Without any throat clearing about how this was yet another great year for docs — which it was, by the way — I present my favorite nonfiction films of 2014:
11. Concerning Violence
This one goes to 11! This archival documentary is like a semiotics textbook come to life. Swedish director Göran Hugo Olsson blends an early 1960s anti-colonial text of Frantz Fanon with striking visual imagery in a pastiche essay on the plight of the third world. Not everyone’s cup of tea but it hit the spot for me.
10. The Great Invisible
What I love about this film about the Deepwater Horizon spill is that it does everything a good documentary should. It’s got a well-crafted storyline, compelling characters, solid editing, riveting cinematography and, at its core, there is an intricate story of injustice and humanity.
This funny little art film that places a camera in a gondola in Nepal and just passively shows various riders taking the journey back and forth has stuck with me all year. It’s more of an installation piece than doc, and I appreciate the fact that the documentary world has expanded enough to give it some play so that sheep, or goats (see the movie and you’ll understand), like me can take a different kind of ride for a change.
8. 20, 000 Days on Earth
I stand by the label of the hybrid documentary for those nonfiction films that have so many narrative feature elements that they just can’t simply be called documentaries. This depiction of a day in the life of Nick Cave, an Australian singer whom I’ve never really appreciated, is a performance piece. But it’s also very real. It changed my view of Cave, and that’s something I can really appreciate.
7. 112 Weddings
There’s a deceptive ease to this HBO documentary directed by Doug Block, in which he revisits couples whose weddings he shot as a videographer. But don’t be fooled, Block is a master of the family dynamic — he gets to what makes a marriage work and not work, like few others have.
6. Ne Me Quitte Pas
This may be a controversial pick for some, a no-brainer for others. This Belgian tale of two messed up drunks has an inevitable voyeuristic quality that can be discomfiting — the two subjects, Bob and Marcel, desperately need help and we, along with the filmmakers, just watch them puke their way toward oblivion — but I was engrossed and moved.
5. Particle Fever
A scintillating documentary about science? And not just that, but about the obscure realm of particle physics? This underappreciated film achieves the nearly impossible with great storytelling and top-notch animation.