Skip

Best. Documentary. Ever.
December 13, 2002 12:46 PM   Subscribe

Now They Can Stop Making Those Dreadful Documentary Things. Bowling for Columbine has been named the best documentary of all time by the International Documentary Association. Do we agree?
posted by NedKoppel (66 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
no... dear god no.

It wasn't terrible... but it's so far from being "the best."

There are dozens of documentaries better than Bowling for Columbine. I'll nominate one, how about Gates of Heaven...
posted by cadastral at 12:55 PM on December 13, 2002


It wasn't nearly as good as Spinal Tap. Marty DeBergi rocks!
posted by boltman at 12:56 PM on December 13, 2002


"Best of All Time?" Sure, it was mildly intriguing but I'd hardly classify it as the "Best of All Time."

BTW, "International Documentary Association" sounds like a fake organization invented by Blockbuster to promote a new aisle.

What's up with all these pseudo "organizations" and their "nominations" and year-end "best of" lists anyway?
posted by Fofer at 12:57 PM on December 13, 2002


I vote for "The Kids Are Alright," the documentary about the life and times of The Who.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:59 PM on December 13, 2002


Gates of Heaven is good, but I prefer The Thin Blue Line or Mr. Death.
posted by emptybowl at 12:59 PM on December 13, 2002


I enjoyed "Bowling..." but...Best? No way. This has got to be based more on box office receipts than anything else. I'd vote for anything by Errol Morris, especially "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control," a work of genius.
posted by kozad at 1:00 PM on December 13, 2002


It was pretty good, and interesting, but it sure doesn't have the pure entertainment value of Hands on a Hardbody.

Since we're talking about the film, though, I wonder if any of you have an opinion on the answer to Michael Moore's big unanswered question: what is it, specifically about the U.S. that makes us so prone to gun violence?

I have no idea myself.
posted by beth at 1:01 PM on December 13, 2002


I loved "Bowling for Columbine," but as several of you have already said, anything by Errol Morris would get my vote.
posted by Acetylene at 1:03 PM on December 13, 2002


cane toads was better
posted by soplerfo at 1:05 PM on December 13, 2002


It was good to see Hoop Dreams make the top five.
posted by MegoSteve at 1:05 PM on December 13, 2002


Moore is okay. He's funny, provocative, political, but he is hardly the best documentary filmmaker. I like his films, but they often tell us more about Moore than his subjects. His works reiterate his political ideas (which is admittedly unavoidable). But there is an art to filmmaking, even documentary filmmaking. For an example of brilliant documentary filmmaking that reveals the depth, sadness, and complexities of being human, see the documentary films of the Maysles brothers. Brilliant. I am certain that their films have inspired the works of Wes Anderson (in the Royal Tenebaum DVD, there is a short documentary of Wes Anderson by Albert Maysles), by offering cinematic portraits of individuals that are simultaneously funny and sad; indeed, it is a humor derived from the morose.
posted by jacknose at 1:07 PM on December 13, 2002


Okay, I admit it. I was immediately tempted to ad hominem the International Documentary Association as a shill or a publicity hound. (I've never heard of them before, but I don't get out much.) (Homage to Fofer, who got the idea out while I was selfishly replying to a personal e-mail instead of posting.) But a quick Google suggests that they've been around for a while. (20 years, if you can believe the P.R.)

I don't why they'd trivialize themselves by declaring anything "best ever."
posted by 314/ at 1:09 PM on December 13, 2002


The people at Moorewatch.com (A site whose title header reads: "Watching Michael Moore's Every Move") are not going to be happy about this....

Wait, they've been watching Mikey alright, and boy, they are not happy.
posted by thewittyname at 1:11 PM on December 13, 2002


I hate "Best of" lists...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:11 PM on December 13, 2002


Okie Noodling, about hand fishing for giant catfish, is very entertaining. And, the soundtrack is by The Flaming Lips!
posted by trigfunctions at 1:11 PM on December 13, 2002


Sorry....they are not happy
posted by thewittyname at 1:12 PM on December 13, 2002


I'm not quite understanding this. Are these in a different class from documentaries like Victory at Sea and The Civil War? Is this the "pop documentary" category?
posted by oissubke at 1:14 PM on December 13, 2002


i agree that the Maysles brothers are brilliant at capturing the bittersweet moments, but i personally can never sit thru grey gardens ever again.
posted by nyoki at 1:15 PM on December 13, 2002


grey gardens is tough to watch but very interesting -- check it out on the excellent (as always) Criterion DVD

I vote for Nuit et Brouillard
posted by matteo at 1:23 PM on December 13, 2002


Oddly, IMDB voters seem to agree.

I, too, was glad to see Hoop Dreams, which was brilliant, up there. So were When We Were Kings, Crumb, Hearts of Darkness, and Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist.
posted by mkultra at 1:33 PM on December 13, 2002


I would not call it close to the best documentary I have ever seen. It was good, but "best ever" is saying quite a lot.
posted by rudyfink at 1:34 PM on December 13, 2002


Although I am no fan of Moore's style (self-serving, predictable, manipulative, IMO), if he can even be considered on this list, surely there is room for "A Man With A Movie Camera". Timeless, intelligent, beautiful.
posted by G_Ask at 1:36 PM on December 13, 2002


Anyone with an interest in gonzo, pretentious filmmakers should check out Hearts of Darkness. Excellent behind the scenes look at the making of Apocalypse Now. Worth it just for the scenes of Brando improvising.
posted by deadcowdan at 1:36 PM on December 13, 2002


American Movie isn't the best documentary ever, but it's one of the funniest. Mike Schank's story about trying to drop acid in a hospital is one of the funniest scenes I've ever seen in a documentary.

Crumb is also very good.
posted by SweetJesus at 1:40 PM on December 13, 2002


Don't all these "best ever", "all time best", etc awards imply that it is not possible to create a better movie/documentary/book/whatever in the entire scope of time? Sure there's been some great stuff done, but I fully expect even better things to be done in the future! My goodness, that sort of hubris deserves a swift kick to the patootie.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:41 PM on December 13, 2002


Funniest ever may be Trekkies.
posted by brittney at 1:44 PM on December 13, 2002


This doesn't touch a THING that Les Blank has done, and I mean that seriously. I liked Bowling for Columbine, but come on...! Every film mentioned here as better actually was.

Blank is a hugely underrated genius, and makes films about the most important things in the world: food, girls and music (or wine, women & song).

He is a friend and colleague of Errol Morris, whose work was named earlier - here is a great film they worked on together. That's enough for now, I'm going link-crazy.
posted by luriete at 1:46 PM on December 13, 2002


Vernon, Florida. Oh, brother!
posted by greasepig at 1:47 PM on December 13, 2002


My Best Fiend (sorry you'll have to navigate to it) is a riviting documentary of Herzog and Kinski's love/hate relationship which also had a lot of behind-the-scenes footage of films they work on together, which i thought was facinating.

and although it wasn't particularly made for cinema, Frontline's The Farmers Wife was excellent.

I was at a screening of Sick at Sundance a few years ago . . . and it's a really interesting film, but a few of the scenes, projected on a huge scrim, certainly increase the effect of wanting to close your eyes but peeking thru because you just can't resist.
posted by nyoki at 1:49 PM on December 13, 2002


Bowling was good, but Hoop Dreams was a lot more powerful, IMO.... I'd actually put Moore's Roger & Me ahead of Bowling as well...
posted by crookdimwit at 1:50 PM on December 13, 2002


Do we agree?

No.
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:51 PM on December 13, 2002


Don't all these "best ever", "all time best", etc awards imply that it is not possible to create a better movie/documentary/book/whatever in the entire scope of time?

Yes, I'm sure that's what they intended; they couldn't possibly have meant "best ever before now." Jeezum crow, do we have to complain about everything around here? See, this is why we can't have nice things.
posted by vraxoin at 2:12 PM on December 13, 2002


yeah roger and me was better!

the best documentary i've seen this year (perhaps ever :) is presumed guilty about SF public defenders, great stuff!

lalee's kin was pretty great, too :D
posted by kliuless at 2:22 PM on December 13, 2002


Several of my favorites have already been mentioned: When We Were Kings, Hands on a Hardbody, Dr. Death, American Movie. What about Paradise Lost? Or One Day in September?
posted by Gilbert at 2:23 PM on December 13, 2002


Bowling for Columbine was poorly-argued, illogical, self-indulgent, self-important crap, sprinkled with occasional 10 minute stretches of superb documentary filmmaking. Even if you agree with Moore's overall political leanings (which I do) and admire his passion for speaking truth to power (which I do) , and marvel at his ability to get large institutions like K-Mart to (sometimes) make fundamental changes in the way they operate (which I do), the basic facts his film presented completely undermined his argument, and the shaggy lack-of-organization and flabby running time made it a poor excuse for the effective work of true political advocacy that Moore is capable of.
posted by twsf at 2:23 PM on December 13, 2002


To return to BFC, some would claim that it is riddled with inaccuracies, specifically the Bush/Quayle advert which would seem to be a well-founded criticism that can be argued beyond the typical left vs right political slanging. (God forbid.)
posted by Kiell at 2:40 PM on December 13, 2002


Pink Flamingos is the best documentary I've ever seen.
posted by SimStupid at 2:43 PM on December 13, 2002


This poll deserves to be taken as seriously as those "best movies of all time" polls that have Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction in the top three.

What's the point of an "all-time greatest ..." poll voted by people who've barely seen anything before 1990?
posted by Daze at 3:16 PM on December 13, 2002


Beth-

Just to prove what a geek and total loser I truly am, I will admit it-

I participated in the Hands on a Hardbody contest. (Though not the one the film documents.... I was in it a few years earlier.)
Longview Texas is a stone's throw from where I grew up.
posted by bradth27 at 3:22 PM on December 13, 2002


Top 20 list here.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 3:24 PM on December 13, 2002


And, uh, 10 of the 20 were made before 1990.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 3:24 PM on December 13, 2002


Oh, my bad: 12 out of the 20 are from before 1990.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 3:26 PM on December 13, 2002


Are these in a different class from documentaries like Victory at Sea and The Civil War?

Well, different in the sense that neither of those two are documentaries, at least in the way I'd define them. For me, a documentary needs to made at the same time as the events being documented: it's not just a non-fiction film.

So, I'd throw in Nick Broomfield's Eugene Terreblanche docco, which dates from before he started taking his tics seriously to the point of parody. And there are trickier things like Michael Winterbottom's 'Welcome to Sarajevo', which is technically drama-documentary, but pretty damn docco. And it may leave a sour taste in the mouth, but you can't ignore Leni Riefenstahl's 'Olympia' or 'Triumph of the Will'. Can you?
posted by riviera at 3:57 PM on December 13, 2002


SweetJesus, we have the same tastes in documentaries. I was just about to pipe in with my faves: Crumb, and American Movie. Both of those were true gems.

Mike Schank playing the guitar with the blindfold on.
His blood-curdling scream for the voiceover of "Coven." Stunning.
I like Mike. I think I'm gonna call him.

And let's not forget: "It's alright, it's okay... there's something to LIIIVE for... Jesus told me so!"
posted by Fofer at 4:00 PM on December 13, 2002


Pink Flamingos is the best documentary I've ever seen.
posted by SimStupid at 2:43 PM PST on December 13

SimStupid, you're insane. If you actually liked Pink Flamingos, then you should check out "The Indispensible Six."
posted by BaronEarth at 4:04 PM on December 13, 2002


riviera

riefenstahl's work really is brilliantly made propaganda -- i.e., closer to fiction than to journalism
posted by matteo at 4:05 PM on December 13, 2002


here's a vote for Brother's Keeper.
posted by pejamo at 4:51 PM on December 13, 2002


riefenstahl's work really is brilliantly made propaganda -- i.e., closer to fiction than to journalism

I don't deny that one second, matteo. But I'm not convinced that documentaries - especially when they're good documentaries - are simply extended 'journalism': that is, a 90 minute extended news report. If we're going for print analogies, they're more like what (shock!) Robert Fisk does, when he's on his game, and not simply phoning in 700 words from a hotel room: that is, opinionated reportage. That's why I mention Broomfield, because with him, there's no doubt that the director is influencing the perspective. There's no doubt that Riefenstahl is documenting events in her 1930s work, and yes, it's propaganda, but I don't think the fiction-journalism poles really address what documentary makers do.
posted by riviera at 4:55 PM on December 13, 2002


My votes:

Funniest ever: Heavy Metal Parking Lot

Best: probably the Joe Leahy trilogy (First Contact, Joe Leahy's Neighbours, Black Harvest) by Bob Conolly and Robin Anderson. Joe is a mixed-race man in Papua New Guinea; the first film alternates between doc footage of his life and adolescence and old footage from the first intrusions into PNG. The subsequent two films focus on Joe as he acquires a coffee plantation and the troubles he has with the full-blood PNGs as they go to war and the bottom drops out on coffee prices, forcing starvation and truly bleak times. Amazing films, all three (I couldn't find an adequate website, but I encourage you to check them out).
posted by The Michael The at 5:28 PM on December 13, 2002


I've always been particularly fond of For All Mankind, myself.

My favorite bit in the end credits is when they say "filmed on location."
posted by doorsnake at 6:04 PM on December 13, 2002


To 100 lists may suck, but sure make for worthwhile MeFi threads...

I have all my netflix picks for the next 3 mos...
posted by Fupped Duck at 6:15 PM on December 13, 2002


Does Frontline count? The Killer At Thurston High actually made me feel sorry for a mass murderer. However I can't compare it to Bowling For Columbine, as I haven't seen it yet.
posted by culberjo at 7:06 PM on December 13, 2002


I think I'm gonna call him.

Call him...? I live a few blocks from him. I'll tell him you say hi.
posted by drezdn at 7:17 PM on December 13, 2002


Moore's deliberate ignorance of capitalism and attack interview tactics bug me, but his documentaries are as funny as they are educational.

On the other hand, he's a hypocrite millionaire with a pretentiously large house, a full time staff and two SUVs.
posted by Zombie at 7:42 PM on December 13, 2002


Ok, I exaggerated a bit, hadn't seen the whole list and hadn't recalled that Roger & Me and Thin Blue Line were late 80s. Still, 12 of 20 are from 1985 to the present. That's very shortsighted.
posted by Daze at 8:18 PM on December 13, 2002


Dark Days and the aforementioned My Best Fiend get my vote.
posted by Rattmouth at 9:32 PM on December 13, 2002


For me, a documentary needs to made at the same time as the events being documented

That's an awfully limiting definition of a documentary, isn't it? Any non-fiction film about a noncontemporary event is therefore NOT a documentary???

Merriam-Webster certainly doesn't agree:

2 : of, relating to, or employing documentation in literature or art; broadly : FACTUAL, OBJECTIVE (a documentary film of the war)

To the question at hand... I haven't seen BFC, but based upon Moore's other work, calling it the best ever is totally preposterous. Particularly given Moore's tendency to play fast and loose with facts. I say that not as someone who dislikes him, but who is frustrated that Moore undermines his arguments with sloppy and/or inaccurate work.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:16 PM on December 13, 2002


I don't even think Bowling for Columbine was the best documentary I saw this year. Dogtown and Z-Boys had a production better suited to its subject than BFC, the style just fit the 70's skateboard scene perfectly (also, it was pretty open about its subjectivity, where Moore will never admit to that). And content wise, Lost in La Mancha was twice as interesting than BfC. It actually answered the question it posed, where BfC just wasted my time.
posted by dogwalker at 12:04 AM on December 14, 2002


I would nominate the 7-Up, 14-Up, 21-Up etc. series.

Best examination of the human condition (that boring and futile struggle) ever.
posted by bright cold day at 1:44 AM on December 14, 2002 [1 favorite]


That's an awfully limiting definition of a documentary, isn't it? Any non-fiction film about a noncontemporary event is therefore NOT a documentary???

Well, limiting definitions are good. They assist accuracy. There's already a word for non-contemporaneous non-fiction, and that's 'history'.

Merriam-Webster certainly doesn't agree

Well, Merriam-Webster certainly isn't my bloody dictionary. From the OED's citation list: "A deliberate documentary film must be a transcript of real life, a bit of what actually happened, under approximately unrehearsed conditions." A bit too pat, perhaps, but there has to be a sense in which the maker of a documentary has to have direct contact with his or her subject.
posted by riviera at 4:51 AM on December 14, 2002


My favourite documentary also addresses the issue of what constitutes a documentary - Letter from Siberia by Chris Marker.

A Propos De Nice by Jean Vigo is better than many of the films on the list, too.
posted by liam at 6:29 AM on December 14, 2002


No mention yet of Ross McElwee? The horror, the horror...
posted by y2karl at 6:38 AM on December 14, 2002


Pumping Iron brought the freak sport of competitive body building into the mainstream, and made Arnold the great actor he is today.
posted by Zombie at 9:43 AM on December 14, 2002


"Don't Look Back" by D.A. Pennebaker
posted by Satapher at 10:25 AM on December 14, 2002


Not even close.

Hands on a Hard Body
Gimme Shelter

Moore's stuff is way too slanted to be a good documentary. Good documentary should present the story and not force the audience to believe something.
posted by eateneye at 10:43 PM on December 14, 2002


So...could someone recommend a good website about documentaries? Other than IMDB, of course.
posted by mecran01 at 2:36 PM on December 17, 2002


« Older Pudding for frequent flier miles.   |   Red Alert!! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post