culture

The 16 Best Documentaries on HBO to Stream Right Now

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HBO

With new streaming services popping up like expensive weeds, it can be difficult to settle on what to watch. Instead of a useful “random” button on our remotes, we’re left with the task of what to spend our precious time watching. For HBO subscribers, there is a treasure trove of documentaries to watch when your brain needs a respite from the latest, scripted hit. Here’s a list of 16 amazing films to watch to stir the emotions and hold your attention.

'McMillions'

 

Burgers, fries and a family that flew too close to the sun. This six-part docu-series examines how multiple people were able to steal millions from the McDonald’s Monopoly game over the span of a decade. Watch how the creators of McMillions explain one of America’s biggest scams. You’ll feel a little better in knowing that there were no legit winners of the Monopoly game from 1989 to 2001. With the appeal of a heist movie and the misplaced fondness we feel toward a burger franchise, this 2020 series is as tasty as it is silly.

'Americans in Bed'

Simple and to the point: That’s what makes this documentary that interviews several couples work so well. In a simple, Q&A format, director Philippa Robinson gets each couple to open up about the finer details of their relationships, all from the comfort of their own bed. Americans in Bed was ahead of its time. You’ll find either startling parallels to your own relationship, or shake your head judgmentally. Released in 2013, this documentary has the confessional aspect of a popular relativity television series but with more heart and significantly less drink throwing. 

'Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team'

Picture this: It’s 1980, Cold War fears are mounting and America is in desperate need of a boost. Any kind of boost. Enter the Winter Olympics.

 

 

Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team tells the story of one of the most iconic moments in American sports history when the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeats the highly touted team from the Soviet Union. Even if you aren’t a sports fan, this time-tested documentary from 1997 is sure to make you feel good. With enough screaming from sportscasters to last you well enough into your old age, this classic is a spot of sunshine on the ice.

'God Is the Bigger Elvis'

When you have it all, what else is there left to do? Dolores Hart was a rising starlet, appearing onscreen with the likes of Elvis and other big stars in the 1960s. God Is the Bigger Elvis is a 2011 documentary that follows Hart’s journey and her eventual life in a nunnery. Trading the lights of Hollywood and a pending marriage, Hart pursued holier pastures. This sleepy look at life in a nunnery will make you also wish to abandon the toils of everyday life, if only for a little bit.

'Which Way Home'

We’ve all become familiar with stories of those who risk everything to cross the border into the United States. Their reasons range from a chance to reunite with family members, flee from violence or chase the elusive American Dream. From the perspective of a child, this documentary wraps you up in the dangerous world of freight train hopping 

'Wig'

All that glitters isn’t gold. In the world of drag, where lashes are long and each hairstyle is meticulously curled, things aren’t always what they seem. Wig dives into the history of New York’s drag community, touching on the movements that spurred “Wigstock” and the events that followed. Using interviews and beautiful archival footage, this film shows that even with all of the glitz and glory, tension can still be afoot in the drag community. This 2019 documentary is both a celebration of drag culture and a memorial for the loss of the ’80s and ‘90s drag era.

'Finding the Way Home'

At the very start of 2019’s Finding the Way Home, you’re blown away by the fact that out of the 8 million children who live in orphanages, many are not actually orphans. Why would a parent willingly let their child go to live in one? This heartbreaking documentary explores that question and the often deplorable conditions the children live in. But there is hope among this darkness, and this documentary shines that light on several parents and their children.

'Bowling for Columbine'

Where would we be without Michael Moore to goad us into thinking critically about important issues? Moore’s exploration of Americans’ fascination with gun culture is a timeless documentary, one whose relevance is unfortunately as potent today as it was during filming. With Moore’s direction, 2002’s Bowling for Columbine has a way of making even the most inane topics hilarious and thought-provoking. This is a classic worth revisiting, as gun control remains a concerning issue in America. 

'Leaving Neverland'

Before #MeToo’s proliferation in media and Harvey Weinstein’s and R. Kelly’s day of reckoning, this two-part documentary was released in 2019. The interviews are hard to listen to Wade Robson and James Safechuck go into graphic detail of their alleged abuse. Leaving Neverland addresses the question of how to we approach the stories of sexual assault survivors and reconcile with our own misplaced worship of celebrities. 

'Love crimes of Kabul'

What would life be like if you were jailed for sleeping with your partner before marriage? Love Crimes of Kabul addresses the issue of “moral crimes” in this 2011 documentary by Tanaz Eshaghian. We meet Kareema, who early in the film describes how handsome her lover is. She smiles as she sits on her lower bunk and you can almost picture girls gossiping at camp about their boyfriends. Instead, Kareema has been jailed for sleeping with her fiance. To think that you could be ailed for having premarital sex with someone is almost too hard to imagine, but in this documentary, it breaks down how these “moral crimes” are just that. 

'Mommy Dead and Dearest'

With her giant glasses and sweet smile, Gypsy Blanchard took the media by storm.  Suffering from what would come to light as fictional Maladie, Gypsy is the poster child for Make-a-Wish type of organizations and public sympathy. Mommy Dead and Dearest explores how her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, milked the attention for all that it was worth, and how Gypsy, who may have had Munchausen by proxy, had had enough.

 

Some parents wish their children would never grow up. Dee Dee seems to have wished the same for her daughter. Giving a straight-to-the-point of view of this mind-boggling case, this 2017 documentary leaves you with more questions than answers. From several doctors missing fabricated illnesses to Gypsy’s apparent ignorance of their invalidity, it’s a rip your hair out kind of murder mystery.

'Poverty and Obesity'

What is the connection between poverty and your diet? The doctors and officials in this 2012 documentary discuss the high levels of obesity in low-income areas in New York, highlighting the availability of healthy food sources in affluent areas. In The Weight of the Nation series, Poverty and Obesity: When Healthy Food Isn't an Option highlights the fact that many of us know to be true: Food deserts exist and are detrimental to the overall population.

'Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland'

In Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, directors Kate Davis and David Heilbroner gather the home videos and testimonies of Sandra Bland. This documentary touches on the infuriating case of Bland, whose arrest for a traffic violation would end in her reported suicide. The 2018 documentary asks all the right questions and leaves it up to the viewer on how to answer them.

'Beware the Slender Man'

Created by Irene Taylor Brodsky, this documentary follows the timeline of the attempted murder of a mutual friend by 12-year-olds. Claiming to have done so in the name of internet entity, Beware the Slender Man seeks to explain the deeper reasons why such an act could possibly take place. From internet folklore to real-life attempted murder, these are the elements that make for a documentary that’s hard to turn off. Instead of focusing on the whodunit aspect of many true crime films, this 2016 documentary shines a light on the reasoning behind the stabbing.

'Won’t You Be My Neighbor?'

Those who remember watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood will recall his warmth and compassion. 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? dives right into the man behind the cardigan, Fred Rogers, and his rise to a household name. Through interviews and archival footage, you’ll learn how the quiet creative shared messages of tolerance. The documentary dives right into the man behind the cardigan, Fred Rogers, and his rise to a household name. 

'When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts'

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. Affecting 5 million people, the reverberations of the disaster have lasted for years after the storm dissipated. Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts shines a light on the divided in New Orleans’ communities. Through images and interviews, Lee puts the tragedy in front of viewers, lest they forget those lost and those that are still affected.

 

Lee sets up the viewers with archival footage of the affected areas, at times comparing and contrasting them after the hurricane. This series gives everyone who the tragedy touched a say in the matter, inviting viewers to hear from survivors and politicians alike. What cannot be denied is the arduous task of watching the 2006 series as the gravity of the disaster stares starkly back at viewers. Lee shows how the souls of people can be shaken but not completely broken.

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