I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro

Directed by Raoul Peck

2016

I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. The film is visually engaging, but occasionally cluttered. I Am Not Your Negro is a detailed, thoughtful, and forceful exploration of American racism.

Would see.

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The September Issue

The September Issue

Directed by R.J. Cutler

2009

The September Issue is a documentary that follows Anna Wintour and her staff during the production of the September 2007 issue of Vogue. The September Issue avoids not only difficult questions about the fashion industry, Vogue, and Anna Wintour, it fails to meaningfully engage with any meaningful questions about life or art at all. The September Issue is adequately made and often amusing, but is ultimately void of any true meaning.

Would not see.

Citizenfour

Citizenfour

Directed by Laura Poitras

2014

Citizenfour is a documentary about Edward Snowden and the NSA spying scandal. The film makes limited use of the medium, but it’s still entertaining. Some of the scenes drag on too long and the movie veers close to agitprop at times, but Citizenfour is ultimately engaging and informative.

Would see.

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Directed by Werner Herzog

2016

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World is a documentary about modern technology. Ambitious in scope, Lo and Behold is also ambitious in style and substance. It is the rare informational documentary that would not be similarly successful in a different medium. Werner Herzog’s frequent and distinctive narration guides a film that is not soon forgotten.

Must see.

Dont Look Back

Dont Look Back

Directed by D. A. Pennebaker

1967

Dont Look Back is a documentary that covers Bob Dylan’s 1965 concert tour in England. The music is predictably virtuosic; Dylan’s interviews with the press are standoffish, but entertaining and subtly revealing; and the film has a naturalism and unforced pace well-suited to its subject. Dont Look Back‘s freeform aimlessness, however, though apt for its milieu, causes the film to drag by its end.

Would see.

Ricki’s Promise

Ricki’s Promise

Directed by Changfu Chang

2014

Ricki’s Promise is a documentary that follows an 18-year-old adoptee from the United States visiting her birth family in China for a summer. The film is thoughtful in its consideration of identity, but carless in its consideration of style and structure. Ricki’s Promise is informative and even moving, but it struggles to be good film.

Would see.

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

Directed by Errol Morris

2003

The Fog of War is a documentary about, and largely and interview with, Robert S. McNamara. The film’s structure is innovative and effective, the music by Philip Glass is excellent, and McNamara is eloquent, fascinating, and hard to place. The Fog of War is the rare documentary exceptional in both substance and style. It is an entertaining film with rare insight.

Must see.

Hitchcock/Truffaut

Hitchcock/Truffaut

Directed by Kent Jones

2015

Hitchcock/Truffaut is a documentary about the eponymous 1966 book by the French director François Truffaut on the British director Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock/Truffaut is aimless, boring, and seemingly bored. About the liveliness of an interview between two directors, the film is, strangely, largely filled with talking heads. Hitchcock/Truffaut not only fails to live up to the films of either director, it fails to be either original or entertaining.

Would not see.

The Art of the Steal

The Art of the Steal

Directed by Don Argott

2009

The Art of the Steal is a documentary about, and against, the controversial relocation of the Barnes Foundation, a valuable collection of post-Impressionist art. The film is informative, engaging, and opinionated, although it’s sharp criticisms turn into dull repetition and agitprop as the film wears on.

Would see.

Best of Enemies

Best of Enemies

Directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon

2015

Best of Enemies is a documentary about the 1968 debates between William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal. Though both viewable and illuminating, Best of Enemies moves, at times, too fast for all of the ideas to land.

Would see.