‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Looper’ Director Rian Johnson Shares His Top 10 Documentaries

welles f for fake

Rian Johnson is a filmmaker best known for his fiction features Looper, Brick and The Brothers Bloom. He also helmed two of the best episodes of Breaking Bad – “The Fly” and the DGA Award-winning “Fifty-One” — as well as the upcoming episode “Ozymandias” (airing Sept. 15). While he hasn’t (yet) directed any nonfiction films, he is a professed huge fan of documentaries, and so he was kind enough to share a list of his ten favorites in no particular order, plus an additional pick that he elaborates on.

Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (Erroll Morris, 1999) – stream via SnagFilms
The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda, 2000) – stream via SundanceNow
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012) – stream via Amazon
F For Fake (Orson Welles, 1973) – stream via Amazon
Salesman (Albert and David Maysles, 1968) – stream via Hulu Plus
Hollywood (Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, 1980) – currently unavailable
Catching Hell (Alex Gibney, 2011) – stream via Netflix
Missile (Frederick Wiseman, 1987) – buy the DVD
Company: Original Cast Album (D.A. Pennebaker, 1970) – currently unavailable
Burden of Dreams (Les Blank, 1982) – stream via Amazon

Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, 1967) – Putting this one separate because it provoked such a profound reaction of horror in me that I couldn’t finish watching it. That sounds like something Herzog would say, but it’s the truth. I’ve never reacted to a film that way, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to revisit it. – buy the DVD

Check out a scene from Wiseman’s Missile:


  • http://www.refocusedmedia.com Refocused Media

    Great list from a great filmmaker. Thanks!

  • Brandon Campbell

    “it provoked such a profound reaction of horror in me that I couldn’t finish watching it. That sounds like something Herzog would say, but it’s the truth…”

    I can definitely imagine him (or at least Paul F. Tompkins’ impersonation of him http://tinyurl.com/o2x6oez ) saying this.

  • Andrew Hegele

    Some things just make so much sense…. Rian Johnson championing F for Fake is one of those things. Great movie, great filmmaker.

  • stickybeak

    I love F for Fake, it’s the Welles film I re-watch the most but does it qualify as a documentary?
    Most critics describe it as an essay film.

  • Benedict

    Errol Morris, Alex Gibney, Les Blank…nice list. Most I haven’t heard of and will check out one day.

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  • Sean Gandert

    Actually, he has directed a feature-length documentary, it just happens to be an obscure performance film of the Mountain Goats’ “Life of the World to Come.” It’s also rather brilliant.

    • http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/ Christopher Campbell

      Oh, interesting. I should find out how I can see that. Thanks!

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  • mudywaters

    LOVED Brick. This writer/director is the real deal holyfield.

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  • Jennifer Campbell

    Love love LOVE Stories We Tell – so glad he included it.