‘The Act of Killing’ Voted the Best Documentary of 2013 in Inaugural Nonfics Critics Poll

TAOK_AnwarDummy

Welcome to the first annual Nonfic critics poll focused specifically on the best documentary films of the year. We invited anyone to participate, whether they are actual film critics or programmers, editors, filmmakers, what have you. Most of the contributions did come from those who primarily review movies, whether for a living or not. If they wanted to share their list of best docs of 2013, this was the outlet to do so. Additionally, we included lists from some notable film critics who’d compiled separate highlights for docs and some who’d merely included them in their ranking.

For the master list seen below, we took those individual lists and tallied them up in a way that applied a point system based on if every list had featured twenty titles. So, everyone’s number one film accounts for 20 points, etc. And the resulting favorite was not at all surprising. The Act of Killing (which I personally do not qualify for the stubborn reason of it not being released in full in the U.S.) has won numerous other critic group awards and polls.

In all there were 85 titles that qualified as 2013 releases in the U.S. that were submitted in the poll. See those, accompanied by their score, followed by a list of not-yet-released picks and then all of the individual critic/editor/programmer/filmmaker’s personal lists. A couple people added comments to their choices, as was allowed.

1. The Act of Killing (426)
2. Stories We Tell (396)
3. Cutie and the Boxer (246)
4. Leviathan (204)
5. After Tiller (197)
6. Blackfish (181)
7. Room 237 (174)
8. Let the Fire Burn (124)
9. The Square (112)
10. 20 Feet From Stardom (103)

at-berkeley-documentary
11. At Berkeley (95)
12. The Crash Reel (91)
13. Call Me Kuchu (79)
14. Sound City (74)
15. Muscle Shoals (70)
16. Caucus (69)
17. A Band Called Death (67)
18. These Birds Walk (59)
19. Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (58)
20. Inequality For All (57)

machine kid
21. The Machine Which Makes                                                     Everything Disappear (51)
22. Tim’s Vermeer (48)
23. 56 Up (45)
       Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? An Animated
                  Conversation With Noam Chomsky (45)

25. Narco Cultura (43)
26. Dirty Wars (42)
      The Punk Singer (42)
28. We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks (40)
29. Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life               and Time of Tim Hetherington (38)
30. The Oversimplification of Beauty (35)

american promise 1
31. American Promise (34)
      First Cousin Once Removed (34)
33. ¡Vivan las Antipodas! (32)
34. Museum Hours (31)
35. Gideon’s Army (29)
36. Rewind This! (27)
37. Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (21)
38. Gasland Part II (20)
39. Downloaded (19)
      Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (19)

Armstrong Lie 2
41. The Armstrong Lie (18)
      Shepard and Dark (18)
      This Ain’t California (18)
44. Informant (17)
      No Place on Earth (17)
      The Source Family (17)
      Spinning Plates (17)
48. Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (16)
      Scatter My Ashes at Berdorf’s (16)

450f22077a0cbbc6c8369792a6d736bf67b7f913-s6-c30
50. Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of               Ricky Jay (15)
      Don’t Stop Believin': Everyman’s Journey (15)
      Money For Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve (15)
      Valentine Road (15)
      Venus and Serena (15)
55. Blood Brother (14)
      Good Ol’ Freda (14)
      Koch (14)
      London: The Modern Babylon (14)
      The World Before Her (14)

levon-helm
60. Ain’t in It for My Health: A Film About                                  Levon Helm (13)
      The Bitter Buddha (13)
      The End of Time (13)
      Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie (13)
      God Loves Uganda (13)
      Lenny Cooke (13)
      Medora (13)
      One Life (13)
68. Becoming Traviata (12)
      League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis (12)
      A Will for the Woods (12)

and makes his Broadway debut
71. Broadway Idiot (11)
     The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (11)
     Somm (11)
     Terms and Conditions May Apply (11)
75. 100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience (10)
      Girl Rising (10)
      Two American Families (10)
      Unhung Hero (10)
79.Casting By (9)

large_herblock_1
80. Herblock: The Black & The White (8)
81. The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain (7)
      Two Lessons (7)
83. Bridegroom (5)
84. The Trial of Muhammad Ali (4)
85. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story (2)

The-Unknown-Known-donald-rumsfeld

The Unknown Known

The following 16 titles mentioned on individual lists have not yet officially been released in the U.S.:

The Unknown Known
The Last of the Unjust
Code Black
Before You Know It
Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia
Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus
Beyond All Boundaries
Inori
Rent a Family Inc.
My Way to Olympia
Oxyana
Maidentrip
Manakamana
The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain
Public Hearing
Fuck For Forest

Stories-We-Tell-1

Stories We Tell

Christopher Campbell
Founding Editor, Nonfics
1. Stories We Tell
2. ¡Vivan las Antipodas!
3. This Ain’t California
4. Cutie and the Boxer
5. Let the Fire Burn
6. At Berkeley
7. Leviathan
8. Caucus
9. 20 Feet From Stardom
10. Dirty Wars
11. The Square
12. After Tiller
13. The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear
14. Two Lessons
15. Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington
16. Call Me Kuchu
17. The Trial of Muhammad Ali
18. Medora
19. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story
20. 56 Up
Honorable mentions to best of non-U.S. releases:
1. Expedition to the End of the World
2. Particle Fever
3. Oil Sands Karaoke
4. Fatal Assistance
5. The Act of Killing (Director’s Cut)

Call Me Kuchu

Call Me Kuchu

Daniel Walber
Film Critic, Nonfics/Film.com
1. Stories We Tell
2. The Square
3. Cutie and the Boxer
4. The Act of Killing
5. Call Me Kuchu
6. Tim’s Vermeer
7. After Tiller
8. The End of Time
9. Becoming Traviata
10. The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear

first-cousin-once-removed

First Cousin Once Removed

Dan Schindel
Film Critic,Nonfics/Movie Mezzanine
1. Stories We Tell
2. The Act of Killing
3. First Cousin Once Removed
4. American Promise
5. Room 237
6. After Tiller
7. Cutie and the Boxer
8. These Birds Walk
9. Dirty Wars
10. The Crash Reel

leviathan blusnip

Leviathan

Robert Greene
Filmmaker and Film Critic, Nonfics/Sight & Sound/Hammer to Nail
Top 10 Nonfiction Films Released In U.S. Theaters In 2013
1. Leviathan
2. The Act of Killing
3. These Birds Walk
4. Museum Hours
5. Stories We Tell
6. At Berkeley
7. Cutie and the Boxer
8. ¡Vivan Las Antipodas!
9. Caucus
10. Let the Fire Burn

letthefireburn-photo02

Let the Fire Burn

Landon Palmer
Film Critic, Nonfics/Film School Rejects
1. Let the Fire Burn
2. The Act of Killing
3. Stories We Tell
4. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
5. Leviathan
6. Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?
7. Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer
8. Ain’t In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm
9. Cutie and the Boxer
10. The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

Which_Way_Is_The_Front_Line_From_Here_The_Life_and_Time_of_Tim_Hetherington_1

Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington

Adam Benzine
Associate Editor, Realscreen
1. The Act of Killing
2. The Gatekeepers
3. (TIE) Which Way Is the Frontline From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington
and After Tiller
5. Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer
6. The Crash Reel
7. Dangerous Acts starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus
8. Stories We Tell
9. (TIE) The Last of the Unjust
and The Unknown Known
Honorable mentions: Caucus, Let the Fire Burn, We Always Lie to Strangers, Leviathan

gasland2

Gasland Part II

Bryce Renninger
Associate Editor, Indiewire
1. Gasland Part II
2. Cutie and the Boxer
3. After Tiller
4. Leviathan
5. The Act of Killing
6. Caucus
7. Catfish – “Kya and Alyx” episode, which though I was annoyed by the hosts as much as this writer was, the space the two doc subjects were given to articulate themselves was incredibly important.
8. Call Me Kuchu
9. Blackfish
10. Terms and Conditions May Apply

room237key

Room 237

Sam Adams
Criticwire Editor, Indiewire
1. Room 237
2. The Act of Killing
3. At Berkeley
4. The Square
5. Leviathan
6. Valentine Road
7. After Tiller
8. Let the Fire Burn
9. Our Nixon
10. Call Me Kuchu

Is the the Man who is Tall Happy Key Image, Credit IFC Films

Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? An Animated Conversation With Noam Chomsky

Eric Kohn
Film Critic, Indiewire
1. The Act of Killing
2. Leviathan
3. Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?
4. Stories We Tell
5. First Cousin Once Removed
6. The Last of the Unjust
7. Blackfish
8. Lenny Cooke
9. Cutie and the Boxer
10. After Tiller

The Punk Singer

The Punk Singer

Katie Walsh
Film Critic, The Playlist
1. After Tiller
2. Act of Killing
3. The Punk Singer
4. Blackfish
5. Inequality For All
6. Sound City
7. A Band Called Death
8. Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer
9. Stories We Tell
10. Gideon’s Army

Sound_City_2013_Wallpapers_3_iusha_2880x1800

Sound City

Allison Loring
Film Critic, Film School Rejects
1. Code Black
2. Sound City
3. The Crash Reel
4. The Act of Killing
5. Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s

The-Crash-Reel

The Crash Reel

Edwin Arnaudin
Film Critic, Ashvegas
1. The Crash Reel
2. Downloaded
3. Muscle Shoals
4. Spinning Plates
5. 20 Feet from Stardom
6. Inequality for All
7. Blood Brother
8. Which Way is the Frontline From Here?
9. A Band Called Death
10. Broadway Idiot

Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Story

Don’t Stop Believin': Everyman’s Story

Robert Levin
Film Critic, amNewYork
1. The Act of Killing
2. Cutie and the Boxer
3. The Square
4. Blackfish
5. We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
6. Don’t Stop Believin': Everyman’s Journey
7. After Tiller
8. Our Nixon
9. Room 237
10. Stories We Tell

Vermeer 1

Tim’s Vermeer

Karina Longworth
Author, Meryl Streep: Anatomy of an Actor
Act of Killing
Stories We Tell
Room 237
The Unknown Known
Tim’s Vermeer

A Band Called Death

A Band Called Death

David Ehrlich
Managing Editor, Film.com
1. At Berkeley
2. Leviathan
3. The Act of Killing
4. Call Me Kuchu
5. Stories We Tell
6. Cutie and the Boxer
7. After Tiller
8. A Band Called Death

CutieandtheBoxer_5

Cutie and the Boxer

A.O. Scott
Film Critic, New York Times

1. The Act of Killing
2. Stories We Tell
3. The Square
4. Let the Fire Burn
5. Cutie and the Boxer

THE-SQUARE-Ahmed

The Square

Manohla Dargis
Film Critic, New York Times
Manakamana
The Square
Room 237
Stories We Tell

big-star-nothing-can-hurt-me

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

Whitney Matheson
Blogger, USA Today’s Pop Candy
1. Stories We Tell
2. Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
3. Room 237
4. The Source Family
5. Sound City
6. Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer
7. A Band Called Death
8. Evocateur
9. The Punk Singer
10. 56 Up
11. 100 Yen

After Tiller

After Tiller

Matthew Lucas
Film Critic, The Dispatch/From the Front Row/In Review Online
1. Leviathan
2. The Act of Killing
3. At Berkeley
4. After Tiller
5. Stories We Tell

we steal secrets

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks

Philip Martin
Film Critic, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Blood, Dirt & Angels
1. After Tiller
2. The Act of Killing
3. Leviathan
4. American Promise
5. Room 237
6. Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia
7. Blackfish
8. These Birds Walk
9. The Punk Singer
10. We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
11. 20 Feet from Stardom
12. At Berkeley
13. The Gatekeepers
14. The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain
15. Muscle Shoals
16. Bridegroom
17. Dirty Wars
18. Cutie and the Boxer
19. Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
20. Oxyana

BobDylanMS

Muscle Shoals

Christian Hamaker
Film Critic, Salem Communications/Crosswalk.com
1. Stories We Tell
2. Cutie and the Boxer
3. Blackfish
4. Muscle Shoals
5. The Act of Killing

rewind-this-documentary

Rewind This!

Adam Frazier
Film Critic, Geeks of Doom
1. Stories We Tell
2. Blackfish
3. Rewind This!
4. Muscle Shoals
5. Room 237
6. 20 Feet from Stardom
7. Good Ol Freda
8. Cutie and the Boxer
9. The House I Live In
10. Sound City

Robert_Reich_in_Inequality_for_All

Inequality for All

Kenny Miles
Film Critic, The Movie Blog
1. The Act of Killing (122 min)
2. Tim’s Vermeer
3. Blackfish
4. Stories We Tell
5. (TIE) Inequality For All and Money For Nothing
7. 56 Up
8. 20 Feet From Stardom
9. (TIE) Caucus and The Square
11. Unhung Hero
12. Rewind This!

9243540_orig

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

Serena Donadoni
Film Critic, The Cinema Girl
1. Stories We Tell
2. Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
3. Shepard and Dark
4. No Place on Earth
5. Free Angela and All Political Prisoners
6. Room 237
7. London: The Modern Babylon
8. The Bitter Buddha
9. A Band Called Death
10. Somm

venus-and-serena

Venus and Serena

Adam Hartzell
Film Critic, Koreanfilm.org/VCinemaShow
1. Planet of Snail – Follows the everyday lives of a disabled couple. I agree with Andrew O’Hehir of Slate who said it’s the “romance of the year.”
2. Cutie and the Boxer – Wonderful snapshot in the lives of elder artists, the sacrifices they made and the resurgence of their careers late in life.
3. My Way to Olympia – A Thalidomide survivor/director confronts his hatred of sports by meeting with various paralympians.
4. Salma – Longinotto continues to provide such valuable works, this time touching on the life of a poet in India
5. Rent a Family Inc. – Follows the life of a man who rents himself and others out as faux-family members so various Japanese clients can save face.
6. Venus and Serna – So many fascinating insights of the trajectory of two of the greatest tennis players ever, never shying away from tough topics of the intersection of gender/race/class in America that surrounded the life/career events of Venus and Serena.
7. High Tech, Low Life – Follows two Chinese netizens trying to use the Internet (and their fame) to expose corruption in China.
8. Inori – Meditation on life in a village in Nara prefecture where all the young folk are leaving for the city, leaving the elders alone to contemplate the quiet around them.
9. The League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis – An important documentary that is having ripple effects in the industry and wider zeitgeist.
10. Beyond All Boundaries – Three individuals of different life paths are followed to underscore the significance of cricket in India.

BlackFish_Dogwoof_Documentary_1120_630_85

Blackfish

Robert Sims
Film Critic, Lights Camera Austin
1. Blackfish
2. Act of Killing (122′ min)
3. The Armstrong Lie
4. 20 Feet From Stardom
5. Narco Cultura
6. Before You Know It
7. Stories We Tell
8. God Loves Uganda
9. The Unknown Unknown
10. Inequality for All

still-of-merry-clayton-in-20-feet-from-stardom

20 Feet From Stardom

Edward Douglas
Associate Editor, ComingSoon.net
1. 20 Feet from Stardom
2. 56 Up
3. Blackfish
4. Cutie and the Boxer
5. Stories We Tell
6. Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
7. Koch
8. Sound City
9. Muscle Shoals
10. The Crash Reel

narco cultura

Narco Cultura

J.S. Lewis
Film Critic, The Film Tome/MOVIECLIPS
1. The Act of Killing (122′ min)
2. The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear
3. Leviathan
4. Stories We Tell
5. Room 237
6. Narco Cultura
7. The Crash Reel
8. One Life
9. After Tiller
10. We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks
11. Girl Rising
12. Casting By
13. Herblock: The Black and the White

213421-The-Informant-film-documentary-2012-Jamie-Meltzer-molotov

Informant

Jason Perdue
Program Director, Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
1. Stories We Tell
2. The Act of Killing
3. Let the Fire Burn
4. Informant
5. Gideon’s Promise
6. These Birds Walk
7. The World Before Her
8. Maidentrip
9. A Will for the Woods
10. Caucus

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

Nick Shimkin
Film Programmer, Brooklyn Arts Council
1. Leviathan – I truly hope Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab has some deep pockets. With just a few projects they’ve pointed the way forward for direct cinema. Leviathan is in every way a stunner. Its peerless vision of man-made hell in the form of a deep sea fishing vessel off the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts, is visually and aurally and viscerally alive and invigorating… And an essential big screen viewing experience to boot. They can’t (and shouldn’t) all be immersive, wordless, experimental-ethnographic portraits, but if Leviathan opens the door to more projects that look and feel like it, cinema will be richer for it.
2. Cutie and the Boxer – A film about love set and shot in Brooklyn, this one observing aging sparring partners in a 40-year marriage, painstakingly observed and crafted by Zachary Heinzerling over five years. The 80-minute glimpse into the lives of artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara is raw and unsentimental and delicate… And the end result, without even trying, asks the profound question, “What is true love and what is true art?”
3. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – A wonderfully hand-made, mind-bogglingly creative mixtape of a meta-narrative, the debut feature from filmmaker-artist-musician Terence Nance represents the best kind of hybrid filmmaking. Ostensibly a documentary charting the director’s courtship of would-be girlfriend Namik Minter (played by herself), the film contains within it the earlier short “doc” on which it is based, then explodes genres and modes — using direct address, stop-motion, gorgeous animation, reenacted scenarios etc. — as creator/star breathlessly and obsessively traces the contours of a relationship and visualizes the ultimate ode to platonic love.
4. Call Me Kuchu – The better of the year’s docs on the battle for gay rights in Uganda, the extraordinary Kuchu is chilling and uplifting, depressing and inspiring, with graceful heroes and unfeeling villains, full of taut journalistic filmmaking and generous attention paid to its lush locations. It observes local activism while placing it in the context of global struggle in a way few docs can pull off. And in deeply moving and understated fashion, the film becomes a testament to a martyr, following the murder of the courageous activist David Kato.
5. The Act of Killing – The most buzzed-about doc of the year is an undeniably powerful, formally daring stunt that pays off in spades. But the true impact of Joshua Oppenheimer’s perfectly-titled portrait of genocidal evil may not reveal itself for years: will a generation of younger Indonesians who have access to the film recognize the unrepentant cruelty and horrifying bloodlust of Anwar Congo and co. — celebrated by no less than the country’s president — and learn from history?
6. Dirty Wars – Too much of the run time is spent making a hero of narrator/guide/investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, but the deeply troubling exploration into America’s secret wars and Joint Special Operations Command’s extra-judicial murder/sanctioned terror is made frighteningly real. This is doc-style termite art: by film’s end, Scahill and co-writer David Riker (and you, viewer) have only begun chasing a failed “war on terror,” one spiraling out of control and with no end in sight.
7. Blackfish – Wrenching and utterly heartbreaking doc that makes the best use of archival footage of any film I saw this year. Blackfish works as a thriller as much as it does a cautionary tale about our mistreatment of and cruelty towards wild animals, in this case the orca whale, which, over the course of the film, Gabriela Cowperthwaite convinces us is one of the most beautiful, intelligent and highly evolved creatures on the planet.
8. Room 237 – A mesmerizing and beautifully stitched-together compendium of alleged hidden patterns, buried political subtexts, and crackpot theories concerning The Shining, as understood by five superfans, who are wisely left off screen. The film is built almost entirely on a close reading of the visuals of Kubrick’s oeuvre, and thus Room 237 pulls off the near-impossible: having seen it, I think I stand in even greater awe of his mastery of the medium.
9. Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?: An Animated Conversation with Noam Chomsky – Dazzling, dense, endlessly fascinating and (thankfully) quite playful, Michel Gondry’s series of convos with one of the great philosophical minds of the 20th Century — on liguistic function, cognitive theory, personal history — is animated in more ways than one, and a winning cinematic pairing of two endlessly inquisitive minds.
10. [TIE] Medora / Two American Families – Two restrained and sobering looks at American decay, in Medora and Milwaukee. Andrw Cohn and Davy Rothbart’s sports-doc-in-disguise probes the hollowing out of small town America via the fortunes of Indiana’s Medora Hornets high school basketball squad, and Bill Moyers tracks the relentless squeezing of the middle class over 20 years in an unmissable 83-minute episode of PBS’ long-running series Frontline.
Honorable Mentions: A Band Called Death, After Tiller, The Crash Reel, Gideon’s Army, The House I Live In, Our Nixon, Stories We Tell, We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks

Museum Hours

Museum Hours

Sierra Pettengill
Filmmaker, Town Hall
1. Act of Killing (122 min)
2. Act of Killing (159 min)
3. Public Hearing
4. Fuck For Forest
5. Northern Light (full disclosure: I worked on this)
6. Teenage (full disclosure: I worked on this)
7. Museum Hours
8. The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear
9. Narco Cultura
10. Let the Fire Burn

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights

Chris Boeckman
Associate Programmer, True/False

Best Undistributed:
Sleepless Nights
The Naked Room
Dioramas
Winter Go Away!
Aatsinki
Last Station
Die Welt

MORE FROM AROUND THE WEB


Leave a Reply