Top 10 Documentaries of All Time

CW: Nudity, holocaust, violence, death, racial injustice, etc.

10 - Shoah

9 - Harlan County, USA

8 - The Quince Tree Sun

7 - The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On

6 - Hoop Dreams

5 - Stop Making Sense

4 - Close-Up

3 - Baraka

2 - Sans Soleil

1 - As I Was Moving Ahead, Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty

I like these kinds of lists for the exposure of films that I probably would’ve never run into on my own and for the discussion of why they picked these along with all the other movies mentioned. Are there any you would recommend or an honorable mention?


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(i’ll recc not watching the trailer just cuz they always reveal so much, im just gonna put it here so it fits with the rest of the post)
This Changes Everything is a pretty good doc about climate change.

I typically don’t like top 10 lists for this sort of thing, but I enjoyed how they structured this one (in that it’s less about constructing a definitive top 10, but rather giving a broad overview of different genres of documentary with a recommendation at the end of each segment).

That said, I couldn’t make a list like this without featuring F for Fake. As much as I enjoy the documentary format, there are a lot of issues with it, and this is a film that goes to great lengths examining what those issues are. Initially centered around a notorious art forger, F for Fake eventually transforms into a sort of philosophical free association where Welles attempts to make the audience consider what their relationship to capital-T Truth and capital-E Expertise actually is – eventually going so far as making the viewer question their relationship with the movie they’re currently watching. (And the subject of the film itself is fascinating!)

I also agree with a lot of their choices (Hoop Dreams and Close-Up especially), but I’d probably include Samsara over Baraka personally (both are great though!), and would have put The Act of Killing/The Look of Silence, Salesman, and Gimme Shelter on my own final list.

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They actually did mention this in the video but the reason they went with Baraka over Samsara was because they already chose Samsara as the most beautiful film ever made in one of their other lists/videos so rather than double dip, they wanted to give exposure to both.

My Top 20! You can follow the link below to actually see my top…currently 84. I should make an effort to get that up to 100!

Oh, I understood why they listed Baraka over Samsara. I just meant that I personally prefer Samsara and would have it on my own personal top 10 list if I were to make one.

I concur that that was a great list, I appreciated breaking it up into different formats of documentary, instead of fruitlessly trying to claim objectivity.

If I were to make a favorite doc list, Grizzly Man would be at the top.

It’s easy to write off Treadwell’s story as that of an unhinged man who disturbed nature and paid for it, mostly because it kinda is, but I think the film raises a lot of deeper questions about the wild and our relationship to it. And, for all of his many, many faults, Timothy’s unflinching conviction to his work is in incredibly fascinating to me.

And the footage he shot is awe-inspiring. I had no idea that this film wasn’t even nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars until very recently and it really stung when I remembered that 2005 was March of the Penguins’s year. Sorry, but absolutely nothing in that film compares to the terrifying raw footage of two male grizzly’s fighting on their hind legs, where one exerts himself so much he actually defecates.

Admittedly I haven’t watched all of it, but my thoughts re: Shoah have always been slightly frustrated w/r/t the interview’s questions. Like, even the process of interpreting between the interviewer and interviewee could’ve been more tense or revealing if the questions weren’t “could you describe the camp in detail?” or “why was it bad?” It always felt like Lanzmann put the least amount of emotional labor into this film than anyone else.

I don’t wanna imply that its form is the problem, though. Anyone who tries to watch a 9-hour movie about the holocaust and gets annoyed by the languidness is barking up the wrong tree, imo.