6 Best Movies to Watch From ITVS

Staff & contributors
Do today's political talk shows often feel like meek, scripted, and predictable affairs to you? Would you rather have that euphoric feeling you get when watching someone smart and eloquent talk about important ideas? Multiply that by two and you get Best of Enemies. In 1968, ABC covered the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach and the historic Democratic National Convention in Chicago by airing a 10-part series of nationally televised debates between two ideologically opposed and sharp-minded public intellectuals: Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley. The former was an ardent and openly bisexual liberal and progressive. The latter an elitist cultural conservative, whose magazine, National Review, vowed to always support the most far-right candidate viable for office. This confrontational set-up is not only credited with ushering in an era of pundit politics, but also with producing some of the most entertaining intellectual debate ever to be seen on TV. When's the last time you saw anybody unironically being called a “crypto-Nazi” on national television?

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Christopher Hitchens, Dick Cavett, Gore Vidal, John Lithgow, Kelsey Grammer, Noam Chomsky, William F. Buckley, William F. Buckley Jr.

Director: Morgan Neville, Robert Gordon

Rating: R

The debut feature by Palestine’s most well-known director, Chronicle of a Disappearance is an unusual movie about the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict in that it's closer to absurdist comedy than anything else. The only physical violence we see here are men cat-fighting in the street or arm-wrestling each other in cafes, and Israeli presence is limited to a couple of bumbling police officers. Chronicle is full of slapstick cinema touches — right down to the Buster Keaton-esque eyes of director Elia Suleiman, who appears here as a silent wanderer — and yet we feel the bitter reality of the occupation framing every deadpan gag. 

Structured as a series of vignettes, Chronicle’s loose form is both a way to depict the stagnation and dry repetition in which Palestinians are stuck and a wry metaphor for all this listlessness. Suleiman speaks plainly in some chapters — such as the one following a woman who is repeatedly turned down from renting an apartment in Jerusalem because she’s Arab — and more obliquely in others, forcing you to recall the movie’s setting to understand his often-understated commentary. A singular film from an utterly unique director, Chronicle of a Disappearance is both a portrait of a country’s erosion and a quietly defiant act of resistance.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ali Suliman, Elia Suleiman, Fawaz Eilemi, Fuad Suleiman, Iaha Mouhamad, Jamel Daher, Juliet Mazzawi, Leonid Alexeenko, Nazira Suleiman, Ola Tabari, Ula Tabari

Director: Elia Suleiman

The Fabella Hospital in the Philippines is clearly overburdened and understaffed, and though it offers some of the lowest pregnancy delivery rates in the country, it remains unaffordable to most of its patients. It has been dubbed the world’s busiest maternity hospital because of this, and its boundless flurry of activity is what Ramona Diaz tries to capture in her cinéma-vérité film Motherland. 

What’s interesting and ultimately heartening about the documentary is that despite the difficulties the subjects face, they are always presented with warmth and humanity. We don’t observe them from a strict or stylized distance, but rather, we move with them when they laugh, befriend each other, worry about their babies, curse their partners, and eventually leave. Indeed, the film is a land of mothers, filled with their authentic stories before anything else.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Anna Maxwell Martin, Diane Morgan, Ellie Haddington, Lucy Punch, Paul Ready, Phillipa Dunne

Director: Ramona S. Diaz

Rating: TV-MA

From the sheer size of Frederick Wiseman's documentaries (both in length and scope), it should be clear that his goal isn't necessarily to have us retain every piece of information he gives us in all of this film's board meetings and press conferences. This is a film interested in the macro view of how a city works, and Wiseman's attention to detail even in his old age (he's 94 at the time of writing this) is truly inspiring for any aspiring documentarian. City Hall doesn't necessarily tell us anything we might not already know about the coordination between a local government unit and its constituents and citizens, but Wiseman gets us to think of the grand design of it all—which is both wondrous and horrifying to behold.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Marty Walsh

Director: Frederick Wiseman

For those of us who don't lurk on internet message boards and participate in social media culture, a documentary about memes might seem frivolous. But Feels Good Man steers the conversation into one about semiotics: the way images become symbols and can continue transforming—from a harmless expression of the self, into a hateful banner for bigotry, into a cry of protest and freedom. As his Pepe the Frog creation takes on a life of its own, artist Matt Furie attempts to reclaim ownership of it and finds that the relationship between an artist and their own work can be as difficult as any toxic relationship. It's a bleak view of how unfeeling internet culture can be, but it reminds us that we always still have some power to beat the hate.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary

Actor: Adam Serwer, Alex Jones, Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Emily Heller, Hillary Clinton, Johnny Ryan, Joy Reid, Katy Perry, Lisa Hanawalt, Logan Paul, Matt Furie, Melania Trump, Mike Majlak, Nicki Minaj, Phil McGraw, Rachel Maddow, Richard Spencer, Samantha Bee, Skinner, Stephen Colbert, Susan Blackmore

Director: Arthur Jones

The House I Live In is a truly exceptional documentary, directed and narrated by Eugene Jarecki, focused on America’s long-standing “War on Drugs”. Jarecki travels America to interview various individuals and families on both sides of the law, examining many personal experiences related to drug offenses, unjust legal policies and excessive incarceration. He further provides a fascinating historical account of the political and socioeconomic developments that brought about the formation of many depressed communities overrun by drug trade, as well as the interrelated political, legal and private-interest infrastructures that continue to both depend upon and profit from drug-related sentencing. An utterly stunning film that every American should see to truly understand all of the elements at play in the ongoing prohibition against drugs in America.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Barack Obama, Betty Chism, Bill Clinton, David Simon, Dennis Whidbee, Eugene Jarecki, George H. W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John McCain, Lyndon B. Johnson, Mark W. Bennett, Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King Jr., Michelle Alexander, Nancy Davis Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Nannie Jeter, Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Rudolph Giuliani

Director: Eugene Jarecki

Rating: Not Rated