1. Hoop Dreams (1994)
This brilliant documentary follows the trials and tribulations of two inner-city youths in Chicago as they pursue a career in professional basketball. William Gates and Arthur Agee encounter highs and lows, successes and disappointments in equal measure. And we cannot help but watch it happen. It is above all a look at America and its institutions. The themes of race and class are present throughout. Hoop Dreams is just simply one of the greatest stories to be captured on film.
2. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Errol Morris’ most famous film argues the case of Randall Adams who was charged and prosecuted for the murder of a police officer in 1976. The evidence presented in Morris’ film actually got the original ruling overturned. It brilliantly recreates the events of the night of the murder like no other film since. Extremely entertaining and thought provoking, it perfectly captures the corrupt nature of the criminal justice system.
3. Waltz With Bashir (2008)
Director Ari Folman interviews his fellow Israeli war veterans in an attempt to unlock his memories of the 1982 Lebanon war. Folman’s choice to animate this film helps illuminate the characters and the stories they tell. It also has a terrific soundtrack that will stay in your head for days. Its conclusion is one of the most impactful of any film I have seen. Not to be missed for sure.
4. F For Fake (1973)
The best of Orson Welles’ later works. F For Fake tells the story of art forgerer Elmyr de Hory and his biographer Clifford Irving who also committed a ruse of his own by deliberately fabricating an autobiography of eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes. Welles tells the story with such great charisma, humour and intelligence. One of the most thoroughly entertaining documentaries I have ever seen.
5. The War Room (1993)
A engrossing look into the 1992 Clinton Presidential campaign. The story is told through the experiences of spindoctors James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as they bend the truth and manipulate their way to victory. This documentary could teach you far more about politics than four years of college. It is heralded as one of the most influential documentaries of all time.
6. The Corporation (2003)
Originally based on a book, The Corporation explores the dominant institution of our time with excellent structure and knowledge. This three-part documentary will have you looking at how corporations control modern life in ways you could not previously imagine. It includes interviews with Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Naomi Klein and many others.
7. Inside Job (2010)
An academy award winning documentary about the on-going global financial crisis. Director Charles Ferguson constructs an wonderfully crafted, engaging explanation of the factors that led to the collapse of the financial system in September 2008. Ferguson leaves no stone unturned, blaming everything from poor regulation, derivatives, executive bonuses, to the credit agencies.
8. Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)
One of the most inventive documentaries on the list. It follows the story of an eccentric Frenchmen named Thierry who sets out to find the famous graffiti artist Banksy, whose identity still remains a mystery. Banksy inturn, turns the tables and does a documentary on Thierry. Funny, full of charm and laden with interesting ideas about commercialism, conformity and popular culture.
9. No End in Sight (2007)
Charles Ferguson’s second film on the list. No End In Sight is a step-by-step look at the failures of the American occupation of Iraq. Ferguson explains comprehensively how certain decisions by the Bush administration led to the outbreak of violence and instability for years after the war ended.
10. Bowling For Columbine (2002)
Still stands as Michael Moore’s best film. Bowling For Columbine explores America’s fascination with guns and the consequences of it. Full of humour, well researched and engaging, it won Moore the oscar for Best Documentary Film. A decade later, Moore’s film continues to be relevant.
11. Senna (2010)
This film chronicles the life and times of Brazilian F1 race car driver Aryton Senna. What makes this one unique is that all the images, interviews and audio is taken from the time period with no original content. Director Asif Kapadia edited everything into a thoroughly engaging narrative. It uses the rivalry between Senna and Alain Prost as its central storyline. But it also brilliantly captures Senna’s impact on F1 racing.
12. Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (2009)
The best ‘sleeper hit’ on the list. This documentary tells the story of an unfinished film by French director Henri-Georges Clouzot. Serge Bromberg acquired some never before seen images of the film from Clouzot’s widow. Bromberg fills in missing scenes using modern actors Jacques Gamblin and Bérénice Bejo (From The Artist fame) in place of Serge Reggiani and Romy Schneider.
Honorable Mention: Restrepo (2010), Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008)