Top docs of 2012 prove that truth can be as dramatic as fiction
BY DENNIS KING
NEW YORK – The Oklahoman’s fine staff of critics has now had its say about 2012’s best films, and the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle has revealed its worthy roster of the year’s top 10 movies. So instead of duplicating those lists, we thought this year we’d turn our year-end tallying efforts to non-fiction cinema.
The range of documentary films that stream through New York’s specialized venues is staggering (along with numerous doc festivals, New York even has a great documentary-only theater in Harlem’s The Maysles Cinema and a non-profit Downtown Community Television Center, devoted to documentary film education, will begin construction in March). So just a tip-of-the-iceberg survey of top docs available this year yields a pretty impressive list.
Here are our 10 favorites (some of which screened in Oklahoma during 2012 and some that are available on DVD or through video-on-demand sources):
“Low & Clear”- By our admittedly partisan reckoning this lusciously photographed, compellingly dramatic documentary is the best of the year. Telling the tale of lifelong but estranged buddies – laid-back J.T. Van Zandt (son of Texas music legend Townes Van Zandt) and wild man Alex “Xenie” Hall – as they reunite for a trip to the roiling rivers of British Columbia to catch fish and rekindle their friendship, the movie follows in the tradition of that greatest of all fly fishing movies, “A River Runs Through It.” Beneath its surface it’s about so much more than fly fishing.
“Searching for Sugar Man” – In “Stone Reader,” Mark Moskowitz’s fascinating 2002 documentary, the filmmaker spun a literary detective story that eventually led to the rediscovery of forgotten Iowa novelist Dow Mossman and the republishing of his long out-of-print masterwork “The Stones of Summer.” That inspiring documentary quest now has an equally fascinating and uplifting musical counterpart in Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul’s splendid investigation into the life and times of a mysterious Detroit singer/songwriter named Rodriguez, whose amazing story of fame, obscurity and resurrection is the stuff of a folk-rock fairy tale.
“Bully” – Director Lee Hirsch’s humane and heart-breaking documentary looks at the terrible face of bullying in America by following five kids and families over the course of a school year. The episodes include two families who have lost children to suicide and a mother awaiting the fate of her 14-year-old daughter who was jailed after bringing a gun on her school bus. By taking cameras into homes, classrooms, cafeterias and principals’ offices to expose these people’s wrenching dramas, the film provides profound insight into the damaged lives of bullied children.
“The Queen of Versailles” – If there’s a queasy, outrageous caricature to be had of America’s pampered and greedy one per-centers, it’s surely in the breathtaking portrait painted of the Siegels – 73-year-old time-share billionaire David and his balloon-chested 43-year-old blonde trophy wife Jackie – in director Lauren Greenfield’s lurid, funny yet oddly poignant contemplation on corrosive wealth and materialism run amok.
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