10. Listen To Me Marlon, 2015, Stevan Riley
This recent release draws from the many hundreds of hours of tape recordings that Marlon Brando made during his life, obsessively recording his private thoughts on acting, Hollywood and – more than that – his search for the meaning of life. Hearing the voice of this most iconic of actors once more is an unexpected gift and utterly spellbinding.
9. Bowling for Columbine, 2002, Michael Moore
Arguably the highest profile documentary filmmaker of his generation, Moore first came to prominence with the brilliant Roger & Me and the groundbreaking television show TV Nation. Many successes followed, but it is perhaps Bowling For Columbine, about the Columbine High School massacre, that shows him at his most impassioned with a subject that is sadly just as relevant today.
8. Dont Look Back, 1967, D.A. Pennebaker
The film documents Dylan’s 1965 tour of England and the moment when he graduated from a great songwriter to a genuine cultural icon, offering an intriguing glimpse of his charismatic aura, but also quixotic and contrary nature. Dont Look Back confirmed director Pennebaker’s original cinematic vision, mixing documentary with experimental film techniques.
7. Crumb, 1994, Terry Zwigoff
Robert Crumb is renowned as the cartoonist and artist whose works immortalised the underground counterculture era of the late 1960s. As bizarre as Crumb’s work often is, Zwigoff’s landmark documentary – which took over nine years to make – provides a fascinating picture of the man, his eccentricities and obsessions, so much so that Crumb’s vision begins to make a certain sense.
6. Hoop Dreams, 1994, Steve James
This story of two African-American teenagers aspiring to become professional basketball players fascinates from start to finish, and is about so much more than ‘just’ basketball. The great movie critic Roger Ebert considered it “one of the best films about American life that I have ever seen.” Its inexplicable failure to earn an Oscar nomination led to changes in how the documentary category was judged.
5. Buena Vista Social Club, 1999, Wim Wenders
The music, the atmosphere, the echoes of a lost era and even a lost generation… The ingredients that make Buena Vista so powerful are immediate and transfixing, hypnotising legions of film (and music) fans. With the continued thawing in Cuban-American relations, there has never been a better time to visit the Pearl of the Antilles – or to catch up on this classic documentary.
4. Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, 1991, Eleanor Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola, still reeling from the emotional roller coaster of shooting Apocalypse Now, famously said that it wasn’t about the Vietnam War – it was the Vietnam War. As crazy as that sounded, after a few minutes of watching Hearts of Darkness, directed by Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, you understand exactly what he meant. A shockingly powerful cinematic experience.
3. Super Size Me, 2004, Morgan Spurlock
The premise of this film is a simple one: what would happen if someone decided to only eat food from a well-known fast food chain for one month? The results are hilarious and horrifying in equal measure. Alarmingly, Spurlock took over a year to lose the weight he gained, but his film did more to promote a healthy, balanced diet than a million health advisory warnings could ever do.
2. Amy, 2015, Asif Kapadia
Amy Winehouse died in 2011 at the age of 27. The great triumph of Asif Kapadia’s film, that deservedly won the Oscar for best documentary feature, is that it gives the viewer a unique insight into the astonishing woman behind the headlines and beyond the scandals. In so doing, he reminds us not just of what Amy could have been had she lived, but more importantly who she was. This is the film she deserved.
1. When We Were Kings, 1995, Leon Gast/Taylor Hackford
Inspiring, emotional, uplifting… The film, which took Leon Gast 22 years to complete, continues to inspire an endless list of superlatives with its depiction of the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between heavyweight champion George Foreman and challenger Muhammad Ali. The clash defined an era and provided the uniquely charismatic Ali with his ultimate pugilistic challenge. Is this the greatest ever documentary film? Possibly. Was Ali ‘The Greatest Of All Times’? Without a doubt.
Article by James Lee-Tullis
Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali, Amy Winehouse, Marlon Brando… Sometimes the greatest stars inspire the greatest documentary films, but do you agree with our final choice? What's your greatest ever documentary movie?