It Ain’t Over

2023, USA, 99 min.

To many younger Americans, Yogi Berra (1925-2015) wasn’t a Hall of Fame baseball player and a cog in the New York Yankees’ endless dynasty, but a lovable old font of folksy wisdom (“When you get to a fork in the road—take it!”) with a funny name and a teddy-bear physique. In this heartwarming documentary, director Sean Mullin—relying on interviews with the baseball legend’s friends, teammates and family members—examines Berra’s accomplishments as a baseball player and explores his personal life. Berra was a devoted family man who stormed Normandy in World War II. He happily bonded with younger ballplayers in his later years, instead of living in the curdled past. This is the rare sports documentary that hits a personal note, reminding us that a life lies behind every older person we dismiss or thoughtlessly categorize. Berra becomes a proxy for the older relative and neighbor we choose to know in a limited way.


Turn Every Page

2022, USA, 112 min. 

This warm, bittersweet documentary examines the 50-plusyear relationship between Robert A. Caro and Robert Gottlieb. Caro is a titan of American nonfiction, thanks to his exhaustive, beloved biographies of Robert Moses (The Power Broker, 1974) and Lyndon B. Johnson. Gottlieb is his former New Yorker editor. Their frequently contentious relationship has endured the tumultuous world of book publishing and debates over semicolon usage. The heart of this winning film from Lizzie Gottlieb (Robert Gottlieb’s daughter) is its portrayal of two different but passionate craftsmen—Caro pounds away on a typewriter; Gottlieb edits in pencil—looking for a final triumph as Caro completes the final volume of his LBJ masterwork. In an environment where information is nonstop, Turn Every Page reminds us that someone exists behind every word. In some cases, it’s their life’s work. 


The Automat

2021, USA, 79 min.

The Automat, a Philadelphia and New York dining fixture for decades, was all ornate chrome, marble and enchantment. Patrons fed nickels into a window to grab food—from creamed spinach to coconut cream pies—all, freshly made. Anybody could dine out in style. Director Lisa Hurwitz’s wistful, insightful documentary covers the chain eatery’s rise in the early part of the 20th century (more women working in cities) and its precipitous fall in the 1950s and 60s (the exodus to the suburbs; the presence of frozen foods). The film’s charm, though, comes from former patrons’ childhood memories. Mel Brooks marvels over the Automat’s perfect coffee; Ruth Bader Ginsburg recalls dropping in after her piano lesson. Hurwitz, who was in her early 20s when she started filming in 2013, shows how past cultural institutions in America have emotional resonance and an impact on today’s standbys. To wit, Howard Shultz credits his childhood visit to an Automat with inspiring his own chain—Starbucks.


If You’re Not in the Obits, Eat Breakfast

2017, USA, 86 min.

The title of this documentary serves as a guiding principle for Carl Reiner, the 95-year-old comedy legend, who gets thrown for a loop when he sees himself in the accompanying photo for the Los Angeles Times’ obituary of actress Polly Bergen. That scare gets Reiner thinking. Every time he turns on the computer—Reiner writes every day and has penned five books since hitting 90—people of advanced age are doing amazing things. What’s the secret? What ensues is a charming, effervescent series of profiles featuring nonagenarians doing everything from one-man shows (Kirk Douglas, still vital after a stroke) to teaching yoga (the endearing and spritely Tao Porchon-Lynch). The mixture of everyday folks and famous people will inspire and educate all viewers. Thriving in old age cannot be acquired with money or status. It has everything to do with having the right attitude and being comfortable with yourself. 


2014, USA, 79 min.

For those who believe our 90s are the age for gracefully fading away, meet Iris Apfel, who is live and in living color in this documentary. As was his wont, the late, revered Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens), then 87 years old, follows the New York City interior designer as she goes about her life’s tasks—and he offers us a fascinating life lesson. She haggles for bracelets in Harlem and searches for treasures at a swap meet in Florida. In her professional world, one that peddles luxury and ease—from highfalutin soirees to the vapidity of home shopping television—Apfel, with her wagon-wheel eyeglasses and crayon-inspired wardrobe, has always been herself. With short interviews and footage, Maysles reveals Apfel’s curiosity and openness, and the little pleasures—like making her husband (and Maysles) a cup of tea—that feed her soul. Iris is less a documentary than a filmed blueprint for living a fulfilling life.

Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You

2016, USA, 91 min.

This endearing documentary profiles Lear, the man behind such exalted TV series as All in the Family and Maude, as he promotes his 2014 memoir, Even This I Get to Experience. The movie’s real focus is capturing the then 93-year-old in the full bloom of life. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady let Lear talk, and he’s enchanting: engaged and curious, vehemently opposed to sitting still. Life has been “wondrous,” though Lear has had every reason to curdle: a childhood full of sadness, crippling work pressures, a stormy earlier marriage. We all have reasons.  Life is hard. As you get older, the incentives to sit and collect dust increase daily. But if you keep a dash of curiosity and an open mind—Lear started therapy in his 80s—the horizon expands. Age is not a death sentence; it’s definitely not a reason to lower the bar. “I’m sometimes applauded for walking across the room,” he says. Translation/inspiration: I am not done yet.