Discovering good movies, one bad movie at a time

Screened at the 20th Wisconsin Film Festival. Minding the Gap might be the best coming-of-age movie of the 2010s, in part because it wasn’t designed as such, and the subject which comes-of-age isn’t necessarily a human adolescent, but the movie itself. The film is the feature debut of director Bing Liu, a young man who […]

The biggest problem with Strong Island – but oof, what a terrible way to frame it. The movie has problems, of course; very few movies have absolutely no problems. But not so many movies are good at sympathetically displaying a range of human despair in a tight, intimate way that makes you feel like weeping […]

If one holds onto the belief that movies are first and above all meant to be emotion-generating objects (and this is not the only belief about movies one could hold, but it’s the one I’m happy to stick with as an operating principle), one could hardly hope for a more movie-ish movie than The Work. […]

Fairly early on in the docu-memoir-biography Jane, Dr. Jane Goodall offers a summary of the state of primate research at the dawn of the 1960s that includes reference to a primate scientist whose attempts to blend in with subjects involved covering himself in baboon shit. There is obviously no reason at all for me to […]

I cannot tell you about the moments in Faces Places that brought me the most happiness. This is partially because those moments are clustered in the film’s last 30 minutes, and they are far too wonderful in their little surprises for me to dare spoil them. This is partially, also, because they are so pure […]

First things first: director Amanda Lipitz’s first documentary feature, Step, is about the first graduating class of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, a charter school opened in 2009, and initially founded by Brenda Brown Rever. Lipitz is Rever’s daughter. Maybe this means nothing at all, and maybe it completely invalidates the film’s arguments […]

Any historical film movement is usually going to get discussed in terms of the biggest name-brand directors responsible for the biggest name-brand films, and so it was with the Soviet Montage movement. Any cinephile worthy of the name will know Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov at least by name, and anyone who likes their work […]

I don’t quite know how the career of Frederick Wiseman works – why 2015’s In Jackson Heights seemed to rate such a tiny speck of a release, and now his follow-up, Ex Libris – The New York Public Library is getting substantially more exposure. At least, more exposure by Frederick Wiseman standards, which is to […]

The most interesting thing about Dawson City: Frozen Time, by far, is the real-life history that enabled its existence. This is not to slight docu-essayist Bill Morrison, of the very highly-regarded 2002 Decasia (which I haven’t seen), among a couple dozen other films that are, as I understand it, mostly rather like this: moving collages […]

I will say this, and say it sincerely: Rat Film is definitely a weird film in all the right ways. On paper, director-writer Theo Anthony’s documentary argues a basic-unto-banal chain of causes and effects: systemic racism keeps black communities in the United States mired in poverty, urban centers that are mired in poverty tend to […]

We come now to one of the odder curlicues in the world of Amityvillania, a film that I wasn’t sure I was going to include in this retrospective until the moment before I hit “play”. I speak of My Amityville Horror, a 2012 documentary (and a little bit to my surprise, I don’t even feel […]

In ten feature-length documentaries made over a 35-year span, Errol Morris has played with different styles, different tones, different genres (he is, in no small part, the reason we can speak about “different genres” of documentary film in the first place), and different intentions, but one thing has remained constant. Ten times out of ten, […]