Friday, January 2, 2015

8 Cool & Fascinating Documentaries from 2014

Yo! You should check out these great 2014 documentaries...

12 O'Clock Boys
Some say they terrorize the city, others say it's a positive form of escapism. 12 O'Clock Boys is a gripping look into an expanding group of dirt bike enthusiasts who ride through the city streets of West Baltimore, often performing dangerous stunts. It offers a portrait of city and hints at the socioeconomic issues--all framed through the eyes of a young kid trying to find his way though everything. The visuals are beautifully rendered, from the slow-motion stunt sequences to the sunny day color pallet. It's briskly paced, and the frenetic editing intently captures the active neighborhoods.

Jodorowsky's Dune
This documentary is the making-of Jodorosky's Dune, a film which never actually completed, despite its lore-ish hype and game-changing ambitions. It's an ode to the madness of artistic freedom, the height of dreams and lows of disappointment. There's a breathtaking sequence that shows the influence that Jodorowsky's Dune has had on sci-fi films throughout the past few decades, as a lot of his team carried their same ideas into future endeavors. It's hard to argue with the project's "The greatest film never made" title. But then again, its spirit seems to be on screen all the time.

Mistaken For Strangers
Tom, the slacker brother of Matt Berninger - lead singer of acclaimed indie-rock band The National, sets out to make a rock-doc that doesn't actually turn out to be a rock-doc. While there's still a fair amount of live clips and behind-the-stage views of band, the core of the film is about two brothers on divergent paths. The fraternal dynamics elevate this doc to genuinely heartfelt territory, and it also functions as a doc within a doc, which adds a meta element that expounds the creative process. Mistaken For Strangers is a wonderfully layered project, and it definitely deserves some attention.

A Brony Tale
In case you aren't familiar, a 'Brony' is generally a male anywhere from age 14 to 57 who is a fanatic of the cartoon series "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic". They religiously watch the show, they buy the toys, and they even dress up as the pony characters sometimes. Yes, this thing really exists, and it's a considerably rampant phenomenon and a perplexing subculture to us outsiders. A Brony Tale takes an affectionate and surprisingly insightful gander into this fringe craze. 

No No: A Dockumentary
You might've seen the four-minute animated clip that details the bizarre and amusing story of MLB pitcher, Dock Ellis, throwing a no-hitter... while on LSD. Well, here is the full fledged documentary about the man, the myth, the legend. With the esteem, style, and appreciative nature of an ESPN 30 for 30 feature, this dock is a fittingly funky and humorous viewing that delves further into the rebellious character and his controversial antics that shook up the league. It all results in an unexpectedly emotional conclusion.

 Rich Hill
Rich Hill is a depressing, yet hopeful portrait of poverty in rural America. The camera follows around the daily endeavors of Andrew, Harley, and Appachey--three teenagers living in a beaten-down Missouri town. Their houses are on the verge of crumbling, the appliances don't work, and the backyards look like junkyards. The ironically titled Rich Hill is painfully bittersweet. Sweet--because through all the rough times, Andrew, Harley, and Appachey all manage to find joy, clinging to the desire of a better life. Bitter--because it's not a certain thing if they'll ever get one.

Nas: Time Is Illmatic
Just in time for the 20th anniversary, this documentary takes an in-depth look into the making of Nas' classic Illmatic album and what it meant in the hip-hop world and the streets, as well as its social and political impact. Including overarching narration from Nas himself, along with interviews with his family, teachers and other peers, the film takes on a highly autobiographical tone. It demonstrates just exactly how much Nas' upbringing, worldview, and environment informed his powerful music, and just how sharply Illmatic captured the zeitgeist. This well-crafted doc is essential for hip-hop fans.

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
Directed by Mike Myers, this doc tells the story of Shep Gordon, the eccentric manager of some of the biggest names in Hollywood. It starts with his random hiring by Alice Cooper and details how his crazy ideas and unprofessionalism led to insane success. The film unleashes countless anecdotes and amusing insider stories from Shep and lots of diverse stars. It's all so lively and incredibly watchable. And amidst all the glamor, sex, drugs & rock 'n' roll, it also shows Shep's warm side.

Life Itself
A tribute to "The Soldier of Cinema", Life Itself  reflects all the way back from Roger Ebert's early flourishes as a high school newspaper editor - to his rise to the top of the film criticism world, and why he became who he was. It's stocked with plenty of great photos, footage, and interviews, going beyond his love of movies and his way with words. The doc provides personal details, including his bouts with alcoholism, his marriage with Chaz, and his love/hate rivalry with Sisco. The interspersed footage of Ebert's last five months during his battle with cancer adds a deeply felt poignancy. Moving, funny, and inspiring, this isn't just about movies and reviews, but also, well, life itself.

- Zach

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