By The Playlist Staff – The Playlist – 7/23/2014
Truth, the maxim goes, is stranger than fiction. And almost every week there’s a feature documentary hitting theaters or VOD telling a story just as compelling, if not more, than anything that can be found in mainstream multiplexes and $200 million dollar tentpoles.
Unfortunately, it’s relatively rare for these films to cross over to mainstream audiences: the biggest grossing-documentary of the year so far, depressingly, is Dinesh D’Souza‘s borderline-incompetent right-wing propaganda piece “America” (our review, and its attendant 470+ mostly batshit comments, is here). But that’s not accurately reflective, as it has been a very strong year for non-fiction filmmaking so far, and to prove it, we’ve rounded up an easily D’Souza-free list of the best 20 documentaries of the year so far.
Some have hit theaters already, some are favorites from the festival circuit that should make their way towards your eyeballs before the end of 2014. But from histories of colonial Africa to visionary filmmaker what-ifs, from intimate portraits of world-famous rock stars to glimpses of the small-town version of the American dream, from star-driven baseball docs to a biography of the most famous film critic in the world, there should be something here for everyone. Take a look at the list (the full list can be seen here), and let us know your own favorites of 2014 so far in the comments section.
“Elena” John Grierson defined documentary as “the creative treatment of actuality,” a definition that can be stretched to accommodate almost any non-fiction film, and one that best describes Petra Costa’s “Elena.” Almost more of an experimental art film, it takes up the life and memory of Costa’s sister Elena, a beautiful, talented performer who found herself adrift in New York City, away from her home country of Brazil. Devastated by her suicide, Costa herself moves to New York, almost becoming an avatar for the lost Elena, retracing her steps and trying to solve the mystery of her sister’s unthinkable death. Costa’s film is a dreamlike haze of memory, creating and finding the spectre of her sister in home movies, letters, diaries, and her own recollections. Gorgeously photographed and edited, “Elena” weaves together past, present, real-life and the subconscious, creating a cinematic tapestry that serves to reanimate the spirit of her sister, through her words and images. Truly a creative, unique, and transporting experience that tests the boundaries and the possibilities of documentary. [Full Review]