Tuesday, August 30, 2011

50 Docs To See Before You Die: The Final Countdown


As the final episode of the five-part series 50 Documentaries To See Before You Die airs tonight on Current TV (the cable network chaired by Al Gore, whose An Inconvenient Truth ranks #8 on the list) the nifty fifty countdown concludes with the Top 10 docs to see - as well as the Number 1 doc, Steve James' Hoop Dreams (1994). Host Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, #5) carefully avoids the implication that the selected titles represent the best 50 documentaries ever made; rather, these are the 50 best "modern" documentaries made in the last 25 years. (Actually, Errol Morris' Thin Blue Line, from 1988, is the oldest "modern" doc on the list.) The choices were made by a panel that included Michael Renov (University of Southern California film professor), Eddie Schmidt (president of the International Documentary Association) and Brian Graden (former president of programming for MTV Networks). (I guess that takes care of any conflict-of-interest contentions about Super Size Me and An Inconvenient Truth being on the list.)

As New York Times critic Mike Hale comments, "This focus on 'the modern documentary' goes hand in hand with a relentless preference for the story-based or issue-based films that people now seem to think define the documentary field. It’s hard to imagine a more abstract or idea-based filmmaker like Andy Warhol or Chris Marker in this company." Fair enough, but whatcha gonna do about it? Your have to draw the line somewhere, and in this case the line drawn is Morris's Thin Blue Line.

My take? It's a pretty good series that can only spur further discussion about a dynamically growing film genre - a discussion that hopefully inspires more people to watch more films about the world and people around them (and maybe a little less mindless cineplex fodder).

The complete list, from bottom-to-top, follows:

50. Spellbound (2002)
49. Truth or Dare (1991)
48. The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
47. One Day in September (1999)
46. Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1998)
45. The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
44. Burma VJ (2008)
43. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
42. Catfish (2010)
41. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
40. When We Were Kings (1996)
39. Biggie & Tupac (2002)
38. March of the Penguins (2005)
37. Inside Job (2010)
36. Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)
35. Paragraph 175 (2000)
34. Brother’s Keeper (1992)
33. Tongues Untied (1989)
32. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
31. Jesus Camp (2006)
30. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
29. Man on Wire (2008)
28. Gasland (2010)
27. Tarnation (2003)
26. Murderball (2005)
25. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
24. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
23. The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000)
22. Shut Up & Sing (2006)
21. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
20. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
19. Touching the Void (2003)
18. Food, Inc. (2008)
17. Street Fight (2005)
16. Bus 174 (2002)
15. Crumb (1994)
14. Dark Days (2000)
13. The Fog of War (2003)
12. Bowling for Columbine (2002)
11. Paris Is Burning (1991)
10. Grizzly Man (2005)
9. Trouble the Water (2008)
8. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
7. The Celluloid Closet (1995)
6. The War Room (1993)
5. Supersize Me (2004)
4. Waltz With Bashir (2008)
3. Roger & Me (1989)
2. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

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