Article By: Dan Clark
Not only is 2012 coming to a close, but so is my look back at the year that was in movies. My last stop is picking out my Top 10 Documentaries of 2012. Over the past few years my interest in docs has increased rapidly. I have grown to appreciate how powerful the format can be. It can be used to tell a great story or rile up support for an important cause. My Top 10 this year is a variety of films all of which have different motivations, styles, and stories. Even if you are a person who never watched a documentary before I would advise checking out the list. You might be surprised to see what exists in the world of documentaries.
Directed By: Michael Stephenson
Synopsis: An original documentary which follows three families in a small seaside town in Massachusetts as they prepare for their annual homemade haunted houses. This story highlights their long journey from planning to opening day and cleanup until next year and the obstacles which face them during the process
Quick Take: Michael Stephenson follows up his first feature length documentary Best Worst Movie with another solid entry about diehard fandoms. American Scream is a perfect example of ambition and talent don’t always coincide. The three families that make up the film that are all unique with different levels of talent. What I appreciate about Stephenson’s direction is he treats each with a level of respect. Sure there are some laughs, but it never enters into mocking territory when it easily could have.
Directed By: Stacy Peralta
Synopsis: When six teenage boys came together as a skateboarding team in the 1980s, they reinvented not only their chosen sport but themselves too – as they evolved from insecure outsiders to the most influential athletes in the field.
Quick Take: Bones Brigade: An Autobiography picks up right where Stacy Peralta 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys left off. There was a day or two when I considered myself a skater, but for the most part it’s a part of our culture I’m ignorant towards. This doc works if you’re a newb like me or a dedicated skater fanatic.
Directed By: Kevin Macdonald
Synopsis: A documentary on the life, music, and legacy of Bob Marley.
Quick Take: Autobiographic documentaries are a tough nut to crack. They can become book report like with people just spouting facts. Musical documentaries also run the risk of being nothing more than VH1 Behind the Music specials. Marley avoided that by being one of the most beautiful docs of the year. It never lost its cinematic atmosphere allowing it to avoid its common tropes. It was a true representation of who Bob Marley was as a man, a legend, and a movement.
Directed By: David Gelb
Synopsis: A documentary on 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono, his business in the basement of a Tokyo office building, and his relationship with his son and eventual heir, Yoshikazu.
Quick Take: My favorite doc last year Buck was a story about a man who an exceptional talent and unique life story. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is similar as it tells the story of a simple man with a knack for being excellent. It shows all the small but important details that need to be executed to make the world’s greatest sushi. Besides the sushi aspect its delves into tradition, family, and the pressure of living up to a legacy.
Directed By: Martyn Burke
Synopsis: Journalism in times of war has become an increasingly lethal and traumatic endeavor for the men and women who face constant threats to their lives and psyches. With the death toll skyrocketing from only two reporters killed in World War I to almost a journalist a week being killed in the last two decades, UNDER FIRE weaves together portraits, battlefield accounts and combat footage to reveal what the reporters see, think and feel.
Quick Take: I am as willing as anyone to complain about the media. With the onset of cable news there is a lot to complain about. The thing is there are still a lot of dedicated journalist out there that risk their lives to tell the stories that need to be told. That’s why this is doc needs to be watch by everyone. Watching these journalists recount the horrors they faced gave me a newfound respect for everything they sacrifice.
Directed By: Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky
Synopsis: A documentary that follows the journeys of indie game developers as they create games and release those works, and themselves, to the world.
Quick Take: I used to be a big player of video games, however for whatever reason that has slowed in recent years. After watching Indie Game: The Movie I was reminded why I loved video games in the first place. Those who in-the-know of video game news may not enjoy this as much as I did since they probably know the outcome already. Even if you do know the real life story this puts a interesting narrative behind the world of Indie gaming.
Directed By: Kirby Dick
Synopsis: An investigative documentary about the epidemic of rape of soldiers within the US military.
Quick Take: In Kirby Dick’s documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated he took on the corruption of the MPAA. This time around his foe is a lot more formidable as he investigates the epidemic and cover up of rape in the US military. This is one of the hardest things I watched this year. Listening to these woman and men recall their horrific tales was the definition of gut wrenching. Though I also feel it’s one of the more important films I have watched in recent memory.
Directed By: David France
Synopsis: The story of two coalitions — ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) — whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.
Quick Take: How to Survive a Plague made me realize just how uninformed I was of the Aids epidemic. It summed up just how widespread and ignored this problem was in America. Most of the documentary was made up of archival footage that took you back to the height of the aids debate.
Directed By: Alison Klayman
Synopsis: A documentary that chronicles artist and activist Ai Weiwei as he prepares for a series of exhibitions and gets into an increasing number of clashes with the Chinese government.
Quick Take: Considering how influential Ai Weiwei is I’m quite embarrassed to say I never heard of him before I watched this documentary. That’s the power of movies however. They have the ability to change ignorance into knowledge. Director Alison Klayman provided an amazing portrait of who Ai Weiwei is and the power he holds as an artist.
Directed By: Bart Layton
Synopsis: A documentary centered on a young Frenchman who convinces a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who has been missing for 3 years.
Quick Take: This was one of my most anticipated movies of 2012 and it did not disappoint. It took a unbelievable story and added an artistic flair. Using reenactments as part of your documentary is a risky venture. A documentary can quickly become a glorified version of Hard Copy or America’s Most Wanted. The reenactments in The Imposter were well shot and intertwined seamlessly into the films narrative. If you are like me you will watch this documentary and wonder how this family was so willing to believe the impossible. Director Bart Layton does something interesting though. He shifts focus and puts us into a similar position. Without giving too much away it was a prime example of how it only takes a small nudge to grasp onto the truth of a scandal.
Honorable Mentions: High Ground, Searching for Sugerman, Ballplayer: Pelotero