We’ve all sat in front of our Netflix accounts, tirelessly sifting through film and television genres like “Dark Biographical 20th Century Period Pieces” and “Quirky TV Shows Featuring a Strong Female Lead,” never quite finding that perfect piece of cinematography. Defeated by your own streaming service, you haplessly watch another beloved episode of “Twin Peaks” thinking this just can’t last much longer.
While we won’t deny the overwhelming allure of David Lynch, we will give you a list of 25 documentaries every Arts & Culture lover needs to watch. From Dutch prostitution heroines to the man behind Pee-wee’s Playhouse to indie gaming to vintage gig posters, these are the historical gems you should be adding to your queue right now.
1. Cutie and the Boxer (2013)
A candid portrait of a 40-year marriage between Japanese “boxing” painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. Even if you’re not particularly fond of contemporary art, this doc shines a light on the anger, sacrifice and confrontation involved in an aging relationship. And you can’t help but fall in love with Noriko.
2. Beautiful Darling (2010)
“Beautiful Darling” tells the story of Andy Warhol muse, Candy Darling. Born James Slattery, Darling became a Factory film star, garnered the attention of Tennessee Williams and aspired to Hollywood, all before her untimely death from Lymphoma at 29.
3. Paris is Burning (1990)
This is your introduction to all things 1980s NYC drag, with a heavy emphasis on voguing and balls. “We’re not going to be shady, just fierce.”
Need we explain more? Let the trailer above tell you all you need to know about the subcultural phenomenon.
Have you ever considered glass pipe-making a facet of American folk art? As the conversation around legalized marijuana continues to grow, maybe you should.
6. Meet The Fokkens (2011)
Louise and Martine Fokkens are identical twins who for over fifty years worked as prostitutes. Familiar to many who’ve frequented Amsterdam’s Red Light District, the women freed themselves from the oversight of pimps, ran their own brothel and set up the first informal trade union for prostitutes. This is their story.
7. First Position (2011)
Enter one of the world’s largest ballet competitions, the Youth America Grand Prix. There are tiaras and tutus, along with intense global competition and unbelievable adolescent ambition. You do not, we repeat, DO NOT have to love dance to be fascinated by this documentary.
8. Good Ol’ Freda (2013)
This documentary outlines the life of Freda Kelly, the secretary and longtime friend of the Beatles. She was there all 10 years of the Fab Four’s career — actually, 11, since she was around before they hit it big and after they cruised to an end.
9. The Rape of Europa (2006)
Before George Clooney launched his own version of the “Monuments Men” story, “The Rape of Europa” illustrated the extent of Nazi art plundering and the efforts of Allied forces to minimize the damage.
10. Inside Pixar (2013)
From “the little studio that could” to the animated children’s movie behemoth that it has become, Pixar has done some growing up over the last few years. Art and tech nerds alike, this one is for you.
11. A Band Called Death (2012)
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, you’ve got to watch this rockumentary about the Black punk group that predated Bad Brains, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones.
12. Beauty is Embarrassing (2012)
Wayne White is the man behind “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” He’s an artist who’s done a Smashing Pumpkins video, visuals for Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time,” “Beakman’s World,” and “The Weird Al Show.” “Beauty is Embarrassing” covers all this and more.
13. Indie Game: The Movie (2012)
These are the “underdogs” of the gaming industry, who’ve created works like “Super Meat Boy,” the adventures of a skinless boy in search of his girlfriend, who is made of bandages. Yes.
14. Helvetica (2007)
Shout out to the typography lovers everywhere and all those individuals who fervently craft Word documents in a font lovingly known as Helvetica. These are its origins.
15. Fame High (2012)
“We always want to find that one special student,” says an ominous voice in the “Fame High” trailer. Yup, it’s that high school — the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), where future actors, singers, dancers, and musicians are made.
16. Just Like Being There (2012)
Thanks to MONDO and Gallery 1988, the world is becoming even more excited about the vintage gig poster, those stunning works of graphic design and illustration that pay homage to music’s greatest acts. Need to brush up on your gig poster history? Here’s your chance.
17. The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 (2011)
This is a portrait of the Black Power Movement in the United States, as captured by Swedish journalists and filmmakers. Beautiful cinematography and a stunning historical documentary of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
18. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)
You’ve definitely heard about the Chinese artist and political dissident by now, but you might have procrastinated and not yet viewed Alison Klayman’s biographical doc. Well, it’s on Netflix and you have no excuse.
19. Upside Down: The Creation Records Story (2010)
Creation Records will go down in history as one of the world’s most successful independent music record labels, or “the ultimate fucked-up family.” Check out “Upside Down,” a definitive history of the label, and make your own assessment.
20. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel (2011)
She launched Twiggy, hailed Barbara Streisand’s nose, advised Jackie Onassis, made waves at the Factory and Studio 54. This is an overview of the “Empress of Fashion”s 50-year reign.
21. The Art of the Steal (2009)
This is THE scandal of the art world, as the trailer declares. (It involves the Barnes Foundation, $25 billion and a bunch of conspiracy theories. Oh, art.)
This is the Greenwich Village documentary you’ve been waiting for. “Greenwich Village is mostly a state of mind, but in the Village everyone is young inside.”
23. The Antics Roadshow (2011)
A Banksy-directed documentary that looks at the art pranks, acts of art vandalism and general activist antics that have rocked the world.
24. Pina (2011)
Everything you ever wanted to know about contemporary choreographer Pina Bausch. Or, for the unitiated, a beautiful, 3D documentary chock full of knowledge that will impress your cultured friends.
25. I Think We’re Alone Now (2008)
“I Think We’re Alone Now” introduced the world to Jeff and Kelly, two people who claim to be in love with the 80’s pop singer Tiffany.