What Makes a Good Documentary Film?

About four months ago, I wrote a bit about The Megalist, the completely insane statistical method I use to push myself to watch awesome movies I’d never seen before. After many years of using the tool, I noticed something interesting.

The tool pulls in data from various “Best of [Genre]” lists from IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. On most of these lists, the movies don’t move around much. For example, Sunset Boulevard has been in the #1 spot of IMDB’s Film Noir Top 50 for ages. The films below it shuffle around in ranking a little, but mostly they’re the same titles. This is because nobody really makes great Films Noir anymore, so nothing is going to bump White Heat from the list.

The other lists get a little more life from newer movies (i.e., Inception stormed onto some of these lists last year), but still mostly reflect the classics.

Except for the Documentaries lists, from both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. The turnover is HUGE every time I update The Megalist. It’s nearly impossible to make headway against these lists, percentagewise, because new “OMG BEST OF ALL TIME” documentaries are charging onto the lists faster than I can watch them.

I find this fascinating.

I believe this is because most audiences have trouble separating an interesting subject from the actual crafting of a documentary film. I can’t tell you how many “OH WOW WATCH THIS AMAZING DOCUMENTARY BEST I’VE EVER SEEN !!1!11!!!” docs I’ve watched that turned out to be interesting diversions, yet were nonetheless only ordinary pieces of filmmaking.

This is where Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone comes in.

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Update on the Baby Sagan / Grandma Initiative!

Last week, I posted about my friend Rachel, whose mother may never get the chance to meet Sagan, Rachel’s month-old son.

This morning, THE GOAL WAS MET! Rachel is now buying tickets to bring Sagan across the country to grandma. Friends, family, and YOU GUYS made this possible.

Thank you to everyone who pitched in. Every dollar helps. Heck, if you want to throw even a few more dollars into the pool, I know it will be deeply appreciated. Those of you who have kids know that they tend to have unpredictable costs, and Rachel’s money situation is extremely tight.

But once again, THANK YOU!

New Geek Life: Manos Video Game, Anyone?

The latest Geek Life podcast is up: Episode 160: “You Obviously Didn’t Grow Up Catholic.” In a big shocker, we talk about Batman!

Help Baby Sagan Meet Grandma!

My friend Rachel has had a challenging year. Her mother is fighting renal cancer, and will likely not be around much longer. Her neice, to whom Rachel is very close, was best friends with one of the girls murdered in River Falls, WI a few week ago. On top of that (on a much happier, yet no less stressful note), she gave birth to a bouncing baby boy named Sagan.

Rachel and Sagan live in Portland, Oregon. Rachel’s mother lives in Wisconsin. Rachel’s mother has never met Sagan, and her illness has entered the stage where she might never get the chance to do so. Cash is very tight, so Rachel is unable to foot the bill of travel costs alone.

Please help Sagan meet his grandma! Even a few dollars will help. The donation page and the full story can be found here.

Girls on Film: Brave, Beasts, and Female Leads

Over the last week, I happened to see two new films that shared some interesting ground: Brave and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Both films are led by strong-willed, female children, in an age where American filmmaking still seems to struggle with the concept of a female lead. They are very interesting companion pieces as well as simply being decent films, so I recommend catching both, if possible.

(The discussion below is spoiler-free, so feel free to proceed if you haven’t seen one or either film.)


I’ll begin with the film you’re more likely to have seen already.

Brave is the tale of a young girl, Merida, who is the princess of a Celtic warrior clan. She is headstrong, uninterested in girly things, and skilled in archery. When her family proposes she choose a suitor for a future husband, she is completely uninterested. The plot goes from there.

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