One of my favourite film genres is documentaries. Whilst many critics complain about the lack of creativity in contemporary films (due to endless sequels and remakes of distant classics), the appeal of unique real life stories has lead to some of the most brilliant cinema ever seen. Such is their dramatic impact documentaries are, increasingly, providing many of the the cinematic highlights of any given year.
Here, in this list of ten such examples, are some of the best documentary films you can find. Hunt them down and give them a watch; Netflix, LoveFilm, and Amazon will give you access to all of these inpirational tales. They’re certainly worth it, so enjoy!
1. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
The eponymous Jiro owns a tiny sushi restaurant in Tokyo and has earned 3 Michelin stars for culinary perfection. This documentary explores how the 85 year old has dedicated his life to his profession and yet continues his ceaseless drive for a better eating experience.
Jiro’s restaurant is viewed by many notable critics as the best sushi restaurant in the world, and this 2011 film is an Access All Areas pass to the workings of this evidently perfect sushi hangout.
2. The Imposter
The Imposter was ignored by the Oscars in 2012, but for many this was one of the film highlights of the year. It reveals the unusual world of Frederic Bourdin, a man who is a persistent confidence trickster and makes a habit of impersonating other people.
In 1997 he somehow convinced an American family he was their 16 year old son who had disappeared in 1994. Bourdin, and the family members, tell this bizarre story in full.
3. Project Nim
A British documentary from 2011, Project Nim examines the research project from the ‘70s which attempted to discover if primates could imitate sign language. The hope was to potentially converse fully with these animals. Consequently Nim lived with an American family, and over the years the results proved startling – but not for the benefit of science.
Here we have a very poignant look at the life of the legendary Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, who claimed 3 World Drivers Championships during his 10 year career. As a driver he was ruthless and controversial, but off track his humanitarian work was very impressive. All areas of his complex life are examined in this 2010 documentary, right up until his tragic demise at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
5. Grizzly Man
A modern masterpiece, Werner Herzog’s incredible 2005 character study takes an in depth look at the troubled Timothy Treadwell. The American lived amongst wild grizzly bears in a remote area of the Alaskan Peninsula for 13 summers (an attempt to raise public awareness about them) and filmed much of his time alone in the wildnerness.
In October 2003 Treadwell’s daring backfired when he was killed, but the footage he left behind makes for amazing viewing.
6. Stranded: I’ve Come From A Plane That Crashed On The Mountains
Stranded is an inspirational retelling of the 1972 Andes Plane Crash, as definitively told by the 16 survivors in 2008.
40 years ago they were, literally, stranded in the Andes mountain range following a violent airplane crash. Stuck for two months in the freezing mountains, survivors resorted to eating the flesh of their dead friends, before making an epic 10 day trek out of the cordillera. It’s incredible stuff, to put it mildly.
7. The Cove
A surprise Oscar winner in 2009, The Cove chronicles the attempts of environmentalist Ric O’Barry to end the slaughter of dolphins in one of Japan’s whaling communities. Unusually, events play out more like a heist movie and there are some of the tensest scenes of espionage in recent memory!
The Cove is very dramatic, but it also shockingly exposes the rising issue of mercury content in fish, as well as reminding the world for the need to curb over fishing.
8. The Kids Are Alright
This is a rockumentary about The Who which inadvertently documented a pivotal moment in the band’s history. Shortly after the film’s completion their legendary drummer Keith Moon died (the above image shows his detonation of one of his kits during a performance in 1967), stranding the band in creative limbo for two subsequent decades.
The Kids Are Alright is a look at the band’s creative history, from the early ‘60s up until celebratory “modern” gigs in 1978. Even if you’re not a fan of the music this is, simply put, hilarious viewing. The antics of notorious lunatic Moon, as well as guitarist Pete Townshend’s manic performances, make for an explosive documentary.
9. Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet
The very moving story of musician Jason Becker, a former guitar prodigy. Unfortunately he was stricken by the debilitating disease ALS in his early 20s, leaving him in a wheelchair. Since then he has managed to carve out a music career, but what is most impressive is his sense of humour, and lust for life, which remain very evident. Very inspiring indeed.
10. Searching For Sugar Man
A popular Oscar winner from 2012, this is the story of Sixto Rodriguez – the rock star that never was. In the ‘70s Rodriguez released two albums in America, but sadly (despite their obvious high quality) they failed commercially and he faded into obscurity.
Over the next two decades the albums were picked up in South Africa as anthems for the apartheid movement. Believing their hero to be long dead, several journalists nevertheless began a global hunt for Rodriguez. This documentary tells the results for one of the most uplighting films in years.