The Documentary Blog’s Top 10 Documentaries of 2009

2009 flew by so fast that I had to double check my list for 2008 entries. Seriously, I don’t know where the time has gone. Luckily, this year brought us a lot of great non-fiction filmmaking and it was tough to narrow this years ‘best of’ list down to 10, even if I feel I didn’t see nearly as many documentaries that I should have. There’s a good mix of social, political, environmental and character driven films listed below that I think represent quality non-fiction filmmaking, both in craft and storytelling. So have a look and share your personal choices in the comments! Happy new year! One last thing…stay tuned to The Documentary Blog this week for a couple of ‘best of the decade’ lists, including some great guest contributors!

10. Winnebago Man
Directed by Ben Steinbauer

Not only is Winnebago Man hilarious, but it’s a great look at the relationship between the documentarian and the subject. Ben Steinbauer and Jack Rebney make a great on-screen duo and I sort of got caught up in watching Ben attempt win Jack’s affection.

9. Waterlife
Directed by Kevin McMahon

At a time when the non-fiction world might seem a little over-saturated with environmental films, Kevin McMahon’s Waterlife manages to balance craft and storytelling with an informative and scary look at the environmental decline of the great lakes. It sort of plays like a road trip film; travelling from lake to lake we meet the people who are affected by the polluting of the last great supply of fresh water on Earth.

8. Objectified
Directed by Gary Hustwit

Objectified continues the clean, talking heads apprach that Gary Hustwit established in Helvetica, only this time he looks at design. There’s something wonderful about watching world renowned professionals talk passionately about their abilities.

7. Tyson
Directed by James Toback

James Toback’s long time friendship with Mike Tyson paved the way for this candid, hilarious and sometimes sad look at one of the strangest characters in professional sports. The film is mostly talking heads intercut with stock footage, but Tyson’s storytelling is completely enthralling. A great follow up to the Rocky marathon I held last weekend.

6. Collapse
Directed by Chris Smith

While most have been caught up by the ‘facts’ outlined by Mike Ruppert, I thought Chris Smith’s Collapse played as a great character study. As a huge American Movie fan, this was a must see for me. Smith seems to be channeling Errol Morris this time around and he still has an eye for great characters.

5. New World Order
Directed by Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer

Finally, a film about conspiracy theorists that doesn’t focus on the theories. Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer are the guys who brought us Darkon a few years back, and now they’ve managed to re-examine the idea of every day folks who live in imaginary worlds. This time, it’s Alex Jones and the 9-11 truthers. The film is fairly objective and manages to treat the subjects with respect, but there’s definitely some quirky stuff on display here.

4. Trouble the Water
Directed by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin

It might not be as definitive as Spike Lee’s look at Katrina, but Trouble the Water definitely captures the more intimate angle of disaster. Home video footage makes up the majority of this film, and boy are there some amazing images. An interesting look at how Katrina affected people’s lives on a personal level.

3. Best Worst Movie
Directed by Michael Stephenson

More than just a fan film, Best Worst Movie follows Troll 2 star George Hardy as he embraces the cult status he has achieved. It’s a hilarious look at fame, fandom and family. The three f’s. And for those who are curious, I haven’t seen Troll 2 and I was still entertained by this film.

2. The Cove
Directed by Louie Psihoyos

Although I’m not entirely sure this film’s energy was focused in the right direction — more responsibility should’ve been placed on theme park audiences for supplying the ‘demand’ in ‘supply and demand’ — there’s no doubt the Cove is an emotional, thrilling and engaging cinematic experience.

1. Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Directed by Sacha Gervasi

This movie is just so watchable and loveable. I don’t know that it’s the best made film of the decade, but it certainly deserves to be recognized for its success as a character driven documentary. It’s hilarious and heartwarming; two words that are rarely used to describe non-ficiton films that don’t star penguins.

Honourable Mentions:

Art & Copy
Directed by Doug Pray

Burma VJ
Directed by Anders Østergaard

Directed by Eric Daniel Metzgar

Directed by Bill Ross and Turner Ross

Rip! A Remix Manifesto
Directed by Brett Gaylor

Kings of Pastry
Directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker