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We’re in a golden age of documentary filmmaking.
You might not realize it, but we’re in a golden age for documentaries. Between theatrical releases, streaming exclusives, and cable originals, there are almost too many good options out there. Showtime’s lineup is surprisingly robust, with many great options included in its streaming library. We’ve looked around every nook and cranny to find the most interesting and best documentaries on Showtime Anytime. Save for one or two picks, you probably don’t know most of these films, but you need to.
The best documentaries on Showtime and Showtime Anytime
Laura Poitras’ follow up to the Oscar-winning Citizenfour showcases another controversial figure: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Poitras shares the spotlight, which poses interesting questions to the audience. On the one hand, her prominence can call into question the objectivity of the film, but the boldness of the choice is compelling nevertheless. As far as Assange goes, your reaction may vary. He’s repulsive to many, but someone the world has to reckon with, and Poitras does a solid job capturing both sides.
2) Hoop Dreams
Steve James’ documentary tracks two teenagers chasing their basketball dreams. At nearly three hours long, this movie is about much, much more than basketball. Hoop Dreams is one of the seminal documentaries of the ‘90s and the form overall. The film sparked many conversations about race, social, and class issues, and it’s just as vital and relevant today as it was upon its release in 1994.
3) American Jihad
Homegrown terrorism is the subject of American Jihad, a fascinating doc that examines radicalized Americans. It charts the path of people who went from normal citizens to major threats to the country’s security. Director Alison Ellwood handles tricky material without dipping into sensationalism, which would be an easy mistake to make given the topic and featured Americans like the Tsarnaev brothers. American Jihad has been criminally underseen, but it’s a must-see documentary.
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4) As I AM: The Life and Times of DJ AM
As I AM tells the story of the late DJ AM, whose rapid rise to fame came to an untimely end. DJ AM, born Robert Goldstein, was among the first celebrity DJs, a position that came with a breakneck pace. As I AM helps fill in the blanks of his life story, giving the audience a glimpse at the side of AM that wasn’t always in the spotlight. The documentary is noteworthy for its sincerity, which only makes its inevitable ending that much more of a gut punch.
5) Lenny Cooke
Everyone has heard of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, but almost no one knows who Lenny Cooke is. That’s the premise of the documentary Lenny Cooke, directed by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie. There was a point in time when Cooke was ranked ahead the future NBA greats, but life had something else in store. Lenny Cooke is one of the great “what ifs” of basketball lore, and the documentary looks at how a slam-dunk future pivoted into something else.
I remember the summer of 2003 watching the story of Baylor basketball star Patrick Dennehy play out over SportsCenter and local news coverage. I was stunned at the depth of the scandal surrounding Dennehy’s death. Disgraced documents the story of Denny and the darkness at the center of Baylor University’s basketball program. The coverage the doc provides is thorough, and the filmmakers even got an interview with the disgraced coach David Bliss.
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Weiner is a fascinating look at Anthony Weiner’s comeback run for mayor of New York. What starts out as a tale of redemption and someone moving beyond their flaws turns into a stunning portrait of self-sabotage. Regardless of your stance on Weiner as a man and/or politician, he’s a compelling and charismatic figure. As you watch him make campaign appearances, it’s easy to see that he’s passionate about helping people, but he just can’t get out of his own way.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.