Here’s to an amazing year in documentaries

Act of Killing opened in LA over the weekend and hits a few more locations this week, and while I managed to publish what I think is one of the better interviews I’ve ever done last week, with co-director Josh Oppenheimer, I still haven’t been able to finish a proper review. Frankly, the responsibility of trying to get you to see it seems like too much for a movie review. A review almost feels insulting, as if your Act of Killing viewership is voluntary, when to me it feels mandatory. Something you just need to see in order to become a complete person, regardless of all the little things I think about it.

And just as I was bitching about how rote our action movies have become the other day, I stopped to turn on The Crash Reel on HBO, and I was blown away. Not just by how good it was, but by how many documentaries have absolutely kicked my ass this year. As underwhelming as this summer’s blockbusters have been, this year has seen some truly classic docs. I tweeted as much, and people pressed me for a list. There are a ton I haven’t seen and this mini-list isn’t even close to comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start. Documentaries have funky release schedules, so while some of these are already available on VOD, we don’t know yet when you’ll be able to see others, but I tried to include all the information I could.

In no order whatsover:


Killer whales are equal parts beautiful and terrifying (probably why their skin is made of Yin-Yang symbols!), which is the main thrust of this doc from veteran National Geographic and ESPN director Gabriella Cowperthwaite. Reviewing Blackfish was really hard, and hopefully you didn’t notice, but I barely did any analysis. I basically just told you what it was about and how awesome it was, which was my honest take on the whole thing. A movie this good makes you forget the form. The only thing that keeps me from raving about it more is that Act of Killing came out the same year.

Where can you see it?

For now, just theaters (more here). The UK/Irish DVD is set for release August 26th, but no word on a US release as of yet.

A Band Called Death

(review, interview with the band)

This documentary about a forgotten Detroit punk band from Mark Covino and Jeff Howlett is a slow burn for sure, but you’ll need eyelids of steel to keep from tearing up when it all comes together (luckily I have those – they match my buns). In a lot of ways, I think it’s better than Searching for Sugar Man. You definitely get to know the Hackney brothers better than you ever get to know Rodriguez, these goofball guys who are insanely unguarded at all times. It’s like you’re part of the family. It was a tie between this and Mr. Angel for which film had me more emotional.

Where can you see it?

This one, fortunately, you can watch from the privacy of your own sex dungeon, or from wherever laptops are sold. Available at Drafthouse or on iTunes. Of course, there’s also some theater options, if you’re into that whole sociability “thing.” The DVD hits August 13.

Mr. Angel

(review here; interviews here and here)

Okay, so it might be hard for me to separate the movie from how much I enjoy Buck Angel as a person, but I still think the film has some important things to say about acceptance. It’s not the usual thing we’re used to seeing. We get so used to fighting the goddamn culture wars over and over that we can forget that the ultimate goal is a peace accord. Mr. Angel, in the relationship between porn’s infamous “man with a pussy” and his father, basically gives us the blueprint for how to do that. I looked around during my screening at SXSW and didn’t see a dry eye in the place. Not one.

Where can I see it?

Right now, it’s currently making the rounds at LGBT film festivals, which is good that it’s getting more exposure, but also disappointing in that it’s important that it also gets out to the mainstream, where your weird aunt and your neighbor six-pack Tony can see it, because they probably need to more. No schedule for a DVD or VOD release yet, but I’ll keep you posted. (Sorry, I promise it’s almost as much of a bummer to recommend movies you can’t see yet for me, as it is for you).

The Crash Reel

Lucy Walker’s documentary on snowboarder Kevin Pearce already premiered on HBO, so chances are you’ve already seen it, but if not, set your damned DVR/HBO Go right now. I was as interested in Pearce’s story as I was in his strangely articulate brother with Down Syndrome. The kid was more introspective and insightful than most non-Downs people I know, and it kind of screwed me up, actually. It’s a movie that stays with you for a variety of reasons, and a rare documentary that’s as visually stylish as it is thematically compelling. Plus, Walker does such an incredibly subtle job of making Shaun White look like kind of a prick.

Where can I see it?

On HBO. Otherwise, it’ll be available on DVD and VOD in “early 2014,” according to their website.

Act of Killing

(interview here)

There isn’t much I can say about Act of Killing that hasn’t already been said. When the two best documentary makers in the world, Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, both agree to come on as executive producers, you know it’s pretty good. Herzog called it “unprecedented in the history of cinema.” He would know better than me, but I can’t say as I disagree. Errol Morris wrote a 7,000-word essay about the events covered in the movie for Slate. Look, just see it.

Where can I see it?

So far, just New York, LA, and DC. But it’s expanding into other markets all through August, and will hopefully be available on DVD and VOD after that.

So there it is, my admittedly not-even-remotely complete list. I asked my friend Christopher Campbell, who writes the documentarychannel blog, for some recommendations, and he threw out The Stories We Tell, Vivan las Antipodas, Leviathan, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough, This Ain’t California and 20 Feet from Stardom. Maybe we can discover those together. And of course I’m pretty excited for that one about the dancing dogs, and the Eddie Pepitone doc.