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The 25 Best Documentaries of the Decade (2000-2009)

November 10, 2009  |  7:00am
The 25 Best Documentaries of the Decade (2000-2009)
20. No Direction Home (2005)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Bob Dylan
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Borrowing D.A. Pennebaker’s and Andy Warhol’s Best Dylan footage from 1961 to 1966—the most important, influential period in the master songwriter’s career—and combining it with a series of informal mid-’90s interviews with everyone from Allen Ginsberg and Dave Van Ronk to otherwise tight-lipped ex-girlfriend Suze Rotole and even Dylan himself, Scorsese creates an immersive filmic collage that does as much to create further intrigue around its shadowy subject as peel back the curtain and offer a glimpse of the mysterious man pulling the strings. Steve LaBate


19. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
Director: Alex Gibney
Starring: Andrew Fastow, Jeffrey Skilling, Kenneth Lay, Peter Coyote, Gray Davis
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

In a cautionary tale of corporate greed, negligence and diffusion of responsibility, the leaders of Enron defrauded employees and investors out of millions, encouraging others to stay aboard a sinking ship while they were quietly bailing themselves out. Among the highlights of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is Alex Gibney’s montage that cross-cuts footage of Stanley Milgram’s 1961 social experiment with images of the chaos caused by Enron in the 2000 California energy crisis, narrated by phone calls between ruthlessly jovial Enron traders, all set to Los Straightjackets’ “California Sun.” The unexpected wit and verve with which this documentary tells its infuriating tale is what sets it apart. Emily Riemer


18. Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008)
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Steve “Lips” Kudlow, Robb Reiner
Studio: Abramorama

The story of a hugely influential but largely forgotten Canadian heavy-metal band now in their fifties, might seem like the Spinal Tap sequel, complete with aging rockers suffering through demeaning gigs, the memory of the big show in Japan, the visit to Stonehenge, even an amp that actually goes to 11. But director Sascha Gervasi is playing those cards very deliberately, and Anvil! The Story of Anvil is moving and very real. When we find Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner (yes, his real name) at the present-day beginning of the film, they’re stuck in dead-end jobs in Toronto (Lips drives a delivery truck; Robb works construction). But they’re still rocking together, just as they made a pact to do 36 years ago in high school. And Lips’ and Robb’s tireless devotion to their dreams, and to each other, is Gervasi’s secret weapon. He draws you in with the silliness, but sets his hook with the sweetness. Michael Dunaway


17. The White Diamond (2004)
Director: Werner Herzog
Starring: Graham Dorrington, Werner Herzog, Dieter Plage
Studio: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion

The subject of Werner Herzog’s 2004 film is aeronautical engineer Graham Dorrington and his unconventional aircraft, but Herzog’s curiosity also leads him to explore the Kaieteur Falls of Guyana and the diamond miners and birds hidden within. Josh Jackson


16. God Grew Tired of Us (2007)
Director: Christopher Quinn
Starring: John Dau, Nicole Kidman, Daniel Abul Pach
Studio: Newmarket Films

This stirring documentary follows the trials faced by the Lost Boys of Sudan, both before and after their integration into American society. While their plight is dark, the film is ultimately an uplifting example of the adversity the human soul can face while still maintaining hope. “One of the things people come away with from the film,” director Quinn said to Paste in 2006, “something I didn’t really see as I was filming—was the critique on America. It’s easy to see where the excess is. The Lost Boys came here and were evaluating everything. John [Bul Dau] is hoping to see a communal celebration at Christmas, but it’s all quantifiable materialism.Josh Jackson

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