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The Top Ten Documentaries of 2012

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by Anthony Kaufman
November 28, 2012 3:04 PM
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Over at SundanceNow's Docutopia site, I've gone out on a limb with an early top ten list of the best nonfiction movies of the year. Because I think I've seen the rest of the year's prominent docs, I felt pretty confident that I could go forward with my selection. I also thought it was a good idea to post it before we all get sick of reading these things. As I wrote in the story, I think it's been a terrific year for documentaries. And I'm sure restricting the list to just ten is more a matter of convenience. Why not 20?

Some of you might notice some conspicuous absences: "Detropia" being perhaps the most obvious oversight. But ever since I saw the film at Sundance, I've been ambivalent. While I enjoyed that film's cinematography and post-apocalyptic lyricism, I felt wanting of new information about the current realities of living in Detroit. Economic collapse is nothing new, of course, and I felt the filmmakers focused on mood at the expense of journalistic inquiry. That, of course, wasn't the purpose of the film. But I think some of its focus--such as on a couple of white bourgeois artists newly encamped in the city--was a missed opportunity. I'm also ambivalent about "Only The Young," a favorite on the fest circuit that is getting released in New York next week and is a major contender at the 2013 Cinema Eye Documentary honors. Like "Detropia," the movie is shot beautifully, but substantively, I found the movie wanting. Perhaps I need to check it out again.

There were other great films that didn't make my list: Room 237 and the Marina Abramovic doc, both of which I haven't seen, and a host of honorable mentions (Bestiaire, The Central Park Five, Downeast, The Island President, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God, Scenes of a Crime, This Is Not a Film, The Waiting Room). But for one subjective reason or another, these were the ten docs that shook me up and rocked my world in the most fundamental of ways.

Here is the list, in alphabetical order. To read my descriptions, check out the story.

The Act of Killing

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
First Cousin Once Removed

Five Broken Cameras

How to Survive a Plague

The Imposter

The Law in These Parts

Planet of Snail

Searching for Sugar Man

Special Flight

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