50 Documentaries of the Decade

Posted by Charlotte on November 14, 2009 at 7:04 pm.

Last week Paste declared their 25 Documentaries of the Decade. To be honest it was a bit of a disappointingly obvious list, in terms of safely including most of the biggest docs of the decade. Every film on their list is a great documentary but there were also a great amount of other films that possibly should have seen a mention.

I tried to limit to 25 but it’s just impossible. This isn’t necessarily in any order, I hate the idea of saying one is better than the other, especially when you’re talking 10 years of filmmaking and also the sheer spread of importance and subject matter, feel free to call me a wimp.

1. The Fog of War (Morris, 2003) – trailer
2. The Staircase (de Lestrade, 2004) – trailer
3. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (Lee, 2006)
4. Journeys with George (Pelosi, 2002)
5. Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (Stone, 2004) – trailer
6. Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (Forbes, 2008) – trailer
7. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006) – trailer
8. Dark Days (Singer, 2000) – trailer
9. Power of Nightmares (Curtis, 2004) – Part 1/3
10. Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005) – trailer
11. Please Vote For Me (Chen, 2007) – trailer
12. 49 Up (Apted, 2005) – trailer
13. Etre et Avoir (Philibert, 2002) – trailer
14. Aileen: Life and Death of Serial Killer (Broomfield, 2003) – trailer
15. Sergio (Barker, 2009) – trailer
16. King of Kong (Gordon, 2007) – trailer
17. Capturing the Friedmans (Jarecki, 2003) – trailer
18. Scottsboro: An American Tragedy (Anker & Goodman, 2001)
19. Control Room (Noujaim, 2004) – trailer
20. Abel Raises Cain (Abel & Hockett, 2005) – trailer
21. Jesus Camp (Ewing & Grady, 2006) – trailer
22. The English Surgeon (Smith, 2007) – trailer
23. Iraq in Fragments (Longley, 2007) – trailer
24. Chicago 10 (Morgen, 2007) – trailer
25. Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (Berlinger & Sinsofsky, 2000) – Part 1
26. Prodigal Sons (Reed, 2008)
27. Al Franken: God Spoke (Hedegus & Doob, 2006) – trailer
28. Excellent Cadavers (Turco, 2005)
29. Taxi to the Dark Side (Gibney, 2007) – trailer
30. Stevie (James, 2002)
31. The Weather Underground (Green & Siegel, 2002) – trailer
32. Born into Brothels (Briski & Kauffman, 2004) – trailer
33. The Gleaners and I (Varda, 2000) – trailer
34. Kurt Cobain About a Son (Schnack, 2006) – trailer
35. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Gibney, 2008) – trailer
36. Waltz with Bashir (Folman, 2001) – trailer
37. Avenge But One of My Two Eyes (Mograbi, 2005) – trailer
38. The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (Epperlein & Tucker, 2006) – trailer
39. Billy the Kid (Venditti, 2007) – trailer
40. Man on Wire (Marsh, 2009) – trailer
41. Death in Gaza (Miller, 2004) – Part 1
42. Robert Capa in Love and War (Makepeace, 2003) – trailer
43. Bus 174 (Padilha & Lacerda, 2002) – trailer
44. The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Feuerzeig, 2006) – trailer
45. Standing in the Shadows of Motown (Justman, 2002) – trailer
46. Helvetica (Hustwit, 2007) – trailer
47. Beneath the Veil (Harrison, 2001) – clip
48. Cry Freetown (Samura, 2000) – trailer
49. Last Party 2000 (Chaiklin & Leitch, 2001) – trailer
50. The Bridge (Steel, 2006) – trailer

So, what have I missed?

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  • Pete Brook says:

    THE THIN BLUE LINE! A Documentary that exonerated a man!

  • Pete Brook says:

    Oh, “of the decade”. My bad.

  • Pete Brook says:

    But I’ll stick with Errol…

    Standard Operating Procedure.


  • Charlotte says:

    I LOVE Standard Operating Procedure but thought I’d limit myself to one Errol Morris, likewise Werner Herzog and Encounters at the End of the World. Also realised I’d wished I’d managed to include Party Monster. So many to choose from.

  • David says:

    Rivers and Tides

  • dafne says:

    nice list charlotte. but, from brazil, you must see also eduardo coutinho’s “edificio master” (2002) e “jogo de cena” (2007) – http://tinyurl.com/ylqp3yv. joão moreira salles’ “nelson freire” (2003) e “santiago” (2007) – http://tinyurl.com/yapl559. and “estamira” (2004), directed by marcos prado (producer from “bus 174″) – http://tinyurl.com/yd54d9v. finally, ” pessoa é para o que nasce” (2003), by roberto berliner. – http://tinyurl.com/yffkad2.

  • Fred says:

    Darwin’s Nightmare (Sauper, 2004). Beautifully shot, compassionate, intellectually rigorous.

  • Phil says:

    It’s a good list, with quite a few I haven’t seen. I’m surprised to ‘Lake of Fire’, ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room’ and ‘The White Diamond’ absent from the selection, although I’m very glad that none of Michael Moore’s efforts made the cut.

  • Phil says:

    I’d also like to take this opportunity to recommend a documentary called ‘Mugabe and the White African’, which hasn’t received much in the way of proper distribution yet, but it’s certainly a contender for my own best of the decade list.

  • Charlotte says:

    Phil: Mugabe and the White African is amazing, trying to organise a London screening at the moment. Enron was a really close call, as was The White Diamond. Could’ve made the list twice as long but I’d pushed it with 50 as it is.

  • Ilka says:

    Great list – I see many of my faves there (Iraq in Fragments, Fog of War, Capturing the Friedmans.)
    Missing: The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) and Darwin’s Nightmare.
    Some great recent Canadian docs: 65_RedRoses, Waterlife, RiP!: A Re-Mix Manifesto; and an older Canadian doc that still stands the test of time: The Corporation.

  • Karan says:

    Can’t thank you enough for the compilation. Some of them are really “out there”. Have only seen the Oscar-spotlit ones. WIll sure be on a lookout for some on the list.
    Great work here!

  • Very outstanding place.
    The content here is very helpful.

    I will invite my friends.


  • Charlotte,

    Thanks for including my film The English Surgeon. Could you change the trailer link to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZdgwI0rx3Y&feature=related however as the offical trailer is much better than the PBS one…



  • Charlotte says:

    Hi Geoffrey,

    Of course, I’ve updated it.


  • Alison says:

    Hi Charlotte –

    Mugabe and the White African is a great film in my books combining a gripping story with masterful story telling. The filmmakers made their craft look deceptively easy because they captured every crucial event in that story, and yet the making of the film was a nightmare. They never spent more than three days at a time on location; they shipped their gear separately. They could have been killed had they been caught; their subjects were beaten nearly to death part way through. They risked their lives to make that film, and also managed to make it complete, artistically coherent, rigorous, elegant.

    I would call for a more rigorous list, and refine this one to films that are both great stories AND show great story telling.

    I think Etre and Avoir is a sublime film.
    I too would add The Corporation.
    The English Patient is in the running.
    Man on Wire.
    a little Israeli film called The Beetle was loaded with grace.
    Southern Comfort (2001) remains an unforgettable documentary film for me.

  • Charlotte says:

    Hi Allison,

    When I compiled the list I hadn’t seen Mugabe and the White African. I have now and completely agree. I recently interviewed the filmmaker’s for a British magazine and it’s just incredible even hearing how they got the footage out of Zimbabwe, let alone the other difficulties making the film. I’m also screening the film in London on the 31st January.

    As far as The Corporation, I really enjoyed it, and it’s an outstanding film, it just didn’t make the list.

    I haven’t seen The Beetle so will definitely check that out.

    Thanks for the comment,

  • neomClentee says:

    Thanks for the post.

  • Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

  • ken says:

    I would also recommend Darwin’s Nightmare, as well as the following:
    We Feed the World
    Street Fight
    Up the Yantze
    Burma VJ

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