Top 10 Documentaries of All Time

Here at Cinefix, we spend most of
our time looking at narrative films. But just like pretty much
everyone else in the world, we’ve been getting pretty
into docks lately. So we figured it was
time to take a deep dive. These are our fix for
the 10 best documentaries of all time. (Music) Start things off we want to first look at
that which feels like a documentary at it’s most traditional. The history dark, with moving original and fascinating looks in American history
in four little girls and 13th. Non American history in nostalgia for
the white and west of the trucks. At the Vietnam War, In the Fog of War,
In Hearts and Minds and the World Wars and the Sorrow and the Pity and
They Shall Not Grow Old. We love Twenty Years Later, the Act
of Killing, the Look of Silence and the Cave of Dreams. But at the very front of the pack,
we think there is perhaps no more moving document of the past ever
created than our first pick, Shoah. (Foreign)
>>Standing at nearly nine and a half hours long, clawed landsman
Shoah is a towering act of witnessing. A shocking combination of the stories told
by victims, bystanders and perpetrators. Some of these against their wishes and
without their knowledge, Shoah is on it’s face a simple film,
hardly more than oral history. But in its execution it’s prosaic tapestry
woven of many personal narratives, its quiet images of places
that are truly haunted. What eventually emerges is more
than just a historical tragedy, the stuff of books and
facts and statistics. But the unmistakable echo, preserved as if in amber of many real
moments in many real human lives. It is immensely difficult, but never dull. Beautiful despite so
much heartbreak and important. So very important, maybe more so than
any other historical document ever made. (Music) After history, our minds next wander
to the realm of the social documentary. Beginning with the earliest
innovators Nannok of the North and Land Without Bread. To the later standouts in High School,
D’Est, Paris is Burning and the real life boyhood of the Up series. Salesman and Chronicle of a Summer are
probably the gold standards of the social documentary form. But in terms of endless watchability our
second pic goes to Harlan County USA.>>I had to go, to mine to save more time. He said he can be sure no get that new,
no place for the rock of falling on it. I said, well, what about me? I was driving a mule in there. What about me,
the rocks are pulling on me. He said, we can always hire another man,
but he said you’ve gotta buy that mule.>>Harland County USA is first and foremost the story of a year long
coal miner’s strike in Kentucky. There’s picketing and injustice and real
violence of the labor struggle sort that is all but forgot in the America of today. It is also a story of a people,
many people, in a place, in a career, in a class, all given their due as
irrepressibly unique individuals and yet connected in their
commonalities all the same. It also happens to be a story of music, of
the songs to which these people, and these places, and these struggles give birth and
how inextricably linked they really are. (Music) Narrowing in from our cultural landscape, some of our favorite documentaries of all
time focus in on one or two subjects and use the medium of film to paint
them in all their detail. This is the documentary as portrait where
you can find such incredible classics as Grizzly Man, Pina, a portrait of a
brilliant choreographer through her work. The aptly titled Portrait of Jason, Crumb the deeply open profile
of an underground comic artist. Especially The Quince Tree Sun, a meditative portrait of one man’s
Sisyphean task of capturing honest beauty. However for this lot we think that
there is something irresistibly fascinating about the big and
little edie in Grey Garden.>>Cat’s going to the bathroom
right in the back of my portrait.>>Isn’t that awful?>>No, I’m glad he is. I’m glad somebody’s doing
something they wanted to do.>>It is impossible to overstate the
importance of selecting the right subject for a portrait. And in Gray Gardens,
the Maysles brothers have struck pay dirt. Decades past each of their moments,
Gray Gardens follows and eccentric mother and
daughter once upon a socialite pair. As they share their evening years amidst
the overgrown decay of their estate and their pasts, and the raccoons and
cats with which they dwell. Grateful for an audience to perform for
beyond each other, they sing and dancing, banter for the camera,
relive their glory years. Their what could have beens and the
resentments they have honed about them. Lonely in their irrelevance and image
of a codependent relationship built and warped to sustain them emerges. But pity is not this
documentary’s primary mode. An irrepressible delightfulness
emerges nonetheless. Of course we can not forget the ever
popular investigative documentary. Great true crime
investigations include O.J. Made in America, The Imposter, and
especially The Thin Blue Line. While great expose investigations
include the like of Titicut Follies, Whores’ Glory, Lake of Fire, and
all of Michael Moore’s greatest hits. But our favorite expose, my God if there
isn’t anything in the world quite as mad as The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On. (Foreign)>>Emperor’s Naked Army doesn’t take very long before revealing itself to be,
all in all, (Bleep) insane. Ginzu Okuzaki is a veteran
of World War II. Who decides at the ripe old age of
65 to take up the investigation of the mysterious deaths of three of
his army mates that were stationed with him in New Guinea as
the war was lost by Japan. His methods are less archival, research
and official inquiry and more ambush other 70-year-old veterans and force them to
talk by threat of and actual violence. And it only gets way,
way crazier from there. The act of documenting the ordeal without
intervention raises some serious ethical questions. But the war time truth that is uncovered
over the course of his investigation is so far beyond horrifying that one begins to
understand Okuzaki as the willing owl of all consuming rage that
the war has left in its wake. (Music) Taking a step back from that, let’s
turn and take a look at sports darks. From sweeping epics on a country’s
past time like Ken Burns baseball. To delightful looks at little niches, like Murderball, from portraits
of an entire career as in Senna, to slices of a moment in sports
history as in When We Were Kings. There’s Freedom’s Fury, Touching the Void,
and the only kind of racist Olympia. But it really doesn’t get any better
than the genre defying, trophy holding, all time all star of Hoop Dreams.>>When I get in the NBA, first thing I’m
going to do I’m going to go see my mama. I’m going to buy a house. I’m go down make sure my sister,
my brother’s okay. (Laugh)
>>Try to get my dad Cadillac, Oldsmobile, so he can cruise in the game.>>For real.
>>To Inner city eighth graders are recruited straight off the playground
by talent scouts for suburban prep school. For the next six years,
we watch them grow, struggle, commute 90 minutes each way,
succeed, fail, and ultimately strive to travel the long road from where they
are to the realization of their dreams. And we have unprecedented
access to their journey. These are young children
dreaming as children do, invited into a demanding world
of expectations and results and disappointments all on
the precipice of adult hood. They become two very human faces
on a very real american dream. (Music) After sports we got to look at music
there’s the band biography most notably montage of heck. And there’s the back stage documentary
including Dig, Don’t Look Back and the incredible Some Kind of Monster. And there’s the concert documentary
whose standouts include Monterey Pop, Gimme Shelter and The Last Waltz. And we know it’s crazy to give
best music documentary to what on its surface just looks
like a concert film. But by god there’s something
magical happen in the talking Heads Stop Making Sense. (Music) Stop Making Sense is a blast. The music is awesome and
endlessly jammable. The cinematography is better than most. The concert itself is wonderfully
structured and well done in its visuals. But more than anything else there is
something so honest and present and un-ironic about the joy and togetherness
we see in this musical family. Especially in its bizarre genius
frontman David Byrne, and how he connects with those around him. Watching him join and play, and perform with his band mates is
a surprisingly transcendental treat. One that hits just the right kind of
alchemy to rise beyond the average film, up to the level of art. (Applause)
>>Of course, if we’re going to look at music docs,
we can’t pass up the film making ones. Many of the best of them are behind
the scenes chronicles of some of the more insane entries
in film making history. Hearts of Darkness, Lost in La Mancha,
Burden of Dreams, and Jodorowsky’s Dune. But there’s also the individual profile as
in film worker and Kate Plays Christine and the look into true indie films
as in American Movie and Raiders! And Raiders the story of
the greatest fan film ever made. But our favorite is
something else entirely. Abbab Kiarostami’s Close-up.>>Start. (Foreign)>>We want to say very little about closer, we recommended unreservedly,
of course, and feel no hesitation calling a genius, we can tell you that
it’s a film about misrepresentation. About a man who pretends to be
his favorite director in order to impress a family. And that it explores the boundary between
truth and misrepresentation in life, fiction and film,
twisting back on itself in its analysis. But beyond that, we don’t really think any
of our words could possibly improve your experience with it. So go watch it, you’ll see. (Music) Next up, we’re looking at the poetic
mode of documentary film making. The exposition-less, audio-visual collage
that really does just observe and document and make no judgement
beyond inclusion and assemblage. There are the early examples,
Man with a Movie Camera and Berlin, Symphony of a Metropolis. Later, we find meditations on mirages,
in Fata Morgana, insects, in Microcosmos, and
fishermen, in Leviathan. We find the work of Godfrey Reggio,
the Qatsi Trilogy and Visitors. And then, there is the work of his
one-time cinematographer Run Freak who Samsara we call the most
beautiful film of all time. We still think it is and
if we hadn’t gushed about it so much already it might
easily snap up this slot. But fortunately, for us it has a just as good if not better
older brother in the form of Baraka. (Music) For 90 gorgeous minutes, Baraka
issues all language in its ambitious attempt to reach its arms impossibly wide
around the entirety of our Earth and wrap it up all at once. Immersing us in the vastness of its sights
and sounds and rhythms and combinations, striving for the universal through
the narrowest of specifics. Earth, humanity, individuals, culture,
commodity, worship, often haunting, sometimes tragic, sometimes glorious,
but always beautiful. Baraka is the crowning achievement
in poetic documentary cinema. Building upon Qatsi rhythms and eye, and outlining the basic themes that some
sorrow would eventually go one to develop. It truly is a spectacular testament to the
immense majesty of this thing called life. (Music) If you take your tone-poem and
add the words back in, you end up at our second to last slot,
with the essay film. Graced with such greats as, F is for Fake,
Letter to Jane, and Histoire du Cinema. But atop them all, we will attempt to
describe the nearly indescribable with our penultimate pick Sans Soleil.>>The first image he told me about
was of three children on the road in Iceland in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of
happiness, and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images,
but it never worked. He wrote me, one day I’ll have to put it
all alone at the beginning of a film, with a long piece of black leader. If they don’t see happiness in the
picture, at least they’ll see the black.>>From these almost too sublime opening
images and words you can sense that there is going to be something very special
about Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. Made up of a fictional woman reading
semi-fictional letters from a sort of fictional camera man over the very
real images of Marger’s travels, mostly to Tokyo and Guinea Basao. We will not be the first to
observe how Sans Soleil feels so much like the beautifully poetic travel
log of an alien anthropologist observing humanity empathetically. But from an almost
extra-terrestrial distance. The fictional relationships between
the narrator and Chris Marker’s words asks his delightfully personal way
of seeing into a humble intimate light. This is documentary,
keenly watching the world, but fully aware that it’s only doing
it through one man’s eyes. (Music) Finishing things off at number 1, we cannot ignore the complete about face
of the camera’s lens pointed squarely back at its documentarian in
the autobiographical doc. And amidst the ranks of the greats here
we find the best of Ross Mackelwei. Time Indefinite and Sherman’s March,
deeply personal films about love and loss and death and life. We find Tongues Untied, a story of black gay identity that
blends the historical with the personal. We find Agnes Barnell looking at
herself in The Gleaners and I. And we find Waltz with Bashir’s are a full
men investigating his own repressed memories. And finally, we find our top pick,
the unbelievably intimate, as I was moving ahead occasionally
I saw brief glimpses of beauty.>>I saw that, nothing much, nothing extraordinary as so far happened in this movie. It’s all, Very, Simple daily activities life.>>We end as we began. Again, with a long,
long cinematic journey. But this time of a very different sort. As I Was Moving Ahead is
an epic of the personal. It is a long and
messy act of a man remembering his entire life through his home movies and
recollections and poetry. Difficult to imagine anyone watching all
these moments of Jonas Micah’s life and not being reminded of their own. Little snippets of distant memories
presumed lost rising back into view. Micah calls it a masterpiece
of nothingness. Maybe so, but the genius is in how
much he captures in that nothing. He captures an entire life,
which is why it’s our pick for one of the best documentaries of all time. So what do you think? Disagree with any of our picks? Did we leave out any of your
favorite documentaries? We almost certainly did, there’s bound to be at least 11 worthy
documentaries out there, maybe even 12. Let us know what you think in the comments
below and be sure to subscribe for more Cinefix movie lists.

43 thoughts on “Top 10 Documentaries of All Time

  1. Loved the satire of including "An Inconvenient Truth" and Michael Moore's propaganda films as "documentaries."

  2. Nature docs, guys. Koko and Nim changed the way I thought about human life, tons of great nature docs out there. Have to disagree with several of these, The Emperor's Naked Army Deserved a mention but I don't understand why it's so highly regarded. The main subject is crazy so it's interesting and it shows how difficult it is to reach the truth, but it's nowhere near as good as Thin Blue Line or Act of Killing. Hoop Dreams is great but Touching the Void is incredible. Stop Making Sense is enjoyable, mostly for the quality of the songs, but it's not a great doc. Grey Gardens isn't the best example of it's kind. And the #1 film doesn't capture an entire life, the footage is only taken over a few years and mostly consists of video of Mekas' daughter as a toddler. What's great about it is the poetic depiction of the quotidian

  3. How did you miss so many contemporary masterpieces and still notice 'Stop Making Sense' and 'Baraka'?

  4. Why did you tip toe around the description of Shoah? It's a documentary about the holocaust, is it really that difficult to say that?

  5. I’m surprised you mentioned Monterey Pop in concert documentaries instead of the Woodstock movie. Also I think The Queen Of Versailles deserved a mention somewhere, it’s an outstanding film.

  6. It sorta makes sense they skipped science/nature docs. I would say informational though; as there are a lot of varieties of them. This channel is more interested in artistic than educational content. I would agree that they should be covered but I can understand the decision not to.

  7. "Shoah" is propoganda. Check out "The Greatest Story Never Told" and "Europa: The Last Battle" to re-educate yourself on the so-called holocaust.

  8. No mention for Lessons on Darkness? I admire the way the narrator and audience can´t understand and describe watched reality because is unbelievable…

  9. The act of killing / look of silence, the documentaries of Werner Herzog (like lessons in darkness and cave of forgotten dreams), Shoah, and Crumb. Those are my idea of the best

  10. Damn dude — you had me tearing up on #1, much the same way I did the first time I watched Schindler's List. I took me years before I could watch it again with a more mature outlook. That time period until I watched it the 2nd time was 25 years. I'm 60 now.

  11. "Stop Making Sense" is hard to define for me. I have watched it many times and I see something new every time I watch it. It is an amazing film.

  12. This list was a bit hard to watch. Not because it's bad, but because it's so damn good. I have watched many of your lists in the past day and this one really punches you in the guy. Well done Sir, well done.

  13. Ecocinema is a relatively new and growing sub-genre of the documentary, popular among audiences and scholars alike. You should do a Top 10 in this category and pay particular attention to this entry: The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning (winner of the Audience Choice Award at the American Conservation Film Festival). Listed 2nd on IMDB's list of Top 10 Environmental Documentaries: — Watch on Youtube:

  14. Titles of movies shown:

    (1922) Nanook of the North

    (1927) Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis

    (1929) Man with a Movie Camera

    (1932) Land Without Bread

    (1936) Olympia

    (1946) A Diary for Timothy

    (1955) Night and Fog

    (1961) Chronicle of a Summer

    (1967) Portrait of Jason

    (1967) Titicut Follies

    (1967) Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back

    (1968) In the Year of the Pig

    (1968) High School

    (1968) Monterey Pop

    (1969) The Sorrow and the Pity

    (1969) Salesman

    (1970) Gimme Shelter

    (1971) Fata Morgana

    (1972) Letter to Jane

    (1973) F is for Fake

    (1974) Hearts and Minds

    (1975) Battle of Chile

    (1975) Grey Gardens

    (1976) Harlan County USA

    (1978) The Last Waltz

    (1982) Burden of Dreams

    (1982) Koyaanisqatsi

    (1983) Sans Soleil

    (1984) Twenty Years Later

    (1984) 28 Up

    (1984) Stop Making Sense

    (1985) Shoah

    (1985) Chronos

    (1985) Sherman's March

    (1987) The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On

    (1988) The Thin Blue Line

    (1988) Powwaqatsi

    (1988) Histoire du cinema

    (1989) Roger & Me

    (1989) Tongues Untied

    (1990) The Civil War

    (1990) Paris is Burning

    (1990) Close-Up

    (1991) Hearts of Darkness

    (1991) Madonna: Truth or Dare

    (1992) Baraka

    (1992) The Quince Tree Sun

    (1993) D'Est

    (1993) Time Indefinite

    (1993) Blue

    (1994) Crumb

    (1994) Baseball

    (1994) Hoop Dreams

    (1996) When We Were Kings

    (1996) Microcosmos

    (1997) 4 Little Girls

    (1999) American Movie

    (2000) As I Was Moving Ahead, Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty

    (2000) The Gleaners and I

    (2002) Bowling for Columbine

    (2002) Lost in La Mancha

    (2003) Touching the Void

    (2003) Los Angeles Plays Itself

    (2004) Dig!

    (2004) Metallia: Some Kind of Monster

    (2005) Grizzly Man

    (2005) Murderball

    (2006) An Inconvenient Truth

    (2006) Lake of Fire

    (2006) Freedom's Fury

    (2008) Waltz with Bashir

    (2010) Senna

    (2010) Nostalgia for the Light

    (2010) Cave of Forgotten Dreams

    (2011) Pina

    (2011) Jiro Dreams of Sushi

    (2011) Whores' Glory

    (2011) Samsara

    (2012) The Imposter

    (2012) Searching for Sugar Man

    (2012) The Act of Killing

    (2012) The Imposter

    (2012) Leviathan

    (2013) Capturing the Friedmans

    (2013) West of the Tracks

    (2013) The Fog of War

    (2013) Jodorowsky's Dune

    (2013) Visitors

    (2015) The Look of Silence

    (2015) Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

    (2015) Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

    (2016) 13th

    (2016) O.J. Made in America

    (2016) Tickled

    (2016) Kate Plays christine

    (2017) Filmworker

    (2018) They Shall Not Grow Old

    (2018) RBG

    (2018) Free Solo

  15. The Source Family
    The Century Of Self and The Trap: Whatever Happened To Our Dreams Of Freedom? (both by Adam Curtis)
    Encounters At The End Of The World
    The Day After Trinity
    There's too many, there are thousands upon thousands that could not be mentioned, else this YouTube video would be 20 hours long.

  16. This is such a good video! Not only do you give your top 10s but listed other docs similar to them. Truly fantastic, exactly what I needed for a binge 🖤🖤🖤

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