Oct 25, 2019

Most Interesting Documentaries about Celebs

One of the best ways to get to know your favorite celebrities is to listen to them talk about their craft in their own words. While gossip columnists who breathlessly follow their every move can give eager fans a picture of their day-to-day habits, using only this information paints an incomplete picture. Instead of avidly following along on your favorite celeb’s social media page — which is most likely curated by a manager or publicist anyway — make a point to check out any interviews where they are able to discuss their life and work in a relaxed, casual setting. Sometimes, filmmakers take these interviews along with other footage and produce unique documentaries that give viewers an unprecedented look inside their life and work. Here are some of the most interesting and meaningful documentaries about our favorite celebs.

  • Bright Lights is a 2016 documentary about Carrie Fisher and her mother, the legendary actress Debbie Reynolds. It received such a huge amount of publicity because of the untimely deaths of both Fisher and Reynolds mere weeks before the film’s broadcast premiere on HBO. In fact, this documentary was actually Reynold’s last film appearance before her death.

    Produced by Brett Ratner and Sheila Nevins, the movie follows the life of Reynolds and the upbringing of Fisher. It ends with moving footage of Reynolds preparing to accept the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to her by her daughter.

    This is a great documentary to watch if you’re a fan of either actress or just love watching interesting mother/daughter dynamics.

  • One of the most legendary female musicians of all time is Nina Simone. What Happened, Miss Simone? follows the life of this incredible artist, who refused to be categorized or pigeonholed during her decades-long career.

    Directed by Liz Garbus, the documentary is made up of live concert and television footage, plus interviews with friends and family of the late singer. Although many people worry that documentaries that give background on these great artists will ultimately diminish their allure, Garbus does a great job of using these new details to add to Simone’s mystique.

    The film was executive produced by Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, who was able to ensure its accuracy.

  • Another documentary whose hype was largely due to the subject’s death was Michael Jackson’s This Is It. The documentary chronicles the lead-up to the singer’s gigantic This Is It concert tour.

    Originally filmed only for archival purposes, a documentary was made of the previously private footage after a deal was struck between concert promoter AEG Live, Columbia Pictures, and the Jackson estate. The film follows Jackson in his last days on stage and features a ton of music and rehearsal filmed from behind the scenes.

    Although the extended Jackson family was opposed to the creation of the documentary, it premiered to record ticket sales and was reviewed positively by most critics.

  • There’s been no member of the Supreme Court in memory that is as popular as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The 2018 documentary RBG follows the history of Justice Ginsburg’s remarkable life and career. It even manages to show the humanity behind her inscrutable gaze and trademark glasses.

    Through interviews with the Justice herself, as well as politicians, family members, and colleagues, we see how her brilliant legal mind was sharpened by years of advocacy against sex discrimination and how her historic cases shaped the country that we know today. The documentary does a great job of humanizing Ginsburg without diminishing the size of her accomplishments.

  • One of the best aspects of a concert documentary is how it gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at a live show. It chronicles the hard work and effort that goes into preparation. Plus, it can often showcase the meaning behind the songs chosen for the show.

    In Gaga: Five Foot Two, filmmakers went beyond the traditional concert documentary. In fact, they created a film that chronicled a year in the life of Lady Gaga, including preparation for her Joanne tour and Super Bowl LI halftime show.

    As a result of going above and beyond, Gaga: Five Foot Two won the 2018 MTV Movie and TV Award for Best Music Documentary.

  • Although she had achieved some fame within the world of stand-up, Tig Notaro was not exactly a household name when her documentary Tig came out in 2015. Instead of chronicling her career and notable performances, the film follows Notaro’s breast cancer diagnosis, as well as her new relationship, attempts to have a baby, and the death of her mother.

    Filmmaker Kristina Goolsby decided to make the film not because of the subject’s fame, but because of her ability to deal with change, loss, and uncertainty in a deeply human way. Tig premiered at Sundance and won over audiences immediately with its poignant mix of comedy and drama.

  • Amy is a 2015 documentary based on the life and untimely death of music superstar Amy Winehouse. Winehouse died at the age of 27 after a meteoric rise that began only eight years earlier.

    Although the movie touched on Whinehouse’s addiction — which ultimately claimed her life — the focus was mostly on her artistry and the musicality that set her above most other artists working at the time. Most of the movie is made up of home movies and interviews with family and friends. It also included plenty of unreleased tracks and covers, which was a major draw for fans.

  • Another member of the “27 Club” that the world lost too soon is Kurt Cobain.

    Cobain’s tumultuous life is chronicled in the 2015 documentary Cobain: Montage of Heck. The documentary was the brainchild of Courtney Love and Brett Morgen. Plus, it was made in cooperation with the Cobain family, including Cobain’s daughter Frances who served as the film’s executive producer.

    In addition to the interviews and original footage, the movie features artwork and sound collages made by Cobain himself. Producers also released a soundtrack to the movie, which featured one previously unreleased Nirvana song.

    The movie was critically acclaimed and lauded for its portrayal of Cobain as a nuanced human being, not just a tortured artist.

  • Usually, documentary filmmakers are forced to cobble the story of their subject together from found footage and interviews with friends and family. They’re rarely given material like what producers of I Am Ali were handed when they began filming — almost a decade of audio recordings made by Ali himself throughout the 1970s.

    The film chronicles Muhammad Ali’s life but through the lens of the man himself looking back after his last professional fight. Directed by Clare Lewins, the film was given the official stamp of approval by Ali’s daughter Hana. It went on to get rave reviews from critics all over the globe.

  • Another documentary film about one of the most famous members of the “27 Club” is Janis: Little Girl Blue, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015. Directed by well-respected documentary filmmaker Amy J. Berg, the documentary is structured around letters that Janis Joplin wrote to family and friends. Narrated by Cat Power, it features interviews with many living legends including Clive Davis and Kris Kristofferson.

    It’s a poignant biopic that gives insight into the private life of this monumental figure in music. Plus, it was well-received by critics and fans alike.

  • Filmed throughout 2007 and 2008, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work followed legendary comedian Joan Rivers through her 75th year. It tells the story of Rivers’ struggle to rise through the ranks of the comedy world while exploring her current life and work.

    The movie premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2010. Although it’s often funny, the documentary is first and foremost an honest and vulnerable look into the life of a woman who was once on the cutting edge, but now struggles to book an endorsement deal for adult diapers. Rivers doesn’t shy away from anything and allows the cameras to capture every moment — no matter how vulnerable.

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