1.Mission to Lars
Kate and Will’s brother Tom has lived in a care home for most of his life. Severely autistic – with a rare inherited disorder known as Fragile X, sometimes known as ‘autism with bells on’ – the only thing he has ever asked of his siblings is that they introduce him to his hero: Lars Ulrich, the legendary drummer, with a reputation for arrogance, from heavy rock band, Metallica. What follows is the unlikely trio embarking on a hair brained road trip across America as Kate and Will struggle to understand Tom’s condition – whilst he tries his damndest not too retreat into it. This is moving, tender and life affirming stuff. Put another way, it reduced Lemmy (the hard man of rock and roll band Motörhead) to tears. We can’t recommend enough.
2. What Happened, Miss Simone?
Nina Simone was an American jazz singer singer, songwriter, pianist and arranger. If you're not overly familiar with her work, here, you will be blown away by her sheer talent: classically trained, she recorded over 40 albums over her career and seemed to have a natural, intimate connection to music. Yet her life began to unravel when she became active in the civil rights movement (1964-74.) She advocated - and was fiercely vocal - about violent revolution rather than Martin Luther King's non-violent approach. Her career never fully recovered after this and she never reaped the benefit of earlier success. Simone lost more than $1 million in royalties (notably for the 1980s re-release of My Baby Just Cares For Me) and never benefited financially because she had sold all her rights many years before for a paltry $3,000. In her later years, she was diagnosed as bipolar. A must for jazz fans but also a fascinating portrait into a true genius of this genre.
3. 20 Feet From Stardom
Featuring breathtakingly talented stars to the stars, this was the highest grossing documentary in the US in 2013. And you can see why. Some backing singers are desperate for fame, others steer clear, but the role yields fascinating, funny and frustrating tales of insane talents standing, and singing, in the shadows. After this, you will never listen to Gimmie Shelter by The Rolling Stones without thinking about the powerhouse who is Darlene Love.
4. The Queen of Versailles
This started off as a documentary about the building of the largest house in the US, a Florida mansion, complete with 30 bathrooms, modeled on the French chateau referred to in the film’s title. But when the financial crash happened in 2008, and the timeshare billionaire owners of said house – the Seigal family – loose everything, it soon became clear to the documentary makers that the real star of the riches to rags story was the surgically enhanced, humbled matriarch Jackie. Despite loosing almost everything, she somehow manages to hang onto her good cheer. Still, there’s no denying that there’s is a life of quantity not quality – and never has a picture of extreme wealth looked so damn shonky.
5. Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
“ He is one of the most loved, if not the most loved person in show business I've ever met. It's been 20 years of me hounding him to make this movie,” says Mike Myers of Shep Gordon, a music industry legend, a manager whose clients have included Alice Cooper, Blondie, Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross. Directed by Myers, this is a love letter of a documentary peopled by absurdly famous talking heads on their fandom of the super-manager and possibly one of the best-connected men in show business. Riveting.
6. Anything by Louis Theroux
Louis Theroux is the master at developing rapport with his interviewees, no matter how difficult the subject. Netflix have amassed his best documentaries, from visiting the most dangerous prisons in the US to spending time with the residents of a brothel. And, in case you’re wondering, nope, it’s definitely not wrong to fancy him.
7. Girl Model
So you want to be a model? Then take our counsel and see this first. 13-year-old Serbian Nadya, and other barely pubescent girls, are sent to Tokyo without their parents, and are then left to fend for themselves as they run from casting calls to photo shoots without actually earning a penny. You’ll squirm as Nadya and hundreds of other skinny young girls, wearing just their pants, line up before scouts who mull over their ‘flaws’ in front of them as if they’re were fresh meat. "Her hips are too big," "She's not pretty enough," and so on. Gross. Will make you glad of a desk job.
8. Bill Cunningham: New York
You might have never of his name but Anna Wintour credits 80 odd-year-old Bill Cunningham with spotting trends before the designers. The original street style photographer, he works for The New York Times and spends his day’s cycling around the city taking photos of anything and everything - and his eye is incredible. Not that he lives the life of a fashion-type, however. His home is a cramped rent-controlled studio above Carnegie Hall and, despite glowing references from the likes of Wintour and Tom Wolfe, he prefers repairing his ancient mac with rain tape instead of buying a new one. A fascinating tale of one of life’s true eccentrics.
A grim –but important - tales of how captive orcas are being driven mad by being used in marine park attractions. Whilst they’re not inclined to kill when out in the wild, their park life conditions – cooped up in unnatural too small tanks, separated from their young – mean they often end up in ‘incidents’ and take their frustration out on trainers who are maimed or killed. The real villain here, of course, is the orca’s human captors. How long before the likes of Sea World are boycotted for good? Not much longer, we hope.
A fascinating, humorous and at times fairly moving piece about one of rock and jazz's greatest drumming ancestors, Ginger Baker (of Cream fame.) From the truly unholy amount of multi-decade long substance abuse, to his appalling behaviour as a man, husband, father and colleague, his refusal to ever let life beat him down is admirable. Even if you don’t like drums – or know any of Cream’s music - see this movie.