It was another banner year for docs! While only “The Act of Killing,” “Stories We Tell” and “The Square” made my 2013 favorite movie list, all of the movies below are really, really worth seeing. So, in no particular order…
Blackfish – I have a little trouble with this film’s journalism and its tendency to anthropomorphize charismatic megafauna. But it’s still fascinating, moving and important. You won’t be heading to Sea World anytime soon after seeing it.
The Crash Reel - Lucy Walker (“Wasteland”) has done it again with a rocking movie about serious subject. You’ll flip for the snowboarding, fall in love with snowboarder Kevin Pearce and his family - oh, and learn about traumatic brain injury.
Tim’s Vermeer – An inventor (and non-artist) tries to duplicate the techniques and technology used by Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer to create luminous paintings like “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” Fascinating and fun.
Room 237 – An artistic autopsy of Stanley Kurbick’s scare-tastic “The Shining.” These people have clearly watched this movie way too many times and the result is fascinating and ridiculous.
Cutie and the Boxer – A melancholy little portrait of love and patience featuring the Japanese artists Ushio and his wife Noriko Shinohara. It’s not easy being an artist; it’s even harder being married to one.
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks – Alex Gibney’s film will make you realize you didn’t really know the whole story of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. The behind the scenes footage of Assange shot by an English journalist is especially revealing.
Good Ol’ Freda – The story of the lovely and humble Freda Kelly, who ran the Beatles’ fan club and was friends with the lads from Liverpool from the days in the tiny Cavern Club to their last hurrah.
A Band Called Death - A film about the most famous (well, only) 1970′s black proto-punk trio Death, and their new-found popularity decades after they disbanded.
Leviathan – A verite’ voyage on an ocean-going fishing boat – from the viewpoint of the fish. Not to everyone’s taste; I found it mesmerizing. From the makers of the lauded “Sweetgrass.”
After Tiller - A thoughtful look at some of the few doctors left performing late-term abortions. Surprising in their self-reflective look at the importance – and morally ambiguous – nature of their work.
Pandora’s Promise - A polemic but still thought-provoking reexamination of nuclear power in the age of global warming. If you ever marched with a “No Nukes” sign, consider seeing this film if only to see how open minded you really are.
Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey – 1980′s power rockers Journey were kind of dead in the water when they found a Pilipino cover band singer on YouTube to step up as lead singer. Not just a feel-good story – it also brings new life to the old warning to “be careful what you wish for.”
Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story – Ungerer is the wildly eccentric and talented author of children’s books like “The Mellops Go Flying.” He is also an amazing graphic and fine artist – with irreverent and often highly sexual sensibilities. The two pursuits did not mix particularly well.
Call Me Kuchu – The draconian anti-gay laws in Uganda have only gotten worse since this film was made – and American evangelicals aren’t helping. A heart-breaking story.
Narco Cultura – Powerful verite’ doc that takes you into the Mexican border drug wars and the hopelessness of the good guys on the front lines of the battles. Great use of music; devastating subject matter.
20 Feet from Stardom – How does it feel for backup singers to be close to be wildly talented to so close to the limelight? And is success in show business really all about talent? Great characters; great music.
The Muslims Are Coming! - A travelogue following a group of Muslim comics on a tour of the American heartland. It’s an unpretentious little film but still manages to occasionally be laugh out loud funny and thought-provoking. Hug a Muslim today!