We’ll get to my top ten lists later this week, but first I thought we should take a look at the incredibly deep documentary class of 2006.
2005 was a struggle to find one great documentary worthy of recognition. 2006, however, was a year where serious and humorous, personal and emotional, life-changing and planet-altering, themes would be discussed and brought to light in the dim cinemas and art houses all across America. Any one of these fine films in a normal year could be considered a winner. Expect to find a couple of these later this week on my top ten list of all films from this last year (can you guess which ones?).
Here’s the list which includes a look at politics and censorship, crossword puzzles, free speech, the first great American soccer team, global warming, the MPAA, the “dirtiest” word in the Ameican lexiconan, government policy, and the electric car.
A politician and a slide show. Doesn’t that sound exciting? Al Gore’s life-long mission to bring the troubling and inconvenient truth about Global Warming to the country, and the world, is the focus of this intelligent, engaging, and overwhelming documentary. Gore’s brillance here is he doesn’t grandstand, he doesn’t attack, and he doesn’t make it a political issue. As the former VP puts it, it’s a moral issue. The presentation is step-by-step, with charts and photographs, discussing the the data from the leading scientists of the field. The result is a little frightening, but not too much so as Gore isn’t out to scare us but instead to warn and show that we currently have it within our power to stop the many ill-effects of this problem on the tiny spec we call home. It is a warning and a message of hope. More than anything else it is a call to action to a country who is still ignoring the problem. Now available on DVD.
Why is America losing the drug war? How did the sleepy retirement town of Miami become a drug capital by the early 1980’s? The answer is simple really. Money. Cocaine Cowboys investigates the drug business in the 70’s and 80’s by talking with those who knew the real story – the drug dealers and suppliers themselves. The numbers the film mentions will make your head spin, as will the stories the dealers tell about having so much extra cash they burried large collections in their backyards. The film also looks at the violence that caught the nation by storm and brought down the full force of the US Government’s justice down on drugs. Entertaining, sometimes humorous and sometimes deeply sad, Cocaine Cowboys works well examining a short period in time which lasting effects can be felt today. It’s what you want from a historical perspecitve in that it educates and entertains. Available on DVD Jan. 23.
It’s not an acromyn, despite what you might have heard, but where did it come from? A group consisting of liberals, conservatives like Alan Keyes, linguists, porn stars, writers like Hunter S. Thompson, producers, comedians like Janeane Garofalo, Billy Connolly, Drew Carey and Bill Maher, directors like Kevin Smith, radio talk show hosts, musicians like Alanis Morisette and Ice-T, newsmen, and Miss Manners, gather together to discuss the “dirtiest” word ever. These short quips are mixed with humorous animation, and countless clips, to make an entertaining look at the word everyone uses, but many think others shouldn’t. From a definition of the bird to a discussion of politics and censorship, an examination of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, and the change in culture over time in film and television. Not as funny as last year’s The Aristocrats, but well put together, entertaining, informative, and pretty fucking good. Available on DVD Feb. 13.
Many of the documentaries on this list are designed around specific issues, but here’s one about people. Heart of the Game examines a girls high school basketball team in Seattle, their unorthodox coach, Bill Resler, who teaches his students unity and teamwork through some unusual coaching styles. The film follows the program for seven years taking a peek at Resler and the Roosevelt Roughriders, focusing on two specific students in general, and the entire team’s struggle and growth as well. Documentary footage and interviews over this entire period of time are put together to allow you to watch and learn as the coach and team learn from each other and face adversity along the way. Inspirational without shying away from the tough issues and stuggles the players and team go through over time. The DVD won’t be released until Feb. 27.
Do you remember the New York Cosmos? For a short time in the 1970’s this soccer team ruled the United States and brought Americans to the cusp of nationally and collectively accepting soccer as one of its national pasttimes. What happened? How did they get there and how did it all fall apart? What’s the lasting legacy of the Cosmos and those who were involved? This documentary examines those questions and more as it looks back a period when soccer took this nation by storm. With interviews from former players and coaches, historians, announcers, and men behind the scenes with the team and league, the film follows the creation of the NASL, the arrival of Pele, the glory days (and late nights) of the Cosmos, and how the weight of it all came crashing down. A must-see for soccer fans, but anyone (even those of us not mesmerized by the sport) will find much to enjoy. It’s currently available on DVD.
“Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” One sentence turned the world upside down, and this is the story of what happened next. Shut Up and Sing started out as a documentary on the Dixie Chicks tour, but after the comment their world, and the documentary, became something much more interesting. The film follows the three strong women over the course of three tumultous years as they deal with the backlash from lead singer Natalie Maines’ comment in a London auditorium. It launched a debate in this country on free speech and the right and responsibility of a celebrity to speak out on political and world views. Unapoligetic, hurt, and still angry at those that abandoned them, the Chicks fought against the notion that women are better seen and not heard. This is their story, and it’s worth hearing. Still playing in select theaters.
Do you ever wonder what makes one film get an R-rating and another film get a PG-13? Why are some films given an NC-17? Why are others released Unrated? Do you ever wonder who decides the ratings and what criteria they use? Documentarian Kirby Dick wondered and set-out to answer those questions in this examination of the MPAA and the rating process. The documentary includes a look at descrepincies in the system, inaccuracies, and problems inherint in the system. It also includes Dick hiring a private investigator to uncover the hidden identities of the MPAA film ratings board. It gets a little too cute at times, but also presents some compelling evidence that the current rating system has more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese, a decidedly Chritain agenda, and remains the only secret agency of its kind in any country. It will be released on DVD Jan. 23.
The Dixie Chicks weren’t the first musicians to go toe-to-toe with the U.S. Govenment over war. John Lennon was a god, rock royalty, a freakin’ Beattle for cris’sake, and he didn’t like the United States involvement in Vietnam and decided to be quite vocal about it. You probably know all this, but do you know the lengths the U.S. Government went to try and silence this musician who they were deathly afraid of? Filled with good music, and even better ideas, the documentary is a lasting reminder of John Lennon and the ideals he stood for (we could sure use him today!!). For those who don’t know the story it will open your eyes, and for those former flower children now tugging the Republican line on Iraq, here’s a look back at a past worth remembering. The DVD will be released on Feb. 13.
Did you know 10 years ago General Motors producd electric cars in California that were 100% enviornmentally free and ran without any gasoline? Did you know that those chosen for the pilot program loved their cars and thought it was the best vehicle they ever drove? Did you know the cars were collected and destroyed by GM to make way for the Hummer? If you don’t know this tale, and even if you do, this is the film for you. The documentary looks at this remarkable American engineering tale of a revolutionary automobile that was so good it had to be destroyed. Who killed the electric car? The film comes up with many suspects. There are two things I realized after watching the film. The first is we’ve got to get the oil lobby away from automobile protypes, and the second is those electric cars were damn cool and I want one! Now available on DVD.
People who do the New York Times Crossword are an entertaining bunch. Wordplay focuses on three different groups. The first group are those who create the crossword puzzles as they explain how it is done and the rules governing them (rules to make crossword puzzles, who knew?). The second part of the documentary includes interviews with celebrities talking about and working on the New York Times Crossword including Jon Stewart and former President Bill Clinton. The final part of the documentary focuses on the die-hard fans who compete yearly in a contest to crown a crossoword champion every year. It’s a film about people who spend their free time working and playing in an intellectual pursuit, and it celebrates the fact rather than ridicule it. Are we sure this was made by Americans? Of all the documentaries on this list it’s the most heart-warming of the bunch. Now available on DVD.