By Raquel Stecher
We are living in a golden age of documentaries. Filmmakers are proving to audiences that non-fiction can be just as captivating as fictional feature films. The best documentaries have a fascinating subject, a good storyteller, perfect timing, and, in some cases, a healthy dose of luck. These movies educate, enlighten, and entertain. By taking a subject from the distant or recent past and examining them they shed light on a mystery that time forgot, on an influential figure’s impact on society, the repercussions of a local, national, or international event and, in doing so, deliver an important lesson to the present.
2018 was a great year for documentaries and many of these are available to rent on DVD Netflix. Here is a look at the top four most rented documentary films of 2018 and why you should add them to your queue.
Mister Roger’s Neighborhood was on the air from 1968 to 2001 and in that time Fred Rogers had a profound effect on the generations of children who watched his show. His gentle demeanor, his positivity, his honesty and his patience stood out amongst other shows in a rapidly changing television landscape. Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor chronicles the life of the beloved Fred Rogers through interviews with those who knew him best, footage from his show, home videos and clips from milestones in his life and career. It’s a very intimate film focusing on Rogers’ close circle of friends, family and colleagues.
Released on the 15th anniversary of Rogers death, this movie demonstrates his impact on his viewers and how his brand of kindness is much needed today. It also shines a spotlight on the complicated man behind the scenes. This documentary is essential viewing for those of us who grew up watching his show. It also serves as a fascinating look at a man who broke ground in the entertainment industry and dared to do something different.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, lovingly referred to as the Notorious RBG, has become a cultural icon. She paved the way for women in politics and law by breaking down barriers and overcoming obstacles. After studying law at Harvard and Columbia, she struggled to find work. But Ginsburg made her own opportunities. She became a professor, worked for the ACLU, became a judge for the US Court of Appeals and eventually was sworn in by President Carter as the second ever female Supreme Court Justice.
In Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s documentary, simply called RBG, we learn about Ginsburg’s journey from the early years to present day. Through interviews with Ginsburg herself, her family, her colleagues but also those profoundly affected by her work, we learn how Ginsburg became a key figure in the women’ rights movement and how she became a role model for many young women to come. From the key moments in her career to scenes of Ginsburg working out at the gym (#fitnessgoals), this film runs the gamut from serious to light-hearted.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this documentary, is the story of RBG’s 56 year marriage to Martin Ginsburg, a lawyer whom she met while attending Harvard. He was his wife’s biggest champion and their marriage was one of the great love stories of the last century. Ginsburg’s life story also inspired the new feature film On the Basis of Sex starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer.
Billed as “The Most Beautiful Woman in Films” Hedy Lamarr made a splash in Hollywood with her good looks and on screen charisma. But what people didn’t realize is that Lamarr had beauty and brains. Always the inquisitive type, she loved experimenting and coming up with inventions. During WWII, Lamarr collaborated with fellow inventor George Antheil, to develop a technology that would revolutionize telecommunications for decades to come. In director Alexandra Dean’s documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, audiences learn about the whole scope of Lamarr’s life story.
From her humble beginnings in Austria, through her several marriages, her controversial film Ecstasy, her move to Hollywood, and her eventual downward spiral. Told through interviews with experts, friends and two of her children, this film is a portrait of a complicated and multi-faceted woman. The biggest takeaway is Lamarr and Antheil’s invention: frequency hopping technology. Ignored during WWII, it later become crucial technology that led to naval and telecommunication advancements. We can thank Lamarr for cell phones, Bluetooth, GPS and WiFi!
The tagline for Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers reads “the most amazing, incredible, remarkable true story ever told.” And even that phrase seems like an understatement for describing this shocking documentary. This story of three identical triplets, separated at birth and adopted by three families of three different economic statuses, proves that the truth can be stranger than fiction. Edward, David and Robert had no clue about their brothers until an astonishing series of circumstances brought them together. This discovery made headlines and the brothers were become a pop culture phenomenon in the ‘80s.
The documentary follows their journey from how the mystery unraveled and their relationship after their reunion. It’s absolutely necessary to go into the film with as little knowledge as possible to experience the full effect. The film takes a major turn with one shocking revelation and a major life event. Three Identical Strangers is a fascinating and horrifying study of nature versus nurture and brings up some major ethical conundrums.
Raquel Stecher has been writing about classic films for the past decade on her blog Out of the Past. She attends the TCM Classic Film Festival as well as other events where old movie fanatics get together to geek out. Raquel has been a devoted DVD Netflix member since 2002! Follow her on her blog Out of the Past, or find her on Twitter @RaquelStecher and @ClassicFilmRead, Facebook, and Instagram.