What makes a good D? Length matters not. I should probably clarify that this is an ode “To All The Documentaries I’ve Loved Before”. Get your minds out of the gutter, people!
So what do I love in a good documentary? Basically, anything that’s mind-blowing and impactful – whether stylistically or thematically. If it makes me roll around in the middle of the night questioning life, then it’s doing its job right. Now, before we begin, I thought I’d start off with a list of documentaries I tend to stray away from:
- True crime documentaries – a can of worms for another time
- Documentaries that came out before the 90’s
- Serials (Too much commitment. Ain’t nobody got time for that.)
- Anything depressing. Just go watch The Notebook or read the newspaper.
Alright, now that that’s sorted, let’s get going!
1. Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999)
Dir. Errol Morris
“…And that was an act of criminal simplicity. He had no idea of what he was blundering into. He wasn’t putting his name on the line because he had no name. He came from nowhere, and he went back to nowhere. “
Do you have that ONE person in your life that’s ruined everything for everyone? Well, this film’s subject is about such a person.
Fred A. Leuchter is a quiet, meek execution technician who somehow manages to become a celebrity in a Holocaust denier’s circle. How? You’ll need to watch to find out. Without getting into too much detail, this documentary basically needs to be certified with a facepalm emoji. The director, Errol Morris, has a knack for allowing his subjects to come out of their shells from an unbiased standpoint. So it’s an experience for the audience – a fun, infuriating experience wrapped in a friendly yet evil face, that is.
What else to watch if you like this: Errol Morris’ entire filmography, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
2. Man On Wire (2008)
Dir. James Marsh
Crafted like a good noir heist movie of the yester-years, this film recounts Philippe Petit’s illegal high-wire walk between the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers in 1974. A bunch of rag-tag criminals armed with an abundance of gleeful charm and free-spirit will steal our hearts and make us root for their attempts at evading the law, leaving us gasping at their near-captures.
P/S: This documentary received a Hollywood makeover in the 2015 film The Walk, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Do. Not. Watch. That.
What else to watch if you like this: The Imposter, Grizzly Man
3. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness | 夢と狂気の王国 (2013)
Dir. Mami Sunada
Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of the legendary Studio Ghibli? Beyond the sugar, spice, and everything nice vibe that the film brings, it’s a stress grind of men vs deadline. A daily poetic horror we all relate to.
This film follows the people behind Studio Ghibli over the course of one year, as they work on releasing two films simultaneously: Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises and Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Look out for cameos of long-time Studio Ghibli collaborators such as composer Joe Hisaishi and Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s director, Hideaki Kanno, and a glimpse of the hermit filmmaker, Isao Takahata himself.
Here, have a taste of my favourite parts of the documentary:
What else to watch if you like this: Studio Ghibli films, making-of videos on YouTube, this video of Hayao Miyazaki cooking ramen for his staff, Urasawa Naoki no Manben | 浦沢直樹の漫勉
4. The Search for General Tso (2014)
Dir. Ian Cheney
I LOVE food documentaries. Love. Adore. It breaks my heart to make ONE choice for this category, cause it’s akin to choosing my favourite child. So in the end, I chose The Search for General Tso because of this glorious spiel:
“I think in America, there is a downward appreciation of Chinese food. If you want French food, you have a lot of labour, and you can charge for it. Chinese food is a lot of labour, but they can’t get away with charging a lot of money. So that is a question of attitude… Cultural attitude, the perception of China as a place… their currency worth nothing… their labour worth nothing…”
This film explores the cultural connotation and decades of racial discrimination wrapped in a bastardised Asian-American dish. But.. is General Tso truly an Asian-American dish? Watch to find out!
What else to watch if you like this: Kings of Pastry, Ugly Delicious , Jiro Dreams of Sushi, A Bite of China | 舌尖上的中国, Chef’s Table
5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)
Dir. Morgan Neville
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.””
A biographical documentary often runs the risk of not being relatable to the global audience, especially when the subject is a niche American icon that means nothing to Malaysians. However, that’s not a problem for this film that delves into the life and guiding philosophy of Fred Rogers, the host and creator of a kid’s programme, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. A show that remarkably never shies away from tough subjects such as war and racism, despite it running during the 70’s, with kids being its target audience.
This film will warm the cockles of your soul, like a hot cup of Milo on a gloomy morning. So watch it if you want to believe in humanity and everything good and wholesome in life.
What else to watch if you like this: Searching for Sugar Man, What Happened, Miss Simone?
And that’s all! Give these documentaries a watch, or not. Your call. Until then, sayonara bitches! *mic drop*
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors on this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of C27, our CEO, the management, the fish in our fish tank, and/or all the awesome people within the agency. The content and opinions shared are the personal views of the author so please don’t sue us.
…or the author.
Grace’s happy thoughts usually include darkness, death, and destruction. And sometimes food.