One of my favorite things to do when I have the time is to watch documentaries. Unlike regular movies, documentaries usually make me feel like I am at least attempting to use my time wisely. Now don't get me wrong, I love a good mindless movie as much as the next guy, but documentaries have always had a special place in my heart.
And though I love to watch them, I am actually EXTREMELY picky about the documentaries that I choose to watch. After all, let's face the facts: a lot of supposed documentaries are nothing more than either mockumentaries or political propaganda pieces. As a result, my list of the top 10 all-time documentaries will probably not contain some of the traditional "best hits" that others love.
So, without further delay, here are my 10 Greatest Documentaries of All-Time:
10.) The Tillman Story (2010): The Tillman Story is a moving account of the life and legacy of Pat Tillman (one of my all-time favorite athletes), who gave up a career in the NFL to join the U.S. Army. Sadly, Tillman was killed by friendly fire. Of course, everyone already knows about Tillman's incredible story and legacy but that is not what this documentary focuses on. The Tillman Story explores how the military, politicians and the government in general manipulated his tragic death by covering up the truth and using him as a propaganda tool. Members of Tillman's family and the military come forward to reveal just how twisted Pat Tillman's legacy became for the powers that be.
9.) Friends of God (2007): In this HBO documentary, Alexandra Pelosi travels across America to chronicle the beliefs, practices and politics of American Evangelicals. I enjoyed the film because Pelosi allows the subjects, who include both prominent Evangelical leaders and average believers to speak for themselves. Usually religious documentaries are made to simply poke fun at believes. This film, however, lets the viewer judge for himself/herself.
8.) Life (2009): In this 10-part series narrated by Oprah Winfrey (which is still regularly shown on the Discovery Channel), the miracle and vast diversity of life on planet Earth is revealed in fantastic detail. The camera work in this documentary is second to none, as life in various parts of the planet (at the depths of the sea or the tops of the mountains) is brought to light.
7.) Vanishing of the Bees (2009): One of my closet ambitions in life is to become a professional beekeeper. Bees are, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful, hard working and impressive forms of life on this planet. In this documentary, scientists and beekeepers alike examine the global epidemic that is Colony Collapse Disorder. For the past few years, bees have simply been disappearing from their hives, and the impact on agriculture has been tremendous. Roughly 1/3 of everything humans eat is the result of bee pollination, and without these bees humanity (and other forms of life on earth) will be severely impacted.
6.) Tyson (2009): In this James Toback film, the rise and fall of one of America's most dramatic, charismatic and controversial athletes is Chronicled. The boxing career of Mike Tyson was like a runaway freight train that derailed violently. This film shows an intimate look into the psyche and life history of Tyson. It is one of the most entertaining documentaries I have ever seen.
5.) Baseball (1994): In this Ken Burns documentary, the history of baseball is chronicled. It was a nine-part PBS series that captured the attention of historians and sports fans alike. Baseball shows how the game evolved and influenced American society over its 100-year history. A fascinating and very in-depth analysis to say the least.
4.) Super Size Me (2004): Pretty much everyone has seen this film. Morgan Spurlock (the film's creator and chief figure) goes on a 30-day McDonald's binge, which leads to several health issues. In addition, Spurlock looks at how the food industry in America has effectively woven itself into American culture.
3.) The Wonder of it All (2007): In The Wonder of it All, chronicles the stories of the men behind the Apollo missions to the moon. Interviews with the astronauts, mission control personnel and other important participants reveals the miracle behind America's space program. The Wonder of it All captures the true majesty and wonder of human exploration and leaves the viewer asking, "why don't we do more of this today?" A truly inspiring documentary to say the least.
2.) The Fog of War (2003): The Fog of War is, without question, one of the most chilling films I have ever seen. The documentary is essentially an interview with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who was one of the chief advocates for the escalation of the Vietnam War. In the film, McNamara essentially breaks down as he reveals for the audience the deep personal anguish of decisions that he made which led to the tragic deaths of thousands of American soldiers. Hearing McNamara admit his guilt, remorse and error is a surreal experience. A must-see documentary for sure.
1.) Hoop Dreams (1994): There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Hoop Dreams is the greatest documentary ever made. To give you an idea of how good this film was, it came out the same year as Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption and Quiz Show...and it won more awards than all those movies combined. Hoop Dreams follows the lives of two inner city Chicago kids who, over the course of eight years, try to make it to the NBA. The film reveals the incredible pressures that inner city Black kids face on a daily basis and how dreams of basketball greatness serve as a hope for a better life. In the film, the two kids receive scholarships to wealthy, upscale private high schools (the same high school that NBA great Isaiah Thomas attended). But once one of them falls short of expectations, the scholarships suddenly disappear and he is forced to return to inner city public school. Whether you like basketball or not is irrelevant. Hoop Dreams is a remarkable inside view into a world that few ever see or experience. Again, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the greatest documentary ever made.
There you have it! Now, get out to Redbox and rent one! =)
It Might Get Loud
March of the Penguins