Ten Best Feature Documentaries

A special category methinks, and one that deserves it's own section. Documentary filmmaking has become an art form in itself, and when it's done to a high level it's power and effect is undeniable. Here are some of my favourite examples to get the mind thinking and the arguments started....








1. The Sorrow and the Pity
Marcel Ophuls' essential 1969 masterpiece about the French Resistance in WWII.
Any assessement about the worth of that struggle starts and ends here.







2. Bowling for Columbine

Michael Moore's trenchant examination of America's love affair with guns.







3. West of Memphis
Amy Berg's incredible unpacking of the complexities and injustice surrounding the case of the West Memphis Three







4. Salesman
Possibly the father of modern documentary films, Bible salesmen in the '60's as essayed by the incomparable Maysles Brothers.





5. Man on Wire
 A soaring hymn to the human spirit, the scarcely believable account of Phillipe Petit's mad dream to walk between the Twin Towers.






6. Hearts and Minds
Peter Davis' landmark contemporaneous examination of American involement in Vietnam.






7. Gimme Shelter
The Maysles again, this time hunkered down with the Rolling Stones in the tragic fiasco that was Altamont.






8. Grizzly Man
Werner Hertzog's collation of the footage shot by Timothy Treadwell, and review of his life.







9. Touching the Void
Two climbers in the Peruvian Andes get into trouble. An ode to the power of the survival instinct.






10. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room






= 10. Inside Job (2010)
Capitalism, red in tooth and claw. Both films are essential to understanding the greed, hubris and criminality of big business under the current system.



Honorable mentions:

Gabriela Cowperthwaite's uncovering of Sea World's jaw dropping and appalling treatment of the unfortunately named Killer Whale.

The Cove
Japan and it's brutal harvesting of dolphin meat. 

Farenheit 9/11
Capitalism: A Love Story
Michael Moore is what passes for a lefist in America these days, and despite his goofball theatrics he makes valid and undeniable points about what ails America. Unfortunately his bedside manner puts a lot of Yanks off agreeing with Dr Moore's diagnosis.

Bill Maher's quirky examination of the nuttiness of religion.... you couldn't make up this stuff. Oh yeah, someone did!

Jesus Camp
Scary look at the extent of brainwashing that goes on in mainstream churches, a form of child abuse.

When We Were Kings
Leon Gast's brilliant belated construction of the Ali v Foreman fight.

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Street art meets commerce and the joke is on us, before the genius of Banksy takes over. 
* best seen on a double bill with Who The F*#k is jackson Pollack?  to put the modern art 'market' into perspective.

Paradise Lost
HBO's epic examination of the West Memphis Three case.

The Leader, His Driver and tthe Driver's Wife 
Nick Broomfield's darkly comic look at a white supremicist in the last days of apartheid. 

Tracking Down Maggie
Broomfield again, on the piece of work that was Maggie Thatcher. Watch it and then play Elvis Costello's masterful ballad Tramp The Dirt Down.