Wednesday, August 06, 2008

I Love Documentaries

I love documentaries. I am not sure I have told you that (fewer than a million times) so I wanted to make that clear again. Anyway, in my love of documentaries, I am constantly bombarded with doc emails. Half of them have recommendations for me. These recommendations have proved helpful from time to time, so keep them coming.

The other half of emails want to know my favorites. Of course, my favorites can encompass so many, but I did want to release my list of 10 “essential documentaries” for the genre I would try to describe here – which I have decided to alter to Top 12 since I couldn’t narrow it to 10.

Now, I am eliminating all Ken Burns-type, historical, and educational documentaries. I love those, but those would automatically be rated higher than the silly types – so let’s just do our best to leave those out of this mix. I am compiling this list entirely of the absurd, the odd, the weird, the uncomfortable, and the off-the-beaten path films. The documentaries that likely would never make the PBS cut, but surely are worth your time, and will have you talking about them with your buddies for years to come.

Also, because they are so difficult to differentiate, I have chosen to list my 12 in Alphabetical order, rather than ranking them 1-12. Like my children, I love all 12 of these docs equally. So here they are.


American Movie – 1999

One of our earliest obsessions on our radio show, the lives of Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank will amuse you as Mark has a quest to make a movie. Mike has a quest to tell stories of his unfortunate drug experiences. I really love it. Although the idea that they are two burnouts from Wisconsin no doubt affects my judgement.

Watch the Trailer Here

Comedian - 2002

A look at the world of the standup comedian. Jerry Seinfeld is a big player, as are a few spare comedians trying to make it in the big leagues with varying levels of failure. Writing jokes, practicing, travel, and the whole bit is examined in this film.

Watch the Trailer here

Confessions of a Super Hero – 2007

This is a great look at the life of those who stand on Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood dressed as various comic book superheroes and the lives that go with them. Many are there because they are on the road to stardom (they hope) and it is the more realistic outcome of the “Hollywood dream”. Fascinating and wonderful all at the same time.

Watch the Film here from

Dogtown and Z-Boys – 2001

A fabulous historical account of something I have no use for…Skateboarding. Sean Penn narrates the story of empty pools, stunts, and the wheels-off life of Jay Adams. Loved it.

Watch the Trailer Here

Grizzly Man – 2005

Without question, one of my absolute favorites. The Werner Herzog look at the incredibly odd Timothy Treadwell and his relationship with the Grizzly Bears in Alaska. They loved him, he loved them, they ate him. So crazy, that most think this is not a real documentary. But alas, it is.

Watch the Trailer Here

Hoop Dreams – 1994

Two Chicago kids are followed as they follow their big time basketball dreams. Reality ensues, and it is somewhere between sad and amazing. One of the true documentary classics.

Watch the Trailer Here

King of Kong – A Fistful of Quarters – 2007

I wasn’t sure about this one, but when I gave it a chance it absolutely got a great review from me. Love Steve Wiebe, hate Billy Mitchell, love everything about Steve and Billy’s quest to out Donkey Kong eachother. The amazing real people who surround the governing bodies of video game record keeping is too great to believe. A very solid film.

Watch the Trailer Here

Roger and Me – 1989

Like Michael Moore or not, the fact is that he is a pioneer of making great documentaries. His critics don’t care for his insistence on making himself the star of his films, but I kind of like it. Also, he will be ripped for injecting his views into his films, but isn’t that the whole point of a documentary? The Film maker has a blank canvas and a chance to say what he wants the world to hear for 90 minutes. In Roger and Me, he attacks the big corporation for forgetting the little guy. I still say it is his finest work.

Watch the Trailer Here

Some Kind of Monster – 2004

This is about the only documentary in the whole lot that centers around really famous people, because usually really famous people do not allow cameras to show every wart and reality about them. Well, Metallica obviously was not worried about that. They agreed to do it, and the filmmakers hit a home run. What an amazing account of life in a huge rock band.

Watch the Trailer Here

Spellbound – 2002

A doc on the national spelling bee and all of the study, obsession, and work that goes into that. Just another look into a segment of society we would never see otherwise, but it once again is wildly entertaining to me.

Super Size Me – 2004

Morgan Spurlock’s amazing look at why America is fat..and getting fatter. His experiment of eating nothing but McDonald’s for 30 straight days may in fact shorten his life, but it was very entertaining. A very good job of experiments inside documentaries that proved solid.

Watch the Entire Film Here from

Trekkies – 1997

A good documentary to me is one that focuses on a corner of civilization that you would not otherwise see, and then just let the cameras tell the story. This film is about those who are obsessed with Star Trek and all things that go with it. I especially enjoyed the lady who wore her Star Trek uniform to her jury service for the Whitewater Trial. So many documentaries have basically used this as a template for their film, and it works quite well.

And, the Honorable Mention of Documentaries that I rate as worth watching:

Bowling for Columbine

Cowboys Del Amor


Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Gates of Heaven

Hands on a Hard Body

Heavy Metal in Baghdad

Lost in LaMancha


My Kid could paint that

Okie Noodling


Year of the Yao


giggsy said...

I'd also recommend Scratch:

This is a documentary on DJs who scratch records, often perferring to be called turntablists. From the beginnings of scratching in hip hop culture through the current status.

If you don't get the record scratching you sometimes hear, you will get it after seeing this and realize how amazing and talented some of these guys are and how its a true art form.. at the same time, you will also see some posers that really don't have much talent and fit the stereotype many have of them. But its great that after watching you do tend see how talented some of these guys are given an odd choice of musical instrument.

Al said...

You consider Michael Moore a "documentarian"????

Please!!! political film maker....

Come on, Bob.

Thanks for your courage....suck it

Flaco said...

It must be August.

The Jastrom said...

Bob, have you seen "Crumb"? It's a Documentary about the Eccentric Comic Book artist Robert Crumb of Fritz the Cat fame. It's Fascinating. Check it out if you haven't.

MK said...

Rize is an entertaining look at the art of crumping in LA. If Tommy the Clown doesn't give you the creeps, then you are probably a registered sex offender.

Unknown said...

hmmmm.. you mentioned Scratch today when talking to Jazzy Jeff, so I wonder if you had already seen it or just watched it on my recommendation.

BUT, I'm here to tell you I completely missed one that is a must-see for you..not only with Bob the FC Dallas announcer like it, but Bob the talk show host will actually get some interesting discussion out of Dan on this one:

Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale (2000)

In 1955, while a Fulbright scholar, a Manhattan painter named Tobias Schneebaum spent seven months in the Amazon basin with the Harakambut. When he returned to the US, he could no longer paint. What happened? Nearly 45 years later, filmmakers want Tobias, now 78 and suffering from Parkinson's, to return to Peru. He refuses but allows that he will revisit the Asmat in New Guinea where he spent an idyllic time years before. That trip goes well, including a serendipitous meeting with Aipit, an aging native and once Tobias' friend and lover. Tobias then agrees to go to Peru to look for the people whom he joined on a murderous raiding party. The scars of war remain as does fear

Trust me on this one, there is plenty of good talking material for BobAndDan in this one

Mitchell said...

hey bob, love the show

a documentary i saw in a doc. series done this summer by hbo that i really enjoyed was "Hard Times at Douglass High."

not sure if you were a viewer of the wire but it takes a look at a high school in inner city baltimore and it's one of the most depressing films i've seen as kids struggle to stay in school or at least stay in the class room and over half the kids in 9th grade dont graduate. it might be on ON Demand i'm not sure.

i also have a sports blog and if ya got time check it out

Barry Green said...

You would love "One Day In September" which covers the fateful day of the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich.

Can't believe it didn't make the list.

Tim Button said... "American Hollow"?

Unknown said...

This thread ends with Dear Zachary. Simply an amazing film.

Unknown said...

Bob, I HIGHLY recommend checking out "God Grew Tired of Us". It's about the Lost Boys of Sudan and their travels to America. Great film.

chandlercrouch said...

i may have missed where someone else reccomended this, if not, i highly reccomend Cocaine cowboys and cocaine cowboys 2.
They skirt around the 2 pablo's story line and explain how miami grew to become awesome and it tells of a lady that makes pablo escabar look like Mr Rogers. its facinating. trust me.

Scaling the Complex Sale said...

You've got to check out Ken Burns. My favorite is the Civil War but he did one on baseball that is fascinating.

Brooklyn Bridge (1981)

The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God (1984)

The Statue of Liberty (1985)

Huey Long (1985)

The Congress (1988)

Thomas Hart Benton (1988)

The Civil War (1990)

Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (1991)

Baseball (1994), updated with the 10th Inning (2010)

Thomas Jefferson (1997)

Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997)

Frank Lloyd Wright (1998)

Not For Ourselves Alone: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (1999)

Jazz (2001)

Mark Twain (2001)

Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip (2003)

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2005)

The War (2007)

The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009)

Prohibition, with Lynn Novack (2011)[17]

Unknown said...

Anvil! The story of Anvil.

Great documentary! A must see.

Check out the wikipedia entry on Anvil for more info.

Hard not to love those guys and root for their unlikely success.