Posts Tagged ‘Errol morris’

We wrapped up the “Best Of 2011” with all kinds of posts on movies, music and moments. But we completely forgot about the docs. Also because most of us didn’t manage to watch all the best docs.  Writer-filmmaker Mihir Desai saw it all and here’s his recco post on the top 10 docs of 2011 that you must watch. Click on the titles to see the trailers.

2011, like the previous year has been a brilliant year for documentaries. We’ve been exposed to some really personal and special films. These docs have dared to bend the rules and have created a sub-genre within documentary filmmaking. I saw docs that were surreal, global collaborations, re-enactments and just traditional docu-dramas. Hope this genre continues to grow and finds more audiences, after all the first few movies ever made were documentaries too!

Some obvious choices like Pina 3D, Page One: Inside The New York Times and Martin Scorsese’s Public Speaking will be missing from the list as I never got a chance to watch these. Regardless, this should make for an interesting recommendation list, as I am sure most films listed below might have gone unnoticed amidst the Tintin and Mission Impossible hype.

First up, the honorable mentions: Inshallah Football, Buck, Knuckle, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, a short documentary by Errol Morris – The Umbrella Man and Superheroes.

Now, the five runner-ups. Films that almost made it to the list:

15. Urbanized
14. Being Elmo
13. Project Nim
12. Cave of Forgotten Dreams – 3D
11. Tabloid

Finally, the top 10 documentaries of 2011:

10. The Arbor Clio Barnard’s portrayal of the late Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar is a brave experimental documentary. Clio uses audio from the interviews of real people and lip-syncs them to the actor’s performance. The whole film is a re-enactment but it isn’t manipulating the facts. The events and story is true, the presentation isn’t (somewhat similar to No. 8 on this list) It can be a little challenging to watch this film but once the story unfolds, you’ll be hooked!

9. Bill Cunningham New York: An 80 year old New York Times fashion photographer riding his bike around New York City to photograph fashionable citizens; the plot of this film is that simple. Director Richard Press portrays Bill Cunningham’s passion for fashion and photography in the simplest manner. The observational approach juxtaposes the glamorous fashion world to Bill’s simple and saintly way of living. Besides being a film about Bill’s photography, it is also an interesting city portrait of New York. Therefore, making New York an additional character for Bill to interact with. This is a truly inspiring documentary. When the movie ends, what stays with you is Bill’s contagious smile.

8. Bombay Beach: Director Alma Har’el comes up with the year’s most poetic, surreal, genre-defying documentary. Some might argue, this isn’t even a documentary, and that’s what makes it so fascinating to watch. The location is real, the characters are real and the story is just an observation of these characters’ lives. Alma treats her film like a narrative feature. There are beautiful musical moments choreographed to songs by Bob Dyland and Beurit that makes the experience very surreal. The irony here is that this film is vaguely about the American dream set in a poor, dying community on the shores of Salton Sea. Bombay Beach is nothing like you’ve ever seen before. Absolutely magical!

7. Senna: The year’s most popular documentary on the life of Formula One driver, Ayrton Senna, is absolutely riveting! Director Asif Kapadia makes the best of unseen archival footage to explore the struggles and achievements of an iconic sports person. It’s the editing of the film that takes it to a whole new level. Gripping!

6. Life In A Day: What. A. Movie! This is a perfect and successful example of collaboration 2.0. Co-directed by Kevin MacDonald and The World, this is a beautiful documentation of common emotions across the globe. Shot on the same day by people from around the world and interestingly woven together by editor Joe Walker, Life In A Day is as real a film can get. Brilliant and compelling! Also, you can legally watch the whole film on YouTube, for free.

5. How To Die In Oregon: Oregon was the first state in the USA to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Director Peter Richardson follows the life of cancer patient Cody, and it is through her point of view we get to learn about the pros and cons of Oregon state’s “Death with Dignity” law. Richardson handles this topic in a very sensitive manner without invading Cody’s private space. A thought-provoking documentary that some might find a little tough to watch. Yet, this is one of the most important films of the year and is sure to call for a healthy debate about the ‘death with dignity’ law and about the voyeuristic nature of documentary filmmaking.

4. Into The Abyss: Werner Herzog has his way of doing things, and no one else does it better than him. Herzog creates a moving profile of two men on death row and explores their relationship with those outside of prison. This film is not so much about capital punishment but about exploring the fear and philosophies of death. A very honest portrayal of the fine line between what is right and wrong.

3. Nostalgia For The Light: If Terrence Malick makes a documentary, this is what it  will look like. With gorgeous imagery and a philosophical narrative, director Patricio Guzmán constructs a story about the fusion of past and present. In the Atacama Desert, astronomers study the boundaries of the universe while surviving families of the Chilean exiles continue to look for the remains of the loved ones. Nothing comes close to the experience of watching this movie. This is the film I would have loved to see in 3D. It’s a hypnotic film that asks complex questions about life, memory and the universe. Unique film, unique experience.

2. Marwencol: Jeff Malmberg’s documentary is about the fantasy work of Mark Hogancamp, who creates a 1/6th scale World War II ear town which helps him get away from his nightmarish past. Mark is a very complex character and this film studies him with utmost sincerity. The filmmaker never tries romanticizing Mark’s motivations. Truly an authentic character study that might just leave you shattered.

1. The Interrupters: The Academy once again snubs one of the best documentary filmmakers, Steve James. Last time it was for Hoop Dreams and this time, for the mind-blowing, The Interrupters. Set in Chicago, Steve James follows three members of the Ceaserfire program for a whole year. Also known as violence interrupters, their job is to protect their community from the urban violence of the city. This is a side of America not many are aware of. The characters are, in my opinion, real-life superheroes. Steve James and his crew fearlessly film every detail they can. They are always there in the middle of conversations, danger, and threat. The Interrupters is powerful, dark and hopeful at the same time. Without a doubt, the best documentary of 2011.

Take some time out from mainstream movies and seek out these masterful films. There’s a whole lot out there!

Happy New Year!

Mihir Desai

( PS – For more film posts by Mihir, click here.)

Here’s continuing from our Mumbai Film Festival. The recco list is here, click here for Day 1 & 2 report and here is the post on Dimensions Mumbai.

Moving on –

Day 3

1. Jesus Henry Christ – A super non filmy yet subversive (you-dont-know-where-it-is-headed) film, my little miss sunshine of this year. Eccentric & weird american family-comedy. Trippy and funny all the way. Recco for everyone and especially for aspiring screenwriters

2. Toast – Stanley ka dabba meets Udaan. At first felt like a food porn film but slowly goes onto becoming a coming of age film set in UK 60s-70s. Very good film based on the life of a famous british chef. Also stars Helen Bonham Carter (and she’s not the only reason to watch the film)! Dont watch it on a hungry stomach !

3. Monster’s Dinner – ok clearly the most bizzare film of the day inviting maximum different opinions. Two couples have dinner in a dystopian turkey urban town. Smoking banned, painting banned, child abuse allowed and become a buisness, social norms are abnormal, satire on everyone under the sun. Clearly set up like a “play” with a single house setting (read low budget and limited resources so maximum innovation). Dark and creepy without showing a single violent act but puke-inducing. Many felt the film doesn’t move after the first 30 min (and may be even after the first 60 min), but personally felt it was very well directed. Very interesting film to watch it for sure – depending on if you decide to hate/love it later

4. First time for everything – Another russian Udaan father-son bonding story. Walked out after 70 min since it was taking way tooo much time to make a point.

5. Ides of March – Big Q for this one. Guess I know the right people. Nevertheless managed to sneak in. Must watch. Shiva the God Of Death goes corrupted. Wow. Watch it. Just felt longing for more by the end of it. Depressing film in a moral-istic way.

6. Aadukalam – national award winning tamil film. Had seen it already. But neverthless do check it out. A super film (yes made in commercial tam film format) And as a friend said – the drama is pretty “shakespearean”

Other mentions – Wrecked starring adrien brody, saamna, king of devil’s island (starring the super stellan skarsgard), armadillo. Didn’t see them since they are available (you-know-where). Will check them out. Comments welcome in case you did watch them

Day 4

1. Chinese takeaway – super stud ricardo darin (secret in their eyes, aura, 9 queens, carancho, signal) is reason enough to watch this quriky comedy film. An irritable common hardware shop owner’s life gets disturbed by a chinese man who comes into his life. Very well written and expertly directed. Recco’d

2. Tabloid – docu by Errol morris – a “simple” case gone awry thanks to the scandal-loving Brit media. Based on a true story. Highly recco’d. Offers multiple insights (pov’s) into the case – what happened, what was witnessed, what was reported.

3. Mountain – another low budget film with two characters and a “setting”. Thelma & Louise meets Kids are all right meets Rabbit Hole. But wow. And for a change great to see the dir not just relying on the lovely visuals of snow capped peaks but also wonderful drama. And someone give the leading lady an oscar for the best performance please. Was also part of an (informal) Q&A. Shot on Red. Must must “mast” watch. Silences, minimal dialogues but superb.

4. 17 girls – Based on a real life incident. 17 rebel-without (or with)-a-cause high school girls decide to get pregnant simultaneously. Liked it a lot despite the fact that pregnant women freak me out (I know I know, I’m sorry. Just have a phobia). Recco’d. And the girls are such good actors. I wondered how does one write the script of one such film.

5. Sleeping beauty – Epic fail super NG film. Everything established in the first 45 min, after that its purely one tharki budhdha after another. As Prof Saab said – “Pure mind fuck but no penetration”. Avoid. Allegedly an indian well versed “indie” director asked the dir of the film “Were you aware of what you were trying to do?”. Didnt get a satisfying response. I cursed myself for going for this and not standing in the 500 odd queue off Pina !

Other mentions – Win win by station agent, visitor dir, 36 chowringhee lane (arguably best film by aparna sen), Pina (still to be seen but have heard great things about it)

Day 5

1. Aparoopa – Finally saw a Jahnu Barua film on the big screen.. His debut film based on a real life incident which happened in assam in the 60s. A gorgeous suhasini muley and breathtaking assam visuals (DOP – Binod Pradhan), lovely music. A story and treatment which might seem a little dated today but for it’s time it was quite “progressive”. A typical HKA-ish/Charulata-ish Love triangle in which there is no bad guy (villain). And the good news is that he is trying to get all of his films released on DVD. Fingers crossed.

2. Love Wrinkle Free– A good first time effort by dir Sandeep mohan. Goa eccentric family comedy of sorts, in english. Couldve been trimmed by 20 min or so. Low budget film but which boasts of some good performances from the ensemble.

3. OR (Mon tresor) – Minimal dialogues, long takes, lovely visuals, self destructive characters, Father-son character from Aaranya Kaandam into a mom-daughter track.This is what Sleeping Beauty should have been. Highly recco’d. Last 5 min couldve been trimmed but still.

4. Almanya – Funny german family comedy. A man travels from turkey to germany to start a life. 50 yrs later family moves back on a vacation to turkey. Film cuts back and forth. Slightly meta-filmy (and hence also) super. Recco’d.

Other mentions – Salt of life, Habesu Papam (heard they were good), JBDY (need one say more?), Yellow Sea (hmmm-need repeat viewing. Some superb action sequences), Even the rain (available you-know-where), Another Earth, Melancholia (ho-hum, except super performances)