The Playlist's Best Documentaries Of The Decade

Reading our Best of the Decade film lists, you’ve been asking us, “uhh, where in the hell are all the documentaries?”

Well, we didn’t want to ghettoize them in a lesser category, but we did want to give them their full due, so therefore here we are. This list is slightly different than our best of Decade list and tends to favor our favorite documentaries, rather than the ones we think are definitively the best, though we endorse every single doc here as well (perhaps a few in our last spots could be switched out for some of our honorable mention if we really thought about it; “To Be And To Have,” “49 Up” and “Lake Of Fire” being three docs we really admire).

Documentarians this decade were seemingly fixated on two things (and with good reason): the Iraq War and the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, in both cases the docs often aimed at keeping people on their toes with journalistic investigations into what blunders our government made (and under the Bush administration there were myriad mistakes). While indignation and outrage make for typical doc-film motivation, sometimes filmmakers were also fascinated with underachievers who dream big and this would be a theme that would echo large throughout the aughts and resonate largely with us as well.

If you’re wondering where all the music documentaries might be, well, we covered those in a separate category yesterday so they would get their proper due.

25.”The Stone Reader” (2002)
On the surface, a film about a bibliophile embarking on a journey to hunt down the long lost author of an obscure, out-of-print book that he read 30 years ago sounds like a great and safe cure for insomnia. But filmmaker Mark Moskowitz manages to make a film that’s not only engaging and suspenseful, but also deeply moving. Moskowitz’s love for books (or rather literature; names like Theodore Dreiser and Henry Roth are dropped liberally) is infectious — calling this film a love story between a man and his books wouldn’t be off the mark. No, this film isn’t for everyone; it‘s true Moskowitz takes his time getting to the payoff and there are long detours where the filmmaker meets with various literary critics to discuss great reads that won’t interest anyone who made a habit of skipping freshman English. But if you’ve ever known the joy of killing an afternoon scouring the aisles of used bookstores and libraries looking for that perfect book, you’ll see what makes this little film so brilliant.

24. “Planet B-Boy” (2008)
This highly entertaining film follows teams of breakdancers from all over the globe on their way to the breaking Oscars: Battle of the Year. Winning this contest held annually in Germany is the ultimate bragging right for any crew, and the pinnacle of success for a breakdancer. That kids from all over the world identify so passionately with a dance born on the streets of the Bronx is a true testament to the power of b-boy culture. Of the great competition-doc genre, “Planet B-Boy” does not disappoint in keeping you on the edge of your seat. Will the Koreans dominate again? Will Japan’s crew place in the competition before retiring? Who will come out on top in the USA-France rivalry? And while the moves are awe-inspiring, and the competition fierce, the real story is the passion of the dancers for their art, and the universal power of the b-boy to transcend language and cultural barriers.

23. “The Beales of Grey Gardens” (2006)
Essentially just part two of Albert and David Maysles’ seminal 1976 cinéma vérité classic, “Grey Gardens,” (or just one more look into the vaults for leftover footage) nonetheless, the documentary, about the oddly enthralling shut-in Beale mother and daughter family (aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy) and their strange and infamous idiosyncrasies (a dilapidated and filthy mansion full of cats and so much garbage they were almost evicted from by the New York Health Department in the summer of 1974) made for an irresistible, can’t-look-away documentary. A reclusive socialite mother and daughter pair, ‘Beales’ is basically more “kooky” folie à deux from the eccentric sisters, but always presented in a manner that let the women speak for themselves. Many people have charged the Maysles with a type of exploitation document of the two who clearly weren’t 100% there mentally, but the duo (David passed away in ’87) have always evinced a deep affection for the pair (not to mention the Maysles’ works were always confoundedly non-judgmental no matter the subject).

22. “Billy The Kid” (2008)
“I’m always at war with myself, either because of depression or my past,” says 15-year-old rural Maine teenager Billy, and thus starts the story of one strange kid. Jennifer Venditti’s look at one of the biggest oddball and maladjusted teenagers ever put on screen and watching him (unbeknownst to himself) struggling to get oriented around regular teenage life is difficult to witness. Suffering from what seems to be a mild form of Aspergers syndrome, Billy is excruciatingly awkward, a painful TMI oversharer (constantly telling people he just met about his birth father that left their family) and in his attempt to court a local girl at a diner, he evinces how he’s perhaps, the ultimate misfit. The notorious tightwad members of KISS were so impressed with the documentary they gave up their song rights to the filmmakers for a fraction of the amount they would normally charge. As bizarre a Billy is, the sweet kid still has his own kind of wisdom: “Usually you find great things in the life that’s full of pain.”

21. “Dogtown and Z Boys” (2001)
In the world of skateboarding, “Dogtown and the Z Boys” might as well be “The Creation of Man.” Directed by Stacy Peralta (who was himself one of the Z boys), ‘Dogtown’ chronicles the birth and evolution of modern skating in the drained swimming pools of Southern California. When there weren’t any good waves the shaggy surfers, led by Jeff Ho, Tony Alva, Jay Adams, and Peralta, took to the streets and pools to “surf” the cement. Peralta does a phenomenal job telling the story of a group of kids doing what they love, watching it explode to global proportions, and how they each dealt with the inadvertent fame that was thrust upon them. Skate legends Tony Hawk and Steve Caballero also provide entertaining interviews while Sean Penn does all the narration for this fantastic skate doc that also boasts an excellent soundtrack of rousing and electric ’60s and ’70s rock nuggets by Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix among others.

20.”A Decade Under The Influence” (2003)
Too lazy to read Gene Shalit-lookalike, Peter Biskind’s seminal, must-read book about the golden age of 1970s American filmmaking, “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls”? Ted Demme (who died of a heart attack before the doc was completed) and Richard LaGravenese’s affectionate tribute on the same subject/era made for IFC is an incredibly absorbing visual version on the same topic (minus the who-was-sleeping-with-who nonsense and controversial stuff that many filmmakers disavowed after Biskind’s book was published) and is essentially a loveletter to cinephiles made by cinephiles. There are interviews with everyone and every still-living key 1970s maverick, filmmaker, actor, etc., including Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, William Friedken, Francis Ford Coppola, Roger Corman, Dennis Hopper, Pam Grier, Martin Scorsese, Sydney Pollack, Robert Towne, etc. The list goes on and on. It’s a terribly engaging and ever-watchable documentary with memorable moments including a touching tribute to Hal Ashby where Jon Voight nearly breaks down and cries remembering his old friend. It’s also an incredible account of when the youth took over Hollywood and in several cases, how their own hubris helped ruin this vibrant and exciting period in cinema (in Spielberg and Lucas’ case it was their talent to connect with mega-audiences that did it). If films like, “Taxi Driver,” “The Last Detail,” “Apocalypse Now,” “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” “Chinatown” and “The French Connection” are some of your all-time favorite films (as they should be), this is a must-see portrait of that era and the making of those films.

19. “Taxi To The Dark Side” (2007)
Dedicated to his father, a WWII Naval interrogator, Alex Gibney’s 2008 Academy Award winning documentary about the torture and prison abuse at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. prisons during the “War On Terror,” personalizes the film on a human level by centering the story on an innocent Afghani taxi driver who was detained and then beaten to death during imprisonment. The investigative doc is a searing indictment of unethical and criminal military policies circuitously handed down from the highest levels with a vague sense of purpose, and then allowed to become perverted by “bad apples” while never coming back to bite any real leaders in the ass. Yet, at the same time, it’s even-handed and staid, letting simple facts speak for themselves (no Michael Moore-isms here). It’s essentially a documentary about the abuse of control and authority and how it affects both the small and big picture. Indeed, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

18. “Murderball” (2005)
Rivalry, competition, sex, violent bodily destruction — “Murderball” is “Gladiator” set in wheelchairs. The guys on the U.S. quadriplegic rugby team may not have full use of their limbs, but no able-bodied person would want to go wheel to wheel with them on a quad rugby court, especially one seething with the heated rivalry and bad blood between Team USA and Team Canada on their journey to the Paralympics in Athens. Each team member’s sheer courage and guts in overcoming horrific injuries to become elite athletes is both inspiring and humbling. Directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro create a truly compelling, inspirational, entertaining film, one that’s not patronizing or treacly. Watching a young man recently injured in a motocross accident take his first spin in a tricked out rugby wheelchair is a moving moment that is emblematic of “Murderball’s” message of finding quiet hope and unexpected opportunities within adversity.

17. “Jesus Camp” (2006)
“The Boys of Baraka” filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady direct this Oscar-nominated documentary that trumps most horror films in terms of terror, at least for viewers of the more liberal persuasion. With a surprising degree of levity, “Jesus Camp” visits the Kids on Fire Summer Camp, where fundamentalist minister Pastor Becky Fischer arms children to fight in the modern spiritual crusades. Audience members may debate whether Fischer’s mission is teaching or brainwashing, but it’s hard to stay neutral when watching this intense film where young kids argue for pro-life causes as politics and religion make for a sometimes caustic combination.

16. “Spellbound” (2002)
Following the exploits of a diverse group of eight child prodigy spelling champs on their way to the big leagues — the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee — the “Spellbound” journey is a beguiling look into the culture of an uniquely American event. All the spellers and their families are endearingly quirky and the film succeeds in drawing out a real affection for every kid in all of their idiosyncratic, pubescent, brace-faced awkwardness. Director Jeffrey Blitz (“Rocket Science,” “The Office”) succeeds in using the bee as a magnifying glass to peer into the diversity of America, with many of the spellers children of immigrants and non-English speakers who still manage to dominate every nuance of the English language. Brimming with nail-biting suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat every time one of our protagonists steps up to the mic, “Spellbound” is an affectionate look at a charming group of oddballs who manage to steal our hearts.

15. “The Trials Of Henry Kissinger” (2002)
Based on Christopher Hitchens’ 2001 book of the same name, directed by Eugene Jarecki (brother of Andrew) and narrated by Brian Cox, this unflinching documentary makes the convincing case that this Nobel peace prize winner and the most famous American diplomat in history (the National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford) is a war criminal who should be tried and treated as such. Written by Alex Gibney (who would go on to be a powerful documentarian in his own right) the chronicle is less a polemic crusade and more of a thoughtful re-examination of a career and a posit toward Human Rights retribution. A brilliant, cunning and sly manipulator, Kissinger is depicted as Machiavellian figure that even his former aides speak out against. This is a political figure who wiretapped his own people (which eventually inadvertently lead to the Watergate tapes), courted the press with aims towards celebrity, called power the “ultimate aphrodisiac,” and proved to be a genius strategist that was always playing both sides. Whatever your thoughts are on the man — and there is some pretty damning testimony and evidence about his architecture in the deaths of thousands of people in Cambodia, Chile and Timor — the doc at least raises major issues about the accountability of political figures.

14. “Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession” (2004)
Perhaps both a cautionary tale and a celebration of myopic passions and obsessions, Xan Cassavetes picture about the seminal and pioneering Los Angeles pay-per-view channel and its troubled programming director Jerry Harvey is a captivating first feature-length doc. To budding cinephiles growing up in ’70s and ’80s California, Z Channel was a godsend and Harvey’s sophisticated film taste for that era — European art films, undiscovered gems, eclectic American ’70s pictures — would open up a whole new world of pictures to people like Quentin Tarantino (who waxes effusively about seeing Samuel Fuller’s “Park Row” for the first time on Z Channel; directors like Altman and Jarmusch also sing its praises). A stalwart champion of the director as godhead posit, Harvey will always be canonized by filmsnobs for essentially creating the director’s cut himself allowing Michael Cimino’s 228 minute version of “Heaven’s Gate” to air on the channel and be seen for the first time ever. Harvey was also instrumental in ensuring that Sam Peckinpah’s studio unmolested version of “Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid” would eventually see the light of day. Sadly, the man who devoted his life to cinema would take his own life (and his girlfriend’s) in 1988 as Z Channel started to buckle under the weight of competitors like HBO and the channel sadly fell from grace.

13. “The Five Obstructions” (2003)
Lars Von Trier loves to torment his subjects. He brutalized Björk so much she vowed never to act again after “Dancer In the Dark” (and indeed she went AWOL for three days during production). And his manipulation of Nicole Kidman and the rest of the cast of “Dogville” was well-captured in the documentary, “Dogville Confessions” (where Kidman openly weeps, and Paul Bettany threatens to strangle the director), But Von Trier topped even his own diabolicalness with the documentary “The Five Obstructions” — a documentary where he pathologically tormented his hero, Danish elder statesmen filmmaker Jørgen Leth, by challenging him to make five short films, then constructing five impossible-to-overcome artistic impediments and then impishly telling his idol how he’s failed miserably each time. It’s a engrossing look at Von Trier’s perverse relationship to those he adores because in the end what’s really revealed, much to the exasperation of Leth, is that the younger filmmaker holds him in the most highest regard and his devilish form of harassment is actually his affectionate from of tribute.

12. “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004)
After earning his first Oscar with “Bowling For Columbine,” Michael Moore set his sights on his biggest targets yet: George Bush and the “War on Terror.” Starting with Bush’s election to the White House, which Moore contends was a fraud, to 9/11 and then to the Iraq War, the film paints a portrait of a president that is at best embarrassingly ignorant and at worst, knowingly duplicitous in some of this early century’s most controversial events. No matter how you feel about Moore’s tactics and sometimes troubling filmmaking techniques, the core of his argument is too compelling to ignore. Earning an ovation and a Palme D’or from Cannes and taking in $220 million worldwide, “Fahrenheit 9/11” became one of the most successful documentaries of all time, but more importantly, energized a whole generation of filmmakers to question their government and demand better for its citizens.

11. “Tarnation” (2003)
Tarnation” is unlike like any film ever made. Yes, it’s a “documentary,” but that word fails to describe the experience of watching the film, which is more like a mash-up of an experimental film, performance art, Youtube vlog, and precious artifact. Culled from hours of VHS footage and recorded since his childhood, Jonathan Caouette has created a stunning depiction of his growing up, grappling with his sexuality and his relationship with his mentally ill mother. It is an endearing, absurdist, gorgeous, heartbreaking picture that will change the way you think about film art. Truly masterful and one of a kind, the films uses its visual artistry to tell a deeply intimate and personal story, while presenting an unvarnished representation of an American family that will stay with you long after the film is over.

1o. “Waltz with Bashir” (2008)
Ever been so traumatized by an experience it has burrowed so far into the recesses of your mind it doesn’t want to be found? This is essentially the posit behind Ari Folman’s 2008 documentary based on his own, personal nightmarish-dreams about the 1983 Beirut massacre. Folman was a soldier in the Israeli Army in the war with Lebanon, but after a few years, he had discovered that his memory of most of the war had evaporated (or was so painful it disappeared). The director tracks down friends and colleagues who fought in the war with him and slowly builds back a recollection of what happened via animation (since none of the footage of these personal experiences actually exists). It’s a haunting piece of work and an incredible examination of the staying-power of guilt. Not to mention it was severely snubbed by the Oscar Foreign committee last year who picked the schmaltzy and sentimental, “Departures” from Japan as the winner instead (in fact every film nominated was much more worthwhile).

9. “Lost In La Mancha” (2002)
Considering the decade of ill-conceived work that followed this documentary, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s examination of the calamitous bad luck that befell director Terry Gilliam during the accursed making of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” with Johnny Depp, feels like an eerie prophecy. Tightly scheduled and budgeted, with little room for error, production was shut down within a week of filming due to a severe back injury to the actor Jean Rochefort and other unforeseen acts of god (freakish storms, flash floods), that delayed and ultimately shit-canned the project. The entire hellish debacle — a director’s worst nightmare — has lead many to believe that Gilliam is hexed, and that sub-par output ever since has done little to convince people otherwise. Regardless, it is a fascinating account of one man’s Sisyphean attempt to overcome the odds and in retrospect, a bold indication of unwavering and almost perverse perseverance. Following that horrible experience, lesser directors would have called it quits. However, it also evinces a monumental and uncanny irony: Gilliam is Quixote and the entire execution is his exercise in tilting at windmills.

8. “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father” (2008)
The title is both truthful and deceptive — if we say more than that, we’re going to run into trouble. It’s necessary to invoke this rift since Kurt Koenne’s tidal swoon of a documentary is as impressive as it is infuriating — one of the few films’ deliberate manipulations we’ll tolerate, and only considering both the director’s impassioned aesthetic and his undeniably good intentions. To put the film’s true-life procedural in non-spoiling terms: Koenne was a close friend of the titular Zachary’s father, who is now deceased. He was murdered by his ex-girlfriend, who, shortly afterward, discovered she was pregnant with his child. The child is Zachary, and this film was made for him, about his father. That’s not the entire story, however, and as the full scope of these events comes into focus, so too do the tears pour out of you like they do a grade school kid with a skinned knee. It’s a bit of a sucker-punch to section-off a timeline in the way Koenne does, but it also puts viewers in the same state of unknowing that this family finds themselves in. ‘Dear Zachary’ ultimately reveals itself to be a requiem, less concerned with awards or audience approval and more so with honoring this devastatingly sad story. And for all the divisive techniques used in excess, the filmmaker’s bravery and the impact of his efforts are enough to elevate his soulful memorial to the level of great art.

7. “The White Diamond” (2004)
Werner Herzog’s most dangerous films — like, man confronting a bear dangerous, or, Nic Cage suffocating old women dangerous — tend to gather the biggest crowds, but really, it’s Herzog’s more introspective queries on man’s complicated relationship with nature that linger in our consciousness longest. His endearing and subtlety strange arctic travelogue, “Encounters at the End of the World,” is one good example, and “The White Diamond,” an intoxicatingly gorgeous journey through the rainforest of Guyana by way of Jungle Airship, might be the best of his docs this decade. It pairs its National Geographic-ready wildlife profile with an achingly personal character study; in this case, Herzog’s madman fighting the odds is Dr. Graham Dorrington, an aviation engineer who embarks on a trip to Guyana’s Kaieteur Falls to study the rainforest’s canopy. In Dorrington’s ambition (modest compared to other Herzog protags), the filmmaker evokes his classic theme of man’s struggle to achieve symbiosis with nature. But there’s a sorrowful lilt (evidenced in the lingering memory of a passed away friend) that’s somewhat rare in Herzog’s oeuvre. His cinematography, too, is imbued with a shimmering beauty appropriate for this often overlooked gem in the canon of one of our most versatile filmmakers.

6. “The King of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters” (2007)
The most entertaining film in 2007 wasn’t box-office behemoths “Spider-Man 3,” “Transformers,” or even “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Instead, it was the little documentary that could, “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.” The delightfully dorky film featured a hero and villain that even paid screenwriters would die to have created, in down-on-his-luck underdog, OCD-school teacher Steve Wiebe and Machiavellian mastermind and hot sauce impresario Billy Mitchell. Instead of vying for world domination, corporate control, or even the heart of a woman, the men battled for something tangible: the world record in the arcade video game Donkey Kong. Classic video games take on epic significance as Mitchell schemes and Wiebe dreams, while songs like “Eye of the Tiger” and “You’re the Best” establish “King of Kong” as a classic sports narrative where the geeks win.

5. “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts” (2006)
Spike Lee sheds the political calamities involving one of our nation’s greatest tragedies by instead putting the focus on the people. While most expected a racially-charged polemic about yet another instance of the country turning a blind eye to the struggles of urban areas, Lee’s human treatment of the material took us into peoples’ homes and hearts to see that what was lost during Hurricane Katrina wasn’t just a city, but a thriving community. Surprisingly hopeful, Lee’s film focuses on the professionals, artisans, mothers, sons and loved ones that made New Orleans a great cultural center, and important part of the national identity. While there are brief moments set aside to question the flawed government reaction to the tragedy, Lee’s film is a surprisingly hopeful, beautifully scored (by Terence Blanchard) painting of tomorrow where the sun now shines brighter after the resilience shown by the people of New Orleans in the wake of chaos.

4.”Grizzly Man” (2005)
Werner Herzog’s perverse, funny, deeply-touching documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a granola-eating, press-loving nature freak who wants to be absorbed, “Jungle Book”-style, into a family of grizzly bears. While this could be the set up for some bizarre, but heartwarming, nature doc, “Grizzly Man” is really a whacked-out tragedy. With Werner Herzog’s liberal narration, the movie becomes less about a man consumed with his love of nature (and bears), but more a psychological profile of a man so unwell he would kill himself (and someone he loved) through a misguided sense of purpose. In this context, a brief scene with David Letterman interviewing Treadwell and joking that one day he’ll be eaten by a bear becomes a haunting prophecy.

3. “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” (2004)
A riveting portrait about obfuscation, denial, war time culpability and in some ways, contrition (among several other things) Errol Morris’ Academy-Award winning documentary about Robert S. McNamara — the 8th United States Secretary of Defense who served under Kennedy and Johnson and a vilified key architect behind Vietnam war as well as a figure in the Cuban Missile Crisis — is a chilling examination of what evils are done in the name of supposed goodness. Culled from twenty hours of worth of interview footage compiled using his Interrotron interviewing device, Morris’ film is at all times arresting, frustrating, alarming and compelling as McNamara both confronts and eludes explanations of some of the most contentious military decisions of our time. Powered by an ominous and pulsating score by Phillip Glass, no matter what you think of McNamara, “The Fog Of War” is a probing insight into one of the most intriguing political figures of modern history.

2.”Man On Wire” (2008)
After he traipsed back and forth eight times on the cable he suspended between the two World Trade Center towers, people wanted to know why Philippe Petit, the focus of “Man On Wire,” decided to dance, perform, and lie down with nothing between him and the ground but two inches of cable and 1,368 feet of thin air. His simple response: “There is no why.” Petit’s motivation is what sets him, and this documentary apart. This isn’t a story of pointed and vitriolic revolution, but of quiet rebellion. Director James Marsh demonstrates a fundamental understanding of Petit’s vision. Much like the French wirewalker himself, Marsh’s film is energetic, rousing, and subtly beautiful. With its cleverly structured plot and memorable characters, the film often seems more like a sweet little piece of fiction. The energetic interviews with Petit and his cohorts, however, remind you that you’re watching a compelling documentary on some of the most extraordinary individuals you’ll ever see and a climatic work of poetry that rivals all the art made this century. Also, sorry Quentin, Marsh’s use of old Michael Nyman music (mostly from Peter Greenway films), was the most inspired (and inspiring) use of recycled music all decade.

1. “Capturing The Friedmans” (2003)
Disquieting, unnerving and completely absorbing, Andrew Jarecki’s debut film is a blend of family portrait and legal drama unlike anything we’ve seen before. The Friedmans, a seemingly perfect family living in the upper middle class village of Great Neck on Long Island, have their world shattered when patriarch Arnold and his son Jesse are arrested on charges of child molestation. As the case goes public, and accusations become more lurid and heated, the Friedmans continue with their tradition of shooting their day-to-day lives on home video. With unprecedented access to their home video archives, combined with his own footage of the family and the quagmire of legal proceedings, Jarecki’s film gets further inside than any police officer, prosecutor, judge or jury. While it will be up to the viewer to determine their guilt or innocence, Jarecki’s film is a mesmerizing portrait of a family struggling to stay together in the aftermath of unspeakable allegations.

Honorable Mention:
Top of mind is the unnervingly patient and spare 2002 French documentary about a teacher and his kids, “To Be And To Have,” Tony Kaye’s almost three hour abortion documentary that he toiled away on for almost a decade, “Lake of Fire,” Alex Gibney’s “Enron: The Smartest People in The Room,” the Iraq war docs, “No End In Sight,” and “Iraq In Fragments,” “Deliver Us From Evil,” Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine,” and “Sicko” (the latter being the better of the two in our mind), Paramount head and producer Robert Evans’ frightening array of tinted eyeglasses in his comeback story, “The Kid Stays In The Picture” (directed by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen), the Katrina doc, “Trouble The Water,” the revealing and startling, “Born Into Brothels,” the subway denizens doc, “Dark Days,” which boasted the great use of DJ Shadow music, Morgan Spurlock’s semi-slight, but entertaining indictment of the fast-food industry “Super Size Me” which did spawn a host of wannabees and helped launch a new-form of first-person documentary.

Also venerable and worth mentioning are Michael Apted’s “49 Up,” the seventh installment in the long-running “Up series, which has been checking in with the same group of people everyone few years, many of them from around the time they were 7 years old; “The American Nightmare ” the IFC doc on American horror films, a great doc and notable for being one of the few instances Godspeed You! Black Emperor have ever licensed their music, the Larp (live action role playing) documentary, “Darkon,” Alex Gibney’s lesser doc, about Hunter S. Thompson, “Gonzo,” Eugene Jarecki’s “Why We Fight,” perhaps one of the more legally important documentaries as far as cinema history is concerned, Marina Zenovich’s “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” Gary Hustwit’s typography documentary, “Helvetica,” the outsider art film, “Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal,” AJ Schnack’s “Kurt Cobain: About A Son,” “March Of The Penguins,” the captivating children’s art chronicle, turned mystery picture, “My Kid Could Paint That,” Erroll Morris’ Iraqi-prison abuse chronicle, “Standard Operating Procedure,” Gonzalo Arijon’s harrowing, and moving recollection “Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains,” “Style Wars,” “Up the Yangtze,” “Touching the Void,” Jonathan Demme’s portrait doc, “Jimmy Carter: A Man From Plains,” Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Crazy Love,” “Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts” and a big shout out to Discovery Channel’s ever-watchable series, “Planet Earth.”

— Katie Walsh, Kevin Jagernauth, Jace Brittain, Kimber Myers, Beau Delmore, Sam Mac, Gabe Toro & RP