Saturday, August 13, 2011

50 Documentaries To See Before You Die

"In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director." - Alfred Hitchcock

I taped the first two episodes (and watched the second one) of this five-part series on Current TV (it debuted August 2, 2011) that's hosted by affable documentarian Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me). While there may be a conflict of interest that Current TV boss Al Gore's doc An Inconvenient Truth is one of the nifty fifty (not to mention Spurlock's Super Size Me!), I certainly won't quibble. The series limits itself to documentaries made over the past 25 years, so you won't see Nanook of the North (1922), Salesman (1968) or Harlan County U.S.A. (1976) here - and that's fine, too. A line has to be drawn somewhere, especially for those of us who either suffer from ADD or who know Marc Sober (who, if he's reading this, is probably compiling his list of 500 documentaries to see before you die!). And Morgan Spurlock is just the sort of contempo figurehead to make this sort of program not only informative, but fun.

I like the framing device for the series, which has Spurlock traveling around the country to the towns and locales where the films or filmmakers are situated. In addition to showing highlight clips from each documentary, the directors and/or a panel of "experts" (fellow filmmakers, critics, pundits) offer commentary on the selected films. An added bonus is having Spurlock, in some cases, perform some "Where are they now?" follow-ups with some of the principles involved, such 13-year-old evangelist preacher-in-the-making Levi of Jesus Camp (2006), now 18 and with a full-on hipster goatee. Spurlock asks Levi the question we've all been waiting for: has he finally seen the Harry Potter movies his Christian ministry mentor Becky Fischer once branded as "Satanic"? The answer: Yes! "Those are great movies!" Levi enthuses. And Spurlock even pays a visit to meet Billy Mitchell, the "villain" of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007), at his video arcade; we learn Billy still has his "rebellious redneck" long hair and still hasn't seen the movie. Oh, and that he'd rather be Darth Vader than Luke Skywalker any day!

Spoiler alert! A quick Web search determined that the following films will be highlighted in what has been billed as Season 1 of this series (which promises that there will be more titles in seasons to come - yea!). I've only seen 20 of the titles listed here, so I've got some catching up to do!

•An Inconvenient Truth
•Biggie and Tupac
•Brother's Keeper
•Bus 174
•Capturing the Friedmans
•The Decline of Western Civilization
•Dogtown and Z-Boys
•Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
•Exit Through the Gift Shop
•The Eyes of Tammy Faye
•Fahrenheit 9/11
•Grizzly Man
•Hoop Dreams
•Inside Job
•Jesus Camp
•Madonna: Truth or Dare
•Man on Wire
•March of the Penguins
•One Day in September
•Paris is Burning
•Roger & Me
•Super Size Me
•Taxi to the Dark Side
•The Kid Stays in the Picture
•The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
•The Thin Blue Line
•Touching the Void
•Waltz with Bashir
•When We Were Kings

I tried to embed some related videos, but Current TV has disabled that feature in YouTube and elsewhere. But here's series producer Tom Barbor-Might discussing how the 50 films were selected: "How the 50 documentaries were selected."

Addendum (9-30-11) - The Complete List, in ranking order:
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)

Related Links:
"50 Documentaries" (Current TV)

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