As with every year, feature films have managed to gather a lot more attention than documentaries in 2017. Take “Icarus,” for example. It just won the Academy Award for Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars. However, it’s gotten 10 times fewer user ratings on IMDb than Best Picture winner “The Shape of Water.”
We can only conclude that people don’t really watch documentary films nowadays. That being said, some of last year’s best films were documentaries. Even more, many of the films on this list were better than most of the feature films that drew out audiences last year.
The number of documentary films released in 2017 is huge and this is without taking into consideration the miniseries documentaries. However, we tried to select the top 10 we think stood out of the crowd.
Let us know in the comments what your favorite 2017 documentary was and which ones you think were snubbed from this list.
10. David Lynch: The Art of Life
David Lynch is one of the most fascinating figures in the cinema world and not only there. While many know about Lynch’s films and his television work on “Twin Peaks,” not so much is known about Lynch’s work as a musician and painter. Lynch had a strong artistic vision and a huge desire to make a name for himself from the start, but before being a director, he was a painter.
“David Lynch: The Art of Life” shifts between Lynch sitting in his garden, his 5-year-old daughter Lola watching him as he works on one of his paintings, and old pictures from Lynch’s past, while he recounts his early days from childhood until directing “Eraserhead,” his first feature film.
However, those who are expecting to watch a detailed account of Lynch’s life and to get an understanding of his mind might be disappointed. At the end of the film, Lynch remains the same puzzling figure and not many mysteries are elucidated. But those who aren’t looking for a mere informational film will find this documentary truly inspirational.
9. Casting Jonbenet
Netflix’s film about the death of 6-year-old child beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey is an interesting take on the true crime documentary genre. It gathers a lot of relatively unknown actors from Colorado who are all being cast for a role in a would-be film about JonBenét’s death.
However, that film doesn’t and will never exist and the whole audition process merely served as a way to capture the community’s thoughts and answers on the more than 20-year-old question: who killed JonBenét?
“Casting JonBenet” is not a groundbreaking documentary, but it has a fresh approach on a highly publicized subject and is definitely worth a watch.
8. Last Men in Aleppo
“Last Men in Aleppo” was released to critical acclaim. It won the World Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and even got nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 90th Academy Awards. However, looking at the number of user votes it has on IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes (under 2000 and 200, respectively), it seems like not many bothered to watch this film.
The film documents the Syrian Civil War, a confrontation that started back in 2011 when a peaceful manifestation against the regime of Bashar al-Assad turned into an armed conflict after the Syrian government chose to use violence against protesters. In Aleppo, Syria’s formerly largest city, the rebel forces formed the White Helmets, a volunteer organization whose task is saving people’s lives.
Firas Fayyad’s documentary is amazing and yet also very disturbing. “Last Men in Aleppo” is abundant in raw images and this is visible from the first few minutes when we are shown a child being saved from the ruins of a dilapidated building. The images of children covered in blood and shattered cement – some alive, some dead – will remain etched in your memory.
“Last Men in Aleppo” is filmed with hand-held cameras and is different from most documentaries. It lacks interviews or voiceovers and feels like a found footage film, but this makes it even more impactful.
7. Dawson City: Frozen Time
In 1978 in Dawson City, Canada, a lost collection of 533 nitrate film reels was found buried in a former swimming pool. The collection, which was well preserved by the permafrost, contained silent films, many of them concerning the Klondike Gold Rush, and lots of precious footage of historic events such as the 1919 World Series.
“Dawson City: Frozen Time” is at the same time a tremendous collage of rediscovered silent film clips, a history of Dawson City, and a tribute to a bygone era. Not everyone will enjoy its slow pace and the lack of a voiceover narration, but like it or not, Bill Morrison’s film is a one-of-a-kind documentary.
6. I Am Not Your Negro
Based on James Baldwin’s unfinished memoir “Remember This House” and with great narration provided by Samuel L. Jackson, “I Am Not Your Negro” is one of the best accountings of the history of the Negro in the United States and, as Baldwin states in the film, “The history of America is the history of the Negro in America. And it’s not a pretty picture.”
The film concentrates on the famous great civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, and examines the history of racism in the United States, going through the civil rights movement, the assassination of its leaders and, in a more hopeful note, the inauguration of Barack Obama back in 2009.
Despite running only 90 minutes long, “I Am Not Your Negro” is a film which manages to say a lot in a short time and gives justice to Baldwin’s unfinished manuscripts.