Saturday, December 28, 2013

Best Documentaries of 2013

1. The Cheshire Murders
This is a haunting and truly nightmarish film. It's a fascinating look at perceptions of justice after a extraordinarily brutal crime, the details of which I still shudder to think. The police incompetence on display here is shocking. After last years Aunt Diane, HBO continues to make some of the best non fiction films.

2. My Trip to Al-Qaeda
Based on his book The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright's one man play about the middle east and the birth of radical Salafist Islam is pretty much required viewing/reading for anyone interested in geopolitics, violence, religion or the state of the world in general. These are some of the deepest, well articulated insights into world conflict I've come across in some time. Also check out Wright's new book on Scientology, Going Clear, that just came out- it's fascinating stuff.

3. Blackfish
A massive expose on Sea World and their hate-filled practices. The "trainers" interviewed here make excuses for their behavior throughout the film but are totally culpable - they were profiting from animal torture regardless of what they say now. 

4. On Death Row
Werner Herzog does true crime. Enchanting explorations of the sociopathic mind. Not sure if this counts as a documentary as it aired on TV but it's worth mentioning since this is probably the best television ever made. His short film about texting and driving, From One Second To The Next is contemporary, surreal, powerful Herzog as well.

5. Dirty Wars
An important overview of Jeremy Scahill's recent work on the murderous US force JSOC, the Al-Awlaki killings and the CIA's activities in Mogadishu. The film is adequately made but Scahill is one of the most important journalists working today rendering this essential viewing.

6. The Act of Killing
Joshua Oppenheimer's follow up to 2003's The Globalization Tapes is a long look at retired executioners in Indonesia. It touches on nationalism, propaganda, genocide, and psychopathology while delivering tragically surreal recreations of violent acts with the perpetrators.

7. Valentine Road
Another excellent HBO doc, this time about a recent hate crime in California and the bigotry it revealed in the community. A angry Nazi afflicted teenager murders a flamboyant 14 year old and the town rallies to support the killer instead of the victim. Incredibly, one of his lawyers even tattoos "Save Brandon" on her arm... sickening.

8. Mea Maxima Culpa Silence in the House of God
A revelatory yet unsettling film about worlds largest pedophile cult. Unfortunately Alex Gibney followed this with a despicable hit piece on Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange that made me lose almost all respect for him.

9. The Crash Reel
What begins as a snowboard documentary evolves into an emotional look at life with Traumatic Brain Injury.

10. A Death in St. Augustine 
It was another great year for Frontline. This hour long film about corrupt police covering up a murder by one of their own is the best of the bunch. The final scene is so demented and wrong it is hard to fathom. You can watch it online here.

It didn't see After Tiller or God Loves Uganda but I hear they are great.

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