I have exquisite taste in documentaries. Here's a list of my favorites...

My Flesh and Blood

This documentary follows Susan Tom and her 11 adopted children, all of whom have either a physical or mental disability, for a year at their home in Fairfield, CA. I fell in love with this family. The part of this movie that stuck with me most was when Susan was describing how she decides what children to adopt. She said that she "doesn't pick just any child" and that the children she picks are her children, with all their faults and foibles, they are hers.


At one point in my life I was so cheap...or so broke (probably both), yet SO in love with this movie that instead of purchasing the DVD,  I received it from Netflix and sat my video camera in front of the TV and recorded it while it was playing...thinking I would later burn a DVD of this bootleg. Years later I wised up and bought it. When it came time to edit "eXtreme, Loyal, Victorious" I watched this film to get ideas about how to structure it because Spellbound is similar in that it contains several portraits of individuals while on a journey towards an end.

The Big One - Michael Moore (1997)

I like all of Michael Moore's documentaries. I'm iffy on him as a person, but he makes great movies. As a lover-of-docs, I'm grateful to him because he helped bring documentaries into our modern day mainstream pop culture. I love all of his movies close to equal, but his first doc, Roger and Me (1989), and The Big One (1997) are my two favorites because of when they were made. He was talking about corporate greed and corruption long before it was a hot topic. If I MUST choose, which I'm making myself do... I like The Big One the most because of how absolutely freakin' hilarious it is. It's not "funny for a documentary", it's laugh out loud oh my god that is so funny, kind of funny. The storyline: Michael sets on a mission to confront CEOs and get answers as to why their profits are through the roof, while they are laying off American workers and moving jobs to Mexico and overseas. The whole thing is threaded with humor, love it.


I must also give props to Sicko. As I said, all of Michael Moore's films are amazing, but Sicko happens to surround the political issue that I'm most concerned about.

Bowling for Columbine

Ok fine just ONE MORE Michael Moore film. I can't not include Bowling for Coumbine on my list without feeling like I've wronged my list for not including it. Bowling for Columbine was actually the first Michael Moore film I ever saw. Freshman year of college, English class, 2004. It was a rainy Wednesday afternoon....ok just kidding. We read the book The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Barry Glassner and because Barry Glassner is interviewed by Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine and because his book holds similar thinking to B. for C., we ended up watching the movie in class. It may or may not actually be a better film than Moore's other gems, Capitalism: A Love Story or Fahrenheit 9/11, but it gets an extra nudge to the top for sentimentality.

American Movie

Since we're on the track of sentimentality...that is, unless you didn't read the blurb from Bowling for Columbine above, then you are not on the track so I must now formally welcome you to Sentimentaliville! American Movie is the documentary that my friend Tim Hansen introduced to me that really began my obsession, love, and undying passion for documentaries. American Movie was credited by the New York Times as one of the best 1,000 movies all time and credited by the International Documentary Association as one of the top 20 documentaries of all time. What was extra awesome for me was that I was attending film school at UW-Milwaukee at the time that I saw this movie. That is extra awesome because some of the film was shot on UWM's campus. That's right I cut 16mm in the same class room as Mark Borchardt. And yeah, I'm friends with Mike Schank on Facebook, what of it?!! And yes, my friend Miles Fox did car mechanic stuff to Chris Smith's car. Sigh. That circa of time was my documentary lovin' hay day. 'Twas 19 years old. I have 7 years of documentary fanaticism under my belt at this point. That's 49 in dog years. 49 Up is a documentary that should have been a lot more interesting than it was. I was going to put a link to 49 Up's trailer right there, but that would be bringing you one more step closer towards something that you need not go a step further towards. Really, it's pretty stale. Go watch American Movie instead!

Home Movie

Home Movie was Chris Smith's follow up to American Movie. I turned to Home Movie when I was brainstorming ideas for structuring "eXtreme, Loyal, Victorious." Most of what I learned about documentary film making in general I learned from paying close attention to the technical details in my favorite documentaries. I'd watch them once for pleasure, watch them again with the commentary on, then watch them again and would pay attention to what technical details I liked and what made them technically successful.


I half like how this film was marketed, half not. I like that the "don't tell anyone how it ends!" was a thing. But the trailer hints at some sort of horror movie ending, which is not true at all. But it is twisted. Really unlike anything you've ever seen. I would put it in the "must see" category.

The Cove

Did you know that Flipper killed himself? That was one of the fun facts I learned from this film that I like to throw out there to people when I see a window of opportunity. The soundtrack to the trailer bugs me... it gives it some "sensational adrenaline adventure film" vibe that doesn't really hold true in the actual movie, I think it's better than a sensational adrenaline adventure film. It's deep and revealing. And devastating. It earned it's 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Exit Through The Gift Shop

I hold this one dear to my heart. Besides it just being indescribably awesome and very deserving of it's Oscar nomination for Best Documentary in 2011, one of my mentors Jerry Henry was a camera operator for this film, so this one gets put it my aforementioned sentimental category as well. Jerry Henry was shooting his own documentary about my friend Tim Hansen in 2005 and I got to know Jerry and he's been my go-to guy for advice when it came to what equipment to buy, how to shoot in certain scenarios, and for pretty much everything doc related. He borrowed me his personal on-camera light for the entire time I was shooting "eXtreme, Loyal, Victorious." He would always answer my e-mails and calls and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Sentimental bias aside, this movie is brilliant. Inside Job went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2011 instead of Gift Shop and I have since held personal protest by never watching Inside Job.


Speaking of the 2011 Academy Awards, or not, if you weren't reading the above post, Restrepo was also nominated that year. I thought Exit Through The Gift Shop was bringing it home for sure, but then I streamed Restrepo and thought "Jeepers that was an equally amazing doc." What I liked about it most were two things: One being, it actually made me realize a soldiers' perspective to want to kill the enemy. The enemy was killing their friends and they were angry and vengeful. I don't personally get violence or war, but this film made me at least understand how soldiers build their mentality. Also, those film makers were risking their lives for the sake of making the doc. It must have only been within months of the Oscars, Restrepo Director Tim Hetherington died while working in Libya.

30 Days

For the life of me I can't find a Youtube video link to Morgan Spurlock's "30 Days" and this makes me sad because it is my favorite of Morgan Spurlock's projects. Morgan Spurlock executes those "I wonder what it would be like if..." thoughts that I think many people have. 30 Days is a simple premise: A person walks in another person's shoes for 30 days. Some episodes include living as a Muslim, living on minimum wage, living off the grid, and a few others. Sadly, this series was cancelled and there are only a handful and a half of episodes available. Still, it's my favorite Morgan Spurlock endeavor and I would highly recommend going to Netflix and streaming it online.

The Way We Get By

This is actually my most recently watched documentary that I fell in love with. It tells the story of 3 elderly people living in Bangor, Maine (where a large number of U.S. troops fly in) that are loyal to welcoming home every soldier. It doesn't matter what time of night or day the troops come home, they are dedicated to welcome everyone with a handshake. Besides communicating the main theme of loyalty and patriotism, it also delves more personally into the main characters lives (Bill, Joan, and Jerry) and each of their stories also reflect on what it is like to become old. The cinematography is beautiful, the stories are beautiful, I would consider this a must-see.