The Documentary Blog’s Top Docs of 2009 and the Decade

It’s no secret that Film Junk has a few documentary fans on staff and every year we try and highlight some of the stand out non-fiction films. Although The Cove and Anvil! The Story of Anvil made some appearances on our year end lists — along with a few others on our end of decade list — we didn’t really get a chance to write up any doc specific lists, so I figured I’d share some of the love The Documentary Blog has been spreading over the past week. Below you’ll find my top 10 docs of 2009 followed by my top 50 documentaries of the decade. Also, I put together a collection of some acclaimed non-fiction filmmakers (including Joe Berlinger, Sarah Price and Jeff Feuerzeig among others) who have shared their picks for best of the decade as well! You can check that list out here. Until then, have a look below and share your choices in the comments section!

Best Documentaries of 2009

10. Winnebago Man
Directed by Ben Steinbauer

9. Waterlife
Directed by Kevin McMahon

8. Objectified
Directed by Gary Hustwit

7. Tyson
Directed by James Toback

6. Collapse
Directed by Chris Smith

5. New World Order
Directed by Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer

4. Trouble the Water
Directed by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin

3. Best Worst Movie
Directed by Michael Stephenson

2. The Cove
Directed by Louie Psihoyos

1. Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Directed by Sacha Gervasi

Honourable Mentions: Art & Copy, Burma VJ, Reporter, 45365, Rip! A Remix Manifesto, Kings of Pastry

Top 50 Documentaries of the Decade

50. Rize (LaChapelle, 2005) — Trailer
49. The Smashing Machine (Hyams, 2002) — Trailer
48. Lost in La Mancha (Fulton & Pepe, 2002) — Trailer
47. Dig! (Timoner, 2004) — Trailer
46. Protagonist (Yu, 2007) — Trailer
45. Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story (Berger & Klores, 2005) — Trailer
44. Bowling for Columbine (Moore, 2002)
43. Rank (Hyams, 2006) — Trailer
42. Our Daily Bread (Geyrhalter, 2005) — Trailer
41. Helvetica (Hustwit, 2007) — Trailer
40. New World Order (Meyer & Neel, 2009) — Trailer
39. Best Worst Movie (Stephenson, 2009) — Trailer
38. The Cove (Psihoyos, 2009) — Trailer
37. Kurt Cobain: About a Son (Schnack, 2006) — Trailer
36. Tyson (Toback, 2008) — Trailer
35. Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Gervasi, 2008) — Trailer
34. When the Levee’s Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (Lee, 2006)
33. Bus 174 (Padilha & Lacerda, 2002)
32. God Grew Tired of Us (Quinn & Walker, 2006) — Trailer
31. The Bridge (Steel, 2006) — Trailer
30. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (Kuenne, 2008) — Trailer
29. 9/11 (Hanlon, Klug & Naudet, 2002) — Clip
28. The White Diamond (Herzog, 2004) — Clip
27. Deep Water (Osmond & Rothwell, 2006) — Trailer
26. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (Nelson, 2006) — Trailer
25. Murder on a Sunday Morning (de Lestrade, 2001)
24. Hell House (Ratliff, 2001) — Trailer
23. Dark Days (Singer, 2000) — Trailer
22. Billy the Kid (Venditti, 2007) — Trailer
21. Crazy Love (Klores & Stevens, 2007) — Trailer
20. Young @ Heart (Walker & George, 2007) — Trailer
19. Fog of War (Morris, 2003) — Trailer
18. Zoo (Devor, 2007) — Trailer
17. Stevie (James, 2002) — Trailer
16. Man on Wire (Marsh, 2008) — Trailer
15. Spellbound (Blitz, 2002) — Trailer
14. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Gordon, 2007) — Trailer
13. This American Life (Series) (Glass, 2007) — Trailer
12. Standard Operating Procedure (Morris, 2008) — Trailer
11. Touching the Void (Macdonald, 2003) — Trailer
10. Lake of Fire (Kaye, 2006) — Trailer
9. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Berlinger & Sinofsky, 2004) — Trailer
8. Encounters at the End of the World (Herzog, 2007) — Trailer
7. Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) (Kohn, 2007) — Trailer
6. The Staircase (de Lestrade, 2004) — Clip
5. Capturing the Friedmans (Jarecki, 2003) — Trailer
4. The English Surgeon (Smith, 2007) — Trailer
3. Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (Berlinger & Sinofsky, 2000) — Clip
2. The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Feuerzeig, 2005) — Trailer
1. Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005) — Trailer

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  • Rusty James

    hm… actually a pretty interesting list. Not what ‘Id expect.

    I’m glad to see DADJ so high. I don’t think I’d heard you mention it before. It’s one of my favorites as well, possibly my favorite film of its year.

    Stevie would probably be number one on my list. It really hit a cord with me.

    I’m surprised not to see Audience of One. I finally saw it just recently. Loved it as much as I thought.
    And I thought you made a big deal recently about loving Five Obstructions (in that episode where you couldn’t remember the title for about 10 minutes)

    I really like Confessions of a Super Hero and Street Fight. Two films I notice are absent.

    I watched When The Leeves Broke during the recent anniversary of the event. I was really put off by it. It was just not what I wanted it to be. Maybe that’s unfair but there it is.

  • Cufford

    Not even an honorable mention for “March of the Penquins”? A truly amazing work.

    Even won the 2006 Best Documentary, Features Oscar, for Pete’s sake.

    Are you kidding me? Did you simply forget this one existed.

  • Henrik

    Hey Cufford have you seen the original March of the Penguins where the penguins talk to eachother? It’s definitely not an amazing work, it’s impossible to take seriously and hard to sit through.

  • Cufford

    That’s definitely not the one I saw and have on DVD. Instead, it’s narrated by Morgan Freeman. And it is truly an amazing work. So good that many viewers may not realize what the filmmakers clearly went through to get the incredible footage. It wasn’t just the penquins who were dealing with those conditions.

    Anyway…clearly not the same one you’re talking about.

    And again, the one I was talking about won the Academy Award that year for Best Doc.

  • Henrik

    It is the same one, they just changed it for american audiences, putting in a narrator and erasing the penguin dialogue.

  • Rusty James

    I would’ve liked to see Farce of the Penguins on the list. It’s underrated.

  • The Man

    Totally agree with Number 1 but not number 2.

  • Trisomy21

    David Attenborough says “Oh Bother”. Get it? Because he sounds like Winnie the Pooh. Get it?

  • xego

    I really do appreciate the lists Jay, when I go to different streaming sites for docs I won’t have to waste time trying to figure out what to watch …cool thanks

  • Goon

    from Jays list that I’ve both seen and enjoyed:

    50. Rize (LaChapelle, 2005) — Trailer
    48. Lost in La Mancha (Fulton & Pepe, 2002) — Trailer
    47. Dig! (Timoner, 2004) — Trailer
    44. Bowling for Columbine (Moore, 2002)
    41. Helvetica (Hustwit, 2007) — Trailer
    38. The Cove (Psihoyos, 2009) — Trailer
    35. Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Gervasi, 2008) — Trailer
    34. When the Levee’s Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (Lee, 2006)
    33. Bus 174 (Padilha & Lacerda, 2002)
    29. 9/11 (Hanlon, Klug & Naudet, 2002) — Clip
    25. Murder on a Sunday Morning (de Lestrade, 2001)
    24. Hell House (Ratliff, 2001) — Trailer
    19. Fog of War (Morris, 2003) — Trailer
    18. Zoo (Devor, 2007) — Trailer
    17. Stevie (James, 2002) — Trailer
    16. Man on Wire (Marsh, 2008) — Trailer
    15. Spellbound (Blitz, 2002) — Trailer
    14. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Gordon, 2007) — Trailer
    13. This American Life (Series) (Glass, 2007) — Trailer
    12. Standard Operating Procedure (Morris, 2008) — Trailer
    10. Lake of Fire (Kaye, 2006) — Trailer
    9. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Berlinger & Sinofsky, 2004) — Trailer
    6. The Staircase (de Lestrade, 2004) — Clip
    5. Capturing the Friedmans (Jarecki, 2003) — Trailer
    3. Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (Berlinger & Sinofsky, 2000) — Clip
    2. The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Feuerzeig, 2005) — Trailer
    1. Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005) — Trailer

    I’d also add (off the top of my head, then checking years on IMDB), wondering if Jay just forgot about maybe one or two of these:

    First Person (tv series, Morris, 2000)
    Thin (Greenfield, 2006)
    Jesus Camp (Ewing/Grady, 2006)
    Go Tigers! (Carlson, 2001)
    Rip! A Remix Manifesto (Gaylor, 2009)
    Good Hair (Stilson, 2009)
    Project Greenlight S1 (tv series, multiple directors?, 2001)
    Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Global Metal and Flight 666 (Dunn/McFayden, 2005/2008/2009)
    Startup.com (Hegedus/Noujaim, 2001)
    Control Room (Noujaim, 2004)
    Overnight (Montana/Smith, 2003)
    Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Gibney/Kliot, 2005)

    and a special mention to:

    Year of the Rat (Ng, 2003) – this is the making of the movie Willard and is on the DVD, among my favorite ‘making of’ documentaries.

    DVDFile named Willard one of its top DVDs that year, with this to say:

    “This year’s wild card slot goes to…Crispin Glover and a rat named Ben!? A flop during its theatrical release but an instant cult classic, this is a DVD that packs a surprising wallop – the most underrated documentary of 2004. “The Year of the Rat” is by turns heartbreaking, hilarious and frightening, and one of the most frank and informative looks ever created on the triumphs and tragedies of making a movie. A real sleeper.”

  • Liney

    Great lists, cheers Jay…sometimes it’s hard to find suggestions for decent documentaries, and since I love watching them, this will come in useful.

    Good to see Herzog getting some love.

  • Goon

    Also forgot:

    Comedian (Charles, 2002)

  • Levene

    Nice list, but I would have included Être et Avoir and The Travelling Birds. Although the latter’s status as being a documentary can be debated.

  • Henrik

    Just saw Anvil finally, and it was pretty good, though nowhere near the same league as Some Kind Of Monster in my opinion. I mean it had funny moments, but everything moved so quickly, and was so brushed over, that I kind of lost any emotional connection. The worst being the ending, where it’s just like they show up, look happy and then over. Could there not have been some sort of build-up? Try and give your audience the payoff moment that you want them to have? When I first started losing it, I thought to myself I shouldn’t nitpick, but as it went on it just got more and more, so it took it down considerably for me. It actually made me wish I was watching Global Metal instead, a movie I think is way better.

    I can tell people why they weren’t megastars though, the lead singer is ugly and doesn’t sing very well. Any band needs an awesome frontman to become succesful, Lips is a funny and endearing guy, but definitely doesn’t cut it as a performer in my opinion.

  • Goon

    I’ll just say Lips is better on album than you see in that weird studio clip in the movie, thats the way a lot of things are when you hear vocals recorded alone like that.

    Anyways posting to remember another forgotten one:

    Bigger Stronger Faster* (Bell, 2008)

  • Henrik

    as a *worldclass performer that is. He’s no James Hetfield on a stage.

    Did anybody else feel like Lips and Robb were like two pre-rehab James Hetfields though? For alot of the movie I just felt like these are problems that exist because they are childish, unintelligent and bad at communicating. Not that it makes the problems any less valid, interesting or the movie worse, but it just constantly popped into my head.

    WTF moment of the night: supposed megastar producer playing councelor for the camera.

  • Henrik

    The studio clip definitely was pretty horrid, but they played a lot of songs on the soundtrack of the movie as well.

  • Henrik

    I really liked Bigger Stronger Faster* as well.

    One documentary that nobody is mentioning around here is Forever, a movie I saw some years back and was really affected by. It starts by centering around a famous cemetery in Paris, where alot of famous artists are buried, Jim Morrison being the one I remember the most, and the people who visit the graves of these artists that died years before they were born themselves. They talk to them, and ask them why they would visit these people they never knew, and just go off on various tangents, centering more on some people, or on aspects about the cemetery and also on death itself. It’s a great documentary, I highly recommend it.

  • Rusty James

    I had a dream I was working in that sunglasses telemarketing floor.

  • Henrik

    Actually I’m surprised this isn’t on Jays list: Darkon.

  • jozh

    Good list. Here’s a few that weren’t included that were great:

    Deliver Us From Evil
    The Yes Men
    The Corporation
    Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession
    Planet Earth Series

    I still hold a place close to my heart for Troma’s Jefftowne.

    Another pretty good gritty unknown called Friends Forever is worth checking out. 2 guys traveling the country playing impromptu concerts out of their van.

  • Goon

    well Henrik, I think management has made a difference for them and in their case has now shown its importance. I will stick up for them on record for their earlier albums. The new one is a mixed bag. The reason is that kind of voice mixed with thrash and 80s style production fits the NWOBHM influence to a T – when you transcribe it to a modern sound unless you can wail like Bruce Dickinson, all the new bells and flourishes and clarity can really rob that style of its character/personality.

  • http://www.filmjunk.com Jay C.

    Henrik: I had considered Darkon, but for one reason or another it just didn’t end up on the list. Still an awesome movie though. Also, I haven’t heard of Forever. I will have to check it out.

    jozh: All of those selections are great. Jefftowne would’ve been an interesting choice as well.

    Goon:

    First Person (tv series, Morris, 2000) – I had assumed this was from the 90′s, otherwise it would’ve been on my list. Boo.

    Thin (Greenfield, 2006) – Have yet to see this.

    Jesus Camp (Ewing/Grady, 2006) – I liked it, but it hasn’t stuck with me as much as the other films on my list.

    Go Tigers! (Carlson, 2001) – This movie is great but it just comes down to too many films too little spots.

    Rip! A Remix Manifesto (Gaylor, 2009) – I liked this one, but didn’t think it was as great as some did.

    Good Hair (Stilson, 2009) – Didn’t see it.

    Project Greenlight S1 (tv series, multiple directors?, 2001) – Loved this show, but didn’t want to get in to reality tv on the list.

    Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Global Metal and Flight 666 (Dunn/McFayden, 2005/2008/2009) – It was a good watch, but not a great film in my opinion.

    Startup.com (Hegedus/Noujaim, 2001) – Totally forgot about this one. Still don’t think it would’ve made my list though.

    Control Room (Noujaim, 2004) – I enjoyed this, but remember very little about it.

    Overnight (Montana/Smith, 2003) – Entertaining, but horribly shot.

    Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Gibney/Kliot, 2005) – Again, liked it but not as much as others seemed to.

    Comedian was on my list until it was bumped by a couple of other films I’d forgotten about.

    Cufford: I liked March of the Penguins quite a bit but there were just too many other great films to account for.

    Rusty James: Confessions of a Superhero was OK, not great in my opinion. Haven’t seen Street Fight, but have been meaning to.

    Audience of One was a lot of fun, but not top of the decade in my opinion. It’s a little long and meanders a bit at the end. I prefer Lost in La Mancha.

    I can’t remember the context of the Five Obstructions discussion, but I think I was more passionate about remembering the title than I was about the film itself. It was an interesting watch though.

  • chris

    “Betrayal (Nerakhoon)” seems like a surprising omission. And I’m not surprised “Heart of the Game” didn’t make the list, but I sure do love it.

  • http://www.iwasben.com Wintle

    I was excited by Rusty James’ recommendation for a movie called Street Fight, until I discovered that it wasn’t actually about street fighting. Darn.

  • Henrik

    Wintle I remember the Filmjunk crew back in the day mentioning a DVD called Bumfights or something. Maybe that’s what you’re looking for!

  • http://www.firstmind-ent.com/ First Mind Ent

    Hello and once again I want to thank you for stopping by. For those of you that don’t know, I am originally from Ontario, California a newly developed city 36 miles East of Los Angeles. True, there are a few gangs in Ontario, but nothing like LA. None the less, moving from Ontario to LA was quite a culture shock, seeing and experiencing things you only see on T.V. or read on the news. It opened my eyes to a new awareness of what really goes on in the hood.

    I remember visiting out of town and talking with people about LA. All they all would ask is, “How can you live out there?” I would say, “Man, old people and kids live out there even white people. It isn’t what you think, plus I mind my own business and don’t hang out like I have nothing to do.” After answering the question one too many times, something hit me and that was the idea of making a documentary. That way instead of telling people repeatedly, I could show them what its like living in the so called hood.

    Keep in mind, it took over 6 years to gather all the footage I had to have to make this documentary. So its not like mayhem is going on all day, every day. Its actually pretty peaceful for the most part. I just feel like one death is too many when it comes to senseless crimes in the inner cities of America. So, I decided to make a documentary.

    I admit it seemed a little far fetched and almost impossible to do, but I was determined to get the job done. After all, my whole life, I would hear the same old saying, “You can do anything if you try hard enough”, therefore I did just that, investing a little money and a lot of time, creativity, drive and passion. I would stay up for days learning how to edit using Final Cut Pro and go to the Apple store at the Grove in LA, sitting in on editing classes they’d give for free, take notes and apply that knowledge to what I’d already learned on my own, resulting in the making of my movie, which I am proud to present today, OUTSIDE MY WINDOW.

  • Dax

    I realize these things are to a large degree subjective, but it’s surprising that any Top-50 documentaries of the decade list would omit Tarnation (2003).

    I’d have Pray the Devil Back to Hell on the list as well.

  • Marcus

    There’s this shocking documentary called ‘Catfish’. Watch the trailer here:
    http://bit.ly/anE6RZ

  • http://documentarystorm.com John Frum

    Great list! Though if I had to pick the best documentary of 2009, it would probably be Tyson. And of the decade? That’s a bit tricky, there are too many and I’d probably fill out too long a post.

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