Top 25 Documentary Films

I’ve done movie lists before, from the top 1001 all time to the top 100 modern day must see movies.  This is the first list of documentaries that I have seen.  Interestingly enough, only one or two of them appear on the other two lists.  Many of these are in my Blockbuster queue, ironically enough!

Again, I have marked the ones I have seen and have some of my comments next to a few.  I’m really not surprised with what showed up, most of them are very well known.  The only exception is #19 which was never released and is only available for educational purposes to schools and the like.  I also wish that Mad Hot Ballroom had made the list, but alas no such luck.  And I understand, it was a great film, but not quite the same caliber as the ones listed below.  Oh well.  The complete list of IDA’s “25 Best Documentaries” is included below:

25. “Woodstock,” directed by Michael Wadleigh
24. “Night and Fog,” directed by Alain Resnais
23. “Grizzly Man,” directed by Werner Herzog
22. “Winged Migration,” directed by Jacques Perrin [does it count if it has been in my DVD player for a year?  Seriously, it has.  I have a five disk DVD changer and keep meaning to watch it, but never do.]
21. “Fahrenheit 9/11,” directed by Michael Moore [I watched this at work when it was a viral thing, you could download the entire movie online.  And unfortunately I remember very little of it!]
20. “Buena Vista Social Club,” directed by Wim Wenders
19. “Titticut Follies,” directed by Frederick Wiseman
18. “Born into Brothels,” directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski [In queue]
17. “Capturing the Friedmans,” directed by Andrew Jarecki [in queue]
16. “Grey Gardens,” directed by Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer [in queue]
15. “Sherman’s March,” directed by Ross McElwee
14. “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance,” directed by Godfrey Reggio
13. “Salesman,” directed by Albert and David Maysles
12. “Don’t Look Back,” directed by DA Pennebaker
11. “Super Size Me,” directed by Morgan Spurlock [I think I’ve had one McDonalds hamburger since this came out.  Not so much because of the movie, but because of the “experiment” in the bonus features!]
10. “Roger and Me,” directed by Michael Moore [in queue]
9. “The Fog of War,” directed by Errol Morris
8. “Gimme Shelter,” directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin
7. “Crumb,” directed by Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb
6. “An Inconvenient Truth,” directed by Davis Guggenheim [in queue]
5. “Harlan County USA,” directed by Barbara Kopple
4. “Spellbound,” directed by Jeffery Blitz [Fabulous movie!  Loved it!]
3. “Bowling for Columbine,” directed by Michael Moore
2. “The Thin Blue Line,” directed by Errol Morris
1. “Hoop Dreams,” directed by Steve James, Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx [in queue]

2 thoughts on “Top 25 Documentary Films

  1. As of September 11, 2009, here are my updates to this list:
    #22, “Winged Migration”. Watched the first fifteen minutes at least a dozen times before I gave up on it. Sorry, just couldn’t pull it off.
    #18, “Born into Brothels”. FABULOUS story about the slums of India and how the girls are trying to stay off the line. Complete with a followup a year later on how they are trying to provide schooling for these children and where they are after the documentary was made. Am actually surprised this didn’t get a bit of a resurgence as it was released before “Slumdog Millionaire” and, in some ways, is a better film. Highly recommended.
    #17, “Capturing the Friedmans”. What started out as a movie about a birthday clown turned into a documentary about a man that was arrested for molesting his son and other children and how that has torn apart the family. Very thought provoking and insightful, and you can’t help but be empathetic for the older son as he is steadfastly on his father’s side. At the end, you still wonder about the father’s level of guilt and the amount of truth being told.
    #16, “Grey Gardens”. What a kooky family. Saw the original, and saw the remake of it with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. Certainly different, that’s for sure. Not sure if it’s one that I would watch again, but glad I saw it once.

    Might I say that I still think the following should be added:
    “Mad Hot Ballroom” about the classical dance lessons/competition being taught in inner-city New York public schools
    “Steal A Pencil For Me” about two people who fall in love in the midst of the worst circumstances known to humanity during the last hundred years. MUST see.

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