Picks and Pans Review: DVD View

updated 01/26/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/26/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

Forget reality TV: For truly gripping tales of the human condition, look no further than this pair of outstanding documentaries. The first was Oscar-nominated last year; the second will likely receive a nod this month.

Spellbound (Columbia TriStar, $26.96)

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This letter-perfect look at kids' quests to win the 1999 National Spelling Bee is as pulse-pounding as a popcorn action flick and as emotionally wrenching as a Meryl Streep weepie.

Extras: Enlightening commentary from the producer and director, who chronicle the perils of working on a tiny budget; deleted scenes focusing on three other competitors who prove less compelling than the film's eight featured kids; and brief updates on each speller (one is already engaged!). (G)

Capturing the Friedmans (HBO, $29.95)

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Full of disturbing revelations, director Andrew Jarecki's examination of a seemingly tranquil suburban family ensnared in a child-molestation scandal-Arnold Friedman and his son Jesse were convicted of abuse, perhaps on shaky evidence—haunts long after viewing.

Extras: Jarecki's fascinating commentary details how his short film about New York City clowns (Just a Clown, also included) morphed into Friedmans. A packed second disc—with additional interviews and evidence, emotional reactions to the movie from its subjects and a feature on Jesse's tough adjustment to life after prison—perfectly complements the film. (Not rated)

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