6. Your Face (Tsai Ming-Liang, 2018)
As a fan of documentaries, hearing that one of the finest directors currently alive had made a talking-heads documentary was quite exciting. However, this is Tsai Ming-Liang after all, and he doesn’t really seem to follow suit with most anything, and so it was no surprise to find out that he had meddled with the talking-head documentary template a little, too. It was surprising, though, that Tsai went so far as to largely remove the ‘talking’ aspect of the talking-head documentary and simply show a group of people staring back into the camera for a few minutes at a time, even allowing one to peacefully sleep.
Of course, when intentionally detracting from the drama of a film within any genre, the audience becomes more interested in the nuances, and so in Your Face, the audience is on the verge of gasping just from seeing a sleeping man slightly stir or make a quiet noise… say what you will, but this is outright fascinating filmmaking and another Tsai risk that has paid off tenfold.
This makes for a beautiful documentary, one that feels as if it cares more for the people involved than it does about literally anything else, and there are so few films that share the same feeling or the same risk-taking bravura that go with such an idea. It isn’t stunning, it’s not large scale, it’s not really even exciting, but there is something to intrinsically peaceful to the way that this film is handled that honestly just feels quite therapeutic to witness and know that it is out there, in any capacity.
7. House Within The Night (Daniel Offenbacher, 2019)
Low budget amateur filmmaking often gets a bad rap, but if you look deeply enough, there is proof that some directors working within these confinements have the talent to make some extremely exciting projects sooner rather than later. Detailing the lives of three characters all stuck (primarily mentally) in different situations, and looking at how these trappings effect their viewpoint on the physical world, on each other, etc., House Within The Night magically manages to take on an impressive blending of the styles of directors like Ingmar Bergman and David Lynch without ever feeling like imitation.
Its shocking self assured direction, strong performances and beautiful dialogue make for a beautifully controlled film, one that feels both old and new, both loud and introverted, mixed but never muddled or messy. It’s astounding work, really, and probably the single most overlooked film on this entire list. As already said, this film is available in its entirety on Youtube for free, so do see it if you can!
8. The Central Park Five (Ken Burns & Sarah Burns, 2012)
With their story recently being told once more by the brilliant Ava DuVernay with her great Netflix-produced miniseries When They See Us, the shockingly sad story of the Central Park Five who were coerced by police into falsely admitting guilt for a rape case (primarily based on racial issues at the time), Ken Burns’ slightly older documentary seems to have been completely left behind in the dust.
The miniseries is astonishing work, however, the value given by seeing the Central Park Five themselves speaking of their experiences as well as Burns’ brilliant direction is impossible to put into words. In bringing such a story to light, and telling it in such a precise and factual manner, Burns takes his journalistic style another step further.
One has to wonder why this one hasn’t caught more attention, however, the new series telling the same story has certainly overshadowed it now. A shame, as it is a terrific documentary and some of the ideas discussed in this documentary aren’t mentioned in the series. This one is definitely worth watching for fans of documentaries, even if it may be quite difficult to find.
9. Despite The Night (Philippe Grandrieux, 2015)
Grandrieux is a master – there is simply no doubt about it, and Despite the Night is his strongest work of the decade, if not his entire career (his films are so marvellously consistent that it is quite difficult to say, really). Playing on themes of sexual corruption, violence and being generally disturbing (as is typical of Grandrieux), this plays as Cronenberg playing within the realm of the current wave of French Extremity films, it is deeply unsettling and utterly ruthless.
With gorgeous cinematography, absolutely astonishing performances and a narrative followed bound to make you want to shower for at least a week as soon as the credits start rolling, Despite the Night is one of the most truly horrifying films ever produced, one that will shake most anyone to the core and linger in their mind for… much longer than you could ever want it to, really. Thankfully, Grandrieux does seem to be coming into more general awareness with time, but Despite the Night remains left behind in undeserved obscurity!
10. 4:44 Last Day On Earth (Abel Ferrara, 2011)
Ferrara has been one of the best directors currently working since the 1990s, but it has been in the 2010s that his work has taken an entirely new step up, with Welcome to New York remaining maybe the single best film of the decade and not even being the only film he released in 2014. 4:44 is no exception to this rule of excellent 2010s output, and if anything may be the most gruelling of them all, following Willem Dafoe as he improvises his way through the end of the world.
Working from the iconic T.S Eliot line ‘This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper’ and only becoming increasingly desperate as it continues, 4:44 follows the end of the world from a singular perspective, something rarely tested, and focuses on the complete lack of excitement that comes with it in a way that contrasts the countless blockbusters on the same topic.
With one of the most memorably haunting performances of all time from Willem Dafoe, the film works so beautifully because it allows every aspect to work itself out over time, and never forces any kind of explicit drama. So much happens between the cuts, from character growth to small storylines unfolding in their entirety, and it all culminates in this stirringly tender fashion that will even leave some of the most hardened film fans close to tears.
Much more moving and personal than any of Ferrara’s other works (although the currently elusive Tommaso may just change that!), this is not to be missed by any fan of Ferrara’s filmography – it is one of his finest films and almost certainly the most upsetting.