Tag Archives: Doctober

My 20 Favorite Documentaries of All-Time (#15-11)

Grey_Gardens_(1975_film)_poster15. Grey Gardens (1975)

Directed by: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer, Ellen Hovde

Starring: Edith ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale, Edith Bouvier Beale, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Brooks Hyers

The Maysles Brothers might be two of the most influential documentary filmmakers in the history of the medium, and 1975’s Grey Gardens might be one of their absolute best, most unique works.  The film takes a look at the incredibly odd and hopelessly grungy lives of Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Little Edie, the aunt and first cousin of former US First Lady Jackie Kennedy.  The very eccentric mother-daughter pair have resided at the titular Grey Gardens estate for decades, the massive home now dirty, cluttered, and dilapidated.  Their interactions with each other and with directors Albert and David Maysles are hilarious, unique, weird, and charming in ways I can’t possibly describe in a short blurb about why I adore the film.  The Maysles Brothers step back and allow Big Edie and Little Edie to tell their own story throughout the run-time of the documentary, painting a funny and disturbing portrait of this family.  The Beale’s many cats (and raccoon’s), their gardener Brooks and other friends of the family, and the Grey Gardens estate feature heavily throughout the film, making it an incredibly memorable experience, and one I can’t possibly recommend highly enough.  Grey Gardens is available on Blu-raythrough the Criterion Collection, and I recommend it to anybody interested in the genre.


14. Deep Water (2006)Deep_water_poster

Directed by: Louise Osmond, Jerry Rothwell

Starring: Donald Crowhurst, Clare Crowhurst, Tilda Swinton

During the painstaking process of composing this list, Deep Water is one of the films I immediately thought of, despite not knowing where or if the film would end up on my list when all was said and done.  The fact that the film, which I’ve only seen one time several years ago, made the list is a testament to just how powerful Jerry Rothwell and Louise Osmond’s 2006 documentary is, and the emotional effect it had on me as a viewer.  Deep Water tells the story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst and his experiences in the 1969 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, which took a number of yachtsmen around the world for a trophy, a cash prize, and the obvious fame and notoriety that would come with it.  Not to spoil things for those who haven’t seen this thrilling doc, but things don’t exactly go entirely smoothly for the amateur seaman, and his trip around the world becomes much more about survival than it does about a measly cash prize.  Coupled with archival footage and photos of the time, we get a realistic account of Crowhurst’s time at sea through interviews with those close to him, as well as terrific narration by the incomparable Tilda Swinton.  Deep Water is a film that is criminally under-seen in the film community, and could really do with having a resurgence of sorts.  Deep Water is exciting, it’s depressing, and it’s incredibly interesting.  The film is currently available on US Netflix for those looking to see it based on my recommendation.


InsideJob2010Poster13. Inside Job (2010)

Directed by: Charles Ferguson

Starring: Matt Damon

Inside Job is the timely Oscar-winner that took the world by surprise in 2010 by being both incredibly relevant, entertaining as hell, and making more than three times its meager budget at the box office, a rare feat for a documentary.  This is especially shocking because it’s not a documentary about a famous person, an iconic or influential movement or artist, but rather about a devastating financial crisis that hit the United States just two years earlier.  Inside Job tells the story of how the financial crisis of the late-2000’s took place through five parts: “How We Got Here”, detailing the burst of the internet stock bubble in the early 2000’s, investment banks and other protected corporations and agencies that dealt in things such as unpayable subprime loans, “The Bubble”, which covers the housing boom of the 2000’s, “The Crisis”, about the market collapse of investment banks, the fall of corporations like Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and AIG, as well as the asset relief program put into effect by US President George W. Bush, “Accountability”, which targets the executives, directors, consulting firms, and others who played a part in the recession, and lastly “Where We Are Now”, about the mass layoffs of American factory workers, and the efforts by the Obama administration to combat the effects of recession.  Charles Ferguson’s pressing documentary is insightful, entertaining, and has a hell of a lot to say about those responsible for the market crash.  If you’re even the slightest bit interested in important contemporary events that have shaped the Western world, I implore you to check out Inside Job.


12. The Central Park Five (2012)The_Central_Park_Five_poster

Directed by: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon

Starring: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise

Ken Burns is perhaps one of the most famous names in documentaries because of his epic-length films covering major historical events, wars, and movements.  His filmography includes The Civil War, The Dust Bowl, The War, Prohibition, and Jazz.  Burns’ 2012 film The Central Park Five is a different monster, quite different from many of his epic historical documentaries.  The film covers the famous Central Park jogger case, which saw five young minorities falsely accused and imprisoned for the brutal rape of a female jogger late one Spring night.  The assault left the young woman in a coma for nearly two weeks, and resulted in one of America’s most famous cases of false imprisonment.  The case was immediately jumped on by news media of the time and involved a great deal of racist implications, finger-pointing, and false accusations being leveled at the five young men.  Ken Burns lays all the facts out on the table in the two-hour run-time of The Central Park Five, shocking the audience with accounts of how the defendants ended up in such a dire situation, including stories and evidence of intimidation, lying, and coercement by police officers.  Ken Burns’ daughter Sarah joined her father in writing and directing the film, and helped inspire the documentary with her thesis on the cases media coverage.  The Central Park Five will move you to tears, infuriate and frustrate you, and make you feel both hopeless and hopeful about the change in direction of news media and law enforcement as a whole.  The film is available on Netflix Instant for those interested.


Bowling_for_columbine11. Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Directed by: Michael Moore

Starring: Michael Moore

Not only did Michael Moore win an Academy Award for his social-political documentary Bowling for Columbine, but he also made himself an icon in the process; setting the bar for future generations of documentary filmmakers – especially those who wish to eclipse the popularity of their film with their own popularity.  Bowling for Columbine is Moore’s heartbreaking, entertaining, and thought and discussion-provoking 2002 documentary that took the world by storm.  It was one of the first major pieces of pop-culture to openly criticize the new Bush administration, and started a brand new conversation about gun control and America’s obsession with violence, both in the media, entertainment, and in their political affairs, that is still raging to this very day.  The film covers the tragedy that took place at Columbine High School in 2000 in-depth, interviewing some of the survivors of the shooting, features the now famous bank-opening scene, as well as multiple montages and humorous segments covering America’s foreign policy history – installing and overthrowing dictators for fifty years, violent moments in recent American history that the media heavily focused on, and a brief animated piece on the history of the United States and the creation of suburban communities and racism.  Though Bowling for Columbine never features a dull moment, the film isn’t all jokes and lightheartedness, it features incredibly eye-opening pieces on the National Rifle Association, the domestic creation of weapons of mass destruction, and the country’s constant obsession with fear-mongering.  In short, Bowling for Columbine is a documentary masterpiece in every way, bringing important, valid information to viewers while also being highly entertaining and digestible.  Seek it out immediately if you haven’t already seen it.


Part 1 (#20-#16) can be viewed here

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My 20 Favorite Documentaries of All-Time (#20-16)

Disclaimer: Having always admired and appreciated the art behind documentary films, I felt it would be appropriate to dedicate an entire month to the subject of documentaries and the filmmakers behind them.  I haven’t seen every revered, influential, and critically-acclaimed film in existence, but my knowledge of documentary films is more than enough to create an all-time favorite list.  Since I see so many brand new and classic documentaries every year, I hope to be able to revise the list every year for Doctober.  Enjoy the list, let me know if I’m missing out on anything special or memorable, and let me know what your favorites are!


Dieterpstr20. Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)

Directed by: Werner Herzog

Starring: Werner Herzog, Dieter Dengler

Werner Herzog is a filmmaker who has always fascinated me, whether he’s making documentary or narrative films, he almost always has an incredible story to tell, featuring incredibly unique personalities.  Little Dieter Needs to Fly is the perfect example of this, chronicling Navy Lieutenant Dieter Dengler and his struggle to survive in the jungles of Laos as a prisoner of war by the occupying North Vietnamese.  Dieter recounts his plane being shot down by anti-aircraft fire, days of torture, starvation, escape from the North Vietnamese soldiers, and survival in the jungle.  Werner Herzog, being the eccentric madman that he is, goes as far as bringing Dengler back to Laos in order to relive and recreate his journey for the documentary.  This is an incredible story of survival that needs to be seen by all.  Herzog went on to tell the story of Dieter Dengler in 2007’s narrative film Rescue Dawn.  For more on the films of Werner Herzog, check out my Doctober Triple Feature.


19. Nanook of the North (1922)800px-Nanook_of_the_north

Directed by: Robert J. Flaherty

Starring: Allakariallak, Nyla, Allee, Cunayou, Allegoo, Camock

Though many of the scenes in Robert J. Flaherty’s classic documentary Nanook of the North are up for debate as far as validity goes, the film is nonetheless breathtaking in its technique and scope.  Nanook of the North is often considered the first feature-length documentary, and easily one of the most memorable of all-time despite claims of many of the film’s best scenes being scripted or staged.  The film follows young Nanook and his family in the Canadian Arctic, showing the Inuk family constructing an igloo, trading good with white men after the year’s hunt, and an exciting full-length walrus hunt.  Though Nanook of the North is dated by today’s documentary standards, the film manages to thrill the audience, and have them care for Nanook and his young “family”.  Staged or not, the documentary is undeniably impressive and remains a celebrated classic for a reason.


5_Broken_Cameras18. Five Broken Cameras (2012)

Directed by: Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi

Starring: Emad Burnat

Five Broken Cameras is a gripping documentary directed by Emad Burnat, a Palestinian, and Guy Davidi, an Israeli, and follows the journey and stories of each of Burnat’s five doomed video cameras.  Five Broken Cameras begins in 2005 as young Palestinian Burnat decides to record his fourth son’s childhood, but ends up capturing much more than the innocence of childhood.  The documentary shows Emad Burnat’s small village and olive groves begin to be absorbed into Israel, and the reactions and resistance by the Palestinian villagers of the area.  Each of the filmmakers cameras tells its own story through the film, capturing friendships, arrests and beatings by the police, the rebel resistance by the villagers and activists in the country, and the murder and detention of those close to Emad Burnat and the Palestinian villagers.  Every time one of the film’s titular cameras are smashed or shot through the film is both thrilling and terrifying, but helps to create a very unique and innovative narrative.  Five Broken Cameras was deservedly nominated for an Academy Award in 2012, and remains one of the best slice-of-life documentaries about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


17.The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)Poster_of_the_movie_The_Kid_Stays_in_the_Picture

Directed by: Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgen

Starring: Robert Evans

Famed and acclaimed film producer Robert Evans recounts his life and career in The Kid Stays in the Picture, one of the most interesting and entertainment industry documentaries ever made. Evans had a hand in the making of such hits films in the 1960’s and 1970’s as Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, The Odd Couple, Love Story, and Chinatown, and tells the story of how many of the films came into being, as well as chronicles his rise to the top of Hollywood.  Evans narrates his own story in the film, using his famed “been there, done that” voice to recount incredible meetings, productions, and his own nightmare encounter with drugs, crime, and depression.  The Kid Stays in the Picture tells the almost unbelievable story of a young, hopeless actor who makes it to the very top of the industry, and doesn’t hesitate to get down and dirty about its subject. If you’re the least bit interested in Hollywood and one of its most famed bad boys, don’t hesitate to seek this film out immediately.


Anvil_ver216. Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)

Directed by: Sacha Gervasi

Starring: Steve Kudlow, Robb Reiner, Gary Greenblatt

The first of two rockumentary films to make my list, Anvil! The Story of Anvil tells the story of a highly-influential rock band that you’ve probably never heard of.  Anvil started their career by headlining tours with bands such as Bon Jovi, the Scorpions, and Whitenake in the 1980’s, but went on to see nowhere near the fame those groups did.  After fading into relative obscurity and not going as far as their skill and potential should have allowed them, the film sees the now-aged metal band reunite for a doomed European tour, turmoil between the members of the band, the recording of their thirteenth album, and a surprising performance in Japan.  Avil! The Story of Anvil is peppered with heartfelt moments, memorable interviews with rock stars influenced by the band, tremendously funny quips by the band members, and drama as the band fights, breaks up, and gets back together numerous times throughout.  The film’s success went on to propel Anvil into being re-discovered by the metal and rock scenes, and the band remains together even after all their ups and downs.  

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Doctober Feature #2: Werner Herzog Triple Feature – Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), The White Diamond (2004), and Wheel of Time (2003)

Werner Herzog is one, if not the most, influential documentary filmmaker of our time after a host of incredible and successful documentaries like the incomparable Grizzly Man, Lessons of Darkness, Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, and his most recent Into the Abyss.  His eye for quirky interview subjects, beautiful scenery, relatively uncovered film subjects, and his penchant for asking really, really, really (REALLY) big questions of the audience have turned Werner Herzog into something of a cultural icon in the film world.  His narration is often lovingly mocked by those in the film community, and comedian Paul F. Tompkins has even made it a regular part of his act on television and podcasts.  The bottom line is that Werner Herzog is incredibly influential, and has given us some of the greatest documentary and narrative films of our generation, and deserves to be discovered by an even wider audience. These three films were blind spots in my viewing of Herzog’s documentary filmography, and even though I had different reactions to the lot of them, I’m incredibly happy that I finally sought them out.  If you’ve never seen a Herzog film, do yourself a favor and see Grizzly Man as soon as humanly possible.  It will change the way you view the art of documentary filmmaking.


Cave_of_forgotten_dreams_posterCave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

Directed by: Werner Herzog

Starring: the Chauvet Cave, Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog’s 2010 documentary was originally released in 3D, and I’m very upset that I didn’t have the opportunity to see it as it was originally intended.  In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog takes the audience on a tour of the Chauvet Cave in France, where some of the oldest surviving human art was discovered in the 1990’s.  The cave paintings were created over 30,000 years ago, and are very carefully preserved by the French government.  Due to the sensitive nature and rarity of the paintings, the general public is not actually admitted to exploring the cave, and even Werner Herzog himself was only able to take himself and three others to film the documentary.  Special walkways were created for those permitted into the cave, anything off the path being strictly prohibited.

The cave and the ancient art inside are absolutely beautiful, and it’s hard to imagine that these images were created so long ago.  Alongside the paintings are many bones of the now extinct cave bear, a relic and a major find in themselves.  Herzog manages to find experts in the archaeological field, interviewing them about various items found in the area surrounding the cave, including an ancient wind instrument, as well as a spear of sorts.  These experts in question are ridiculous and quirky and incredibly fun to watch in their brief appearances on screen.  One of the experts in question happens to be a perfume creator, and goes about finding cave openings in the woods using only the power his nose, another is openly mocked by Herzog about his spear-throwing abilities.  It is these interviews coupled with the imagery that makes Cave of Forgotten Dreams an absolute delight.  I would highly recommend this film to both Herzog rookies and seasoned veterans alike.  High recommendation.


The White Diamond (2004)

The_white_diamond_dvd

Directed by: Werner Herzog

Starring: Graham Dorrington, Werner Herzog, Dieter Plage

This is a film I knew almost nothing about before going into it, as it came out a year before one of Werner Herzog’s greatest successes, Grizzly Man. For a film I knew very little about, The White Diamond absolutely took my breath away, and quickly became one of my favorite Herzog documentaries.  In The White Diamond, Werner Herzog and his lovable voice take us on a journey into the dense rainforests of Guyana, a small country in South America.  There we find the film’s subject Graham Dorrington, an engineer who has created a terrific white airship (or blimp) in the shape of a teardrop;his mission is to fly the airship over canopies of the Guyana rainforest.  The film chronicles Dorrington’s past as an aeronautical engineer, covers the history of modern flight as a whole, and explores the beauty of Guyana’s vast rainforests, specifically taking a look at the massive Kaieteur Falls, as well as astounding white-tipped swifts, a species of bird which roost in an unexplored cave directly behind the falls.

Despite the incredible visuals and Werner Herzog’s always incredible narration and subtle humor, what makes The White Diamond a special documentary and a film to remember is the story of Graham Dorrington’s cinematographer and friend Dieter Plage, who died on an ill-fated ascent in the experimental airship.  Herzog films Dorrington telling the story of Dieter Plage’s accident and attempted rescue with unblinking and unflinching direction, never underestimating the weight of Dorrington’s words.  The story is incredible, tragic, and heartbreaking, and is easily one of the great moments in documentary film, period.  The White Diamond is one of Werner Herzog’s most underrated treasures, and a film I plan to revisit again for the visuals and the incredible stories featured throughout.  High recommendation.


Wheel_of_time_posterWheel of Time (2003)

Directed by: Werner Herzog

Starring: The Dalai Lama, Werner Herzog

Before the impressive White Diamond came Werner Herzog’s 2003 documentary Wheel of Time, which I knew even less about, but unfortunately wasn’t quite as taken with it as I was with that film.  Wheel of Time is once again narrated by Herzog himself, taking us on a journey to through Asia to meet the fourteenth Dalai Lama, who at the time was suffering from rather poor health.  Herzog covers two ill-fated Kalachakra initiations, one in India, and the next in Austria, presided over by the sick Dalai Lama, as well as the pilgrimage to Mount Kailash in Tibet; considered by many religions to be a sacred place.

Wheel of Time unfortunately didn’t resonate with me the same way previous Herzog documentaries have done, and I can’t quite put my finger on why that is.  The subject material isn’t something I’m particularly interested in, but that hasn’t stopped me before.  I think the biggest reason for my disconnect is Werner Herzog himself, who is incredibly respectful in his chronicling of the ill Dalai Lama, Buddhist traditions, and the Buddhist people themselves.  Not that this respect is a bad thing in any way, but Herzog refrains from using his trademark dark and subtle humor throughout the film’s short run-time, instead opting to cover the events in a much more deadpan style.  Fortunately the visuals throughout the film are more than worth the price of admission, with several breathtaking moments being caught by Herzog’s sharp eye.  One of my favorite scenes featured Buddhist monks on their pilgrimage, giving money to the poor who remain unseen behind a large fence – with the exception of their arms.  Wheel of Time has a lot to say about Buddhism as a whole, and beautifully covers some important and notable ceremonies of the faith, but unfortunately it didn’t move me the way I wanted to.  I enjoyed my time with Wheel of Time, but none of it resonated with me in any way – unlike most of Werner Herzog’s documentary films.  Even though the film did not personally appeal to me, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t still a delight to watch, nor does it mean you won’t get anything out of it.  If you’re interested in Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama, give this a shot.  Recommended.

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Schedule (2015-2016)

Hey folks!  After re-branding the blog and coming back extremely motivated and energized, I’ve decided to stick to some sort of theme or schedule for each month for the foreseeable future in order to keep me on track.  The ability to choose themes, directors, and genres to cover has endless possibilities, and will keep me (and hopefully you, too) crossing films off my very, very long watch list.  If you have any suggestions, feel free to include them below or message me with them on Facebook or Twitter.  I’m completely open to changing up the schedule depending on what people want to see and read, as this is just something of a loose idea at the moment.  Without further ado, this is what the next few months of the blog are going to look like:


October 2015Doctober: Taking a look at some of the best and most influential documentary filmmakers in history.  Spotlights include Penelope Spheeris, Werner Herzog, D.A. Pennebaker, and Alex Gibney.  Also featured will be my Top 20 Documentaries of All-Time, coming in four parts.

November 2015Noirvember: Covering some of the best and highly regarded films of the noir genre, including Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, and Otto Preminger’s Laura.

December 2015John Ford Retrospective: A look at the man himself, the legendary four-time Academy Award winner John Ford.  Films I hope to take a look at include The Searchers, The Informer, The Quiet Man, My Darling Clementine, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and The Long Voyage Home.

January 2016End of the Year: A look back at the 20 best films of 2015, as well as some I may have missed along the way, and my top 10 albums of the year.

February 2016 – Black History Month: Films celebrating and taking a look at all things Black History, including: Steven Spielberg’s Amistad and The Color Purple, The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975, Boyz N the Hood, and Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, Jungle Fever, and Malcolm X.


Thanks to everybody out there reading and for all the support I’ve gotten recently.  If you have any suggestions, comments, or criticism, don’t be afraid to reach out!

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