It’s a good bet at this point that some of you are tired of being you — all day, every day, quarantined in your same old living space. In these documentaries, you can inhabit the life of those who are undoubtedly much more interesting — and who maybe even had it tougher than you.
Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer (Amazon Prime): The story of this groundbreaking 1950s singer is worth discovering, especially if you’re already a fan of musical bio-docs. Searching for Sugar Man; What Happened, Miss Simone?; Amy; and 20 Feet from Stardom are the best.
Hillary (Hulu): Maybe not fair to put the former First Lady, senator, and presidential candidate on a list below jazz and rock singers, but there have certainly been times when Hillary Clinton had to sing the blues. Also, I didn’t want to turn off the Hillary haters (truthfully, I don’t care about them so much), but here she is in a new four-hour reportage that brilliantly edits her impressive and complicated life story. Some episodes might even make you cry, but most will have you cheering.
Tell Me Who I Am (Netflix): This is a stranger-than-fiction family tale about a pair of well-born identical British twins. It’s wrenching, eventually mind-boggling, and masterfully written and directed.
The Fog of War (Amazon): Reaching back to the Vietnam era and produced in 2003, Errol Morris’s film about Defense Secretary Robert McNamara set a high bar for documentary portraits, and it remains worth watching for the geo-political pitfalls, dangers of American arrogance, and lessons learned that aren’t too late to be relearned now. Morris has made numerous memorable, significant docs to watch again: The Thin Blue Line; Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.; and The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld.
Cheer (Netflix): A fairly new and justifiably popular docuseries, Cheer gets up close and personal with the squad of a tiny Texas junior college’s elite cheerleading team during one emotional, astonishing National Championship season. “Elite” is small praise on one hand: Navarro is a pretty unknown school, and the activity isn’t even considered a sport by everyone. On the other hand, each unique and gifted personality will penetrate your spirit, the action is breathtaking, and the filmmaking is a tour de force. Even grouchy macho guys will be gripping the remote control.
Wormwood (Netflix): Okay, you took an Errol Morris break, but now he’s back on the list for his part documentary, part reenactment of a Cold War/CIA scandal. Army scientist Frank Olson was said to have committed suicide when he dropped from a hotel window. His son sought the truth for 60 years and uncovered iffy stuff like bio-warfare, LSD, and top secrets.
Documentary Now! (Netflix): Find some hilarious “vintage” mockumentaries here, especially “Original Cast Album: Co-Op.” Among the creators are Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, with Helen Mirren as “host.”