6 Best Movies to Watch From Diamond Docs

Staff & contributors

, 2017

Director Bryan Fogel, who you might know as the guy behind Jewtopia, initially set out to chronicle his exploration of doping to win an amateur cycling race. He starts off by reaching out to experts to help him with obtaining and administering said drugs, one of which points him towards Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia's national anti-doping laboratory. Rodchenkov eagerly agrees to help him out.

Little did he know that his Russian acquaintance would transform Fogel film from a self-experiment documentary into a true-crime political thriller, when the scientist admits to being involved in a state-sponsored doping scheme of epic proportions on camera. Putin is obviously not amused.

Aside from all the madness that unfolds in this Netflix production, it's Rodchenkov's likeable and eccentric personality that makes the story more relatable and human as well as giving you a rare glimpse into the upper echelons of a country like Russia. As the plot thickens, one can't help but think that Fogel too is in over his head. Rightly award-winning, this is gripping stuff even if you're not into sports!

Genre: Documentary, Mystery

Actor: Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan, Don Catlin, Grigory Rodchenkov, Jacques Rogge, Nikita Kamaev, Richard Pound, Sebastian Coe, Thomas Bach, Victor Webster

Director: Bryan Fogel

Rating: TV-MA

, 2022

Stutz is Jonah Hill’s loving tribute to his therapist Phil Stutz, a smart and empathetic man who’s dedicated his entire life to helping people. The conversations between them, deeply personal and vulnerable, are meaningful in themselves, but Stutz also works as a helpful instruction on how to be your best self and as a metanarrative on telling honest stories on a medium as seemingly artificial as film (it is similar to Bo Burnham’s Inside in that way).

Stutz is at once experimental and comforting, a real gem especially for people with an interest in psychoanalysis and alternative psychiatry. It’s at its best when the two men deal with uncomfortable truths in the kindest of ways, and it's sure to be something people will return to often for advice and solace. Fun fact: the documentary was co-produced by Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Jonah Hill

Director: Jonah Hill

Rating: R

Like many American narratives, the history of space exploration is rife with long-buried secrets that are finally coming to the surface. The Space Race is an attempt to collect those secrets and weave a fresh new history that finally celebrates the heroes we should’ve learned about years ago. There are interviews with the likes of space pioneer Ed Dwight (who is responsible for unforgettable lines like “I’m not part of history, but a mystery” and “I had the capability, but not the opportunity) and the first Black man to fly into space, Guion Bluford, as well as surprising information about confidential test pilots, political involvement, and the undeniable influence of Afrofuturistic art and media in the field. But education aside, what gives the documentary an edge is that it’s not afraid to question and at times attack NASA and the government for their racist past. We see celebrated astronaut Victor Glover reconcile his loyalty to his nation with his anger over the murder of George Floyd, for instance. At the same time, others like Dwight wanted to “just talk about space, not the struggle” but were tokenized both by the government and the opposition for their gains. Despite its compact run time, The Space Race covers all these nuances and more to provide a richly detailed and lovingly told new history of space exploration in America.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Charles Bolden, Ed Dwight Jr., Guion Bluford

Director: Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, Lisa Cortés

Rating: PG-13

Saying that the program I Love Lucy paved the way for television would be an understatement. Lucille Ball inspired a generation of female comedians, Desi Arnez blazed a trail for Latinos making it in America, and the show that they starred in broke records upon records, redefining what sitcoms could be at a time when no one took them seriously. 

Millions tuned into their love story as Lucy and Rick, but their real-life relationship as Lucy and Desi was just as compelling. It was complicated by jealousy, race, gender, and class, but it was also solidly grounded in true, enduring love. This documentary, directed by Amy Poehler, does well to tell us the couple’s truth without sensationalizing it. Instead of blowing things out of gossipy proportions, she zeroes in on the messy facts and weaves them into a nuanced, enlightening tale about marriage, celebrity, and fame. Thanks to Poehler, the story about Lucy and Desi is just as riveting as their legendary show. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bette Midler, Carol Burnett, Charo, Desi Arnaz, Desi Arnaz Jr., Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, Lucie Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Norman Lear, Preston Foster, Vivian Vance

Director: Amy Poehler

Rating: PG

Incredible footage combined with a great soundtrack will keep you frozen in your seat until global warming melts you off (so to speak). Chasing Ice is about a National Geographic photographer who tries to capture a complete overview of what climate change is doing to our planet. Consequently this movie took years to make and countless technical issues had to be dealt with in order to record the time-lapse videos. The result is mesmerizing, and captures something that has never been caught on camera before. This movie is evidence of what our planet is going through that everyone can relate to. Be prepared to be charmed and saddened at the same time.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Adam LeWinter, Dennis Dimick, James Balog, Jeff Orlowski, Kitty Boone, Louie Psihoyos, Svavar Jónatansson, Sylvia Earle, Tad Pfeffer

Director: Jeff Orlowski

Rating: PG-13

A fascinating kernel of certainty is padded out with giddy speculation in this documentary about a pair of unlikely art thieves. The facts are as such: 32 years after a $160 million painting by abstract artist Willem de Kooning was crudely cut from its frame in an Arizona gallery, a trio of small-town antique dealers discovered it in Jerry and Rita Alter’s estate sale. The Thief Collector is less interested in the painting itself  — in fact, it's openly dismissive about its artistic value — and more curious about how it fell into the hands of the mysterious couple, who frequently took exotic trips around the world despite their modest teacher incomes.

There are certainly intriguing questions raised by the Alters’ possession of the painting and compelling evidence that places them as the thieves, but this documentary can’t offer any convincing original theses of its own. It does try, by suggesting that the short stories Jerry wrote — about more thefts and gorier crimes — were thinly disguised autobiographical recollections, but it finds nothing to back these theories up except for a few loosely relevant anecdotes from relatives. With too many what-ifs to go on, it all makes for an intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying deep dive.

Genre: Crime, Documentary, Drama

Actor: Glenn Howerton, Sarah Minnich, Scott Takeda

Director: Allison Otto