Top 10 Documentaries on DVD in 2005
Call it a quick cash grab by Universal (since it is, after all), but Peter Jackson's King Kong was perhaps one of the best candidates to receive such an in-depth look at the film's production---and it was fed to the hungry masses before the film hit theaters. There's roughly four hours of stuff to dig through, balanced with fun featurettes and more technical documentaries. All things considered, it's a very interesting experiment that further blurs the line between multiplexes and the home theater experience.
Bradley Beesley's fascinating look at Oklahoma City rock group The Flaming Lips isn't just one of the better music documentaries this year, it's also one of the strangest. A sorta-ever-changing lineup of talent has graced the Lips' musical back catalogue over the years, but they've made some very interesting records---so it's good to know this one digs deep, through the bad times and the good. The optional audio commentary with the director and the band is just icing on the cake. If you liked this one, check out VOID, a compilation of their oddball music videos from 1992-2005.
With the recent onslaught of boxing films like Million Dollar Baby and Cinderella Man, there have been a few notable documentaries on the same page. The most notable is Ring of Fire, the story of Emile Griffith and his road to redemption. Griffith was the man who killed Benny "Kid" Parrett in a 1962 championship bout, resulting in the "banning" of the sport---at least on TV---for the better part of the decade. Now suffering from memory loss, Griffith seeks forgiveness from Parrett's son...and they finally meet. It's a great story about boxing, even though most of it's told outside the ring.
As much as I love The Flaming Lips---and especially since I'm not a huge fan of Metallica--I've got to give a fair shake to Some Kind of Monster, a fascinating documentary about a band that's managed to survive a lot through the years. It may not make a die-hard fan out of you (though die-hard fans should enjoy it even more), but it'll certainly earn your respect. Interviews with members past and present---sometimes in the same room, despite their obvious dislike for one another---keep the tension high throughout.
It's one of the most unlikely subjects for a documentary (quadriplegic rugby players!), and that's the reason this acclaimed film didn't sell as many tickets as that penguin film. Even so, Murderball is one of the best sports-related documentaries in recent memory, if only because what's here is relatively uncharted territory. Last year's documentary winner (My Flesh and Blood) told one story about dealing with disability. This one tells another one entirely, and the DVD's just as good.
Hotel Rwanda led the pack of films about the 1994 Rwandan massacre in most critics' eyes, but Shake Hands With The Devil earns top honors in my book. It's a highly personal documentary about Canadian Lt. General Romeo Dallaire and his struggle during the tragedy, touching on personal loss, regret and the general apathy of outside forces to step in and help. Shake Hands With The Devil is one of the most emotional accounts of the massacre on film, but gets its point across without taking the easy way out.
Rounding out the trio of music-related nominees is No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese's amazing portrait of music legend Bob Dylan. Utilizing Dylan's career twists and turns (the Newport Folk Festival, a near-fatal motorcycle accident, and more), Scorsese has painted a detailed picture that fans will really enjoy from start to finish---and even at roughly four hours in length, it never drags. The two-disc set from Paramount is light on the extras (which mainly consist of several live performances), but the film does more than enough to carry the weight of this important release.
This isn't a fully loaded set, but this trio of excellent documentaries by famed filmmaker Errol Morris still adds up to plenty of interesting entertainment. Gates of Heaven, Vernon, Florida and The Thin Blue Line are all packed tightly inside and there's not a bad one in the bunch. The first two offer an off-center look at life, love and loss, while the third is...well, just go see The Thin Blue Line and thank us later. More effort in the extras department may have placed this one even closer to the top, but it's still a fine collection.
Easily the most talked-about documentary of the year---at least during its successful theatrical release---March of the Penguins is the rare film that the whole family can enjoy. The story of emperor penguins and their trek through Antarctica is much warmer than its cold climate would have you believe, while Morgan Freeman's calm narration ties everything together perfectly. The DVD also includes a documentary by the filmmakers (shot during the difficult production), giving viewers an alternate tale of survival that helps put things in perspective.
From rags to...well, almost riches: such is the story of Arthur Agee and William Gates, two talented young inner-city basketball players with dreams of making it big. Standing in the way of these dreams were personal injury, family problems, grades and other roadblocks that 99% of viewers can relate to. It's easily one of the finest films of any genre, while the DVD is yet another fantastic package from Criterion. Among other highlights, fans are treated to a newly recorded commentary with the more mature Agee and Gates. From top to bottom, this is truly a must-own documentary.
Honorable Mention: These include (a) DVDs I've seen that almost made the cut, and (b) DVDs on my "wish list" that are highly recommended by members of the DVD Talk staff. They are as follows:
- Himalaya with Michael Palin (Review by Bill Gibron)
- Rize (Review by Bill Gibron)
- Pick Your Poison (Review by Randy Miller III)
- This Old Cub (Review by Randy Miller III)
- Born Into Brothels (Review by Jeff Paramchuk)
- American Lives (Review by John Sinnott)
For a complete list of 2005's Highly Recommended and Collector Series documentaries, click here.
Top 10 Documentary DVDs of 2003 (Article by Holly E. Ordway)
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA who also teaches an art class and works in a gallery. When he's not doing that stuff, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.