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​Get real! David Edelstein celebrates documentary films

The "Sunday Morning" critic offers his picks from the recent explosion of non-fiction films that will rock your world
David Edelstein on the latest documentary films 03:19

A kind of movie that rarely scores big at the box office is a definite hit with our critic David Edelstein:

Documentary. It's a dull word. It comes from Latin, documentum, meaning lesson (as in, "Time for class, children!").

But the explosion of docs has been rocking my world. I watch them not to escape reality, but go deeper into it. They can light up the margins of your world, and even the thoroughfares, like fireworks.

Okay, some are crazy boring, but ...

Consider what's happening in New York: One of the country's biggest doc festival, Doc NYC: 150 films and events. Sadly, I can't begin to name all the movies -- and I hear scores of filmmakers going, "Me! Pick me!" because they don't get much PR.

Subjects: What a range! A guy tries to figure out if his voice sounds gay in "Do I Sound Gay?" and makes you think about how everyone speaks, and why.

Another explores the bizarre career of nutty teenage male sex abuse victim-turned-literary sensation J.T. LeRoy, who turned out to be a 30-year-old woman. Why did people embrace her? I mean, him?

Speaking of hoaxes, do you know the Yes Men? Here they are, in "The Yes Men Are Revolting," impersonating big-business honchos (especially climate-change deniers), using satire to speak truth to power.

Robert Kennan covers similar terrain in the infuriating "Merchants of Doubt," likening industry-funded experts who say "cigarettes don't cause cancer" and, yes, "climate change is a hoax" to high-paid con artists.

Whatever your political sympathies, you'll want to see "Happy Valley," the depressing story of coach Joe Paterno and what he symbolized to a Pennsylvania college town when his number two, Jerry Sandusky, got nailed for molesting boys.

Some of these loom large in this year's Oscar race. I love the justly paranoid Edward Snowden doc "Citizenfour"; "Finding Vivian Meyer," about a weird, obsessive nanny whose photo negatives turned up at tag sales after she died and who turned out to be a major photographer; and "Tales of the Grim Sleeper," Nick Broomfield's portrait of an L.A. serial killer and the social forces that let him thrive for decades.

You can see some of these on pay-per-view, or by subscription (such as the SundanceNow Doc Club.

I know I sound like a salesman, not a critic. I am! You maybe watch dumb reality shows, which (newsflash!) turn reality into a sideshow.

Why not seek out filmmakers who illuminate instead of distort? I want them to rock your world, too.

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