5. Free Solo
Unless you are too afraid of heights, we can only recommend you this 2018 National Geographic documentary. “Free Solo” documents Alex Honnold’s insane attempt at climbing “El Capitan”, a three-thousand-foot rock formation from Yosemite National Park, without using any kind of ropes. Along with him, a team of cameramen-climbers had another difficult task: filming and recording Honnold without interfering with his climb and risking his life.
“Free Solo” is stunning to look at and the documentary equivalent of a thriller in terms of breathtaking, edge-of-your-seat moments. But what makes it even better is how it manages to give us an intimate look at Alex Honnold and the influence his lifestyle had on the relationship with his loved ones.
Back in 1992, Sandi Tan and her friends were helped by Georges Cardona, an American film teacher in his mid-forties, to shot their first movie which was meant to reinvigorate the Singaporean cinema. The film, which was to be called “Shirkers”, was a road movie filled with Lynchian surrealism which followed the adventures of a 16-year old serial killer played by Tan.
“Shirkers” was shaping up to be a really ambitious film, very different to the other Singaporean films of the times. Unfortunately, Georges Cordona, who worked as the film’s director, stole the film rolls and mysteriously disappeared, leaving Sandi Tan and her friends baffled and disappointed. They thought all their work was for nothing, but that changed in late 2011 when Cordona’s widow emailed Tan about her husband’s death and began sending her boxes filled with film rolls, storyboards, scripts and all kind of “Shirkers” related stuff.
The footage was missing the audio tracks, but Tan decided to still use it and that led to “Shirkers” the documentary. The film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award and received universal acclaim and as of October 2018 is streaming on Netflix.
3. Three Identical Strangers
There’s no doubt about it – “Three Identical Strangers” features the craziest story we’ve seen on the screen this year.
Tim Wardle’s captivating film documents the incredible life of three brothers who’ve been separated at birth and each of them adopted by families which were unaware that their child had siblings. That until 19 years later, when in a surreal turn of events the tree boys get to know about each other’s existence and their families go on a quest to find out why the adoption agency didn’t tell them the truth.
We won’t get into further details, but we will just say that the film holds lots of surprises and, despite starting as a somewhat funny, feel-good tale, it goes into a totally different direction towards its ending and becomes a much more serious thing.
2. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Even if you didn’t grow up watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, Morgan Neville’s latest documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” will leave you misty-eyed.
If there ever was a good man, that was Fred Rogers, the minister turned into children’s television host who, for over thirty years, influenced the lives of countless American kids with his beloved show. Mister Rogers was not what you’d expect from a man doing television for preschoolers. He wasn’t too funny, colourful or playful, but rather a quiet, soft-spoken man who didn’t think that children should be treated too different from adults.
Through his television show, he touched upon many subjects which weren’t considered suitable for kids (death, divorce, assassination), but he also tried to make every children feel loved and build their self-worth (“You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” was his way of ending each episode of the show).
“Won’t You Be My Neighbour?” shows all of these things, but doesn’t stop there and delves deeper into Rogers’ philosophy, personal life and even into the controversies that surrounded him. It is truly a testament to Fred Rogers’ legacy and one of the most well-made, inspiring and emotional documentaries films we’ve seen this year. We can’t recommend it highly enough.
1. Minding the Gap
“Minding the Gap” is like the real-life version of “Boyhood”. Shot in over 12 years by the Asian American director Bing Liu, the film accounts the lives of Liu and his fellow skateboarder friends Zack and Kiere from their teen years into their early adulthood.
It is amazing how well Liu managed to capture his and his two friends’ lives in the just over 90 minutes running length of the film. As the credits roll, you really feel that you’ve got to know these people, what they’ve been through and what made them who they are.
The film was also amazingly well filmed and edited and went on so naturally that for most of the time it was easy to be under the impression that you’re watching an indie coming-of-age drama rather than a documentary film. This is more or less due to the fact that Liu’s friends didn’t seem to think his documentary was anything serious and most of the time they didn’t really care they were filmed.
“Minding the Gap” has won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and was unanimously acclaimed by critics, holding a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 63 reviews. We can really see why all this praise, for this is a truly exceptional film.