The Top 20 Documentaries from the Last 20 Years

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1.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
A filmmaker decides to memorialize a murdered friend when his friend's ex-girlfriend announces she is expecting his son. (95 mins.)
Director: Kurt Kuenne
“ I would rather not say to much about this documentary as I am sure there are many of you who have not seen this film. I recommend watching this movie without reading up on the true story. What I will say is that this is the most emotional film I have ever seen in my life. There were times were I was crying, times I was screaming, and times I wanted to throw something. "And then she killed you," is a quote I will never get out of my mind. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
2.
Hoop Dreams (1994 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
A film following the lives of two inner-city Chicago boys who struggle to become college basketball players on the road to going professional. (170 mins.)
Director: Steve James
“ Hoop Dreams follows the lives of two Chicago high school students and their dreams of becoming professional basketball players. The very touching documentary follows the two students for a period of over 5 years from middle school to choosing their college. One of my favorite scenes comes from the father versus son one-on-one basketball game. It is sad to see that several of the family members were murdered in recent years. Roger Ebert calls this documentary one of the best films of the decade. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
3.
Grizzly Man (2005 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A devastating and heartrending take on grizzly bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard, who were killed in October of 2003 while living among grizzlies in Alaska. (103 mins.)
Director: Werner Herzog
“ "I will protect these bears with my last breath." Almost any documentary film by Werner Herzog could make this list, but Grizzly Man really stood out for me. Grizzly Man chronicles the life and death of grizzly bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell. Herzog narrates in his extraordinary accent as we watch much of Treadwell's own footage along with interviews with Treadwell's family and friends. Although, Treadwell's "cause" is debatable, Grizzly Man is an engaging, passionate and heart breaking documentary that left me breathless. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
4.
Capturing the Friedmans (2003 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Documentary on the Friedmans, a seemingly typical, upper-middle-class Jewish family whose world is instantly transformed when the father and his youngest son are arrested and charged with shocking and horrible crimes. (107 mins.)
Director: Andrew Jarecki
“ A documentary about the child molestation investigation of Arnold Friedman and his son Jesse. The documentary does not explore whether Arnold Friedman may or may not be a pedophile, he was. The question is whether he was guilty of the over three hundred charges of child molestation and abuse. The film captures not only the Friedmans but the destruction of the Friedman family. A moving and harrowing documentary. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
5.
49 Up (2005 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
In 1964, to explore the adage "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man," World in Action filmed seven-year-olds... (180 mins.)
“ The series as a whole would have made number one on my list, however since only three qualify in the last 20 years it takes up the number five spot. Seven documentaries thus far that have followed the lives of fourteen British children every seven years since they were seven years old in 1964. The children represent different socio-economic backgrounds with the assumption that their social class will determine their future. With the next installment coming in 2012, The Up Series is the number one reason I am hoping the Mayan Apocalyptic Prophecy of 2012 does not take place. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
6.
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
A horrific triple child murder leads to an indictment and trial of three nonconformist boys based on questionable evidence. (150 mins.)
“ Similar to The Thin Blue Line with a very different outcome. The film follows the infamous trial of the West Memphis Three, three teenagers convicted of the sadistic murders of three children in West Memphis, Arkansas. The police looking for a quick solution to the spreading fear in the community target three teenage boys. The strongest evidence was a confession from a legally "mentally challenged" teenager. I struggled sleeping for days not being able to make up my mind on their innocence or non-innocence. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
7.
Murder on a Sunday Morning (2001 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Oscar-winning documentary that documents a murder trial in which a 15-year-old African-American is wrongfully accused of a 2000 murder in Jacksonville, Florida. (111 mins.)
“ An Oscar winning documentary about the murder trial of a fifteen year old boy, Brenton Butler. The prosecution's case relied on a positive identification by the husband of the victim and a confession by Butler. But was the identification by the victim's husband a result of racism or the shock of the crime, and was the confession the result of police coercion? The defense attorney tries to answer these questions causing him to be, by far, my favorite hero on my list. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
8.
Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
This controversial documentary about the stand-off between an unorthodox Christian group - the Branch Davidians... (136 mins.)
Director: William Gazecki
“ You know the background, the standoff between the Branch Davidians under the leadership of David Koresh and the FBI and ATF in Waco, Texas. However, this documentary tells the story of what really happened. The Branch Davidians, a valid religious group partaking of nothing illegal who fell victim to the ineptitude and attention desiring of the ATF followed up by the FBI who swept everything under the rug. This controversial documentary directed by William Gazecki will make you think twice about your opinion of what took place in Waco. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
9.
One Day in September (1999 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
The Palestinian terrorist group Black September holds Israeli athletes hostage at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich. (94 mins.)
Director: Kevin Macdonald
“ One Day in September is about a terrorist attack in September but not the one on the eleventh. One Day in September examines the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Summer Olympics on September 5th, 1972. The level of unprofessionalism and incompetence displayed by the German officials during the "rescue" attempt was mind boggling. This documentary also makes the film Munich twice as good. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
10.
Touching the Void (2003 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
The true story of two climbers and their perilous journey up the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. (106 mins.)
Director: Kevin Macdonald
“ Touching the Void tells the story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates disastrous and near fatal attempt to climb the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Simpson breaks his leg during the descent and is eventually separated from his partner. Simpson's survival is widely regarded by mountaineers as amongst the most amazing pieces of mountaineering lore. "I didn't crawl down the mountain because I thought I would survive. I wanted to be with someone when I died." ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
11.
Man on Wire (2008 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City's World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974, what some consider, "the artistic crime of the century." (94 mins.)
Director: James Marsh
“ On August 7th, 1964, Philippe Oscar stepped onto a tightrope between the Twin Towers to perform "the artistic crime of the century." A story with "noir" elements full of following ones dreams, friendship and love. Unfortunately, this event was soon forgotten because Richard Nixon resiged on August 8th, 1964. Lastly, Philippe Petit Oscar winning speech goes down as one of my favorites of all time. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
12.
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
Documentary that chronicles how Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now was plagued by extraordinary script, shooting, budget, and casting problems--nearly destroying the life and career of the celebrated director. (96 mins.)
“ A Filmmaker's Apocalypse could not be a more appropriate title. This documentary chronicles Francis Ford Coppola as he creates Apocalypse Now. From a heart attack by Martin Sheen to the gross uncooperativeness of Marlon Brando, the making of Apocalypse Now nearly cost the legendary filmmaker his life. With documentary footage by his wife, Eleanor Coppola, this documentary catches memorable moments on and off the set of one of the greatest movies ever made. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
13.
Murderball (2005 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Quadriplegics, who play full-contact rugby in wheelchairs, overcome unimaginable obstacles to compete in the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece. (88 mins.)
“ A documentary about paraplegics who play full contact rugby, nicknamed murderball. The film dives into their personal lives as they talk about their injuries, feelings in public, intimacy, family, friendship and competitiveness. A recent quadriplegic is followed as he struggles to adapt to his new style of life. The film also documents the strong rivalry between Canada and USA who eventually meet each other in the Paralympics Championship Game in Athens, Greece. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
14.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
Die-hard gamers compete to break world records on classic arcade games. (79 mins.)
Director: Seth Gordon
“ A classic tale of Good versus Evil. The King of Kong follows Steve Wiebe (Good) as he tries to set the world high score for the arcade game Donkey Kong from reigning champion Billy Mitchell (Evil). Wiebe challenges Mitchell to a public competition after Guinness World Records wants to publish Twin Galaxies gaming record holders. Mitchell declines and Wiebe goes on to set the world record. What follows is a heartbreaking case of extreme biasness and corruption by Twin Galaxies. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
15.
Brother's Keeper (1992 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
This documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky details the murder trial of Delbert Ward. Delbert... (104 mins.)
“ Law and Order meets Deliverance in this documentary about an alleged 1990 murder in Munnsville, New York. The four Ward brothers live in a dilapidated house that would make Grey Gardens look like a Five Star Hotel. One morning, William Ward is found dead and Delbert Ward is suspected in the killing. Did William die of natural causes, was he murdered by Delbert with incestuous homosexual undertones, or was it a mercy killing as William was in severe pain in the last years of his life due to an unknown illness? ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
16.
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2003 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A homeless musician finds meaning to his life when he starts a friendship with dozens of parrots. (83 mins.)
Director: Judy Irving
“ A very simple, but touching story of a homeless musician, Mark Bittner, in San Francisco who finds meaning to his life when he begins a friendship with dozens of parrots. With a twist ending as surprising as The Usual Suspects, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill goes down as not only one of my favorite documentaries, but one of my favorite love stories of all time. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
17.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
Daniel Johnston, manic-depressive genius singer/songwriter/artist is revealed in this portrait of madness, creativity and love. (110 mins.)
Director: Jeff Feuerzeig
“ Hi, how are you? The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a powerful and heartbreaking documentary about singer, songwriter and artist, Daniel Johnson, who has struggled with bipolar disorder throughout his life. Daniel Johnston musical work gained notoriety when he began handing out homemade audio tapes of his music in Austin, Texas and reached highest interest when Kurt Cobain frequently wore a Daniel Johnston T-shirt. But with all the highs, came the lows including Johnston's drug addictions and admittance into a mental hospital. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
18.
The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Documentary about legendary Paramount producer Robert Evans (the film shares the same name as Evans's famous 1994 autobiography). (93 mins.)
“ The cult classic documentary about the rise and fall of legendary Paramnt produce Robert Evans. During his tenure as a producer, he was responsible for such revolutionary films as The Godfather, Rosemary's Baby, Love Story, The Odd Couple, Harold and Maude and Chinatown.This documentary also made me love Jack Nicholson even more than I already did. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
19.
The Cove (2009 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
Using state-of-the-art equipment, a group of activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry, infiltrate a cove near Taijii, Japan to expose both a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health. (92 mins.)
Director: Louie Psihoyos
“ Winner of the 2010 Oscar for best documentary, The Cove takes the "Save the Whale" movement to another level. A group of activists infiltrate a cove near Taijii, Japan to expose a serious threat to human health and a jaw-dropping shocking instance of animal cruelty. It's just to bad that people do not love farm animals as much as they do dolphins. ” - Isaiah Mouw
 
20.
The Bridge (2006 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
People suffer largely unnoticed while the rest of the world goes about its business. This is a documentary... (94 mins.)
Director: Eric Steel