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The 10 Best Documentaries of 2016

14 February 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Justin Gunterman

The Oscars have chosen their five picks for the Best Documentary category. While they’re not too shabby, it’s obvious that they left out quite a few stellar choices. It’s not hard to see why. 2016 has graciously gifted us with so many fantastic documentaries. With streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu swooping up as much content as they possibly can, documentaries have thankfully become accessible to a wider audience.

Now is the time to dedicate your life to documentary binging. With the tap of a button, you can watch most of 2016’s greatest documentaries instantly. Sure, a few of them will cost you a little bit of extra money, but all ten of the films listed are worth every penny. They’re informative, persuasive, and occasionally quite hilarious.

Some will cause you to be an emotional wreck, while others will slap a grin on your face. There should be something for everybody here. If you’ve been slacking on documentary watching, this list should help point you in the right direction.

 

10. Nuts!

Nuts!

Nuts! opens with one animated goat furiously humping another animated goat. So let’s just say this isn’t your grandfather’s documentary. Instead, it’s the uproarious (mostly) true story of a doctor who decided to treat impotence by transplanting goat testicles into his patients. Told through archival footage, interviews, and animated segments, Nuts! has a ton of interesting material to keep you invested for one hour and nineteen minutes.

It’s not just the facts that will keep you interested. Nuts! is so unabashedly quirky that even when the story stalls, it’s hard to lose focus. From the charming animated segments to the over exaggerated voiceovers, Nuts! is too unusual to be boring. Considering the subject material, it’s a relief that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, especially considering the fact that that the lighter tone does nothing to damper the quality of the movie.

Even if the presentation is on the comedic side, Nuts! is still able to deliver striking facts about one of the strangest people to live during the 20th century. This may not be the most high-profile documentary to come out in 2016, but it still deserves just as much attention as some of the larger releases. Assuming the topic of goat testicles doesn’t make you uncomfortable, Nuts! should both entertain and inform you.

 

9. Oasis: Supersonic

Oasis Supersonic

The sibling rivalry between Noel and Liam Gallagher is almost as fascinating as the music they create. You’d think that the guys behind Oasis: Supersonic would find a way to capitalize on the toxic relationship between the two brothers, but they take a different approach. This movie isn’t about the Gallaghers. It’s about Oasis.

For the people looking to learn about what the latest beef is between the two frontmen, taking a peek at their Twitter accounts may be more efficient. This movie takes you back to the pre-feud Oasis. How did the band get started? What was it that helped them become one of the biggest British bands in history? Why is everybody in the band so confrontational? Those are the questions Oasis: Supersonic seeks to answer.

In the case of this movie, it’s about the journey and not the destination. Thankfully, the journey is arguably more interesting than the destination. The bandmembers are hilarious, the meteoric rise to fame is well documented, and the fuzzy home video footage from the ‘90s is enchanting.

The heavy focus on the band’s early years will no doubt disappoint certain Oasis diehards, but the material presented is easy to appreciate. It may cut out a sizeable portion of the band’s history, but Oasis: Supersonic is still packed with content. More importantly, it’s packed with content that’s consistently informative and engaging.

 

8. The Witness

The Witness

If you’ve taken a psychology class at any point in your life, it’s likely that you have heard of the “bystander effect.” The bystander effect describes a psychological phenomenon that basically states that the more bystanders there are during a crisis, the less likely people are to try to intervene.

This became a point of interest after the murder of Kitty Genovese, who was killed despite the fact that there were allegedly 38 witnesses. At least, that’s what New York Times wanted you to think when the event happened over fifty years ago.

In The Witness, Genovese’s younger brother decides to dig a little deeper into the case. Actually, he decides to dig a lot deeper into the case. The Witness is as much about Genovese’s murder as it is about journalistic integrity. Over the course of the film, you’ll learn that the case didn’t exactly happen like people thought it did.

There were witnesses, but few of them actually saw the attack. People claimed to have called the police despite reports that everybody ignored Kitty’s screams. Kitty didn’t actually die alone. In fact, thanks to Bill Genovese, we learn that the original article took far too many liberties.

So why did New York Times hastily slap together an article despite little research? That’s the main point of The Witness. You’ll definitely leave the film with new knowledge of the murder, but there’s more to it than that. The Witness doesn’t just want you to question Kitty’s murder. It wants you to question the reliability of journalism. The movie’s ability to make viewers ask questions is its strongest asset.

 

7. Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox

Is Amanda Knox innocent or guilty? Like a lot of recent crime documentaries, Netflix’s Amanda Knox doesn’t seek to give you answers. Luckily, it doesn’t have to give people answers in order to be a successful documentary. The film is filled to the brim with juicy bits of information that should help influence viewers’ opinions on the matter. The story of the murder is neatly laid out in between interviews with Knox herself.

The details regarding the crime can be found on Wikipedia fairly easily, but the insight provided by Amanda Knox herself is the reason to watch the movie. Whether or not she’s a murderer is a mystery. Whether or not she’s an interesting person is less of a mystery. The answer is yes. Knox very well could be a crazed murderer, but she’s still charismatic and insightful. Her story may be completely fabricated, but it’s still important to hear her side of the story.

She tells the story in a way that’s frequently witty and always compelling. The fact that Amanda Knox is an unreliable narrator makes the movie even more riveting because you have to decide for yourself what’s worth believing. It can be frustrating for those wanting straight answers, but it’s also a fun little mystery.

“Fun little mystery” is actually the perfect way to describe the movie. Similar to HBO’s critically acclaimed The Jinx, Amanda Knox is successful because it puts your detective skills to work. Hope you’ve caught up on Sherlock, because Amanda Knox will keep you on your toes.

 

6. Cameraperson

Cameraperson

Can you make a cohesive autobiographical film using unrelated footage shot over the course of multiple decades? Apparently you can. Cameraperson is not a neatly wrapped package with one central message. It’s a documentary composed of unrelated parts that somehow come together to create a movie that’s engaging, emotional, and unique.

For those still confused about what Cameraperson is, here’s a brief explanation. Director Kirsten Johnson has assembled a Frankenstein’s monster of a documentary that utilizes various pieces of footage to tell a somewhat cohesive story.

Cameraperson works primarily as a memoir. These brief segments work together to compose a story about who Johnson is as a person. Johnson never shines a spotlight on herself, but you’ll still leave the movie feeling as if you know her fairly intimately.

Alongside the somewhat cohesive story is an assortment of smaller stories. Viewers get to see a murder trial, a boxing match, and even a woman giving birth. So if you’re uninterested in the filmmaker’s life, Cameraperson still has plenty of layers to keep you intrigued.

Johnson doesn’t hold anything back, so if you’re squeamish or easily uncomfortable, this might not be your movie. Those that are up to the challenge are rewarded with a daring movie with a lot on its mind. It works as a social commentary. It works as an autobiography. It works as a gripping documentary.

 

 

 

 

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  • Nick Botton

    The Amanda Knox documentary definitely takes her side, and ignores A LOT of the facts. The only new thing it brought to the table was her “perspective” on the whole ordeal, and the documentary basically revolves around it.

  • andyklimactic

    TOWER is so fucking good. Extremely powerful.