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Good Documentaries (2005-10): All the World’s A Stage

Michael Taylor itcherThe mid-00’s was a booming time for documentary filmmakers, with films like ‘Man on Wire’, ‘Best Worst Movie’ and ‘The Aristocrats’ focusing on our need for artistic performances from all walks of life and the fascination that they hold on our imagination. ~ Michael Taylor

Big Laughs and Tense Gasps…

The mid 2000’s were a time of uncertainty worldwide, with the continuing upheaval of two world wars and the great financial collapse. However, there was also excitement in the air: Barack Obama’s 2008 election brought a sense of much-needed change in America, which spread a sense of optimism around the world.

But there was still great division, acts of senseless violence, and a general sense of unstableness, all of which was reflected in popular culture, in particular the documentary.

That’s not to say every documentary was focused on the dour matters of the day, others chose unique individuals, odd traditions and amazing feats of ingenuity to explore, which is the type of documentaries we’ll be exploring below:

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Unforgettable Documentary Movie Recommendations…

‘The Aristocrats’ (Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza, 2005)

Some jokes aren’t just about the punch line, but about a comedian’s way to set it up, to capture an audience while telling a story.

That’s the biggest takeaway from the documentary ‘The Aristocrats,’ which focuses on how a bevy of comedians approach an old joke that’s been around since the Vaudeville era.

The key to the joke is its obscenity, and how comedians like Gilbert Gottfried, Lewis Black, Margaret Cho and the late George Carlin (to name but a few featured in the all-star cast) add their own unique and colorful stamp to one of the most depraved staples in stand-up comedy.

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‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey’ (Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen and Jessica Wise, 2005)

Heavy Metal is a genre that you either get or you don’t, and for the uninitiated, it can prove an intimidating and confusing sub-culture.

But anthropologist, filmmaker and narrator Sam Dunn makes a passionate and well-detailed case for the aggressive art form in ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey’, which traces the earliest strains of the medium along with every conceivable sub-genre that has sprouted over the years.

Featuring interviews with icons of the genre as well as passionate fans, it’s one of the most engaging docs ever made about a musical movement and lifestyle.

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‘The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters’ (Seth Gordon, 2007)

When one thinks of 1980’s arcade games, it conjures a sense of childhood, carefree nostalgia, pumping quarter after quarter in your favorite game.

But as the documentary ‘The King of Kong’ illustrates, it’s not a simple diversion for competitive gamers like Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, two bitter rivals jockeying for the top score in Donkey Kong.

Pitting the down-on-his-luck Wiebe with the cocky and arrogant Mitchell makes for surprisingly intense drama as well as awkward comedy, making ‘Kong’ one of the most unforgettable documentaries of the 21st century.

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‘Man on Wire’ (James Marsh, 2008)

A documentary staged with all the intensity of a heist film, ‘Man on Wire’ tells the strange but true tale of Philippe Petit, a French tightrope walker with a seemingly impossible dream (to walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center).

But thanks to his training and the scheming of his group of collaborators, he sets out to achieve the gut-churning task. But can he survive what appears to the average person as a death wish.

Marsh’s expert filmmaking makes ‘Man on Wire’ a visceral and emotional experience, showing the World Trade Center in all its glory during a kindler, simpler time. Add in Petit’s larger than life persona and you have a near-flawless film that’s far superior to the biopic adaptation ‘The Walk’ by director Bob Zemeckis.

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‘Best Worst Movie’ (Michael Stephenson, 2009)

Most diehard fans of horror readily admit that a bad horror movie can often be just as (if not more so) enjoyable than a well-crafted film.

And that’s the subject behind ‘Best Worst Movie,’ a documentary exploring the legacy of ‘Troll 2,’ considered one of the worst horror movies of all time.

Cast member Michael Stephenson revisits the 1989 film that he performed in as child, reconnecting with cast and crew, while also engaging in the film’s rabid fan base, adding up to one of the best documentaries ever made about a horrible film. And the bizarre behind-the-scenes revelations often rival the inherent weirdness of the horror film it investigates.

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Captivating Slices of Life…

By decade’s end, the documentary was as popular as ever thanks to streaming services like YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime, giving the genre wider exposure to audiences than ever before.

Plus the advent of modern technology meant that almost anyone with a smartphone or digital video camera could get in on the ground floor, leading to even more exciting possibilities, so check back soon when I’ll be covering good docs from 2010-2015, and be sure to review my honorable mentions below.

Honorable Mentions: ‘Sicko,’ ‘Capitalism: A Love Story,’ ‘It Might Get Loud,’ ‘Anvil: The Story of Anvil,’ ‘Food Inc.,’ ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ ‘Religulous,’ ‘The Wrecking Crew,’ ‘Grizzly Man,’ ‘Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,’ ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston’

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