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50 Documentaries (Among Others) to See Before You Die


The 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die series on Current TV has generated a fair amount of controversy... nothing on the list predates 1988, and it's heavy on English-language films, for example. I have posted the list here with links to the NYPL BiblioCommons catalog so that you can read descriptions and put any of the DVDs on hold.

I didn't watch the series (I don't get this channel) but I know I am not alone in thinking WHERE IS GREY GARDENS?! What is your favorite documentary film? How many of these have you seen? What is missing from this list?

  1. Hoop Dreams (1994)
  2. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
  3. Roger & Me (1989)
  4. Waltz With Bashir (2008)
  5. Supersize Me (2004)
  6. The War Room (1993)
  7. The Celluloid Closet (1995)
  8. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
  9. Trouble the Water (2008)
  10. Grizzly Man (2005)
  11. Paris Is Burning (1991)
  12. Bowling for Columbine (2002)
  13. The Fog of War (2003)
  14. Dark Days (2000)
  15. Crumb (1994)
  16. Bus 174 (2002)
  17. Street Fight (2005)
  18. Food, Inc. (2008)
  19. Touching the Void (2003)
  20. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
  21. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
  22. Shut Up & Sing (2006)
  23. The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000)
  24. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) (see Marie's blog post about the WM3)
  25. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
  26. Murderball (2005)
  27. Tarnation (2003)
  28. Gasland (2010)
  29. Man on Wire (2008)
  30. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
  31. Jesus Camp (2006)
  32. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
  33. Tongues Untied (1989)
  34. Brother’s Keeper (1992)
  35. Paragraph 175 (2000)
  36. Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)
  37. Inside Job (2010)
  38. March of the Penguins (2005)
  39. Biggie & Tupac (2002)
  40. When We Were Kings (1996)
  41. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
  42. Catfish (2010)
  43. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
  44. Burma VJ (2008)
  45. The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
  46. Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1998)
  47. One Day in September (1999)
  48. The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
  49. Truth or Dare (1991)
  50. Spellbound (2002)


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My Favorite Documentaries

These are several of my favorite documentaries: Mad Hot Ballroom, 2005, which tells the true story of how ballroom dancing became part of the New York City Public School Curriculum. You will just love these kids. Nine Good Teeth. 2004, is another one of my favorite documentaries. It is a documentary about the life of feisty Mary Mirabito Livornese Cavaliere who lived to be 108 years old. This interesting New York City resident who knew Jack Kerouac and outlived several husbands was filmed by her grandson, Alex Halpern. Just Laugh, 2009, a documentary that explores why laughing is good for what ails us in both body and spirit. All of my favorites are available through The New York Public Library.

I don't know why I haven't

I don't know why I haven't seen Mad Hot Ballroom yet... Will have to check out the other two you suggest as well. Thanks Joanne!

Sticking to the controversial post-1988 time frame...

...I'd add Dear Zachary (2008) and In the Realms of the Unreal (2004).

Interesting the heavy lean towards recent

The 2000's might not have been great for feature films, but it was pretty good for Doc's. I am surprised I have actually seen 21 of them. A great one missing is Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse. An amazing look behind the scenes of all-time great film.

One more...

"Why We Fight." Re: Military Industrial Complex.

1920's and 30's must-sees

I imagine the TruTV list was made with what films might be marketable on their TV Channel - If you're going to make a COMPLETE list, you could start with films like: "Man With a Movie Camera" - Vertov - 1929 "Nanook of the North" - Flaherty - 1922 "Triumph of the Will" - Riefenstahl - 1935 "Olympia Parts 1+2" - Riefenstahl - 1938/40 "Grass" - Cooper - 1928 (never seen this one myself!) I apologize in advance that this list contains 3/5ths Nazi or Soviet films! I'm sure I left off a bunch of others... -Mike

...Two More

Two very different kinds of films: "Young @ Heart" (2007) "Shoah" (1985)

Omitted doc

You can't do a show like this and omit Harlan County USA. Many of the docs on Spurlock's list owe so much to this pioneering film.

And another...

The War Game by Peter Watkins

This is very simple. Anyone

This is very simple. Anyone who puts not just one of Michael Moore's fact-enhanced pieces (I can't call fiction a documentary) but three of his twisted pieces on this list has zero credibility before we even start to evaluate the list. But anyone who misses Eyes on The Prize or Shoah obviously doesn't know anything about documentaries. Can I have the minute it took me to laugh at the list and write this response... back?

No, you can't have it back.

No, you can't have it back.

This list needs serious help

Man with a Movie Camera (1929), Triumph of the Will (1934), Kon-Tiki (1950), and Harlan County USA (1976).


Ken Burns?

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