Top 25 Documentaries of the Decade

29 Dec


January 5th, 2009–

Happy New Year all! Cinematropolis is striving to catch up in the wake of the holidays. For my part, they were pretty great but jumping back on the blogging horse is proving to be a tricky task. I’ve got all those pesky ‘best of’ lists to whittle through, and then a big stack of new stuff to hurdle before launching into some site changes for the new year. Either way, I’ve tackled another list to the ground.

This past decade was an interesting one for the documentary film. More financially successful than ever before, documentaries (and the directors behind them) had at long last an audience hungry for their work and a culture ready to adapt and assimilate what it was they were selling. Whether it be the works of Michael Moore, lovable penguins, or a lone doofus consuming as much McDonald’s as he could shove in his pie hole, the genre was connecting with the general public in a way it never had previously. When Al Gore used it as a venue to preach the dangers of global warming, there was a new fire and purpose injected into the medium.

Documentaries are no longer viewed as a cinematic niche and their potential for global impact has been teased by more than a few titles. But what has most impressed me about the form over the last decade is the number of different stories being told. Social technologies like Youtube and the like have opened up a new world to the casual filmmaker, and the indie scene is supporting three times as much talent as  it had only six or seven years earlier. In this fertile new context, documentaries have come into their own.

Without further ado, the best documentaries of the decade:


Best Long-Form Documentary works:


National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009) Directed by: Ken Burns


mn-TV_PARKS_REVI_0500659136 I love the work of Ken Burns. As a chronicler and researcher, he has few equals in his field. So rich is the material he chooses and so expansive is his scope that even a seemingly mundane topic like national parks takes on the form of an epic mini-series. And as good as The War was earlier this decade, Parks is ultimately more compelling because of where it chooses to fix its gaze and focus its energies. Burns does not approach the subject from a scientific or naturalistic viewpoint. He’s coming to it as an artist. The series has a surprisingly spiritual bent and it’s been designed like an piece of moving art that covers the history of America’s parks as well as the beauty and splendor that they protect and encase. One of the singularly most impressive 12 hours of anything I’ve recently watched.  



 Planet Earth (2006)


gw-785222 The BBC’s awe-inspiring miniseries Planet Earth revolutionized the way we look at nature documentaries. I’ve never before seen the natural world depicted in such an up-close and personal way and it has certainly never been captured so poignantly or with as much breath-taking detail.  In addition, the series had the forethought to grab some excellent narrators. David Attenborough for the British version is a masterstroke of genius. Hearing him again on a product of such quality is a delight in and of itself. Sigourney Weaver on the American iteration also holds her own, and provides a clear and passionate narration of one of the grandest television events of the aughts. To see this in hi-def is to experience the full effect of that technology. Glorious.



Best Documentary Feature Length Films:


Honorable Mentions:


Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009) Directed by: Sacha Gervasi 


By turns sad, funny and even inspiring, Anvil: The Story of Anvil! tells the story of a still rockin’ Toronto based metal band who came close to celebrity but never hit. Robb Reiner and Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow have been friends since childhood and their ups and downs as the signature members of Anvil is documented with affection, wit and an odd sense of melancholy. Through it all, Kudlow perseveres with an optimism that often borders on the perverse. After a tour so disastrous that even a thriving band might have called it quits, Steve observes: “Everything went wrong, but at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on.” Fate is often fickle. In Anvil’s case, they seem determined to ignore fate and not go quietly into that good night.



Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) Directed by: Alex Gibney


w620_m676289389  A smart and illuminating look at Enron from its dubious rise to its inevitable fall. Gibney’s film is hard-hitting and not afraid to take big swings at the morally adrift leaders of what was at one time, the world’s seventh largest company. From the devastating consequences of Enron’s collapse to the global shadiness that helped them in their climb, no sordid stone is left unturned. The result is a picture that doesn’t simply stand on the outside, pointing the finger. It gets inside and examines the sickness that poisoned the company from the ground up. An examination of greed and corruption, it should serve as a cautionary tale for our time.  



Hell House (2001) Directed by: George Ratliff


hellhouse Hell House is a fascinating peek into a disconcerting practice. Every year Trinity Church in Cedar Hill Texas puts on a ‘hell house’ for Halloween. Designed to bring in unbelievers and scare them into salvation, this spiritually-minded house of horrors is produced and acted out by members of the congregation. The set pieces: a dying aids patient taunted by demons, a harrowing rape scene that ends with the victim committing suicide and perhaps most gruesome, a bloody, botched abortion. Instead of rampaging in with a careless condemning ax to grind, Ratliff takes a more interesting tact. He shows this church and its congregants as they really are. Watch for the scene where one family deals with the youngest member’s unexpected seizures. Confounding and absorbing in equal measure.  



  Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple (2006) Directed by: Stanley Nelson


"Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples TempleÓ and ÒJesus CampÓ will screen as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and SciencesÕ 26th annual ÒContemporary DocumentariesÓ series on Wednesday, October 3, at 7 p.m. at the AcademyÕs Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood. Admission is free. Pictured here: A scene from "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.Ó  Courtesy of WGBH Educational Foundation  What is it that draws in members to a cult? When everything and everyone else is pointing out the dangers in the road, what compels some to keep the course regardless? I’ve always been fascinated by the evolution and eventual, tragic end of People’s Temple, the religious cult led by the pervasive and incendiary Jim Jones. Culled together from audio recordings, accounts of survivors and harrowing interviews, Jonestown is a careful and tragic look at what began as an outlet of hope and faith for so many and ended as a mass suicide via Cyanide-laced Koolaid in the jungles of Guyana. Chilling recordings that show Jones preaching his belief about the impact of their mass death and an interview with a survivor that held his wife as she died add to the film’s emotional power.  



The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2005) Directed by: Judy Irving


mark%20bittner Mark Bittner is a man who would be easy to dismiss. The city of San Francisco barely registers his presence. A homeless musician who wanders the city, Bittner finds and befriends a flock of cherry-headed conures (parrots who seasonally occupy the Telegraph Hill area). As presented by Irving, Bittner rises to the surface as a man of intelligence and compassion and he has things to say. He spends his time learning about the birds, their methods, habits and the traits of their species and he begins to mark his life by the ways in which it intersects with theirs. The movie is more about the man than the parrots, but both facets give the film its drama. By the end, we are happy to have spent this time on that hill with both Mark and the birds.





The Top Twenty:


20.  Lake of Fire (2006) Directed by: Tony Kaye 


02fire600-706052 Not everyone will be capable of making it through to the end of Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire. That is understandable. Perhaps the most even-handed film I’ve ever seen on a topic as polarizing as abortion, Kaye’s approach is to examine the extreme and painful truths that sit on both sides of the fence.  It’s unlikely the film will change your viewpoint, but it details the arguments of the other view so well that it may in fact aid in the overall social conversation. Warning to those interested; this is a graphic film and presents on-screen the procedure and results of an abortion. It takes a daunting issue and isn’t afraid to push it front and center.


 19. Winged Migration (2003) Directed by: Jacques Perrin 



I don’t often think of documentaries as sensory experiences. That all changed with my first viewing of Perrin’s Winged Migration, a revelatory film that observes the migratory lives of several different species of birds. Short on actual facts and information, Migration is a visual masterwork that uses sights, sounds and stellar cinematic composition to create a journey that transports us from our seat to the POV of small birds who soar past monuments both natural and man-made to do what their kind have done since time immemorial. I’ve seen this one several times and it never loses its spellbinding grandeur.



18. The Devil Came on Horseback (2007) Directed by: Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern


1199780656_1After operating as an military observer for the African Union, U.S. Marine Brian Steidle found himself taking up the cause of educating American government on the reality of the Darfur scenario in the Sudan. Steidle brought back horrific and damning photos from his time there, but the apathy he was met with upon his return are what drive this docu’s sense of purpose. There have been several pieces recently centered on the genocide in Darfur, but this one rises above the others by benefit of Steidle, a patriotic military man who finds he cannot defend his own country’s inaction. There’s not much in the way of over-dramatization or filmmaking frills, but that’s the point. What we are left with is Steidle’s testimony of events and the events themselves, which speak quite clearly on their own.


17. Dogtown and Z Boys (2001) Directed by: Stacy Peralta


dogtown-and-z-boys-1 An interesting and entertaining look at the Californian counter-culture that produced aerial stunt skateboarding. Peralta, the director, is one of the original Z-Boys and may be perhaps too enamored with his friends and their accomplishments, but what he brings to the film is an insider’s eye for the enthusiasm and invention that was going on amidst the group at the time. Also a terrific look at this section of California during the mid 70s, Dogtown is a documentary that is just plain fun to watch. I kept wondering why no one ever managed to break his/her neck while doing these stunts. A lot of the talent on display is best seen to be believed, and it’s relieving to find most of the Z-boys at film’s end, having becoming successful in their own right, necks and skulls fully intact.


16. In the Realms of the Unreal (2004) Directed by: Jessica Yu


IN-THE-REALMS-OF-THE-UNREAL-im4a684990b3f7c If you are ever in the Baltimore area, I suggest a look-see at the Visionary Art Museum in the city. It’s a strange and compelling collection of outsider art that displays the work of the reclusive, eccentric and possibly insane. Henry Darger, the quiet Chicago janitor at the center of Unreal, could have had the crowning exhibit there if he wanted. Darger, who died at the age of 81, left behind numerous collage art pieces, an completed auto-biography and his own fantasy novel, about the children of abuse who take revenge in an epic battle that is largely fought by little girls with penises. Yes, you read that last part right. What’s more, they are voiced by Dakota Fanning. And in Realms, which spends as much time as would be humanly possible in Darger’s frantic mind, Yu brings some of these fantasy sequences to eerie animated life. The resulting concoction is an odd look at an odd man that takes us inside the outsider. 


15. Grizzly Man (2005) Directed by: Werner Herzog  



Speaking of outsiders, Timothy Treadwell might be one of the most confounding and frustrating of all the delusional individuals that have ever tromped through a Herzog film. This does include Herzog himself. At first glance, the Treadwell story is the kind of thing most shrug off with a sad wave of the head. A self-proclaimed environmentalist who believed he could find some kind of spiritual solace living among grizzly bears takes his girlfriend into the wilderness where both are finally mauled to death by the animals he revered. But in the hands of Herzog, Treadwell’s story takes on an almost surreal and poetic turn as we watch Timothy spiral down so deep into his own fantasies that he’s constantly putting himself and others in harm’s way. Treadwell’s footage gets us close to the bears and the beautiful wilderness around him. It also opens a door into his obsession, and that too has a certain frightening fascination.


14. Deep Water (2006) Directed by: Lois Osmond and Jerry Rothwell



Deep Water is a worthy addition to the list for many reasons, but chief among them is the way it organizes its subjects. Casting light on the 1968 yacht race in London that saw 8 competitors attempt to sail round the world, Water tells the story on the surface and then plunges into the depths to explore the experience of Daniel Crowhurst, one of the contestants who never came back. Using ledgers, audio recordings and footage, the film assembles a portrait of Crowhurst as a man coming apart at the seams as he’s lying about his location, planning his way out of the race, and ultimately facing down his own madness. There is an unsolved mystery at the movie’s center, but it satisfies because of how it presents the facts and suggests the dangerous shoals of fantasy that Crowhurst was drifting into out there on the lonely ocean.


 13. The Boys of Baraka (2005) Directed by: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady


boysofbarakasmThere is an underlying sadness to Boys of Baraka. 20 at-risk African American boys (12 and 13 years old) from inner city Baltimore are removed from their home and transplanted in Kenya where they attend the Baraka School. Here, they are taught by English teachers who provide them with life skills and a back-to-the-roots education that includes climbing Mount Kenya. In their current location, they are told their options are “jail, death, or graduation.” Ewing and Grady follow the kids, plucked from one of the most violent schools in Baltimore (believe me, this is not exaggeration) and set down here in impoverished Kenya where they are receiving the kind of education they could never dream of getting back home. Halfway through the docu, events occur that require the school to be shut down and the children packed back to the city. Watching what happens to them, and if any can find their way out of the cycle, is both interesting and heartbreaking. More so is the commentary the film places on the state of our city schools. Let me put it this way; If you have to travel to Kenya to get out of harm’s way and get a good education, something’s wrong.


12. The Gleaners and I (2001) Directed by Agnes Varda



Like Herzog, Agnes Varda likes to pick through the social milieu and find those who have drastically departed from the norm and then focus her gaze on understanding their own unique existence. Werner likes to hone in on individuals, while Varda in Gleaners pursues an entire way of life. The gleaners are scavengers on the French countryside and in the cities who follow after picked over fields or dumpsters in search of leavings that they can take. Vardas, who was in her 70’s at the time she made this film, considers herself a gleaner too, and what she sorts through and takes for this film is simply riveting. You will never find someone rooting through garbage so invigorating.


 11.  The White Diamond (2005) Directed by: Werner Herzog


white-diamond-3 Roger Ebert used to often quote Werner Herzog as saying that we live in a world that is starving for new images. As a filmmaker, Herzog himself has given us plenty, including that long haul of the riverboat across the mountains of South America in Fitzcarraldo. In The White Diamond, he gives us another and with it, an obstinate dreamer like himself who may be more or less than what he claims. Graham Dorrington is a man who has built a tiny airship that he wants to sail over the rain forest. In classic Herzog fashion, the director insists he ride along on the vehicle’s maiden voyage. As visually rich and as eccentric as anything else Herzog has made, Diamond has the distinction of being occasionally funny and legitimately thrilling.



10. The Cove (2009) Directed by: Louie Psihoyos



Ric O’Barry loves dolphins and believes them to be sophisticated and intelligent creatures. Having worked with many of the dolphins who portrayed the original Flipper, Barry has been around the animals long enough to have an affection for them. So when director Psihoyos follows this avid aquatic activist to Taiji, Japan where he believes dolphins are being slaughtered and served up as food, he gets a grand and suspenseful adventure for his efforts. The Cove is the closest any film on this list gets to playing like a conventional cinematic entertainment. O’Barry certainly likes to talk in hyperbole and makes plenty of overarching assumptions about his aquatic friends, but he isn’t a terrorist or a delusional like Timothy Treadwell. The film follows what amounts to a covert operation that plays like Planet Earth meets Ocean’s Eleven. The stealth operation is wonderfully suspenseful, O’Barry’s crack team endlessly amusing and the secret behind the cove is honestly heartbreaking.


9.The Fog of War (2004) Directed  by Errol Morris


thefogofwarpicGreat documentarian Errol Morris sits down with former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara and allows him to talk about his life, his work and what it was like making decisions that led to everything from the firebombing of Japan to the Vietnam war. At 84, McNamara is clear-headed, confident and speaks liberally of his time in Washington. Morris used a technique that allows the audience to spend most of their time looking into McNamara’s eyes and the director supplements the interview with footage, visualizations and added information that is occasionally missing from his subject’s remembrances. And those 11 lessons?  – 1. Empathize with your enemy. – 2. Rationality will not save us. – 3. There’s something beyond one’s self. – 4. Maximize efficiency. – 5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war. – 6. Get the data. – 7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong. – 8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning. – 9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil. – 10. Never say never. – 11. You can’t change human nature.


8. Born into Brothels (2005) Directed by: Zana Briski


group-kids Born Into Brothels is a documentary that grows and expands as it goes along. The real time element of Briski meeting his young subjects in the Red Light district of Calcutta and then sending them out with cameras to capture their lives adds an element of surprise. We come to know the children as Briski does and they find their way into our affections almost immediately. So, when Briski attempts to teach them photography and then start a boarding school that will help pull several of them out of the brothels, we cheer her along. She’s a great teacher and she and her team are well meaning and determined. There are moments of desperation, hopefulness and the unfortunate notion that for every child saved from Calcutta there are 3 or for more who won’t escape.



7. Into Great Silence (2007) Directed by: Philip Gröning


intog_preview Fancy a nearly three hour film, with minimal dialogue and sound, about the lives of Carthusian monks living in the French Alps? No? Then perhaps Into Great Silence won’t be your cup of tea. Then again, I didn’t think it would be of interest to me either. Groning directs his cameras to capture the intimate details of the monastic lifestyle, including chanting, prayer and observance of rituals but this is not a film big on details or explanation. It is merely observation, and there is a hypnotic surrealism that develops over the course of the film as we follow the monks in their solitude and spiritual seclusion. It takes awhile to adjust to the surroundings, but once you have settled into Silence’s rhythms you will appreciate the patient tone and way it transcends the medium to offer up a captivating work of art.


 6. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007) Directed by: Seth Gordon


17kong-600 Seth Gordon’s King of Kong is one of the most purely pleasing documentaries I have ever seen. It isn’t about a topic of great consequence– in fact the slightness of Donkey Kong championships enriches the sly humor of it all—but it offers up characters who fit perfectly into the archetypes of great fiction. Billie Mitchell is a laughable, comic book villain; once the underdog and now a chump of epic proportions, he strides through Kong like Darth Vader with a mullet. Steve Weibe, a sensitive and unassuming family guy, is the prototypical everyman and he’s easy to like and sympathize with. The fact that the epic duel in question here is an antiquated video game involving a giant monkey throwing barrels isn’t lost on Gordon, and he’s not above taking subtle potshots at those who try to add some cosmic significance to the proceedings.  But every documentary focusing on human ritual aims deeper to understand the need for hope and purpose, and Kong, in a fashion, is no different.



5. No Direction Home (2002) Directed by: Martin Scorsese 



 I’m a big Bob Dylan fan, and like most, I find the man’s musical journey as fascinating as any of his individual work. There’s a trajectory with Dylan that is rather hard to track, and categorically he was always an odd duck, refusing to be pigeonholed but also picking up titles like folk singer and activist without a moment’s consideration. Early in his career, he was literally all over the place. Prior to Scorsese’s film, he’d always been notoriously difficult to pin down. Here, we see him through archived footage and detailed construction of events. The portrait of a man defining himself against the times emerges. It might not always be an image we easily understand, but at the end of the film, we feel like we have gotten a fleeting glimpse at the real Bob Dylan. A superb documentary about a legend by a legend. 


4. Capturing the Friedmans (2003) Directed by Andrew Jarecki


506x316_capturingfriedmans Capturing the Friedmans is one of the most engrossing and disquieting real-life documentations I’ve seen. Jarecki follows the court case of Arnold Friedman, a Long Island high school teacher who is accused of child molestation along with his son Jesse. After the police discover child pornography in Friedman’s basement, the rest of the community comes out of the wood-work with contradicting stories of abuse and sexual misconduct. The entire time these events occur, the younger son David, is taping his family with a video recorder. Jarecki includes these clips in his film and surprisingly they fail to clearly answer the question of Arnold’s guilt regarding the charges. A haunting and at times challenging film about the elusive nature of the truth and the damage that hidden secrets can do to a family.



3. Touching the Void (2003) Directed by: Kevin MacDonald


touching_void,0 Touching the Void isn’t  a documentary according to the normal conventions. It does feature talking heads with the actual mountain climbers, Simon Yates and Joe Simpson, and it’s chronicling actual events. But, for a very large portion of the movie, we are watching a cinematic recreation of Joe and Simon’s ordeal, captured with such breathtaking cinematography and attention to reality that one can almost believe it to be actual footage. This decision by MacDonald makes all the difference and transforms Void into one of the most harrowing and intense adventure films of the decade. When things go wrong on the mountain, and Simon has to cut Joe loose the movie develops into a first rate thriller with Joe’s life hanging in the balance. Simon and Joe, who both obviously survive, provide candid commentary that brings a great deal of humanity to the picture. A high point for survival pictures of any style.


 2. Dark Days (2000) Directed by: Marc Singer


darkdays1 Dark Days is the kind of film that should be prerequisite viewing for would-be documentarians. It may be Singer’s only film, but it’s such an achievement that if he never makes another he can consider his career a success. Getting his camera in and among the homeless population living in the undergrounds of New York City, Singer shines a light on a completely different world  The black and white cinematography aids in establishing the subterranean enclaves as apart and separate from the rest of New York. This is a strange and haunting microcosm but Singer concentrates on the people and brings a depth of bewildering emotion to his film. It’s eye opening and exhilarating. An ambient and evocative score by DJ Shadow enhances Dark Days sense of the mysterious.



1.Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008) Directed by: Kurt Kuenne


dear_zachary_photo_1_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85Perhaps the most emotionally disarming film I’ve seen in the past 10 years, Dear Zachary begins as Kurt Kuenne’s remembrance of his friend Andrew Bagby, who was found shot to death days after breaking up with his posessive girlfriend. Kurt went on the road to learn more about Andrew, his family, and what he had been up to in that time since they were kids. While she is in jail, the ex announces she is pregnant with Andrew’s son. Kuenne switches his focus to making a gift of the documentary to Zachary, Andrew’s son. Because of Kuenne’s flexibility and dedication to following the film through to completion, the audience experiences the entire grueling situation and the effect it has on Andrew’s parents. If you haven’t seen the film, I suggest not reading anything else and just see it. Due both to the odd set of circumstances that come with this tragic story, and Kuenne’s ability as a filmmaker to shine emotional light on his subjects, Dear Zachary is one of the finest examples of its genre and a movie that will stick with you for a very long time. A masterpiece.

28 Responses to “Top 25 Documentaries of the Decade”

  1. koutchboom January 6, 2010 at 11:07 am #

    NICE! I love this list. Need to see maybe half of them.

    Just caught Winged Migration the other day, beautiful film. On the dvd do they show what contraption they made to film those shots?

    MAN! You make me realize how I need to stop moving docs further down my Queue. Namely, in the Relms of the Unreal been meaning to watch that for AGES! Especially since I THINK not sure, Simpsons did a couch gag about it.

  2. Droid January 6, 2010 at 11:09 am #

    I’ve seen a grand total of 1 of these! Dogtown. Might have to expand my horizons.

    Have you seen Collapse? I just saw that an it’s terrific, in a terrifying way.

    • koutchboom January 6, 2010 at 11:13 am #

      Droid, start with King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. That movie is awesome. Its also got the best soundtrack of whatever year it came out.

      • Droid January 6, 2010 at 11:20 am #

        I’ve heard thats good. I just keep putting off watching docs for no real reason.

    • Bartleby January 6, 2010 at 11:54 am #

      I just watched Collapse. I’m still chewing it over. His basic hypothesis seems sound, but it’s a terrifying proposition.

  3. koutchboom January 6, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    I loved Hell House. A lot better the Jesus Camp.

    What did you think of Food Inc? I really liked it, its the movie Eric has been trying to make, it made me stop eating pork.

    • Bartleby January 6, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

      Food Inc was quite good, and there were several other good docus this year, but none that could quite dethrone what went on there. Anvil and The Cove were the winners for me this year, but I’d also give a shout out to Under Our Skin, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, The Beaches of Agnes, Horse Boy, Youssou Ndor: I Bring What I Love, and Time and the City.

      I reviewed Beetle Queen over here:

  4. koutchboom January 6, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    Though my favorite doc is still Stevie. By the Hoop Dreams guy.

    • koutchboom January 6, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

      You seen Stevie Bart?

      • Bartleby January 6, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

        That was a disturbing movie. I kept thinking it was late 90s, but sure enough, 2002. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Jarv January 6, 2010 at 11:14 am #

    Touching the Void is fucking superb Droid.

    Good list Jonah.

    • Droid January 6, 2010 at 11:19 am #

      Yeah, I’ve been meaning to see that one. Seen One Day In September which was good.

      • koutchboom January 6, 2010 at 11:19 am #

        Yeah that movie was so good, made me hate Munch.

  6. koutchboom January 6, 2010 at 11:19 am #

    No The Annabel Chong Story or The Girl Next Door?

    Oh wait they were 99.

  7. koutchboom January 6, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    Bart, you ever seen any of the 7 Up series?

    • koutchboom January 6, 2010 at 11:21 am #

      Simpsons did it as well.

    • Bartleby January 6, 2010 at 11:55 am #

      the 7 up series is great…I didn’t put the latest iteration on here because it doesn’t quite stand alone, and I wanted to give the spotlight to other films. I’m hoping to do a series covering all the Up films later this month or next.

  8. koutchboom January 6, 2010 at 11:30 am #

    We Live in Public really want to see that as well.

  9. Frank Marmoset January 6, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    Great list, Bartleby. A lot of films I really liked, and a lot I’m going to have to track down and watch.

    My favourite is probably No Direction Home, mostly because I’m such a Bob Dylan nerd. That’s a great look at an artist finding his voice, and it ends with one of the greatest ‘Fuck You!” moments in the history of rock.

    Have you seen Best Worst Movie? It’s a documentary about the making of Troll 2 that’s supposed to be pretty good, but I’ve yet to find it anywhere. Not sure if it’s had a major release yet.

  10. Bartleby January 6, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    Best Worst Movie has thus far eluded me, but I want to see it. Another one, Blood, Boobs, and Beasts was about the Baltimorian Ed Wood: Dan Doheler who made low budget schlockers. It was directed by a guy I went to school with, so I left it off the list, but it’s a good one.

  11. Continentalop January 6, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

    Bartleby, have you seen “No End in Sight”? I thought that was an awesome documentary (and one of my favorite ones from the past decade).

    Otherwise, awesome list. I have a lot of movies to get caught up on.

    • Bartleby January 6, 2010 at 6:06 pm #

      I liked No End in Sight, but I think it didn’t work for me in quite the same way the rest of these did. Im sure it could be said that one is more influential, but these I personally appreciated more.

  12. koutchboom January 7, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    God remember in 04 all those docs about the different presidential nominations running? That was annoying.

  13. Strabo January 8, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    Interesting list, Bartleby. I sadly haven’t seen even half of these. I have seen a bunch of other docus that you didn’t include though, and I’m curious if you’ve seen them.

    Encounters at the End of the World (you already have two Herzog docus in the list, why not one more?)
    Control Room (excellent docu on Al Jazeera)
    Up the Yangtze (docu about the Yangtzee river showing sections that were flooded by the creation of the Three Gorges Dam)
    Religulous (I’m an atheist, so anything that points out how fucking stupid religion is gets my vote)
    Standard Operating Procedure (another Errol Morris docu, this one about the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal)

    By the way, I’m Rhuragh from the threads on Beaks’ list on AICN.

  14. Bartleby January 8, 2010 at 5:56 pm #


    I’ve seen all of those except Religulous.

    Encounters was good, but for some reason it didn’t quite connect with me like the other two on here. I probably need to see it again.

    Control Room was great, and to be honest the reason it’s not on this list is probably because I forgot about it.

    Up the Yangtze was a great docu, but it felt curiously long in the middle sections and it really lagged there for awhile. The subject was interesting and most of the execution was good too, but it didn’t impress me the same way these others did.

    Not a Bill Maher fan at all so I didn’t see this one.

    Standard Operating Procedure was decent, but honestly I think I had just had my fill of all the war-centered docus at the time, and it didn’t quite distinguish itself for my tastes.

    Thats the thing though, there were just so many worthwhile documentaries this past decade. I probably could have done a best 50 list and not have come up dry.

  15. doctor documentary March 15, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    What an excellent list! I couldn’t agree more with your number one choice – Dear Zachary is a masterpiece. Thanks!

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