Saturday, November 14, 2009

Best Documentaries of the Past Decade?

Paste, the award-winning pop-culture magazine, has published a thoughtful list of the 25 best documentaries of the past decade.

Our first reaction was: "Wait! The decade's almost over?"

After that cold rush of reality set in, we devoured the list with glee, nodding in agreement at the selections we've personally savored, and adding those we haven't to our wildly out-of-control Netflix queue.

Upton Sinclair, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein may have set the standard for muckraking in the 20th century, but their heirs apparent are as likely to pick up a video camera as they are a pen when they fight the battles of the 21st. Technical advances have put professional tools into the hands of amateurs, but they explain only part of the reason that so much muckraking has moved from newspapers to video....

The 25 Best Documentaries of the Decade (2000-2009)

1. Man On Wire
Director: James Marsh

In 1974, high-wire walker Philippe Petit fulfilled a longstanding dream by sneaking into New York’s World Trade Center, stringing a cable between the tops of the two towers, and—with almost unfathomable guts—walking across it without a net. The man is clearly a nut, but he’s also a great storyteller with a heck of a story, and Man on Wire gives him a chance to tell it.

2. Iraq in Fragments (2007)
Director: James Longley

Applying the full spectrum of cinematic technique to a nonfiction film, Longley made one of the most striking movies this year, an immersive view of life in Iraq; a record of opinions and faces from across the country, all captured at close range.

3. Grizzly Man (2005)
Director: Werner Herzog

This profile of nature lover Timothy Treadwell, who unwisely tried to live among wild bears in Alaska until he was devoured, cuts a Herzogian swath across the hillside: A man attempts to find harmony with nature but instead finds, as Herzog puts it, “chaos, hostility and murder.”

4. The Fog of War (2003)
Director: Errol Morris

For those who lived through the ’60s, the name Robert McNamara provokes an entire range of emotions and experiences. But even those too young to remember the former U.S. Secretary of Defense will find Errol Morris’ amazing film an incredibly relevant portrait of a man who helped shape the 20th century.

5. Bowling For Columbine (2002)
Director: Michael Moore

Michael Moore can sometimes seem glib and shrill, driving even his supporters nuts. But with Columbine, arguably his most important film, he successfully tackles the insanity of America’s gun problem—a problem so insane that Marilyn Manson, in a candid interview, emerges as the voice of reason.

Check out the rest of the list here -- plenty of good viewing to last you through 2010!

Please share with us your favorite documentaries of the past decade that did not make this list.

What will the 2010 - 2019 list look like? According to Paste, given the industry's economics, it might be a short list indeed:

Given the troubled state of theatrical distribution, many documentaries are more likely to be seen at home than the mall. But who will finance them? Even with so many outlets -- from traditional theaters and aging broadcast television to new and unproven avenues like SnagFilms, YouTube, and Netflix Instant -- most documentarians are unlikely to earn enough to keep working. It’s a gap that’s yet to be bridged: the distance between the obvious value of hard-nosed reporting and the cost of getting the results in front of an audience.
P.S. One response to Paste's list can be found on In One Eye, Out the Other, a blog by a 26-year-old U.K. documentary filmmaker named Charlotte, who offers a list twice as long. ("I tried to limit to 25 but it’s just impossible.") Here are her top 10:

1. The Fog of War (Morris, 2003)
2. The Staircase (de Lestrade, 2004)
3. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (Lee,2006)
4. Journeys with George (Pelosi, 2002)
5. Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (Stone, 2004)
6. Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (Forbes, 2008)
7. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006)
8. Dark Days (Singer, 2000)
9. Power of Nightmares (Curtis, 2004)
10. Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005)
For Charlotte's full list (with links to trailers), go here.

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