Top 10: Best Documentaries of the Millennium

This weekend, Disneynature will release it’s latest wilderness adventure documentary, “Born in China,” as a way to celebrate Earth Day. The doc, narrated by John Krasinski of “The Office,” follows three animal families on an epic adventure through the wilds of China. Capturing the profoundly intimate moments and glorious landscapes we’ve grown accustomed to in Disneynature features, the film follows a devoted mother panda and her cub, a golden snub-nosed monkey uprooted from his sister, and a rarely witnessed mother snow leopard and her two offspring, all trying
to survive some of the most bleak and severe environments on the planet.

To commemorate the release of this film, we are taking a look back at the best documentaries of the millennium, thus far. I have to tell you, this was quite a chore, as there were many I wanted to include in the list, and, of course, only so many spots.

My opinion, when it comes to documentary films, is that they are best served when the focus remains on either telling an interesting character study or transporting me to an environment I am otherwise not privy to. When a doc goes too political or agenda-based it oftentimes fails to wield the same power and generally loses my interest. So my list will reflect that, for the most part. Some of the films to fall short of my list, but still warrant honorable mention, include Jeffrey Blitz’s fierce “Spellbound;” Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro’s inspirational “Murderball;” Michael Moore’s devastating “Bowling for Columbine;” Andrew Jarecki’s shocking “Capturing the Friedmans;” Ezra Edelman’s provocative “O.J.: Made in America;” and Kurt Kuenne’s heart-wrenching “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.”

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Are you planning to see Born in China? Chime in with your top 10 Documentaries of the Millennium in the comments below.

10.  “Searching for Sugar Man” (2012)
Director: Malik Bendjelloul
Synopsis: Two South Africans set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock n roller, Rodriguez.


9. “The Act of Killing” (2012)
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer amd Christine Cynn
Synopsis: A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.

8. “Man on Wire” (2008)
Director: James Marsh
Synopsis: A look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City’s World Trade Center’s twin towers in 1974, what some consider, “the artistic crime of the century.”

7. “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” (2003)
Director:  Errol Morris
Synopsis: The story of America as seen through the eyes of the former Secretary of Defense under President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara.

6. “Waltz with Bashir” (2008)
Director: Ari Folman
Synopsis: An Israeli film director interviews fellow veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to reconstruct his own memories of his term of service in that conflict.

5. “Stories We Tell” (2012)
Director: Sarah Polley
Synopsis: A film that excavates layers of myth and memory to find the elusive truth at the core of a family of storytellers.

4. “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” (2007)
Director: Seth Gordon
Synopsis: Die-hard gamers compete to break world records on classic arcade games.

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3. “Grizzly Man” (2005)
Director: Werner Herzog
Synopsis: A devastating and heartrending take on grizzly bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard, who were killed in October of 2003 while living among grizzlies in Alaska.

2. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” (2010)
Director: Banksy
Synopsis: The story of how an eccentric French shop-keeper and amateur film-maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner. The film contains footage of Banksy, Shephard Fairey, Invader and many of the world’s most infamous graffiti artists at work.

1. “The Cove” (2009)
Director: Louie Psihoyos
Synopsis: Using state-of-the-art equipment, a group of activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, infiltrate a cove near Taijii, Japan to expose both a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health.

Share and discuss your favorite documentaries in the comments below!

About Mark Johnson

Lover of all things film and Oscar. Fantasy sports’ equivalent of George Steinbrenner. Your very own Han Solo, making friends all over the movie-loving galaxy in spite of himself. When he’s not ranking just about everything or dominating boardgames, Mark is breaking down the Oscar race 24/7 with Rain Man-like stats and knowledge. In his downtime, you can find him commiserating with other Northeast Ohio sports fans because a hero isn’t complete without a little heartbreak. If Lost, Homeland, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Survivor are your style, then congratulations, you have something in common with this inglourious basterd.
  • Robby Poffenberger

    I know I said Amy on Twitter, but it’s probably The Cove. Great call.

    • For not really knowing her music very well, Amy was still pretty captivating. I can see why it might be one of your favorites.

  • Jonas Grundnig

    Where is Citizenfour? Imo it belongs on the top of this list.

    • Good doc as well. Just not one of my favorites.

  • I LOVE that you included King of Kong!

  • Joey Magidson

    Honestly? I might go Weiner.