Star was one of rock’s biggest missing chapters, as DeNicola and Mori have clearly done their homework.” The film also came in at #37 on the 2013 Nonfics Critics Poll.
Also available on DVD and Blu-ray to rent via iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and other digital and streaming outlets.
3. The Fruit Hunters
[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — Falling just outside my top 20 docs of the year, I really enjoyed this film from Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze) about rare and exotic fruits, which features of all people actor Bill Pullman as one of many “fruit hunters.” Here’s what I wrote in my review for Film School Rejects: “Chang has made something special that is not only very interesting but also incredibly beautiful. Docs about food should have the obligatory money shots, and sure enough the cinematography here makes these things look scrumdiddlyumptious. And/or absolutely bizarre. There’s stuff in this film that seems invented by Dr. Seuss….It’s a fun documentary, and that’s a treat almost as rare as some of the exotic fruit it showcases.” It’s my favorite food doc of the year, for sure, and one that just might entice you to go searching for natural delights beyond your supermarket produce aisle.
Also available on DVD and to rent via iTunes and other digital outlets.
4. Pandora’s Promise
[New to Amazon Instant Video] — Note: a version of this entry originally appeared on an earlier edition of Nonfics Home Picks. CNN Films recently premiered this anti-anti-nuke film from Oscar nominee Robert Stone (Radio Bikini). I’m always for these kinds of works that go contrary to the normal liberal documentary viewpoint, and this one is particularly challenging and timely in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown. Stone is a longtime environmentalist who has turned toward being pro-nuclear energy and has traveled the world to show us how safe and green it is compared to our other options. One of the biggest conversation starters of the year.
Also available on DVD and to rent via iTunes and other digital outlets.
New to DVD [and/or Blu-ray]:
Breaking Down Barriers: Journeys of the Apostle Paul
Funeral Director: Making a Living Dealing With the Dead
Inside the Fifty Shades: Real Women Confess
Kingdom of the Himalayas
Nova: Megastorm Aftermath
One Direction: This Is Us (★★★ Nonfics review) [Blu-ray]
New to Netflix Watch Instantly:
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me [Stream Now]
Bronies [Stream Now]
Caesar Must Die [Stream Now]
Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay [Stream Now]
Degenerate Art: The Art and Culture of Glass Pipes [Stream Now]
Drew: The Man Behind the Poster [Stream Now]
The Fruit Hunters (B+ Film School Rejects review) [Stream Now]
Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation [Stream Now]
Vegucated [Stream Now]
New to iTunes/VOD:
African Cats [Amazon Instant Video]
Inside the Fifty Shades: Real Women Confess [Amazon Instant Video]
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa Extended Edition [Amazon Instant Video]
Jonathan’s Return [Amazon Instant Video]
One Direction: This Is Us [Amazon Instant Video]
Pandora’s Promise [Amazon Instant Video]
Must-See Nonfiction TV:
The Last Waltz [12/31 on MGM HD, 2:25pm ET]
Chimpanzee [12/31 on Encore Family, 2:45pm ET]
Carol Channing: Larger Than Life [12/31 on Showtime Women, 3:25pm ET]
That’s Entertainment! [12/31 on TCM, 8pm ET]
Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [12/31 on Showtime, 8:30pm ET]
That’s Entertainment, Part II [12/31 on TCM, 10:30pm ET]
That’s Entertainment! III [1/1 on TCM, 12:45am ET]
That’s Dancing! [1/1 on TCM, 3am ET]
We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists [1/1 on Pivot, 3am ET]
Gasland Part II [1/1 on HBO2, 8pm ET]
Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston [1/2 on Showtime Women, 1:05am ET]
West of Memphis [1/2 on Starz Edge, 2:20am ET]
King’s Point [1/2 on HBO Signature, 5:20am ET]
Wordplay [1/2 on Sundance Channel, 6am ET]
Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (The Realness podcast review) [1/2 on Pivot, 8am ET]
Neshoba: The Price of Freedom [1/2 on Free Speech TV, 10am ET]
Searching for Sugar Man [1/2 on Starz Cinema, 1:45pm ET]
99% — The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film (★★★★ Nonfics review) [1/2 on Pivot, 3pm ET]
Pearl Jam Twenty [1/2 on VH1 Classic, 4pm ET]
March of the Penguins [1/2 on CNN, 9pm ET]
Pussy Riot — A Punk Prayer [1/2 on HBO 2, 11pm ET]
Inside Job [1/3 on Starz Edge, 4:20am ET]
First Cousin Once Removed [1/3 on HBO Signature, 12:20pm ET]
For All Mankind [1/4 on TCM, 12:45am ET]
The Crash Reel [1/4 on HBO Signature, 1pm ET]
Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon [1/4 on 3net, 1pm ET]
El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [1/4 on Link TV, 3pm ET]
The Queen of Versailles [1/4 on CNBC, 7pm ET]
Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington [1/5 on HBO 2, 1:20pm ET]
The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia [1/6 on Showtime Extreme, 2:40am ET]
Hubble [1/6 on 3net, 11am ET]
Dragonslayer [1/6 on Showtime Next, 12:10pm ET]
Primary [1/6 on Pivot, 3pm ET]
Gideon’s Army [1/7 on HBO, 8:45am ET]
Lou Reed’s Berlin [1/7 on Palladia, 12pm ET]