Documentaries by the Dozen
My personal favs! - yay or nay, my little Listerines? 🎬🎥🎟🏆❤️
- •Grey GardensThe Maysles Brothers, 1975 • The quintessential documentary phenomenon, GG reached cult classic status with adaptations from stage to screen (my personal fav was the 2007 Broadway musical starring Tony-winner Christine Ebersole in a tour de force) and a huge fan base that worships the iconoclastic mother-daughter duo. Jackie O's "crazy" reclusive aunt & cousin hide from Hampton society and the world in the eponymous rotting home overrun with cats and garbage; but these women are very much alive.
- •Paris Is BurningJennie Livingston, 1990 • Vogue. The word might conjure up a certain Material Girl, but PiB sets us straight (so to speak): Madonna - & all straight culture - stole vogueing and ball culture from the urban gay landscape of the 80s/90s. Livingston allows her colorful subjects to teach the children about balls, drag, reading, shade, and life as a sexual/gender minority in NYC amidst AIDS, supermodels, & Reaganomics; by doing so, she captured a hidden world that has captivated doc fans for decades.
- •Madonna: Truth or DareAlex Keshishian, 1991 • Long before Madge desperately clung onto youth with her Gollum-like arms, she was the 80s pop diva who conquered the world and showed no signs of slowing down. Ms. Ciccone teases and toys with the camera, relishing the 24/7 attention with a no holds barred candidness that clearly made her the sassy starlet she was back in 1990 on her controversial Blonde Ambition tour. The triumph of this doc was its black&white honesty, showing us both Madonna and the girl from Detroit.
- •Bowling for ColumbineMichael Moore, 2002 • There's a moment in BfC in which the sociopolitically incensed Moore takes a break from bashing U.S. gun fanaticism and investigating the tragedy of Littleton, Colorado in 1999 to sit down with rocker Marilyn Manson, whose two fans were also the shooters. "What would you have said to them?" Moore asks Manson. "Nothing, I would've listened. Because nobody did." I love this moment, in which the scapegoats finally had the chance to hold a mirror up to American audiences.
- •Room 237Rodney Asch, 2012 • A doc that will stay with you forever. And ever...and ever...and ever. Every hardcore film fan deserves a doc made solely about the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of their favorite movie. Room 237 is that doc for me. Horror is my favorite genre, and The Shining is my personal Best Pic. So it's no surprise that the conspiracy theory-laden R237 rings my bell. I mean, Asch almost had me believing that Kubrick staged the moon landing and Shining was his confession! Amazeballs.
- •Man on WireJames Marsh, 2008 • James Marsh has a pretty great last name, but that's not why this contemporary classic is on the List; Philippe Petit's death defying stunt on a single wire between the Twin Towers in 1974 is. Marsh deftly weaves real footage of Petit's team with nail biting reenactments that make the slow building doc feel more like a heist film. Petit ascends the first Tower in disguise and creeps out onto the middle of the wire on a foggy day - a poignant moment today in the wake of 9/11.
- •Grizzly ManWerner Herzog, 2005 • Is Timothy Treadwell an insane egotistical fame-seeker, or a passionate environmental advocate/activist? This debate raged in my head during my first screening of Herzog's most suspenseful film yet. The big off screen threat is the inevitable grizzly attack, which Treadwell is oblivious to. "That's Mr. Chocolate - HEY MR. CHOCOLATE!" he shouts at a mammoth bear lumbering up behind him as he talks to the camera. A brutal, can't-look-away take on the man vs. wild discourse.
- •Hoop DreamsSteve James, 1994 • The NBA and its stars felt like a much bigger deal in the 90s, amiright? Maybe that's why this sprawling 5-year epic of two inner city families who rest their hopes and dreams on the basketball careers of their two boys, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who are sent to private school to further their athleticism and potentially secure a place on an NBA team, was such a hit. HD is about many things: gentrification, minority education rights, parental pressure, & of course, 🏀!
- •Harlan County, USABarbara Kopple, 1976 • An angry mob screams at a scab - a cop fires at a striker in the crowd - a mother stands up and sings her protest anthem, "Whose Side Are You On?" Kopple's (the 4th female documentarian on this list - Popular Hollywood could learn a gender equality lesson from its nerdier cousin, Documentary Film) cinema verite approach placed her smack dab in the midst of a violent coal mining strike over the course of a year in rural Kentucky. Harlan County is Norma Rae, but MUCH darker.
- •Jesus CampRachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, 2006 • as a lapsed Catholic who felt a little "are you gonna make me wear Nikes and drink the koolaid?" throughout my childhood, I developed an unfortunate skepticism and even bitterness towards some forms of Christianity, particularly when there was blatant cultishness going on. Exhibit A: Jesus Camp. I still cannot shake the image (seen on the film's poster) of a young camper sobbing uncontrollably as she prays for forgiveness and praises Jesus' name. Hallelujah?
- •Super Size MeMorgan Spurlock, 2004 • My family loved to eat. And eat we did, although my Italian side definitely balked at our fast food choices. The Golden Arches were a safe haven, an oasis, a delicious distraction from reality. I remember my parents getting me Mickey D's when I lost out in auditions or got straight A's. They were/are great parents, but as Spurlock shows thru his SSM experiment, in which he only eats fa(s)t food for a month straight, they set me up for unhealthy eating habits. #USAobesity
- •The Thin Blue LineErrol Morris, 1988 • I have deep cinematic respect for what I call the game-changers - those once in a generation films that define a cinematic moment for an audience by breaking old rules and new ground. The Thin Blue Line may be my least favorite favorite doc on this List, but it's also widely considered the most influential. If you've seen a crime doc - think Making a Murderer or Unsolved Mysteries - you've seen the impact of TTBL's then-revolutionary reenactments and witness interviews.
- •Amendment!I knew I'd forget one... Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. May not be the most prestigious, but it's certainly a personal favorite and might be the doc I've watched the most - I can't believe I forgot it on the original List! For shaaaaaame.
- •Honorable Mention:• Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father • 20 Feet From Stardom • Waltz With Bashir • War/Dance