TOP 5 DOCUMENTARIES

I don’t watch as many docs as I’d like to which is a shame because in the last 10 or so years docs have gotten really good. I typically watch about 6 to 15 a year depending on the year. Not a ton considering I see hundreds of films a year. Still, I’ve seen enough to know that these 5 are pretty effing good.

As usual, with my lists, these are not the 5 greatest docs of all time. These are my top 5… but I stand by them. Here they are (in order):

5. BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE.

How morbid is this German poster?

Michael Moore… love him or hate him, and his politics, you can’t say he doesn’t make a good doc. Not only does he make them but he’s been making them for the better part of 4 decades (80’s, 90’s, 00’s and, presumably, teens). Bowling for Columbine is not only a good doc but it was the first doc that I actually saw in a theater. It was also the first documentary to be a financial hit, earning nearly 22 million dollars off a 4 million dollar budget. This is also the main reason we’ve gotten a steady flow of interesting docs since because it proved that these films could earn money.

Now, some people don’t like Moore’s documentarias because they feel he skews the audiences views on his subjects by injecting his own narratives. However, if you think all Documentarians aren’t trying to skew viewpoints (be it through footage used, dialogue chosen or voice over) you are all kinds of Mel Gibson insane!

4. THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS.

I don’t know what’s cooler…. this movie or the fact that I just bought it for 2 dollars! The film chronicles family man Steve Wiebe who, after losing his job, goes on a quest to break the world record high score on Donkey Kong. The drama surrounding the reaction this causes from the world record holder, Hot Sauce Mogul Billy Mitchell (you can’t make that shit up), is what fuels this classic doc. Here’s a shot of good ol’ Billy to give you an idea of the treats this movie has in store for you.

3. SPELLBOUND.

Who knew a national spelling bee could be so interesting… well, I’ve watched them on ESPN, oddly, and they’re not! What is interesting, however, are the kids spotlighted in this film. Spellbound chronicles 8 kids on their path to competing in the 1999 Scripp’s National Spelling Bee. In some cases, it’s a lot like watching Stage Moms… only nerdier. In other cases, it’s the kids themselves that make this little film so riveting. Like the young man with ADHD who says this classic line of dialogue in the film: I-AM-A-RO-BOT!

2. OVERNIGHT.

This one pisses me off and entertains the hell out of me all at the same time. As many of you know, my dream is to become a screenwriter… one of the toughest gigs to get in the world. Well, this film chronicles the dream being given to one Troy Duffy. Duffy was a bartender when his script for The Boondock Saints was swept up by the, at the time, powerful movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of Miramax Films. Weinstein loved the script sooooo much, he offered Duffy a million bucks, let him direct the film, arranged a record deal for his band and offered to buy Duffy the bar he loved and worked in.

You’d think when something like this happens to you, you’d be humbled and gracious… not Duffy! As a result, Duffy’s ego swells to the size of my… well… it gets REALLY big! What follows is one douchebags descent into a void of douchebaggery. He’s given the world in Cinderella fashion and, in the end, he ends up with nothing. Along the way, you cringe and watch with your jaw on the floor! An even greater film if you’re a fan of The Boondock Saints.  

1. TREKKIES.

Hey, I’m not trying to point fingers here. I’m a pretty big nerd. I go to Comic-Con every year (exccept this year sadly), I collect toys and I have a movie blog and podcast for Chrissakes! However, I’m able to make a few distinctions. For instance, hobbies and responsibilities, fantasy world versus real life. I mean, I’d love to be a Jedi as much as the next guy but I’m not going to walk around in a robe with a lightsaber strapped to my hip pretendfing to really be one. Common sense you say? Not for everyone!
Trekkies follows the nerdiest of the nerds who can’t seem to distinguish the line between fantasy and reality. It is an utterly rewatchable and enjoyable doc which is why it makes my number 1. People have attempted to copy it, with The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, but the Star Trek fans reign solo at the top of geek mountain. Still not convinced. Well, if you need one reason to see it, how ’bout this guy?

Anybody else get the vibe he has lamps in his house made of human skin?

45 Responses to “TOP 5 DOCUMENTARIES”

  1. one film, two words – Hoop Dreams

  2. I love documentary film and need to see more. I’ve only seen two of your top 5 – Bowling and Spellbound. I really enjoyed Spellbound, I reviewed it recently. My favourite documentary is Murder on a Sunday Morning.

  3. I’ve been tempted to watch Trekkies for years now, might be high time I finally gave it a shot. Never saw Overnight either, interesting story though. And as for Bowling for Columbine (worst. poster. ever.), King of Kong and Spellbound (how about that “musical robot” kid?), well played. All very solid. Man, I wouldn’t even know where to begin with a list like this. You ever see The Thin Blue Line? That might be #1.

    • It was “Musical Robot”, huh? My wife told me I had that quote wrong.
      You HAVE to see Trekkies, Aiden. You would love it and your review would be priceless.
      I have not seen the Thin Blue Line but I hear great things.

  4. strange, most of these are about geeks…hmmm. you must be drawn to your own kind, eh? great list, but my list probably would have included the cove!

    p.s. you know my hatred for boondock saints is because of this doc…so irritating!!

  5. I would happily walk around with my Leia buns. In fact I think before work tonight, not that my hair is again long enough to do so, I will take part in Leia buns and freak my patrons and co-workers who already think I’m crazy. Last week I jumped out of the back and screamed, “THIS IS SPARTA”. So, ok, I’m almost alone in this. Trekkies makes me feel not quite so insane since I manage to have a somewhat normal existence, at least in comparison. I haven’t watched it in eons, makes me want to get it out now.

    As far as docs go, I have seen very few, and mostly just ones that appeal to my own enlightenments, like Super High Me, of course Super Size Me as well (that was all EWWW), but aside from a few Micheal Moore pieces of work and stuff on NatGeo, I just don’t folla. Nice write up bringing more attention to docs though. Hatter will go bananas for this though I predict his list will be quite different.

    • Yeah I think his would be. Super High Me is good… I love Benson. His podcast is great. IOt’s what inspired the MILFcast game.
      And that first paragraph is yet another reason why I LOVE you Heather… haha.

  6. I liked Super High Me, The Cove was excellent although not a picker upper. King of Kong is one I’m trying to get more people I know to see. Love how crazy people can be about iconic albeit archaic games. Man and I thought I had trouble letting go:P

    Overnight was more like a smear campaign and I don’t think he deserved all the back lash he got from it. Although he did shoot himself in the foot a good number of times and was very high on his ego. Still just a unstoppable train wreck and goes from bad to worse taking everyone down with him. Pity:( Love Boondock Saints though so I hope my 10 bucks (plus the 5 I paid for the sequel) finds its way to him…he needs it:P

  7. I love King of Kong. My list would have been a bit different… probably something like…

    5. Super Size Me
    4. Bowling for Columbine
    3. This Film Is Not Yet Rated
    2. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
    1. Man on Wire

    • GREAT LIST, Nick. I considered Man on Wire. A good doc made better by the heist aspect of storytelling and a truly charasmatic and infectious personality of the protagonist. I also liked This Film Is… very much. I like that the doc isn’t rate even more.

  8. …what no Errol Morris or Werner Herzog?

    Love King of Kong.

    not a big fan of Michael Moore – I agree with his views on most things, and I suppose a case could be made that his films get the debate rolling, but I find the guy and his films fundamentally dishonest plus the whole cap in hand, regular guy Mike routine a bit tiresome.

    a quick five suggestions

    To Be And To Have
    My Father Pablo Escobar
    Man on Wire
    Fog of War
    and anything by Adam Curtis: Century of the Self, The Living Dead, The Trap, The Power of Nightmares etc all intelligent fascinating counter takes on the 20th century that probe what’s going on beneath the surface without taking the easy route of inane conspiracy

    • No, sorry. Although I’ve heard good things about both of those guys. Frankly, My Dear was just talking about Morris and it sounded interesting.
      As far as Moore, again, think what you will of him (I’m not a fan of everything he does and says) but he did make the format relevant. Props for that.

      • true dat…

        and strangely what I love about Herzog is his notion that standard documentary ‘truth’ is ‘the accountants truth’ and tells us nothing’ whereas he tries to find a deeper ‘the ecstatic truth’ which is why his films seem and often are staged / rehearsed – and yet I trust him explicitly whilst just having a funny feeling about Moore… having said that I did really like Capitalism A Love Story – I just felt that he let people tell their own story

      • I have that one DVR’d right now.

  9. Oy vay! I wouldn’t know where to begin with a list of best documentaries! I’ve seen so many outstanding ones in the last few years. I’ve actually seen all five of your selections but to be honest I think only KING OF KONG would make a personal best list. I couldn’t possibly pick just five though!

    Have to agree with some of the other commentors and give a nod to MAN ON WIRE. Off the top of my head a few others that rocked my world; TOUCHING THE VOID, ENRON: The Smartest Guys In the Room, AGE OF STUPID, LAKE OF FIRE, GRIZZLY MAN, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON, ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL! THE CORPORATION, TARNATION, WINGED MIGRATION

    I could go on and on and on!

  10. Roger and Me. It was Michael Moore’s first documentary and it’s about how the big 3 automakers abandoned Flint, Michigan, turning it into a ghetto that still has not recovered. Excellent movie that is as relevant now as the day it was made.

  11. good list Kai, i bought Overnight for a friend in the hope he would lend it to me, but alas, not yet… i really must see King of Kong as well
    German posters are creepy.
    Some Kind Of Monster would be in my top five

  12. My faves have to be Man on Wire or The Corporation, fantastic stuff!

  13. I have only seen Bowling for Columbine which certainly was the high point of Michael Moore’s career. I don’t really watch all that many documentaries although I plan to see Restrepo this weekend so my input is very limited 😦

  14. just to say if you live in the UK

    More 4 and BBC4 have at least 2 cracking feature length docs on each week

  15. Courtney Foster Says:

    Just finished watching a couple really compelling and depressing documentaries…. Food Inc. and Collapse.
    Food Inc is basically a moving picture of the creaters book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. (It is just tragic seeing how corrupt and politcal the food industry has become.) A real eye opener though.
    Collapse is about the connection between energy depletion and the collapse of the economic system. I highly recommend these as they seem to be trying to tell the whole story and not just sell you some bullshit.

  16. another i forgot to mention is Once In A Lifetime – doc about the New York Cosmos
    even if you dont like football its great

    • I LOVE football… Oh, wait… do you mean soccer? Nevermind… haha. Actually just enjoyed the world cup a whole bunch McG… I’ll check that out.

  17. Man On Wire is easily the best documentary I’ve seen, but I will admit that I don’t watch many, and it’s hard for me to compare them to regular films.

  18. some breaking King of Kong News for you…

    “Further ‘Donkey Kong’ drama erupted this year however, as New York plastic surgeon Hank Chien trounced Mitchell’s latest record on 26 February. Yet Mitchell has triumphed again, with a surely unbeatable 1,062,800 points… and he could’ve carried on going! According to online reports this morning from Mitchell’s induction into the International Videogame Hall of Fame, Mitchell deliberately stopped playing after devouring Chien’s high score. When asked why, he said: “Some say I’m being cocky. Some say I’m being lazy. I say, I’m being Billy Mitchell.”

    …quite the achievement but god that guy seems like bell-end.

    full story: http://uk.videogames.games.yahoo.com/blog/article/14610/

  19. I wish you had Religulous on this list, that movie is hilarious. loved the King of Kong. I am going to have to watch Trekkies, I have only seen parts on tv. The King of Kong continues to be a soap opera, gotta love it. I am an avid gamer and really loved this movie because of the fact I used to cherish going to arcades. I am going to also watch Spellbound, that seems good.

  20. My favorite documentary is Rivers and Tides, about Andy Goldsworthy. He goes out to the middle of nowhere and does these art projects he makes out of whatever is present in nature. It endlessly fascinates me for some odd reason.

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