the decade: documentaries

Thursday, December 31, 2009 by Chris
like every self-loathing media-phile out there i'm fan enough of making lists to actually throw a handful together and post them here with applicable youtubery and personal comments and whatever other odds n ends i can scrape together.

starting things off, in no particular order whatsoever, are some the best documentaries i've managed to put eyeballs on over the past ten years or so. there are a ton that i still need to see and please feel free to make some recommendations in the comments.

a list of music documentaries is coming up shortly followed by music, movies and favorite hot dogs i ate.


making wisconsin death trip prepared james marsh in how to maintain a quality of tone in the faceless reenactments reenactments that go on here, and it really shows. the subject matter is so interesting and the payoff is so compelling (some crazy frenchman straddling a tightrope strung between the two towers!) that this could have been just another documentary in someone else hands, but here it's endlessly valuable as an objective document of what happened as well as a subtle yet invaluable remembrance of the birth of the twin towers.


i've always valued the admitted myth of objectivity, in the realm of news reporting as well as the world of the documentary, and this is easily one of the most objective documents of a ceaselessly complex debater as we're ever going to get. this is really something that i cannot recommend highly enough to everyone and everyone out there to find and watch, however difficult it might be to make it through.


bowling for columbine, more than his other great documentary fahrenheit 9/11, thoroughly captured the zeitgeist of what was happening in american popular media in the late 90s and early 00s and introduced us to michael moore warts and all. yes there's that garishly awkward and ultimately pointless gesture of placing the picture of the dead kid in charleton heston's driveway, but the vast amount of subject matter covered and wound together so tightly more than makes up for moore's occasionally ham handed attempts at tugging at the audiences emotions.


like lake of fire, this documentary did a fantastic job of presenting its subject matter in such a well rounded way that it was (if i remember correctly) championed by a number of evangelical christian groups while being seen as a true-life horror film by a number of liberals (myself included). this is not terribly far from some of the things that i saw and experienced in my youth, so it hit pretty close to home. having said that, the film never made a mockery of its subject matter nor passed judgments on them.


while this was certainly not the spike lee decade, he was one of the deftest directors to touch on the two worst events of the past ten years, here with katrina, and in the 25th hour with the 9/11 attacks.


a feature length documentary about a font. and it's awesome. i was raised by a work-at-home graphic designer of a mother and made middle school reports using quark xpress back when that actually meant something, so this design-porn posing as a documentary had me at the first frame. sadly the objectified doc they made a last year (?) wasn't nearly as compelling.


ray johnson was by no means a a well known artists from his generation, but this documentary thrusts him into the limelight in the wake his suicide with a number of interviews with his contemporaries and copious amounts of glimpses at his life-as-art masterpiece.


such an excellent example of filmmakers taking such an esoteric pastime as old school arcade game world records and finding such idiosyncratic characters and an unbelievably perfectly story. apparently the bad guy in the film isn't nearly as bad a dude as he's made out to be if imdb forums are to be believed.


this is the entirety of the dot com bubble presented in the microcosmic rise and fall of one company.


i hesitated putting this on here because it's been a really long time since i've seen it, but i remembered it being really really good and just a crazy fucked up trip down a twisty turny rabbit hole of this family and that it kept drastically altering the viewers expectations all along the way.


herzog finds a subject in real life about as crazy as any of his characters and even himself and the results are frighteningly engrossing.


this is a great little film that puts director john landis in memphis examining the life of a used car salesman. there's nothing fancy going on here, just good old salt of the earth america. in any number of the odd manual labor jobs i've had in my life, i've worked with a number of variations on this guy, and the documentary does an excellent job of portraying the humanity that lies underneath the cigarette stained and leather-skinned exterior.

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