5. Listen to Me, Marlon (Stevan Riley)
Listen to Me, Marlon offers a close look into Marlon Brando’s thoughts and his dedication to the art of acting. The voiceover throughout almost the entire film is composed of the legendary actor’s own audio recordings. What better way to create a biography than through the subject’s own words and voice?
Marlon’s (self)portrait is an eerie piece of work, due mostly to the intimate recordings Marlon Brando taped, prefacing his thoughts with the phrase, “Listen to me, Marlon.” The recordings reveal Brando’s vulnerability and sadness, but also his struggle with anxiety, and even obesity. The film remains a complex portrayal of Marlon Brando’s character, constructed from an intimate, unique perspective: his own.
4. Amy (Asif Kapadia)
Another Oscar-nominated documentary, this film is full of biographical archival footage that takes the viewer on a journey of the UK’s most appreciated jazz voice in decades. Amy Winehouse was still a teenager when she began performing at different venues and slowly became known on the UK music scene. The footage reveals her first tours, a bunch of people packed into a small car, driving from venue to venue, while her interviews reveal the difficult family situation and her slip into drug and alcohol abuse.
It is a very sad retelling of her story, accompanied by the melancholic voice of the singer herself as the soundtrack. Once she became more famous, Winehouse seemed to transform into another person, feeling pressured by media and the public to create more and more art.
The media took advantage of her frail state under the influence, exploiting her struggle, as evidenced by the headlines of the time. Although a sad story, the film is an honest tribute to her amazing talent and complex personality, as well as an indictment of a media system that seeks to profit from—if not encourage—the destruction, death, and decay of celebrities.
3. Cobain: Montage of Heck (Brett Morgen)
Kurt Cobain is known to this day for his creativity, his music, and his unconventional way of life. This moving documentary explores all of this from inside, with the help of Cobain’s closest family members and friends, delving into the perspective of the lead singer of grunge band Nirvana.
A clever decision on the part of the filmmaker is the complete exclusion of the death of Cobain and the controversial discussions surrounding it. The movie does not try to ignore it for the sake of the documentary’s integrity, but because its objective is to present to the world who Cobain really was, from an innocent, blonde, active child, to a troubled adult trying to express his emotions through music.
But Cobain’s image is not embellished – we see his faults and his mistakes, as well as his love for his daughter, and both his and Courtney’s trials at protecting their family. The documentary transforms Cobain from a controversial character into a human being with his own issues.
2. Iris (Albert Maysles)
Iris Apfel is an eccentric “geriatric starlet”, as she calls herself, and the subject of the documentary made by the late Albert Maysles, one half of the famous Grey Gardens-director duo – the Maysles brothers. Iris is an intimate look into the life of the beloved New York fashion icon and her 100-year-old husband.
The two are a lovely couple that have been living a life of travels, adventures, and beautiful partnership, and now, in the last chapter of their life, their relationship is stronger than ever. As someone mentions in the film, they are like two kids, with the most fitting souvenir- and trinket-packed apartment in which they live happily.
Maysles’ signature observational, hand-held camera shooting style sometimes gives the impression of a reality TV show, but the candid expressions and the words he captures while following Iris’s activities make this documentary an intriguing adventure into the universe of the wearer of those famously big round eyeglasses, a ninety-year-old fashion connoisseur.
1. The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer)
Oppenheimer amazed in 2012 with The Act of Killing, his documentary about the death-squad leaders of the Indonesian genocide and their dreadful nonchalance in recalling the killings of innocent people. Once again, in the Oscar-nominated The Look of Silence, he brings us a powerful documentary, this time showing the other side of the same story. An optometrist who survived the genocide tries to find who killed his brother and interrogate the culprits directly about their violent acts.
It is a beautifully-shot, tragic documentary, which, unlike its prequel—which included irony and moments of ridicule—focuses on the tyrants through the eyes of the victims. The two films are not to be missed, not only for their cinematographic quality and unique subject, but for the lesson they provide on the human capacity for both ugliness and beauty.
Author Bio: Ioana Trifu is a MA student, who most enjoys documentaries, indie films and dramas. On her blog, she writes about books, movies, her goofy cat and other adventures. You can also find her on Twitter.