The odds are good that, by now, you’ve binged through every episode of Netflix’s insanely popular 10-part documentary "Making a Murderer." And you’ve probably gobbled up every scrap of new information and interview footage that’s been reported since its premiere, and had debates with your friends about the key and the blood, and maybe even taken to the comments section to shout your opinion into the digital wind.
And now what?
To quote the great Malcolm McDowell in that Amazon Fire TV ad, you’ve fallen into a showhole. Luckily, there’s a whole world of great documentaries out there – about true crime, about backwoods people and communities, about massive national cover-ups – many of them just as good if not even better than Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi’s breakthrough hit.
Here are seven other documentaries and doc series that are worthy of becoming your next obsession.
"The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst"
The original 2015 true crime documentary craze. Before "Making a Murderer" was probably a glimmer in Netflix’s eye, there was HBO’s "The Jinx." Premiering last February, the six-part doc series follows filmmaker Andrew Jarecki as he investigates and exclusively interviews Robert Durst, a wealthy New York City real estate heir who also happened to be linked to three murder cases.
Durst gives Jarecki – who previously wrote and directed a drama based on Durst’s life and the various crimes around it called "All Good Things" that Durst apparently appreciated – a crazy amount of access, including interviews in which the cold, beady-eyed tycoon willingly and openly talks about his life and the disturbing crimes around it. It’s an impressive and harrowing glance into the mind of a potential monster – one that ends with a mic drop of a moment that most documentarians could only dream of catching.
Before there was "Making a Murderer" or "The Jinx," there were the "Paradise Lost" films. Spanning across 15 years and three films – 1996’s original "Paradise Lost," followed by 2000’s sequel "Revelations" and 2011’s finale "Purgatory" – directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky follow the trial of three teenage boys who were accused of murdering and mutilating three other young boys as a part of some sort of satanic ritual. That accused motive caught like panicked wildfire in the Evangelical Arkansas town and in the media – and eventually helped convict the three boys, known as the West Memphis Three.
Over their trilogy of dcoumentaries, however, Berlinger, Sinofsky and several lawyers uncover more evidence, as well as new scientific advances, that could prove the West Memphis Three innocent of their crimes – and even potentially point to a different suspect in the case. Consider these three films as kind of the gold standard of true crime documentary filmmaking, laying out and investigating a case from beginning to incredible end. If you’re not sure you’ve got a combined six and a half hours to commit, the 2012 doc "West of Memphis" does a pretty good job of breaking down the same case as well in about half the time. But after 10 hours for "Making a Murderer," six and a half hours would probably feel like a breeze (that is, as much of a breeze a documentary about horrific, tragic murders could be).
The case at the center of the seductively sly doc "The Imposter" is almost too insane to believe. In 1994, a San Antonio boy goes missing walking back home, but three years later, authorities claim to have found him in Spain. A seemingly happy ending … except, after he’s sent back to the states, it becomes growingly clear, from his French accent to his wrong colored eyes, that he’s not actually their missing son. And as the imposter – who’s actually a 23-year-old Frenchman named Frederic Bourdin – and his story are uncovered, he starts pushing questions toward the family that brought him in about what really happened to their son.
It’s a bizarre, twisting and turning true life story, made not only impeccably but almost deviously as it goes into Bourdin’s potential conspiracy theory – fully aware that it’s messing with the viewer’s head the same way its title character messed with the head of his adopted family. Many have accused "Making a Murderer" – and rightfully so, in many cases – of skewing facts and failing to tell the whole truth. "The Imposter" is all about that, about how easy it is to deceive and how easy it is to believe, and in utterly thrilling, fascinating fashion.
"The Imposter" is available on Netflix Instant.
"Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father"
Like "Making a Murderer," "Dear Zachary" is far from the most polished documentary you’ll see. The movie was released in 2008, but it looks like something from a decade earlier, and much of the filmmaking – post-production sound effects, for one – ring amateur. But much of that falls to the wayside because, man, does this doc hit like a gut punch. It’s best to leave the story to the movie itself, but "Dear Zachary" follows a documentarian as he tries to make a video for his friend’s newly born son about his father.
From there, it becomes a heartbreaking story of murder, grief and an absolutely abysmal governmental failing (at least this one’s on Canada’s hands this time). And while "Dear Zachary" feels a bit technically amateurish, "Dear Zachary" is so personal and so fervent – like somebody cornering you in a bar and telling you something important before they forget a single detail – that it almost adds to the brutally felt emotions. Like a fingerprint in claymation, the flaws make it more real – painfully so.
"Dear Zachary" is available on Netflix Instant.
"The Look of Silence"
"Making a Murderer" follows a potentially corrupt government working in the shadows in one city. "The Look of Silence" digs into a provably corrupt, murderous government running an entire country – and they didn’t work in the shadows. Their crimes were right in the daylight – and yet now somehow forgotten or waved aside by the country’s own people.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s mesmerizing and essential documentary – shown just this last year at the Milwaukee Film Festival – follows an anonymous eye doctor in Indonesia interviewing many of the men responsible for killing his brother in a brutal, horrific genocide that’s never gone punished. And each interview uncovers a new layer of denial, a new layer of negligence to humanity.
This is Oppenheimer’s second doc on the topic of Indonesian genocide. The first, the powerful and punishing "The Act of Killing," looked straight into evil’s face to see what true evil is and how it thinks. His second film is even better, focusing not just on one man but an entire nation to find out how it could let evil happen and how a population can give itself amnesia when its sins are too painful to remember.
"The Look of Silence" is available to rent on iTunes and will be released on DVD on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
Man, this has been a grim collection of films so far, so here’s something lighter: a story of two men fighting over a severed foot.
"Finders Keepers" finds two North Carolina men – John Wood and Shannon Whisnant – locked in a legal battle over a severed foot the former left in a smoker and the latter eventually found after purchasing it, turning him into a local celebrity. It’s a bonkers story, and if you enjoyed the kind of "Fargo"-esque photograph of simple life and people in the backwoods that "Making a Murderer" took, "Finders Keepers" is another good dose of that in a much lighter, much more amusing package. Still, for a movie about country bumpkins dueling it out over a mummified foot, don’t be surprised if you find yourself oddly moved and touched by its story.
"Finders Keepers" is available on DVD as well as to rent on iTunes.
"My Kid Could Paint That"
Need a break from hearing about horrific crimes and missing body parts, but still want to have fun debates about conspiracies and truth? "My Kid Could Paint That" might be exactly what you’re looking for. Amir Bar-Lev’s 2007 documentary follows Marla Olmstead, a young girl who becomes a star thanks to her paintings – or are they her paintings? Are her parents – one a painter himself – the actual masterminds here? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of questions "My Kid Could Paint That" asks, looking into what is the best way to parent, what is art anyways and what’s the media’s real goal when it turns a camera on a subject. Those are a lot of big thoughts for a movie about a little girl and some paint splashes.
And while we’re on the topic of art movies with a lingering question of truth, check out Banksy's (yes, that Banksy) "Exit Through the Gift Shop," a great documentary that might not actually be a documentary. Oh Banksy; you rapscallion.
"My Kid Could Paint That" is available on DVD.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.