You don’t have the stomach for a documentary but are feeling too grown for a movie contrived entirely from a scriptwriter’s imagination. You need that Based on a True Story vibe, and you have plenty of options.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive showed Netflix viewers how insanely entertaining Formula 1 can be when you invest in drone shots, high-definition cameras, and driver feuds. Those who saw Ron Howard’s Rush were early to the F1 party.
Being a movie, Rush has even more cinematic liberty, and Howard creates a pulse-pounding, visually stunning experience based on a real-life rivalry between drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt.
Steve Carell plays a trust fund baby with mommy issues, an increasingly nasty drug habit, an unhealthy obsession for the United States wrestling team, and a murderous streak in Foxcatcher. After you watch the movie and get back in the documentary state of mind, check out Team Foxcatcher to find out just how brilliantly Carell embodied the demented John du Pont.
3. Dark Waters
A movie with a documentary’s serious, bare-bones tone but the storytelling advantages and cinematography of a big-budget film Dark Waters is a must-see. It’s especially relevant in light of recent environmental disasters polluting major rivers in the United States.
4. Into the Wild
Into the Wild tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who abandons his worldly possessions, sojourns West from his Atlanta roots, and ultimately ends up in the wilds of Alaska. Documented first in John Krakauer’s book of the same name, Into the Wild combines a top-shelf soundtrack, stunning cinematography, and a slate of flawed characters to heartwrenching effect.
The book is very much worth your time, too.
5. The Aviator
Howard Hughes is a giant of American history, but Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator proves that even giants can become as small as an ant. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a dynamic, high-energy performance in this American epic that earned Oscar nominations for just about everyone involved.
You owe it to yourself to learn about Howard Hughes but probably want to avoid a multi-hundred-page biography. Here are your visual CliffsNotes.
6. Raging Bull
Casual moviegoers mostly recognize Robert DeNiro from GoodFellas, The Godfather Part II, Casino, Heat, and even Cape Fear. However, cinephiles know that Bobby D’s turn as Jake LaMotta may just be his best.
The film is based on LaMotta’s memoir of the same name, and Martin Scorsese helms this beloved, unforgiving betrayal of a boxer who fought just as hard outside the ring as in it.
What is the Uruguayan rugby team to do when their plane crashes in a remote portion of the Andes Mountains? As it turns out, some really not-great stuff. Watch Alive to find out exactly what not-great stuff they did.
What Ben Affleck may lack as an actor, he more than compensates for behind the camera. Argo tells the story of a creative CIA operation to rescue American hostages from a politically unstable Iran in 1979. Anytime you can brush up on your history while downing a couple of bags of popcorn (the better a move is, the more popcorn you consume—it’s science), you have to do it.
9. A Beautiful Mind
A Beautiful Mind tells the story of Nobel Laureate economic John Nash. The brilliant mathematician attends Princeton University and becomes a cryptographer but becomes increasingly paranoid. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture, but it’s far more than a great film.
A Beautiful Mind is an engrossing lesson in the double-edged nature of brilliance. Recognizing patterns isn’t such a gift when you become convinced that the spooks are on your tail.
10. 127 Hours
One of James Franco’s rare critically-acclaimed performances, 127 Hours explores the question: what would a human do to escape from a literal pinch? Would they saw off their leg? Watch and find out!
11. Richard Jewell
A horrifying and true depiction of fingering the wrong guy, Richard Jewell is an expose of the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Summer Olympics. Based on the 1997 Vanity Fair article “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell”, the film Richard Jewell will ensure you never even think about volunteering as a security guard.
12. Alpha Dog
A favorite of teenagers who came of age in the first decade of the 2000s, Alpha Dog is like the party that starts rowdy but catches a bad vibe midway through the night. An ensemble of talented young actors including Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster make this haunting true story a movie worth your attention.
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