Thursday, January 21, 2016

My 5 Favorite Documentaries from 2015

The calendar may say 2016, but the cinematic year of 2015 is finally starting to wind down. Only a few more films to see before I can finalize my top 50 films of the year list, but I am officially caught up in terms of documentaries. Therefore, a list can be made. 

All told, I watched 25 docs that were released in 2015. Here are the 5 best of the bunch.

5. Tig

A Netflix Original documentary, I was touched by the story of comedian Tig Notaro and her ability to move forward after the terrifying diagnosis of breast cancer. When she got the news, she did what she loved to do most: she performed and made people laugh, and the set she did at a Los Angeles comedy club named Largo is truly one of the bravest and most inspired moments in stand-up history.

Tons of heart, a few tears shed and a lot of laughs. I fell in love with Tig.

4. Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

Another winner from Netflix, and this one is nominated by the Academy (and for good reason). Be warned, this is not a documentary to be taken lightly. The content is hard to stomach but impossible to ignore. The cameras are right there in the middle of things during the unrest in Ukraine in 2013 and 2014 when what started as a student demonstration sparked a revolution. There is blood flowing through the streets and it is all too real, and while that may not sound fun to watch, Winter on Fire is a film that deserves to be seen.

3. The Hunting Ground

If you don't recognize the real and devastating problem going on across the United States on college campuses, you aren't paying attention. A single rape would be one too many, so the staggering numbers of such crimes is devastating and what makes matters worse is that the goal of many institutions is to sweep these cases under the rug to avoid bad publicity or to protect an athlete making a lot of money for the school. The Hunting Ground is a CNN documentary that covers this topic and allows some of the victims and/or their families to tell a story that school officials chose to ignore. 

The rape culture is horrifying, and parents deserve to know what is going on when they send their children away for an education. This is a terrific documentary that should be seen by everyone.

2. The Look of Silence

In 2013, director Joshua Oppenheimer delivered a documentary that was haunting and disturbing called The Act of Killing, a film about the Indonesian genocide that took place during the 1960's. What was completely fascinating about this documentary was that it didn't cover this topic in a traditional sense. Instead, Oppenheimer meets up with those that were responsible for so much murder at the time and asks them to reenact their mass killings in the form of mini films using whichever genre they desired. Watching these men who did such horrible things have to face their demons by "witnessing" the atrocities, even if this time it is faked, is difficult to watch but also quite eye opening. 

In 2015 Oppenheimer delivered a sequel of sorts with The Look of Silence, this time focusing on members of one specific family that survived the genocide, a family that is short one because a son/brother was among the murdered. The brother of the victim meets with the killers and their families and confronts them about what they did despite knowing doing so would put himself and his loved ones in harms way. 

It's another brilliant picture from Oppenheimer, and most years it would top my list of documentaries, but in 2015 there was one non-fiction masterpiece...

1. Amy

The Oscar front runner in the category and it deserves the award, Amy is the best documentary of 2015. The film depicts the life and unfortunately way too soon death of British singer Amy Winehouse, and before you go thinking that my list might be biased because of being a fan of her music, let me dispel those notions quickly. It isn't that I dislike her music either, I just didn't know it all that well besides the songs they played on the radio.

So powerful, so real, so honest, I couldn't look away from the screen from start to finish while watching Amy. The amount of actual footage they had of her during her life is remarkable to the point that it almost feels impossible, like I was falling for some sort of perfectly executed found footage horror film rather than non-fiction. I only wish that were the case and such an amazing talent didn't fall victim to the powers of celebrity and addiction at such a young age.

By using that massive amounts of raw, unfiltered footage of her life and having others speak over what we are seeing, Amy never feels stale and run of the mill like so many docs do with the constant talking heads filling the screen to tell a story. Much of her life is right there in front of us, and it's beautiful and heartbreaking.

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