Below are fifteen docs we suggest seeing, from the grisly to uplifting. Click on the name of the film to read its review.
Summer 2013 was a strong season for that oft-maligned genre, the romantic comedy. Excellent films like The Spectacular Now and Drinking Buddies for the most part avoided rom-com cliches, and reinventions like Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing made timeless story lines seem fresh. Still other on-screen romances were held in unorthodox settings: A horror film (The Conjuring), a martial arts movie (The Grandmaster) and even in an edition of the Fast franchise.
Compiled by Alan Scherstuhl and Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice and Amy Nicholson of L.A. Weekly.
By 1975, many acts had walked through the doors of Don Davis's Groovesville Productions offices in Detroit. None of them were quite like this, a band of three related-by-blood African-American brothers who played louder, faster, and weirder than anything anyone in the city that gave birth to Motown had ever seen. They were called Death, and they were—as the New York Times article that more or less announced them to the world more than 30 years after they'd played their last note together put it—punk before punk was punk.
|This is not my beautiful wife.|
Since it opens with a suicide bombing in downtown Tel Aviv, and since its mystery plot involves an attempt to track down a sheikh whose public expectorations call for the slaughter of Israeli civilians, The Attack is most avowedly "about" terrorism. But that's a subject, not the subject. The film, an arresting and upsetting one, is also about love, trauma, and trust, both within one particular marriage and within entire cultures. There's an explosion (offscreen), much gumshoeing, and the most nerve-racking interrogation I've seen in ages, but this prickling thriller is too invested in life as it's lived to bother much with thrills—or even a traditional mystery. Not long after that blast kills 11 children we're told who did it. Director Ziad Doueiri, a perceptive humanist working from a (surprisingly bleaker) novel by Yasmina Khadra, instead digs into what the headlines about such damnable acts rarely bother with: the why.
|Sean Parker in Downloaded.|
"You cannot build a business on copyright infringement," points out Ian Rogers, the CEO of Topspin, not too long into Downloaded, director Alex Winter's too-breezy account of Napster, the teensy app that liberated digital music, destroyed the record industry, and swallowed some $500 million worth of loans and seed money from bubble-age investors convinced that a start-up built to facilitate the free sharing of mostly pirated material was somehow bound to be wildly profitable. What an age that was: Angels expecting huge yields after investing cash into the exact opposite of capitalism.
Until 2005 or so, no one thought much about modern piracy of the high-seas variety. But then Somali pirates began attacking merchant ships with increasing frequency, seizing vessels and holding their crews hostage for outlandish sums. Danish director Tobias Lindholm's wiry, neatly crafted thriller A Hijacking wrests fact into the shape of believable fiction, although the movie is most remarkable for everything it doesn't show: We never see, for example, the pirates clambering aboard the victimized ship. One minute it's business as usual—the cook hustling about the galley, ascertaining just how the captain takes his coffee—and then, suddenly, the pirates are just there. Their almost vaporous appearance makes their presence especially sinister.
|World War Z: In global chaos, cling to Brad Pitt's humanity.|
Destruction is scary, but not half as scary as the act of rebuilding, the moment of looking at the random, jagged pieces you've got left and wondering how the hell you're going to fit them together. In Marc Forster's World War Z, the world as we know it—or even as we don't really know it—is destroyed by a virus that turns people into zombies. Within 12 seconds of being bitten by an infected host, any human will turn into a twisted, soulless creature with cloudy, heroin-addict eyes, motivated only by a ravenous need to hunt down and tear into healthy flesh. Brad Pitt plays a New York City family man—a U.N. peacekeeper turned househusband, if you can imagine such a thing—who strives to protect his family from these fearsome drones, at first by sticking close but later by leaving them. The best way to save them, he realizes, is to serve the greater good and find the source of the killer virus.
A bewitching helix of pure movie stuff, Peter Strickland's seething and self-conscious whatsit Berberian Sound Studio may scan as a psychological thriller, but it's really a lavish gift to film geeks in a lovely matryoshka box.
From the peak of Anchorman to the nadir of Burt Wonderstone, the formula for studio comedies of the last 20 years has been simple: Dude acts like a dick for an hour, turns blandly sweet toward the end, and then everyone on the DVD commentary can claim to have made a movie about redemption. Since we like to forgive, and we like to like the stars who make us laugh, this has proven profitable—audiences can relish in the bad behavior and then take comfort in the restoration of something like a crackpot decency. But it's hampered the range of movie comedy. Even as the language has grown more flamboyantly obscene, and exposed junk has become the new red-heart boxer shorts, the comic form itself has rarely been less anarchic. What bite could The Campaign have when we know that in the end Will Ferrel's baby-punching, wife-poaching candidate will prove as apple-pie pure as a Capra Boy Scout?
Like its gaggle of former anti-nuke environmentalists who've now switched sides, Pandora's Promise takes the form of a traditional liberal pop-doc while proffering a decidedly nonconformist message.