Thursday, December 29, 2011

My 10 fave films of 2011 are all documentaries

The best film of the year: Bill Cunningham New York.

Given the choice between Transformers 3 and reality, I choose reality.

That, and better access to more kinds of films than ever (thank you, Apple TV!), means that each and every one of my top 10 films this year is a documentary.

As well, a number of these movies showed up on TV, but are among the most riveting films of year. I'm not going to punish them for committing the crime of not appearing on a large screen in front of texters, sexters, talkers, and troubled teens.

1. Bill Cunningham New York
A touching portrait of the veteran New York Times' street-fashion photographer, the film has a great subject, timely hook, and its own Rosebud when Cunningham breaks down under a particular line of questioning. The documentary about the man is so much better than the oft-mentioned (though self-congratulatory and delusional) documentary about the institution, Page One.

2. There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane (HBO)
What made Diane Schuler drive almost two miles on the wrong side of the highway, killing herself and seven other people? This documentary methodically answers the question, and what starts out as being seemingly complicated ends up being something that might be very simple (though no less sad). 

3. Woody Allen: A Documentary (PBS)
Three hours and 15 minutes of pure bliss, including all kinds of things we didn't know about the reclusive filmmaker: he has always used - and still uses - his favorite typewriter, hates his film Manhattan, and doesn't care about shooting multiple takes, because he'd rather be at home watching the Knicks.

4. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
I do a pretty mean Werner Herzog impression, but I stopped doing it about 10 minutes into this fascinating documentary that takes us into the Chauvet Cave of France, where Herzog was one of the very few who got to chronicle the perfectly preserved cave and earliest-known human paintings. What were these people like? What are the origins of the ancient bones? And what does it say about us?

5. Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest
Julius Caesar himself would marvel at the inner workings of an influential but troubled rap group. It boils down to Q-Tip versus Phife Dawg, who notes that "Q-Tip wanted the group to be Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest, like Diana Ross and the Supremes. I'm Florence Ballard? Get the f- outta here."

6. Project Nim
Why it's not a good idea to treat a chimp like it's a human and then abandon him.

7. The Elephant in the Living Room
Why it's not a good idea to treat lions and snakes like they're humans and then abandon them. Small beef: the movie should be called "the Lions in the Living Room," as (disclaimer) no elephants appear in the film.

8. Klitschko
I have virtually no interest in boxing, but this movie grabbed me by my boxers and pounded me in the face - great interviews with the Russian boxing brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, their parents, opponents and hidden camera footage of Don King trying (and failing) to sign the brothers by pretending to play Mozart on the piano.

9. Bobby Fischer Against the World
Was chess master Bobby Fischer a genius, madman, or crazy like a fox? Fascinating exploration of one of the world's most celebrated and mysterious characters.

10. Urbanized
Third in the Helvetica/Objectified design trilogy, Urbanized looks at the best way to design a city. It's not too late for Winnipeg, especially if we can replace Katz with the Mayor of Copenhagen.

Honorable mentions:
  • Tabloid- Why real life is stranger than anything a tabloid could make up.  
  • Senna - Another great profile of a man and sport I thought I cared nothing about.
  • The Black Power Mixtape - The Swedes visit the U.S. Black Power Movement in 1965.
  • Umbrella Man - Errol Morris' six-minute documentary on the mysterious man at the JFK shooting is shown here in its entirety.
  • Transcendent Man - In the near future, we'll all be part machine and immortal.
  • The Greatest Movie Ever Sold - The clever Morgan Spurlock doc about how product placements work.
  • Bad Writing - A fun DIY doc about how one becomes a bad writer.
  • How to Die in Oregon (HBO) - The lives of the terminally ill who, in Oregon, can choose to legally decide when it's time to go.
  • The Suicide Tourist (PBS) - Ostensibly an episode of Frontline, but really one of the richest and most-moving documentaries of the year. A terminally ill American goes to Switzerland for his scheduled suicide.

1 comment:

  1. Great choices. I've seen the Woody Allen and your recommendation, just watched Bill Cunningham. People are stranger than fiction. Still not up to par with my favorite documentary - King of Kong.

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