Gabe Polsky's Red Army was one of the best sports documentaries I've seen, and in this more dryly cerebral film, he talks to sporting legends like Pelé, Jerry Rice and Wayne Gretzky about what separated them from the pack. There's hand-eye and natural athleticism and all that, but what's different about the great, it seems, is their pure love of their sport and desire to understand it at a profound level. As a kid, Gretzky, arguably the best ice hockey player there's ever been, used to sit watching games with a drawing of the rink, using a pen to trace the puck's path without looking. Why? He was learning how to be great. PW
The world needs characters, and they don't come more cussed or distinctive than Diana Kennedy. Born in Essex in 1923, Diana Southwood emigrated to Canada in the 1950s, sold Wedgewood, got married and moved to Mexico. After her husband, the journalist Paul Kennedy died, Diana fell in love with Mexican cuisine, and began touring every corner of the country in a battered pick-up, gathering up recipes and tips. As we discover in Elizabeth Carroll's thoroughly winning documentary, Diana is still going strong at 97, taking no crap off anyone, honking slow drivers and telling it like it is. Her enthusiasm is compelling. PW
I imagine even some card-carrying Republicans would shed a furtive tear of joy if they woke to find that the Trump incumbency had been a protracted nightmare and Barack Obama was still in the White House. Under the Trump administration, America has stepped up its internal race war, seriously weakened its historic links with the EU, the UN, NATO and the WHO, courted crass plutocrats from Vladimir Putin to Jair Bolsonaro and become an international laughing stock - all for the sake of an economic boom that began under Obama and has just definitively ended.
But spare a thought for Donald, who in his corner has a wife who resembles a shop mannequin and a daughter and son-in-law whose political incompetence is exceeded only by their wild ambition. Obama, on the other hand, had Michelle - a lawyer, writer and philanthropist who was every inch her husband's intellectual equal and would be a huge asset to him throughout his two terms, sustaining popularity levels akin to his own.
Michelle Obama conducted herself with impeccable dignity during her husband's tenure, and let's not forget she had a lot to put up with: during the 2008 presidential election campaign she was portrayed by the right wing press as a shrewish extremist, and throughout her husband's tenure lived through a sustained barrage of bigotry, lies and hatred.
We caught glimpses of the real Michelle from time to time, like the moment she shared a joke with George W Bush Jr at the inauguration ceremony, but mostly she was obliged to sustain her smiling mask.
In this Netflix documentary, she emerges from her husband's shadow as we follow her around America and (briefly) the UK during the stadium-filling book tour that accompanied the publication of her memoir, Becoming. This film comes with a caveat: the Obamas have a production deal with Netflix, and Becoming was made through their own company, Higher Ground, so those expecting a warts-and-all portrait will go away disappointed.
That said, however, I'm not sure how many warts they'd find anyway, because Michelle's passion for education, justice and equal opportunity seem utterly genuine, and she looks happiest not on a stage or in front of a TV interviewer, but when talking to young people who are making the best of it in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, not unlike the one she emerged from herself.
I would have liked a bit more biographical background in Becoming, which seems to assume that you're a paid-up fan and have already devoured Michelle's memoir. She does, though, return to Chicago's south side to briefly discuss her upbringing and the influence of her father, who saw she was bright and encouraged her to aim high. She recalls meeting her future husband at a Chicago law firm and remembers seeing for the first time his remarkable oratorical powers when he spoke at a community event. The revelation that raising kids in the White House was tough is hardly earth-shattering, but her description of leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the final time is interesting: she sobbed on the plane, she admits, partly out of sadness, mainly from relief.
Michelle Obama can seem so perfect in every way that glimpses of human foibles are attractive. She has not forgiven the high-school teacher who insisted she wasn't smart enough to go to Princeton. She went to Princeton. And Michelle is still bitter about how she and her husband were treated by the press, even sometimes the liberal press.
"When they go low, we go high," is perhaps Michelle's most famous mantra, but doing so can't have been easy, and in her book she talked about how ill-prepared America was for its first black president.
Now though, she is free of all that and though well able for the razzmatazz that surrounds her book tour (crowded arenas, Q&As with Oprah), Michelle seems most at ease sitting around talking to young people.
The looks on the faces of the young African-American women she meets at community events speak volumes about the difference she is making, and has made. "I'm doing what you're doing," she tells them, "I'm figuring out what I want to do." And when asked about how she adjusted to life after the presidency, she says that "so little of what I am happened in those eight years, so much more of who I am happened before".
Airbrushed though this documentary is, it reminds you of a time when the White House was occupied by people who actually believed in something. Trump stands for everything that is worst about America - isolationism, racism, exceptionalism, arrogance, greed. Maybe, just maybe, the Obamas stood for a lot of what is best.