Monday, December 22, 2008

Favorite to Least Favorite Documentary!!

Favorite to Least Favorite Documentary!! (Concert films count)

Hey I'm sorry that there are no pictures yet. I hate this site when it comes to uploading pics. And Microsoft Word will not let me upload pics either. I wish there were pics but alas no. Sorry. I will update this list as I continue to see documentaries. Enjoy!!

1. “7-Up” (1964)
I still have a long way to go with this documentary series but I can already tell you that this series will be the best thing I will ever watch in documentary form. When I finish I will simply place it as one documentary labeling it “The Up Series” the name it is widely known as. Seeing these children, the start of it all knowing you will get to see them grow up in front of you and getting to see how their lives develop adds a layer that impacts what the film experience is like. Right away there is an extreme noticing of the difference between American kids and British ones, mainly that these children are better spoken than I have been in my entire life. You can see the personalities in each and most of them are absolutely adorable. This is the beginning of a fascinating experiment that makes the audience question themselves and how we have developed as people, how much of our self was evident at this age. Since this is the start of it, there is no growth yet, I put it because I found it to be the most interesting 40 minutes I have seen in a documentary.

2. “Stop Making Sense” (1984)
Few shots so we can observe the musicians actually playing. Experimental lighting to make the show visually artistic. Sparse set design to put emphasis on the music. No audience shots to let the audience decide what they think. Toned down audience cheering so that the people watching the film can decide for themselves what to think. Oh and amazing music. Stop Making Sense is at the top pillar of great music films. Universally considered one of the best, some consider it the best concert film of all time. Completely taking what concert films were and reinventing what one could be, this film is wonderfully creative with a special emphasis on watching the musicians perform their music and a de-emphasis on anything that would distract someone from watching and hearing the music. David Byrne is endlessly fascinating to watch perform; a genius performer. Talking Heads and Jonathan Demme do not rely on tricks; they rely on the music.

3. “Planet Earth” (2007)
Watching this on Blu-Ray could be put on a list of the greatest experiences of my life. I am not joking. I cannot even watch it on regular TV because it is such a mindblow. Oh well, I guess I will have to wait in the years to come for a Blu-Ray player so I can watch it again. I honestly have nothing to say about this except that every 5 minutes you are flabbergasted by some image that defies what you thought could be real.

4. “High School” (1968)
This cinema-verite film drops us into a high school in 1968 as we watch and observe various classes and goings on. There are no people we are introduced to as characters. Nobody ever talks to the camera. It is meant to capture what high school is like accurately as if nobody intruded. There is never an acknowledgment of the camera. A few teachers appear in 2 scenes but other than that there is nobody to attach ourselves to; just a bunch of faces. It seems random at first but soon one realizes that Wiseman is suggesting ideas and sending message using only the camera. Mainly a critique on the stamping out of individualism in high school with some existentialist issues thrown into the mix. It works as a time capsule as well as we see an assembly on the birth control pill, condoms, we see a class being taught about proper female posture and fashion focusing on a woman’s duties it looks like, an English teacher who is young and idealistic teaching Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Dangling Conversation” in a poetry class. All of these seemingly random little scenes make up an addicting faceless portrait of high school in 1968.

5. “7 Plus Seven” (1970)
Ok so even though 7-Up is the start of it all and thus number 1, 7 Plus 7 proves the start of what will be the most fascinating documentary experience of my life. Seeing these kids at 14. It was incredible seeing that their once adorable traits have become not so adorable when they stick around to 14. Seeing the footage of them as 7 year olds in the film to give us reminders is essential. It blows my mind to see the traits of them as 7 still being evident in very subtle and not so subtle ways. These films are getting to the heart of how we develop as people. How much stays with us, how much we are changed by our experiences. Nothing like this has ever ever ever ever been done before. It is completely unique and says more about us as humans than anything I can think of.

6. “Don’t Look Back” (1967)
Bob Dylan is a douche. We know this. At least in the 1960’s he was. Oh boy he was. Some scenes are hard to get through as he berates poor people by answering people’s questions with another question. He rips one man apart in front of everyone for 10 excruciating minutes. More so what we get to see is what Bob Dylan’s life on tour was like. Seeing things from his perspective gives a completely different understanding to what it must be like to be famous and to be on tour. The unobtrusiveness of the camera helps this greatly. There are no interviews with him; it is a documentary that simply observes the going on of Bob Dylan’s life on tour. I wanted it to go on forever.

7. “Streetwise” (1984)
I have nothing to say about this that is new. It needs to be releases on DVD. It is an important film. One of kids living on the streets of Seattle in 1983. It ends with the funeral of one of the 2 main boys; he killed himself the day before his 17th birthday. Several of the people in the film have died; none are truly well off. Erin is my favorite. She is the main girl that is focused on. She is a 14 year old prostitute whose mother just insists that she is going through “a phase”; she isn’t worried. A look into a completely different world one that is unrelenting and again, endlessly fascinating.

8. “Salesman” (1969)
The fact that this is this low on the list just signifies how freaking incredible these other films are because I did not think it could get any better than this. I am sure when I see it again it will move up a little. All I can say about these films is the word fascinating. That is why these descriptions get to easily boring. Because I find the great documentaries to be fascinating. It is the only way to describe them and thus I am not giving each of them their own little special thing.

9. “Crumb” (1994)
Portraits about strange individuals are always a treat especially when it done right. Crumb is an engrossing and disturbing portrait of Robert Crumb and his family, particularly his siblings who are all more troubles than he is if that is possible. It is interesting on the levl in which his important artwork is explored, how his personality and life are inquired about and how his siblings, mother and dead father interact and/or how it gives a fuller portrait of Crumb the man. It is directed by Terry Zwigoff who later went on to direct “Ghost World” and “Art School Confidential”.

10. “Spellbound” (2002)
Kids who are unique and really into their habits and way of life including their activities and rigorous schedule are well fascinating! Oh Lord I need to stop using this word. Do not fret, as we go down the list things stop being fascinating. These kids are so different and fun to watch as they study and are excited and stressed (some more excited, some more stressed) about the spelling competition. We are not given a specific person to root for, each gets equal amounts of screen time it seems and we simply see the competition unravel before our eyes not knowing who will make a mistake at any given moment. I never knew a spelling competition could be this suspenseful but when you know a few of the kids at least a little bit it is impossible not to get sucked into this story.

11. “Capturing the Friedmans” (2003)
What makes this documentary and another one I will talk about in a minute different is that there is footage from years back that the documentary maker did not get but one of the sons got. One of the Friedman sons taped everything at home and so we have secret audio recordings and video sources of happenings that would not have been available to us otherwise. And yet we get no closer to having our questions answered. The more and more accounts we hear of whether or not brother Jesse and father Arnold molested young boys the more confused we become. It is certain that Arnold molested boys but we have no idea how many the witness reports and other accounts are all over the place. We have no idea by the end where Jesse stands in any of this. It becomes a mind jarring story of a family and their troubles and how many layers of information are involved in any sort of scandal. It does not exploit though or take a stance as Andrew Jarecki the filmmaker himself did not know whether he thought Jesse was innocent or not. Another interesting aspect of the film is the knowledge that Jarecki had simply been planning to make a documentary about David Friedman the brother who was a popular clown in New York at the time. When he learned about the connections to child sexual abuse in their family he switched subjects.

12. “Man with a Movie Camera” (1929)
This associational documentary film from the Soviet Montage period in Russia directed by Dziga Vertov somehow manages to keep me enthralled for a feature length film time while just showing fast cuts of various aspects of Soviet life and suggesting much with the sequence of events shown. Although there are a few staged events (as in virtually every documentary) such as the women getting out of bed and such and the fact that cameras could not go unhidden at that time, this still makes for essential viewing for any serious film buff. It is a testament to films that can get a meaning across by artfully editing an enormous series of images together. It is one of those films that show the true potential of the art form.

13. “Grizzly Man” (2005)
Once I see this again it will probably go higher. I started out really liking Timothy Treadwell and by the end of the film you are more and more aware of how disturbed he Is without ever getting a real full portrait of his mental issues which makes this all the more creepy honestly. His love for bears is unrelenting and touching especially the footage of him hanging out with the baby fox. Herzog does a masterful job of injecting his own voice into the story, telling us what he thinks at times when we seem to need an outsiders opinion on the matter without forcing us to think what he does. This has prompted me to see more documentaries that Herzog has done. “Encounters at the End of the World” is something I am really looking forward to.

14. “The King of Kong” (2007)
This film unfolds like a narrative. I felt like I was watching a mockumentary at times and not a documentary. This was really great in some ways and also a little detractive. I felt that Billy and Steve were pigeonholed into being the good guy and the bad guy in a conventional narrative manner. Once the filmmaker made the decision to make the good guy bad guy dichotomy, the film does everything it can to emphasize that giving Billy no neutral moments at all and everything is done to get us to hate him. It is easy to tell which events are very planned out such as the phone call with Billy and is cronie. We see both sides of that. While the conversation is real, it is planned so that we are able to see both sides of the conversation; it is in no way a caught moment. That is not a complaint though; just an observation since that does need to planned out to get that effect. But I honestly love love love love this movie. I love Steve Weibe. I love the Leonard Cohen usage. I’ve seen it twice and if this were a documentaries I most outright enjoy list, this would be higher. You get so involved in it. Watch yourself as you scream at the TV.

15. “The Devil and Daniel Johnston” (2006)
This is what got me into Daniel Johnston. He is the perfect subject for a documentary; unique, notable within the music world, deeply troubled and it does not hurt that he also recorded thoughts and videos throughout his life so that we get footage that is otherwise impossible to get. This is someone who is very troubled who just wants to express himself regardless of what his talents may or may not be. And he has the right to. And guess what? A lot of his music is extremely touching, moving and downright brilliant. “Hate Song”, “Sad Sac and Tarzan” and “True Love will Find You in the End” are three personal favorites. I honestly cannot think of a more interesting subject for a documentary and I wish it were higher on this list. It looks low but it is one of my absolute favorites.

16. “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance” (1982)
Another associational film. The first of the trilogy by Godfrey Reggio. The famous score by Philip Glass does not disappoint at all. The first 45 minutes are brilliant with the last half delving into an unfortunate redundancy that does not switch it up or offer anything new outside of the last 5 minutes which returns the film to its former brilliance. I think a part of this redundancy stems from the fact that time lapse photography was extremely innovative at the time and now seeing as it has become a convention it does not hold the fascination for that long of a period of time as it must have 26 years ago. Necessary viewing regardless.

17. “The Celluloid Closet” (1995)
This is a really nice comprehensive look at homosexual depiction in film. It goes into the depiction of stereotypes (still a huge problem), what could go over the PCA’s heads, innovations in homosexual depiction in film; all of it is addressed. I only wish it was a newer film since so much has changed in 14 years it would be interesting to see the past 14 years chronicled in the film. Oh well.

18. “Thin” (2006)
HBO Documentary about 4 various women with eating disorders at the Renfrew Center in Flordia. I do not remember much about it but I remember being very interested and I remember just overall really enjoying it (maybe enjoying is not the right word). It was not easy to get through at times but it was a moving and informative experience that one day maybe I can see again for a refresher.

19. “Jesus Camp” (2006)
What I like about this film is that for the better part it just observes. It has come out in a time when the religious people are crazy stereotype is in full swing so it sort of lends itself to that which is a little iffy for me. Unfortunately I subscribe to believing this stereotype more than I would like and I think it is unfortunate that no level headed religious people seem to be portrayed in the media at all; it is a problem because there are so many of them out there that are not like that in the slightest and it is quite unfair. However this film really does just take a very disturbing hyper-religious Evangelical camp and shows it to us without really trying to sway us one way or the other. The funny thing about that is there is no question about which way to swing because the filmmaker knows his footage is disturbing enough to not actually need a ton of manipulation. This is frightening. This is disturbing and a great watch as long as the people watching it are just going to use it as another piece of evidence that all religious people are crazy and recognize it as an extreme (but growing) faction of the Christian faith. Yes these people are indeed crazy but it should not be used as a blanket assumption. People just watching it to scoff and feel superior are watching it for the wrong reasons; it is fascinating as a disturbing, unfortunate and haunting brainwashing of the minds of children.

20. “Bowling for Columbine” (2002)
Oh Michael Moore. You make some great points, create interesting and disturbing moments and have a niche for exposing something that we already knew but in a way that we had not seen before. But I just do not like you. This is a good film and the better of the two that I have seen from him but it is so in your face Michael Moore that it is hard to not look at it as a simultaneous showcase for himself.

21. “March of the Penguins” (2006)
“Planet Earth” sort of made this look like child’s play for me. But Morgan Freeman narrating the English version is inspired. Also the way a narrative and struggle is shown and created in the way the story is shaped is so appealing and again inspiring.

22. “The Battle over Citizen Kane” (1996) – Very informative documentary about the making of Citizen Kane and a parallel biography about William Randolph Hearst. Very interesting and informative but a little dull and slow moving.

23. “A Decade Under the Influence”
3 Hour Documentary by IFC Films about the 1970’s in film. While it is really interesting and they talk to some good people, I feel like this was too broad of a topic for 3 hours. The 70’s changed everything in film so hours felt like we barely scratched the surface of anything.

24. “This Film is Not Yet Rated” (2006)
I am split on this film. I have seen it twice because I really love all of the commentary from the filmmakers about their experiences with the MPAA and their thoughts about the hypocrisy of it. But I do not like the subplot that takes up almost half the film about director Kirby Dick and the investigator he hires to find out who the members of the MPAA are. There is an air of “look how clever we are” about the whole thing. And worst of all in the last 20 minutes Dick uses really shallow and childish tactics in order to make a point that is completely manipulative and condescending to the people involved and to the audience. So it is a mixed bag.

25. “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control” (1997)
I did not get the experience from this as I wanted because I was in a horrible mood, depressed and not in the mood to watch anything when I saw this but I wanted to get it back to Netflix so I watched it and I regret it because it was my first Errol Morris experience and I need to see it again because I was so depressed when I watched this, I do not remember anything from it.

26. “Battle of San Pietro” (1944)
This documentary by John Huston shot during WWII was something we watched in class looking at war documentaries of the 40’s used by newsreels commissioned by the government and done by really important directors. The chapter in Huston’s autobiography on the making of this movie has prompted me to read An Open Book at some point in the next month. The film itself is interesting obviously and very important and disturbing but it is not something I connect to very much.

27. “Fury of the Pacific” (1945)
Another WWII newsreel documentary. Another one that is interesting and important. Incredibly intriguing as an artifact and within the construct of film but not really my thing in terms of my personal interests.

28. “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004)
Oh God where do I start? It was easy in 2004 to get caught up in the craze about this movie. Again Michael Moore has some good and valid points here and does create disturbing moments. However the way in which he goes about convincing his audience of his opinions is so in your face, so full of gimmicks, so filled with things taken out of context, so filled with Michael Moore loving to listen to himself narrate and be clever and oh so enlightened that I cannot respect it. I do not appreciate being blatantly fucked with. His valid points are overshadowed by another gimmick that soon emerges. If you are trying to get someone to see your point of view a point of view I might add that is not hard to convince anyone of, do not feel the need to uselessly force the issue upon us in ineffective ways. It is a piece of propaganda that could have been much more effective and subtle is Moore had just toned down the manipulations and gimmicks and shoving his own personality in our face than this could have been a lot more respectable and effective. Still some good moments here and there is effective stuff to be had but there is a lot wrong with this.

29. “Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation” (1988)
Again great Philip Glass store, much of the music was later used in “The Truman Show”. Some effective stuff but mostly it just felt redundant and overlong. Not enough material to sustain a feature length film. Not really my thing.

30. “The Aristocrats”
This is for people who like bad jokes and want to lose some respect by all of the important comedians who for some reason unknown to humans find the concept of this joke to be funny. Bob Saget’s telling is extremely effective even though it’s so disturbing and not even funny at all but he does manage to accomplish what all of the other comedians are attempting to throughout the film. Sarah Silverman gives the best joke though; its inspired it is so damn good. Other than that though just a bore; an unfunny bore.

31. “Super Size Me” (2004)
Hey did you know that eating nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days is bad for you? I know it is shocking right? And did you know that MickeyD’s is horrible and evil? Yeah I know. Shocking! Morgan Spurlock’s pointless documentary teaches us that lots of people eat fast food and that it is gross and that eating nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days is bad. I just do not like this movie. Again this is all information we know. People that can handle that eat there and people who are rightfully disgusted by it to the point where they do not eat there won’t. Just read Fast Food Nation for something that explains that horrors of the fast food industry. Also, Spurlock is soooo annoying.

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