Top 5 Movie Guide: Documentaries

With this weekend's release of Disney's "Chimpanzee", we thought this as good a time as any to dive into some of our favorite Documentary Films. I think across the board this was one of the most difficult subjects for us, as the content is so broad. There are literally thousands of documentaries that are out there that in some way or another can prove to be valuable. How do you whittle down a selection of films that encompass every subject imaginable? Trust us, it was no easy task.

Nonetheless, we decided to take a crack at the medium and see what we came up with. But the word 'Documentary' can mean a little something different to everyone, so expect a unique blend of films below as each of us decipher what the best selection of those films truly means.

Take a look after the break to see which documentaries we deem the best.

Alex Schopp -
This was the hardest list I've done so far. I've seen a lot of documentaries, and really I do enjoy the genre. Someday we'll have to do a 'Serious Documentaries' list where I can go over which films I think have more powerful content to offer. For now, I just went with some of my interests, and some of the films that have exposed those subjects; and more or less, films that I just want people to watch. P.S. This list was practically impossible to rank.

     1. Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream (2005)

I almost feel guilty having this as my #1 because it's just talking head interviews. But it still has a goal and a message and a specific subject. And ultimately, I just love this piece and I think anyone who has interest in film history needs to watch it. It's such a fantastic look at the cultural shift that took place in the 1970's when low-budget films (midnight movies) started to compete with bigger budget productions.
     2. Freakonomics (2010)
Really interesting look human nature and the way we view everything. What I enjoy is that there are a variety of subjects discussed by scientists, who turn our way of thinking around and approach these cultural topics from an economic standpoint. And even if that content seems too heavy for you, it really is presented in a way that should be light enough for most all to digest.
     3. Bobby Fischer Against the World (2010)
I've always been interested in Bobby Fischer. The man was a genius, but also a crazy recluse. Ultimately, the saga of this man's life was more sad than anything. With his celebrity and intelligence at such a young age (some say the best Chess player to ever live), he could have been/done whatever he wanted.
     4. This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006)
Again, if you're interested in film - which we assume you are if you're reading this post - this is a great one to check out. It's a fascinating look behind the curtain of how a film gets its rating. It amazes me how secretive this organization is. And that there's no "real" science to their system. All films get rated based on the opinions by a handful of people. So don't piss them off!
     5. Wordplay (2006)
I can't imagine you'll see this film show up on many Best-Of documentary lists, but I have a strong passion for crossword puzzles, and I found this film very entertaining. Much like chess, watching some of these masters work is awe-inspiring. More than anything, I'm just sad I'll never be as good at these things as them...

Ben Foutch -
These are ranked by overall enjoyment. There are so many documentaries that should be seen over any of these.

     1. This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)

     2. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

     3. Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)

     4. Super Size Me (2009)

     5. Best Worst Movie (2009)

Derek Clem -

     1. In The Shadow Of The Moon (2007)

Stepping foot on the Moon is still Mankind's greatest achievement. I am amazed that it hasn't happened in my lifetime.
     2. Bigger Stronger Faster* (2008)
The conflict the director has with anabolic steroids, from what I gather, seems to eliminate any biased opinions or agendas on his part. I found that refreshing. Plus you get some epic montages of America's greatest muscle bound action heroes. Nostalgia runs so deep in these montages that it's a wonder this isn't #1 on my list.
     3.Trekkies (1997)
Hardcore Star Trek fans are so saturated in Star Trek knowledge that it's more impressive than it is nerdy. I wish I was one of them. While a little obscure, they all seem so intelligent and most importantly, happy. Be sure to check out the sequel, Trekkies 2 (2004), as well.
     4. The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (2009)
Follows the wild antics of the infamous White family of Boone County, West Virginia; whose initial rise to fame was through the mountain dancing of now passed patriarch D. Ray White. You could make a nice triple feature with this movie by also watching American Hollow (1999) and Brother's Keeper (1992).
     5. Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)
Chronicles the Renaissance of Disney Animation. It's sort of like peeking behind one of the many curtains of my childhood. Be on the look out for a young Tim Burton cameo. It's priceless.

Nathan Hinds -
As much as I wanted to fill this list with documentaries about Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, I refrained. This is a section of film that I feel I am not nearly as diversed in as I would like to be.

     1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

Powerful film about the journey of two inner-city Chicago kids' basketball careers from high school to college. Also, I think the fact that this film was never nominated for an Academy Award was a sham, and one of the lower points for the history of the organization.
     2. Super Size Me (2003)
I have a love/hate relationship with this film. I love it because its probably the most entertaining of all the documentaries I've seen; I hate it because this film resulted in the 'Super Size' fry being taken off of McDonald's menu. Thanks a lot Spurlock!
     3. Grizzly Man (2005)
This guy was an idiot, but at the same time he was a bad-ass. And for anyone who has seen this, even if you won't admit it, you know you wanted to hear that tape at the end of the film.
     4. Man on Wire (2008)
It's crazy how much time and effort this guy put into doing one stunt that lasted 15 minutes (I think it was around that long, its been a while).
     5. The Cove (2008)
For anyone who knows me, they know I don't really care about activism stuff. But I just watched this for the first time about a week ago, and this film made me want to immediately get up, go to Japan, and start saving Dolphins. Then I remembered I had other shit to do though... Oh well, maybe later.

Andy Schopp -
Documentaries are a tough thing to rank. What do you base it on? The shock of what you see? How real it is? Or maybe just a certain spectacular part of the world that you never had the privilege to see otherwise? It's because of questions like these that I find myself at an impasse of being able to accurately and professionally rank a list of my five favorite documentary films. So don't consider this a ranked list, instead, a grouping of films that you should check out if you're looking for something that might gain you some knowledge. And for this list, I chose five films that came to my head when contemplating the genre. Not all are as traditional as you might like, but they're interesting to watch and have a documentary aspect to them.

     1. Planet Earth (2006)

I know this is more of a series than an actual movie, but it's an aspect of film that's really worth your time.
     2. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
This is a great look into the world of video games. It allows me to enjoy two of my passions in one place!
     3. Super Size Me (2003)
Probably the most traditional documentary on my list. I feel like this film is actually an advertisement for McDonald's. I'm always hungry for some good ol' fashioned American-made food after I watch this.
     4. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
I know this isn't a true documentary, but shot in documentary form, so that's good enough for me. This film is basically a what-if behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film "Nosferatu".
     5. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
A fantastic look inside the world of street artists.

So there we have it. If you've ever wanted a wide-range of films from one of these segments, this is your week. We did have three films make multiple appearances, but by no means was anything dominant this week. The strongest showing was by "Super Size Me", which appeared on three lists. It's not really a surprise that this was so popular, because I feel like this was really one of the first pop culture documentaries of our generation. With its release in 2003 I think it opened eyes to the genre to a lot of people who were pretty unfamiliar with it. Otherwise, there were two films that showed up of two of the five lists: "This Film is Not Yet Rated" and "The King of Kong: A fistful of Quarters". Both solid selections for the genre if you're looking for a fun watch. But those were the only three; I think the least in the short history of these posts. What's good though is this gives you a broad selection to choose from when diving into the genre. A lot of different themes are present here, so start with your favorites and work your way through. I don't imagine you'll go wrong with any of these though, and one of us found it, in some way or another, one of the best of its kind.

So check them out, and hopefully these films can help you to expand your knowledge of films in this category.

Happy watching!