Disclaimer: These are the ten films that would have absolutely made my all-time favorite list if I had expanded it to thirty films. All of them come very highly recommended, and deserve some sort of mention or shout out, no matter how brief. I chose to disqualify any film covered in my Doctober features this past month, otherwise many of those films would have appeared on this list without a doubt. Without further ado, here are my ten honorable mentions in alphabetical order:
102 Minutes That Changed America (2008)
Directed by: Nicole Rittenmeyer, Seth Skundrick
This is exactly what the title implies – 102 minutes of amateur videos taken from ground zero and the surrounding areas on the morning and afternoon of September 11th, 2001. 102 Minutes That Changed America was a History Channel original that premiered in 2008, bringing with it a great deal of never-before-seen footage. The film takes place in real-time and splices the footage together seamlessly. The home movies shown throughout 102 Minutes are startling as they show just how terrifying and real this event was, especially in an age where not everybody had internet access. People struggle to contact their families, flee from ground zero, while others look on helplessly from their high-rise apartment buildings as the world falls apart in front of their very eyes. 102 Minutes That Changed America is incredible in its use of amateur footage, and is incredibly difficult to watch because of the memories and emotions it evokes. This isn’t some idiotic piece of conspiracy theorist rhetoric, but instead reality in its purest, ugliest, most tragic form.
Beauty Day (2011)
Directed by: Jay Cheel
Starring: Ralph Zavadil
Film Junk Podcast co-host Jay Cheel’s directorial debut shows restraint and passion that few documentary debuts ever have. Beauty Day tells the story of Ralph Zavadil, better known to many Canadians (especially those in the Niagara region) as Cap’n Video, the host of a Jackass-style cable network TV show during the early 1990’s. Zavadil gained international fame after a failed stunt for his show saw him fall from a ladder head-first into his pool-side deck, a video clip that has been shown endlessly for years since. The accident left Cap’n Video severely injured, but the show went on. After the series was cancelled in the mid-90’s for reasons too absurd to reveal here, Zavadil quickly falls into obscurity. Beauty Day documents the odd career of a cult icon to many young Canadians, and gets into the mind of a truly unique man. The film is hilarious and incredibly touching, and it’s one I can’t recommend enough. Cheel’s upcoming film How to Build a Time Machine is one I’ll be keeping my eye on for sure.
Bus 174 (2002)
Directed by: Jose Padilha, Felipe Lacerda
Starring: Sandro do Nascimento
Bus 174 is a film I finally caught with the intention to cover during my Doctober month, before I opted to write multiple-film feature reviews. This is a documentary that has stuck with me since the moment I saw it, and one I wish I had watched years ago. Bus 174 tells the incredible story of one of the most famous hostage-negotiation situations in modern history. The story is so notorious solely due to how absurd the situation was, and how it was handled by both the police and the news media in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Bus 174 features live coverage by the news media, showing every single angle and aspect from on-the-ground of the hostage crisis. Police officers and media officials involved in the four-hour negotiation process are interviewed, and a background of the perpetrator is given, detailing possible motives for why somebody would attempt such a desperate act. Bus 174 has a lot to say about the relationship between law enforcement and the public, as well as the media’s obsession for a bloody lead story. Bus 174 is a thrilling documentary that just narrowly missed my top 20 list, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s surprisingly relevant in its commentary, and will challenge anybody willing to be challenged.
The Invisible War (2012)
Directed by: Kirby Dick
Starring: Kori Cioca
Kirby Dick is a filmmaker who loves to tackle incredibly difficult subjects, and his Oscar-nominated The Invisible War is absolutely no different. His film exposes the shocking amount of sexual assault and trauma that takes place in the American military, and the disgusting lack of support given to the victims of these assaults. The Invisible War features eye-opening interviews with veterans who have been taken advantage of by their superior officers and their colleagues, and they are guaranteed to break your heart and make you lose a lot of respect for the way the system works. The lack of support for the survivors of these assaults is chronicled, with perpetrators being protected by the system, and victims left helpless or punished for coming clean. The Invisible War follows Kori Cioca throughout the film as tries to earn medical benefits in order to pay for treatment after her own assault and rape. Cioca is incredibly strong throughout the film, and does everything in her power to right the system she was once proud to be a member of. Kirby Dick’s documentary exposes those responsible for the rape and assault of officers in the service, as well as those responsible for protecting the perpetrators. The Invisible War is incredibly difficult to watch because of the subject matter, but is an incredibly important film in today’s social climate.
Life In a Day (2011)
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
In the Summer of 2010, a call was made by Ridley Scott and director Kevin Macdonald on the still-young YouTube for the public to record videos of themselves on the day of July 24, 2010. Those videos were edited and compiled into one incredibly unique project called Life in a Day, known to some as “the YouTube movie”. Life in a Day is a truly special experience as it shows a completely normal and mundane day, but puts you in the shoes of hundreds of different people of all nationalities and social classes. We get to see people commuting to work, mourning the loss of loved ones, being with their family and loved ones, having their hearts broken, and many other seemingly boring day-to-day activities. Through the use of some incredible editing and storytelling, Life in a Day is anything but boring. It’s an incredibly beautiful, relaxing, and compelling film that brings tears of joy to my face literally everytime I see it. Films like these show how special life in all its mundanity, no matter how big or small these moments are, they’re nonetheless beautiful and affecting in ways most films could never achieve. Life in a Day just narrowly missed my list in favour of Little Dieter Needs to Fly, a film I had seen more recently than this. Do yourselves a favour and see this film immediately. It’s light and brief while at the same time being intimate and inspirational. In short, it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
Directed by: Malik Bendjelloul
Starring: Rodriguez, Stephen Segerman
The 2012 Academy Award-winning Searching for Sugar Man took the world by storm and quickly became one of the most popular and talked about documentary films in years. Malik Bendjelloul’s film tells the story of a nearly-forgotten American rocker, Sixto Rodriguez. Rodriguez was rumoured to have killed himself on stage during a live performance in the 1970’s, and wasn’t heard from until his re-discovery by two fans in the 1990’s. Rodriguez had great critical and commercial success in South Africa, where the two fans in question were originally from. Searching for Sugar Man’s search for the legendary musician is thrilling, and thankfully features an incredible payoff that makes the whole journey worthwhile. The film is very touching and thankfully exposed the Western world to the music of Rodriguez, giving him belated, but deserved, fame and success in the United States. On a much darker, more tragic note, the film’s director Malik Bendjelloul would commit suicide in 2014 (shortly after his Oscar win) after struggling with depression for years. This is an incredibly inspirational and uplifting documentary about the search for a legend, and is bound to inspire you in some way.
The Square (2014)
Directed by: Jehane Noujaime
Starring: Khalid Abdalla, Ahmed Hassan, Dina Abdullah, Magdy Ashour
The Netflix “original” documentary The Square is another film that just narrowly missed my official list, and one I struggled to remove. Though I may have a great deal of problems with the “original” content provided by Netflix, The Square proves that the popular on-demand service definitely has an eye for acquiring worthwhile films when they’re available. The Square puts the audience right in the middle of the Egyptian Revolution of the early 2010’s, starting with the beginnings of the movement in Tahrir Square in 2011, and chronicling the many hits and misses until the time of the films release. The Square is incredibly compelling as it puts viewers right in the middle of the turmoil, showing some of the very harsh realities being faced by the revolutionaries in Egypt. It’s truly thrilling to see a group of people rise up against tyranny and oppression, and never backing down until some sort of change is made. The Square earned Netflix its very first Academy Award nomination this past year, and is a good sign of things to come as far as the service’s acquiring of documentary films goes. I can’t recommend this film enough, whether or not you know anything about the important events happening in Egypt. It’s powerful, sobering, and moving, and something that everybody should see at least once.
Directed by: Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin
Starring: Montrail Brown, O.C. Brown, Bill Courtney, Chavis Daniels, Jeff Germany
The Academy Award winning Undefeated is a film I went into expecting absolutely nothing, and instead left being incredibly touched. It’s a film that on the surface appears to be just another sports documentary, but it’s so much more than that. Undefeated tells the story of a Memphis high school football team, the Manassas Tigers, as they attempt a successful season after many years of crushing defeats on the field. Head coach Bill Courtney helps turn the lives of his team members around, ensuring that they’re much more efficient in both the classroom and on the field. Courtney is incredibly inspirational throughout the film, ensuring that the needs of every single player on his team is seen to and that all these young men get what they deserve. Undefeated is both heartbreaking and inspirational in many of the same ways a film like Hoop Dreams is, and I can only hope that this film earns half that reputation. Bill Courtney makes the world of his young players a better place in his own small ways, something that many people can learn from. Undefeated is currently available on Netflix streaming.
Winnebago Man (2009)
Directed by: Ben Steinbauer
Starring: Jack Rebney, Ben Steinbauer
“I gotta read it again because my mind is just a piece of shit this morning!” – If you’ve had access to the internet at all in the past twenty years, there’s a great chance that you’ve seen the hilarious outtakes from Jack Rebney’s winnebago sales video. Winnebago Man chronicles the extreme popularity of Rebney’s outtakes videos, making him known universally as “the angriest man in the world”. Nobody does swearing and outbursts quite like Jack Rebney, and it’s these moments and outbursts that make Winnebago Man a truly hilarious and feel-good documentary that has seemingly flown under the radar of too many people. The film proves that there’s more to Mr. Rebney than swearing and angry outbursts, and provides the audience with a very humanizing look at a polarizing man. Director Ben Steinbauer finds that Rebney is now living in a remote California home away from the public, and may not be the high-strung character he thought he would be. Winnebago Man is surprisingly touching and emotionally-engaging for a film about such a funny viral video, and is something you’ll be quoting for days on end. “Accoutrement!? What is that shit!?”
The Wolfpack (2015)
Directed by: Crystal Moselle
Starring: The Angulo Family
The final film on my list of honorable mentions also happens to be the most recently released film. The Wolfpack is a brand new documentary by Crystal Moselle, taking a look at the lives of six brothers who grew up in a small New York City apartment, forbidden by their father to leave the confines of the apartment – leaving them isolated from the rest of the world. The boys learn about the ways of the world through Hollywood and foreign-language films, learning a great deal of real of both legitimate and completely false information from the many films they see throughout their lives. The boys not only learn a great deal from the films, but recreate them on video with the use of incredible homemade costumes and props, and a hell of a lot of passion and originality. When one of the boys leaves the apartment one afternoon to walk the streets unsupervised, their worlds are quickly turned upside down and will never be the same. The Wolfpack is a film that hits incredibly close to home for me, especially in the passion for film and pop culture the boys have and continue to hold. Though we led incredibly different lives growing up, I feel I understand the minds of the Angulo boys, and they are now people I very much relate to and look up to. The Wolfpack is incredible in every single way, and is a film that I can guarantee will only grow in esteem as the years go by.
Part 1 (#20-#16) can be viewed here
Part 2 (#15-#11) can be viewed here
Part 3 (#10-#6) can be viewed here
Part 4 (#5-#1) can be viewed here