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The 20 Best Documentaries of 2010

December 23, 2010  |  7:00am
15. Waking Sleeping Beauty
Director: Don Hahn
During the 1980s it was obvious from Disney Animation’s films that the studio was in a devastating decline. Its low point arrived when The Black Cauldron was embarrassingly knocked out at the box office by The Care Bears Movie. This comeback story pulls no punches in describing just how bad it was for the people who worked there and centers around three men Walt Disney’s nephew Roy hired to turn things around: Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Frank Wells. It was a change that led to success stories like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. But they came at a great cost.—Tim Basham

14. The Art of the Steal
Director: Don Argott
In the early 20th century, Albert Barnes rose from his blue-collar beginnings to considerable wealth, assembling what would become the most impressive collection of post-impressionist art in the world (181 Renoirs, 59 Matisses), currently valued at over $25 billion. He housed it all in an impeccably civilized foundation on private property outside the city of Philadelphia as an act of defiance against his lifelong enemies, the Philadelphia art establishment and city government. Then, as a final middle finger to those forces, he clearly demanded in his will that the collection never be sold, loaned or moved, and specifically never to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. You can guess from the title what happened next. An infuriating look at a government’s brazen attempt to steal a priceless collection from a foundation that Matisse called “the only sane place to see art in America.”—Michael Dunaway

13.Louder Than A Bomb
Directors: Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel
It’s impossible to be unmoved by these school kids, some from badly broken homes, who eloquently reveal their inner emotions on stage with “poetry slam”. The spoken-word competition climaxes with the largest high-school slam in the world, with competitors from clubs around the country. It’s a get-up-and-clap kind of movie.—Tim Basham

12. Catfish
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
The talk of Sundance 2010 was whether this film belonged in the Documentary or Narrative category, but nearly everyone agreed it was brilliant (Morgan Spurlock reportedly approached the filmmakers after a screening and quipped “That’s the best fake documentary I’ve ever seen!). New York photographer Nev Schulman gets a gift in the mail one day, a painting of one of his photos that’s been published in the New York Times. He begins a correspondence with the eight-year-old prodigy that sent it to him, eventually getting to know her family and friends as well, almost exclusively through Facebook. When he begins to suspect that he’s not getting the whole story, he sets out for Michigan with his brother and another friend to get some answers. It’s as suspenseful, entertaining, and thought-provoking as any film this year, documentary or otherwise.—Michael Dunaway

11. Inside Job
Director: Charles Ferguson
Charles Ferguson tracks our country’s steady financial deregulation back 30 years, presenting it not as any great conspiracy but rather as a series of risks not worth taking. He presents the financial crash not as a disaster out of nowhere, but rather as a wave we all saw coming while remaining immobile on a beach, waiting patiently for it to hit us. You’ll know a lot more at the end of Ferguson’s film than you do at the beginning. Above all, though, you’ll know that you’re furious, and Ferguson is too.—Bennett Webber

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