When we’re not talking television in the office, these days it seems like we’re talking more and more about documentaries. Our entire team has gotten into them, so it was pretty easy to put together this list of our favorites docs. The hardest thing was narrowing it down to just 15! Whatever your interests are — fashion, food, comedy, ballet — we’ve got something for you here. Check out our 15 faves and tell us in the comment thread: what do you think we need to watch?

featured image via the ballet blog

Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, 2012.

One of Camille’s favorite documentaries, Jiro Dreams of Sushi tells the story of 85 year old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. Grabbing a seat at his three Michelin star restaurant (inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station) is totally on our bucket list now.

Twinsters, 2015.

What if you discovered a girl online who looked exactly like you? That’s what happened to Samantha Futerman and Anaïs Bordier, who grew up on different continents. Follow the two girls as they form a budding friendship online, finally decide to meet in person, and then tackle the biggest mystery of all — is their resemblance pure coincidence, or something much more?

First Position, 2012.

Camille and I both grew up dancing, so this documentary taps straight into to old childhood dreams. Follow six young dancers from around the world as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world. Is it too late for me to break out my pointe shoes again?

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, 2013.

No matter how you feel about Journey, you’ll love the truly incredible rags-to-riches story of lead singer Arnel Pineda. After years of searching for the right singer to replace Steve Perry, the band finally found their man in the most unlikely of places: a Hard Rock Café in the Philippines.

Hands On A Hard Body, 1997.

Legend has it that S.R. Bindler’s 1997 cult classic documentary was the longest running film to ever play at the Dobie Theater in Austin, and we’re not surprised. The rules of the game are simple: last man standing with his hands on the pickup wins at a local Nissan dealership in East Texas. The hilarious quotable moments and touching human drama that unfolds make this film a beloved piece of Americana.

Spinning Plates, 2013.

This documentary looks behind the scenes at three very different restaurants to reveal what they all have in common — a power to draw families and community together.

The September Issue, 2009.

You’ll have a whole new respect for the annual phonebook sized edition of Vogue after seeing this fashion documentary. The film follows Anna Wintour and her team of editors as they navigate the insanity, politics, and passion that goes in to every September issue. Also — Grace Coddington is our hero.

American: The Bill Hicks Story, 2011.

The stand-up comedian from Houston never became a household name, but the unique thought-provoking humor of Bill Hicks developed a cult following that continues to grow. This heartfelt documentary produced by Bill’s best friends shows how he used comedy to deliver his vision for a better world. Be prepared to laugh. And cry. And laugh some more.

Finding Vivian Maier, 2014.

When a mysterious and secretive nanny passed away quietly in 2009, no one ever expected to discover the breathtaking photographs she left behind. Over 100,000 photographs taken on the streets of Chicag0 — many of them poignant, beautiful, tragic, human — have earned her the posthumous title of one of the greatest street photographers of all time.

Babies, 2010.

In a fascinating look at the first year of human development, this documentary follows four babies from around the world as they learn to sit up, crawl, walk, and communicate. Oh yeah — and there’s a whole lotta cute happening, too.

20 Feet From Stardom, 2013.

Chanel loves this documentary that shines a long-overdue spotlight on hard-working backup singers like Darlene Love and Merry Clayton. Apparently she’s not alone — the film won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2014.

Where To Invade Next, 2016.

In what’s been called Moore’s “most far-reaching film”, the director travels the world to find inspired solutions to American problems.

The Incomparable Rose Hartman, 2015.

One of our favorite films from this year’s SXSW, this documentary reveals the complex and hard-nosed woman behind iconic New York photos (think Bianca Jagger riding the white horse at Studio 54). We’re fascinated with her gumption and the fabulous spaces she was able to gain entrance to through her work.

In The Realms Of The Unreal, 2005.

When a quiet janitor passed away in his Chicago apartment, no one ever expected to find an epic work of art inside his modest home. Director Jessica Yu uses Henry Darger’s work to reveal the magical and surreal world he created for himself.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, 2012.

You might remember Marina from an episode of Sex and the City (she’s the performance artist at the gallery opening where Carrie meets Aleksandr Petrovsky). But you’ll definitely never forget her after watching this film — the artist is brave, vulnerable, and very much present in this documentary that follows her three month long performance piece at the MoMA in New York. (Spoiler Alert: We’re still not over the moment when her ex lover turns up at the show.)

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Comments (25)
  1. 1
    Sandra August 11, 2016 at 8:54 am


    • Jennifer Rose Smith August 11, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Thanks for the rec, Sandra! I just looked it up — sounds really interesting.

  2. 2
    Libbynan August 11, 2016 at 10:12 am

    No list is complete without ” West of Memphis.” Having lived through this story being sick over what I knew was a miscarriage of justice, this film is a tribute to the power of the outraged. You will feel every emotion it is possible to feel. You will be sick at heart. You will understand that you don’t have to be black to be raped by our justice system. Being poor and different is plenty. You will thank God for smart, brave people who would not give up.

    • Jennifer Rose Smith August 11, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      Libbynan YES. I’m a huge fan of the 1996 doc about this case called “Paradise Lost”. So much has happened since then… I need to see West of Memphis! Thanks for this recommendation.

  3. 3
    Laura August 11, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Thank you for this list! One documentary that I will never forget is ‘God Grew Tired of Us’ about Sudanese refugees learning to adjust to their new homes in the US. Looking forward to watching others on here.

    • Jennifer Rose Smith August 11, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      That sounds so interesting, Laura. Thanks for sharing — putting that on my Netflix queue!

  4. 4
    Andrea McAlister August 11, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    I got chills just thinking about “Marina Abramovi?- The Artist Is Present”. LOVE!!

  5. 5
    Samantha Martin August 11, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Oh, my husband and I love documentaries. Not to be missed are Touching the Void, Man on Wire, and The Staircase. The Staircase is a series and one of the most riveting things I’ve ever watched. Makes Making of a Murderer look boring.

    • Jennifer Rose Smith August 11, 2016 at 4:37 pm

      Yes!! The Staircase! My boyfriend and I watched that one together and I totally agree… it makes Making of a Murderer look boring in comparison. I’ll be adding Touching the Void and Man on Wire to my Netflix queue. Thanks Samantha!

  6. 6
    emilialexandra August 11, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    A great list! I watched The September Issue a couple of days ago, it’s a must-see for everyone interested in fashion & journalism. “The Artist Is Present” looks incredible, I will definitely be watching!

  7. 7
    suwanneerose August 11, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    What a great list! Here are 3 of my favorites: 1. Tim’s Vermeer: delves into the mystery of how Dutch master painter Vermeer painted so photo-realistically 150 years before the invention of photography. 2. Muscle Shoals, about the best music ever produced in the South and the culture surrounding it. 3. Marley, about the life and talent and handsomeness of Bob Marley. Now I’m off to watch First Position….

    • Libbynan August 12, 2016 at 10:26 am

      My hubs caught “Muscle Shoals” on late night cable a couple of months ago and has not stopped raving about it yet. He even went to their website and ordered a t-shirt.

      • suwanneerose August 15, 2016 at 10:36 am

        Ooooh, what a great present for my husband! Thanks!

  8. 8
    ailynk August 12, 2016 at 6:21 am

    good list, and there’s plenty more good documentaries around the world. My personal fav is Are You Born Good or Evil

  9. 9
    Alison Sutton August 12, 2016 at 7:08 am

    The Imposter is really incredible. It’s a documentary, but with a very true-crime/thriller vibe – almost too unbelievable to be true!

  10. 10
    donzwebb August 12, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Thanks soooo much for sharing this list! I loved First Position (I’ve watched it twice) and 20 Feet From Stardom! I also finally watched The September Issue and really enjoyed it. It was so well done! I also highly recommend checking out Valentine Road. I got so emotional.

    Happy weekend!

  11. 11
    Gibbers August 14, 2016 at 4:32 am

    Great list, I love watching documentaries and there a few here I haven’t heard of before. The Jinx is one of my all-time favourites though!

  12. 12
    vatra August 14, 2016 at 7:52 am

    Thank you for this list!

  13. 13
    amy sullivan music August 16, 2016 at 8:45 am

    What a great list! Can’t wait to watch a whole bunch 🙂

  14. 14
    Jennyroo August 17, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Huge agreement to the previous comments about Man on Wire and Tim’s Vermeer! So good that the moment they were over I wanted to watch them again! If you love art then I also really loved and would recommend My Kid Could Paint That (about either a genius child-prodigy modern abstract artist, or a child with a talented father “coach” who may have helped her along the way with her paintings, you decide!!) and Who the *$&% Is Jackson Pollock? (a fascinating look into the snobby world of art authentication, so frustrating you will be yelling at your TV before it’s over!), and Herb and Dorothy (about two postal workers who amass an incredible and incredibly valuable modern art collection, and finally The Art of the Steal (which is about using legal loopholes to take control of one of the most valuable private art collections ever amassed, the Barnes Collection from Philadelphia). Happy watching!! I have made a list of many of your suggestions (first up? Likely First Position and Twinsters…we’ll go from there!). Thanks so very much for sharing!!

    • bethany September 6, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      I completely agree with your list of art documentaries!! I had forgotten about some of them but they are all so outstanding!!! I’m still mad about the whole Barnes Foundation debacle and haven’t been to the new museum yet because of that. I wanted to say that we absolutely love the Jiro documentary too. There is one about parrots in San Francisco that I can’t remember (Parrots of Telegraph Hill) or something like that that I also love. And the one on Iris Apfel… loved it so much I did a painting of her afterwards!

  15. 15
    ayellepea August 17, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    Whore’s Glory and Promises, Promises. Always will be my favorites. Also Michael Moore’s new documentary is worth the watch!

  16. 16
    Marc August 18, 2016 at 12:20 am

    Thanks for the great list — I’m a big fan of documentaries. Many of these were new to me, and are now on my “movie to watch” list.

    As a companion to “First Position,” I offer another dance documentary. With Rio de Janeiro on my mind this month, I looked in the Netflix catalog for films set in Rio. I happened to find a documentary called “Only When I Dance” that follows two aspiring ballet teenage dancers from working class families in one of Rio’s favelas. It’s well made, quite moving.

    Three great documentaries that I watched recently:
    * “The Search for General Tso” – a charming and quirky documentary about how Chinese food changed when it came to America. The film’s motivation is to find the origin of one of America’s favorite Chinese restaurant dishes: General Tso’s chicken. It’s somewhat based on Jennifer 8 Lee’s fascinating “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles,” made by Ian Cheney, one of team behind “King Corn.”
    * Werner Herzog’s film about Antarctica, “Encounters at the End of the World” is stunning. The under-the-ice sequences are especially magical. Herzog, of course, has plenty of profound thoughts.
    * “Bill Cunningham New York” – the story of the legendary street fashion photographer whose photos in the New York Times had a major impact on fashion trends. He was a true artist, concerned only with his work.

  17. 17
    Lifestyle Lodestar September 12, 2016 at 3:07 am

    I’m often looking for some engaging and educating TV so thank you for the suggestions. Also, some of these are already on Netflix!