Documentary Movies List

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 5:55 pm

I put together this documentary movies list because it tends to be a genre which is often overlooked by the casual moviegoer. What I hope to do is convince you to see at least one of the films below, even if you’ve never seen a documentary in your life. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, as these films capture real problems and real emotions without all the artificial sentimentality of a fictional work. Whether you select one of the new documentary movies, one of the documentary movies of the ‘80s, or a film from another decade, I’m convinced you’ll enjoy yourself.

If you do watch one of the documentary films listed below, be sure and drop us a line in the comments section. And don’t forget: all the documentary movies listed below should be available from Netflix. Speaking of which…

1. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) – In terms of box office performance, this is the most successful documentary film ever made. Filmmaker Michael Moore presents the facts, but he’s also happy to twist things to get his point across. Hardly objective, but it’s a must-see film for those who were less-than-enthused about the George W. Bush presidency. Given its success, it’s required viewing for any documentary movies list.

2. The Thin Blue Line (1988) – The finest example of documentary movies of the 80s, The Thin Blue Line tells the story of Randall Dale Adams, a man sentenced to death for the 1976 murder of a police officer. This fascinating film exposes holes in the case and makes it evident that Adams was not the man responsible. A year after the film was released, Adams was made a free man.

3. Grizzly Man (2005) – Director Werner Herzog presents the story of Timothy Treadwell, a man who spent 13 summers in Alaska interacting closely with the grizzly bear population. Treadwell and his girlfriend were killed and partially eaten by a bear in 2003. Personal footage of Treadwell is used, as well as interviews with those who knew him. A fascinating study of a man prepared to give his life in order to protect another species. When it comes to new documentary movies, Grizzly Man stands out as one of the best.

4. Paris Is Burning (1991) – Taking a look at New York City’s drag balls of the mid-to-late ‘80s, the film focuses on the lives of the many gay and transgendered members of the community who participated. In case you’re wondering, drag balls are where people dress as the opposite gender and then compete for prizes based on looks, style, and even dance ability. If you’ve got an open mind, you’ll find Paris Is Burning to be a refreshing change of pace.

5. When We Were Kings (1996) – Another one of the great documentary movies of the 90s, When We Were Kings follows Muhammad Ali as he prepares to challenge George Foreman for his heavyweight title in the fight dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Great footage of the fight, plus interesting observations from figures such as Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Spike Lee, and more. It’s also fascinating to see Foreman, now remembered as the grinning pitchman for the George Foreman Grill, as a deadly serious monster in the ring.

6. Gimme Shelter (1970) – Perhaps the best-known of the documentary movies of the 70s, Gimme Shelter follows The Rolling Stones on their 1969 US Tour which culminated in the notorious Altamont Free Concert (with one homicide and three accidental deaths). The filmmakers take a fly-on-the-wall approach, allowing the viewers to watch events unfold without being interrupted by interviews and the like. The violence in the air is palpable, and it was so bad that the Grateful Dead refused to even play (especially after the lead singer of Jefferson Airplane was knocked out by a member of the Hell’s Angels).

7. Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997) – Dealing with the 1993 showdown between the FBI and the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas, this film shows previously unseen footage of what really happened. Nominated for an Academy Award, it puts forth the theory that the government killed David Koresh and his followers and then covered it up. Whether you believe this notion or not, it’s still a fascinating look at one of the biggest news stories of the early ‘90s.

8. Salesman (1969) – This documentary film follows four salesmen as they travel to low income neighborhoods in New England and Florida trying to sell Bibles. Largely unconcerned with the product they’re hawking, the salesmen struggle constantly to boost their numbers and income. A still-relevant look as a small slice of American life.

9. Lessons of Darkness (1992) – Another documentary from German director Werner Herzog, Lessons of Darkness deals with the aftermath of the first Gulf War, specifically the oil fires which raged in Kuwait. Very little commentary, classical music, and another fine example of documentary movies of the 90s.

10. Tyson (2008) – An unflinching look at the life of former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson. From his early years growing up in poverty, to his title reign and stint in prison, this film pulls no punches (just like its subject). One of the new documentary movies, it’s only been available on DVD for a few weeks. Boxing fans will definitely want to see this one.

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Now that you’ve finished this documentary movies list, here are a few more articles that might interest you:

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 at 5:55 pm and is filed under Movie Megalists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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