Top Ten Documentaries of 2004
it turns out that I’ve been ahead of the pack for
a good long time. I’m a Documentary nut, always have
been, and this year, for the first time in ages, the doc
has finally come around to being a profitable venture.
the healing begin.
were showing Super-Size Me and Fahrenheit 9/11
and making good money with them. There were a half-dozen
others that got wide releases, including films like Michael
Moore Hates America, Mayor of the Sunset Strip, and
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. A solid crop this
year, and I managed to see more than ever at festivals and
on video. Here, for Fanboy Planet readers, are the top docs
of 2004, regardless of length. Admittedly, I missed a few
really important ones (The Wild Parrots of Telegraph
Hill, Super-Size Me, I Am To Bring You To Tears), but
I saw about 50 and these are the tops of the pops.
Birdlings Two by Davina Pardo-
It debuted at the Toronto Film Festival. It’s a story
of a dad and his filmmaker daughter. Well, it’s not
that simple. It’s got a very 1969 thing goin’
on, with use of an ancient computer animated film called
Birdlings and all sorts of father-daughter talk.
It’s rather experimental and it’s great at only
5 minutes. Easily worth searching out and it’ll be
at Cinequest in March.
9/11 by Michael Moore- F911 is the same thing
as Triumph of the Will, a very well done piece of propaganda.
On the other hand, whether Michael Moore admits it or not,
the whole point of rushing it to release like he did was
to cost George Bush the election, which didn’t happen.
Leni’s little doc did what it set out to do, but that’s
neither here nor there. I had a real problem at times with
Moore’s obvious reaches, definitely tailoring his
content to prove his point more than documenting the reality
of the situation. Still, as much as I dislike his politics,
he does make an engaging movie.
in the City by Christie Herring- This is one
of my new faves and a big reason why I am saying that the
Bay Area is the heart of the current short doc-making scene.
This is a look at people who keep chickens in the city of
San Francisco. At ten minutes, they pack a lot into a short
space and make it work. It’s a great little doc in
a year when there have been a lot of great docs of all sizes.
Man Show: A Musical Documentary by Ira Rosenzweig-
A great doc that was a highlight of Cinequest. One Man Show
brought us the story of John Falcon, a genius who won forty-five
million in the New York Lottery, but even if he hadn’t,
he’d have been worth a doc. He had done so many interesting
things, including briefly running a greeting card company
and putting on a one man show. Perhaps the highlight of
the film was his mother, who really made me smile.
Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Ann Marie
Fleming- This gorgeous combination of animation and traditional
documentary styles worked so well for me that I had to see
it twice during Cinequest and borrow the tape afterwards.
Fleming’s search for her great-grandfather is entertaining
and shows how even a really famous guy can be lost to the
march of time. You can read my full review here.
Moore may hate America, but Sam didn't.
Gone by David Eberhardt and Jack Cahill- The
most beautifully shot film I saw last year, Long Gone was
one of the great films I caught at Sonoma Valley. You can
read the review here.
Last Zapatistas by Francesco Taboada Tabone.
Man, what a story. A filmmaker set out to get the stories
of the last remaining members of Zapata’s army. He
did it in the nick of time, as the interviewees were dying
left and right, including one, the last remaining general
who served under Zapata, who died on camera. A touching
story and highly informative. If you like old people, this
is the movie for you.
Devil’s Teeth by Roger Teich- The single
best short doc I’ve ever seen. This year, interaction
between man and animal was a big topic, and this story of
a sea urchin diver who deals with Great White Sharks off
of the Faralone Islands. There is some amazing underwater
footage of Great White shot by the diver using a Hi-8 camera
and no shark cage.
of the Sunset Strip by George Hickenlooper-
Oh yeah, a great doc about the Hollywood scene and the unlikeliest
scenester, Rodney Bingenheimer. The music is great, the
interviews are great, and seeing houses I recognized when
they went to visit Rodney’s childhood home of Mountain
View, CA was sweet. Rodney is a character of excess, joy,
solitude, inclusion, and sadness. If you’d written
him as a character in a novel, it would never seem realistic.
Dare by Amanda Micheli- Wowwy wow-wow! This
was an easy choice for me. The stories of Jeannie Epper
and Zoe Bell are engaging and entertaining. The filmmakers
followed my axiom: get a camera, find a subculture and shoot
the hell out of it. Zoe’s success with Kill Bill is
a crowd pleasing moment that I think will hold me for the
full year. You can read Jason Schachat’s review here.