With the cost of movie-quality cameras becoming affordable in recent years, there’s hardly anything stopping somebody from picking up a camera and making a documentary about just about anything. In many ways, the last decade or so has really been the golden age of documentaries. With audiences paying more attention to big screen documentaries than ever, the quality of what is coming out from documentary filmmakers is astounding. Of course, that also means that more and more documentaries are being released to theaters than ever before – often unfortunately in limited release – and that means you’ve likely missed some great ones.
Here is a list of six of my favorite documentaries of the year. Unlike my indie film list, I found it impossible to limit this to only five choices because I’ve seen so many great documentaries this year. Again, these might not necessarily be the best documentaries of 2013 so far, but they shouldn’t be missed if you’re looking for a moving or thought-provoking experience.
Being a native New Yorker, I get a kick out of people from other places who are convinced that New York City is a dangerous place to live. I think people are hung up on the New York City of the 1970s, or, in other words, New York City before Ed Koch. Koch served as Mayor of New York for three terms and for all those years he might have been the most colorful personality in the entire country with eccentric, completely New York personality. Koch the documentary, which was made only a few months before his death earlier this year, is a thorough biography of one of New York’s most memorable “characters.” The movie is incredibly funny, as the former mayor holds little back when sharing his opinions on society and politics, and though New Yorkers will get the most out of it I feel people all over the country will enjoy and be inspired by Koch.
Stanley Kubrick left us too soon and with too few movies to remember him by. Of course, if Kubrick was more productive — in the last twenty years of his life he only made three movies — his movies wouldn’t be Kubrick movies. Kubrick marked his films by an incredible attention to detail and layers of hidden themes and meanings. But perhaps his most perplexing is The Shining, an adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel, and decades after its 1980 release people still debate on what the movie really means. Room 237 takes a look at five theories surrounding The Shining and what it “really” means. The documentary is loaded with clips from The Shining and other Kubrick films, and any fan of Kubrick’s movies will doubtlessly enjoy delving even further into the mysteries of The Shining.
I love documentaries like King of Kong that explore the high-stakes world of low-stakes competition. Bending Steel follows Chris, a man of below-average size who devotes himself to becoming an old-time circus strongman. Despite this being little more than a sideshow attraction to most people, Chris immerses himself in this subculture while he works hard and bending a seemingly impossible to budge bar of steel. Chris overcomes the adversity in his life, his lack of comfort in front of audiences, and even a hurricane to realize his dream of performing his craft on stage on Coney Island.
A BAND CALLED DEATH
Every once in a while, someone will make a discovery about art that completely changes the “textbook narrative.” A Band Called Death is about a Detroit band made up of three African-American brothers who were playing the punk sound before anyone else… but quickly faded into obscurity. It wasn’t until only a few years ago that the music world finally took notice. A Band Called Death follows the long, strange trip from obscurity to respected pioneers that Death has taken after decades of never getting any credit or even attention for their music.
I love a well-made drink. Who doesn’t? But if your kind of drink is whatever you can get cheaply at happy hour, Hey Bartender will change your mind very quickly. The documentary explores the revival in cocktail culture, in which dedicated bartenders devote their lives to finding new flavors and new mixes to please the palates of drinkers all over the globe. Like Bending Steel, Hey Bartender explores the high-stakes world of low-stakes competition as bartenders all over the world hope to be recognized for perfecting their craft, and, most of all, please their customers. You’ll never look at a well-mixed martini the same again!
We all have heard about pirates off the coast of Somalia, but how many of us really know anything about them? The Project takes a hard look at the problem of piracy in the lawless seas and focuses on how little is being done about these horrific crimes. It looks at a group of well-meaning Westerners who come to Somalia to create a military force to battle against the pirates and shows all the hardships and red tape these individuals face when they’re just trying to do the right thing. But most excitingly it culminates in a real-life battle against pirates that was caught on tape only weeks before The Project premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The Project demonstrates that sometimes the best intentions are met with the most resistance, but individuals dedicated to making the world a better place will never quit.
How about you? Were there any documentaries you saw this year that you hope others won’t miss? Let us know what documentaries that should be on all of our radars in the comments!