Seth’s Favorites of 2009: Documentaries

Other favorites of 2009:


I just had to do documentaries separately from films this year; there was simply no way I was going to be able to choose a top ten films including docs.  Unfortunately, although I’ve seen some really great documentaries this year, there are also a decent amount I haven’t been able to see yet and am not sure when I’ll get to see them.  The ones I haven’t seen yet include:  Outrage, Burma VJ, Garbage Dreams, The Most Dangerous Man in America, It Might Get Loud, Under Our Skin, and Which Way Home.   I’d have waited to make my list if it looked like I’d get to see any of these really soon, but it’s not looking that way.  So, without further ado, my favorite documentaries of the year:

10.  Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders

This emotional and tense doc follows four doctors in war-torn Liberia; what could have been a bleeding-heart paint-by-numbers routine is a fully alive, vibrant, scary film.

9.  Tyson

As I said immediately after I saw this, I’m still not sure if it’s actually any good as a piece of film or art.  It just generally confused my sensibilities.  But one thing is for sure, and that is that it has stuck with me, and any mention of Mike Tyson is now, in my mind, fully colored by this odd, affected, bizarre portrait of the man.  One also wonders—as one often does in the most interesting of documentaries—how much of the material is about the subject, and how much is about the filmmaker.

8.  The Beaches of Agnes

7.  Anvil: The Story of Anvil

What I like so much about “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” is not the music.  That aspect is downright horrible.  No, what I like about it is the two distinct ways the film can be read: either as a joyous affirmation that our dreams are always within reach, or a sad proclamation that we should all, eventually, give up and settle (lest we risk being ridiculous).  In the end, the film seems to say that the best path is a bit of both.

6.  Mugabe and the White African

“Mugabe and the White African” is an incredibly exciting and, dare I say it—important film, and I certainly would have ranked it much higher—maybe even #1—if it weren’t for the fact that I felt aspects of it were a tad staged.

5. Capitalism: A Love Story

I know, I know, this movie has it’s share of haters.  But I thought the ideas were big, but presented with alot of heart (and difficult concepts were made easy to understand), but most importantly, while past Moore films have left me feeling enraged and despondent, “Capitalism” made me angry–and extremely sad.  The only problem is that the issue in this movie is so big, the individual feels helpless against it, which is a shame, since it’s the closest Moore’s come yet to moving me to actual action.

4.  Valentino: The Last Emperor

There are two distinct ways to see this movie: either as an awed look at one of the last geniuses of the fashion industry, or as a final revelation that the fashion industry is full of slathering buffoons who don’t have those closest to them fooled in the least.  I, obviously, fall into the latter camp.  Scenes in which everyone is being very serious, or frantic, or sad, about a dress, played very comically to me, as this uber-serious Valentino tries to not laugh out loud at his heist of fame.  One can’t help but think of Bernie Madoff—like the great swindler, Valentino seems to just be waiting to be found out.  In our celebrity-drenched culture, we need more looks behind the curtain like this one.

3.  Every Little Step

If you’re familiar with the plot of the musical A Chorus Line, then you’ll understand how genius of a concept it is to make a documentary of the audition process for the Broadway revival of the musical.  It works in layers:  as a keen post-modern life-imitates-art gimmick, as a deconstruction of the artistic process, as a statement on the disposability of individuals as artists, and as a celebration of those same individuals.  Worth repeated viewings.

2.  Food, Inc.

You’ve probably heard of this by now and don’t need me to jawbone you anymore about it.  Watch it.  I haven’t become a vegetarian yet, but believe this:  it has changed the way I eat.

Watch the  “Food, Inc.” trailer

1.  The Cove

The Cove is everything I want in a documentary:  it has something to say (the issue is Dolphins, but it’s somehow made a fresh issue again), it has interesting people in it, it has moments of excitement, and it ultimately acknowledges it is a documentary.  Whether you give a shit about dolphins or not, methinks you’ll care for at least two hours if you watch The Cove. I have no idea why I cannot get these italics to go away.

Now, I am going to go out on a major limb here and predict which five documentaries will be nominated for the Oscar this year.  (Please note, if you are a magazine reading person, then you know that none of the major entertainment mags have made their predictions yet.)  If I am right on ALL FIVE, somebody has to give me something.  I’m also going to guess the winner, but this is only my guess if I am right about all 5 nominees.  If (as will almost certainly be the case) I am not right about all 5 noms, I will most likely change my guess going into the Oscar ceremony.  OK, my guesses:

–The Cove
–Food, Inc.
–The Beaches of Agnes
–Burma VJ
–Which Way Home

…with the winner being…The Cove

5 Responses to “Seth’s Favorites of 2009: Documentaries”

  1. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    I’m very surprised you have an interest in ‘It Might Get Loud’ despite your lack of interest in the all three guitarists respective bands. I dug it a lot, but I also dig all of their music.

    I couldn’t watch the trailers you posted, although I was happy I got through that Baumbach one earlier today without a shutdown. I got a lot of catching up to do, but so do you…

    I need to see ‘Capitalism’ again for sure, but it all seemed rather pointless. Michael Moore hates the way we make money now. Of course the feelings of the rich getting richer is a universal one people can rally against, but it didn’t seem like a whole documentary was necessary.

    I’ve not seen Food, Inc., but I saw some VERY convincing info AGAINST organic food that convinced me 100%. Look up the Penn and Teller Bullshit episode on that subject.

    • sethdellinger Says:

      I’m not particularly interested in ‘It Might get Loud’, but it being one of the more talked-about docs of the year, I thought I should mention I did not see it before I presented my list. I will end up watching it just to see what it’s all about.

      What more catching up do I have to do???? You are a slave driver, I left like 5 comments on your rum and internet entry! And you don;t get a comment for a Bukowski poem, sorry dude!

      I gotta admit I just don;t understand economics all that well, but I do understand how one could criticize “Capitalism”. I mean, shit’s unfair in every system, right? But Moore says…does it have to be? I too have to see it again though.

      I’m sure there’s problems with organics–there’s going to be a problem with mass-producing anything. The questions is, could it possibly be as bad as the alternative?

      • Kyle Sundgren Says:

        I have two before the recent rum and internet.

        If we were to go 100% organic something like 40 million people would go hungry. It costs way more and it is in most cases worse for you because of the no chemicals. That’s the gist of the P&T BS episode.

      • sethdellinger Says:

        I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that the world can go 100% organic, and only a little portion of “Food Inc” is about organics, there’s a lot more to it than that.

        Dude, seriously…nobody comments on every entry someone writes…? You don’t comment on all of my entries either.

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