The past is never past; in bringing the Holocaust to life in his towering nine-and-a-half-hour masterpiece, director Claude Lanzmann would stick solely to the present. Shoah is composed of the reflections of Polish survivors, bystanders and, most uneasily, the perpetrators. The memories become living flesh, and an essential part of documentary filmmaking finds its apotheosis: the act of testifying. Our top choice was an obvious one.
The best documentaries not only teach us something about the world we live in, but they interrogate our beliefs, help us understand experiences that are unlike our own, anger us with stories of inequality, and reveal untold truths about the world. (If they win an Oscar or two along the way, all the better.) A brilliant documentary can turn audiences into activists; it can awaken, alarm and amuse.
Of course, sometimes all you want to watch is an action movie or a romantic comedy. But for those times when you are in the mood for a documentary, we’ve compiled an exhaustive list of some essential documentary films you absolutely need to see. Featuring the likes of Man on Wire, An Inconvenient Truth, Grey Gardens and Fahrenheit 9/11, here are our picks of the best documentaries ever made.
Written by Joshua Rothkopf, Cath Clarke, Tom Huddleston, David Fear, Dave Calhoun, Phil de Semlyen, David Ehrlich
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