‘The Look of Silence’ Voted the Best Documentary of 2015 in 3rd Annual Nonfics Year-End Poll

Drafthouse Films

Welcome to the 3rd Annual Nonfics Year-End Poll. Most of the contributors to this feature are critics and/or editors and/or journalists. There are also some film festival programmers and filmmakers in the bunch. This year a couple of our gracious patrons took part, as well.

The poll is devoted specifically to documentaries released in the U.S. in 2015. The definition of what a documentary is can be taken loosely. Some of the titles submitted this year that could be up for debate include The Big Short and Tangerine. As usual, given our international reach, some contributors named older releases (such as Tales from the Grim Sleeper, which came out here in 2014) and titles that haven’t officially opened here yet. The latter have been compiled alphabetically below the main ranking. And then following that are individual contributors’ lists.

How did the ranking occur? We tallied up from those individual lists based on a 20-point system. Everyone’s first pick is worth 20 points, second pick is 19 points and downward. The resulting favorite, by a landslide victory, is Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, which happens to be a sort of sequel to the 2013 poll winner, The Act of Killing. The film also topped the official Nonfics best 15 documentaries of 2015 list.

Without further ado, here are this year’s 103 qualified titles for 2015, ranked:

1. The Look of Silence (410)
2. Amy (337)
3. Best of Enemies (287)
4. Listen to Me Marlon (220)
5. In Jackson Heights (193)
6. Stray Dog (164)
7. Cartel Land (159)
8. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (146)
9. Finders Keepers (139)
10. The Wolfpack (138)

The Russian Woodpecker

11. The Russian Woodpecker (134)
12. Heart of a Dog (133)
13. Western (132)
14. What Happened, Miss Simone? (120)
15. The Salt of the Earth (115)
16. Approaching the Elephant (114)
17. 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets (105)
18. A Poem Is a Naked Person (104)
19. We Come as Friends (103)
20. Almost There (98)

Meru

21. Meru (74)
22. Call Me Lucky (69)
23. Welcome to Leith (64)
24. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (62)
25. Dreamcatcher (61)

(T)error (61)
27. Iris (58)
28. The Hunting Ground (52)
29. The Jinx (48)
Winter on Fire (48)

The Nightmare

31. The Nightmare (47)
32. Where to Invade Next (46)
33. Hitchcock/Truffaut (41)
34. In the Basement (40)
35. Junun (39)

36. Sherpa (34)
37. Meet the Patels (33)

38. Above and Beyond (29)
How to Change the World (29)
I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (29)

41. Frame by Frame (28)
Those Who Feel the Fire Burning (28)
43. Peace Officer(27)
44. The Iron Ministry (25)
Very Semi-Serious (25)
46. 1971 (24)
47. Seymour: An Introduction (23)
Sunshine Superman (23)
49. The Pearl Button (22)
50. Batkid Begins (20)
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll (20)
God Bless the Child (20)
A Thousand Suns (Mille Soleils) (20)
You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder in the South (20)

55. All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records (19)
The Armor of Light (19)
The Big Short (19)
Klansville U.S.A. (19)
The Royal Road (19)
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (19)

Evaporating Borders (Ivaasks Films)

61. Evaporating Borders (18)
Janis: Little Girl Blue (18)
Palio (18)
Tangerine (18)
65. Ballet 422 (17)
The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (17)
Democrats (17)
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (17)
Field Niggas (17)
Heaven Knows What
(17)
I Am Chris Farley (17)

72. A Lego Brickumentary (16)
Orion: The Man Who Would Be King (16)
74. Coast of Death (Costa da Morte) (15)
How to Dance in Ohio (15)
My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
(15)
The New Rijksmuseum (15)
Soaked in Bleach (15)
Song of Lahore (15)
A Woman Like Me (15)

81. Counting (13)
The Creeping Garden (13)
Farewell, Herr Schwarz (13)
Guidelines (La Marche a Suivre) (13)
Lambert & Stamp (13)
86. Keith Richards: Under the Influence (12)
Only the Dead (12)
88. Be Known (11)
Censored Voices (11)
Dreams Rewired (11)
He Named Me Malala (11)

92. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of The National Lampoon (10)
Homme Less (10)
94. Mala Mala (9)
Vessel (9)
96. All This Mayhem (8)
The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest (8)
Of Men and War (8)
99. Twinsters (7)
100. Dior and I (5)
101. The Visit (4)
102. Song From the Forest (2)
103. The Redemption of the Devil (1)

The following 43 titles mentioned on individual lists have not yet officially been released in the U.S.:

6 Desires: DH Lawrence and Sardinia
Abdul & Hamza
Adam Curtis: Bitter Lake
Afternoon
Al Purdy Was Here
The Birth of Sake
Black Rain White Scars
Brame
Breaking a Monster
Brouillard: Passage #14
Business Club
The Closer We Get
The Cockpit
A Crackup At The Race Riots
Embargo
The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul
A Family Affair
Fragment 53
Hand Gestures
Hurt
In Transit
Isabella Morra
Juanicas
Kierkegaard
Maidan
Mavis!
Missing People
The Never Ending Factory of the Duomo
Of the North
Patient
Pervert Park
The Road
Scrum
Shift
Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars
Stand By for Tape Back-up
The Storm Makers
Tea Time
Thy Father’s Chair
Toponimia
Toto and His Sisters
Under the Sun
Veruda: A Film About Bojan

Christopher Campbell
Founding Editor, Nonfics
Associate Editor, Film School Rejects and Movies.com

1. The Look of Silence
2. Approaching the Elephant
3. In Jackson Heights
4. The Russian Woodpecker
5. A Poem Is a Naked Person
6. Stray Dog
7. Finders Keepers
8. Amy
9. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
10. The Jinx
11. Almost There
12. 1971
13. What Happened, Miss Simone?
14. The Nightmare
15. Evaporating Borders
16. Best of Enemies
17. The Visit
18. Sunshine Superman
19. In the Basement
20. The Redemption of the Devil

The best unreleased film of the year:
1. Under the Sun

'In the Basement' (Strand Releasing)

Daniel Walber
Film Critic, Nonfics
1. In the Basement
2. A Poem Is a Naked Person
3. We Come As Friends
4. In Jackson Heights
5. The Look of Silence
6. Coast of Death (Costa da Morte)
7. Amy
8. Guidelines (La Marche a Suivre)
9. Evaporating Borders
10. The Iron Ministry
11. The Russian Woodpecker
12. Mala Mala
13. Of Men and War
14. The Nightmare
15. The Pearl Button
16. Dior and I
17. Democrats
18. Approaching the Elephant
19. Song from the Forest
20. Best of Enemies

'We Come As Friends' (BBC Worldwide North America)

Dan Schindel
Film Critic, Nonfics and Movie Mezzanine
1. The Look of Silence
2. We Come As Friends
3. A Poem Is a Naked Person
4. Field Niggas
5. Stray Dog
6. The Salt of the Earth
7. The Iron Ministry
8. Farewell, Herr Schwarz
9. The Russian Woodpecker
10. The Royal Road
11. Those Who Feel the Burning
12. Adam Curtis: Bitter Lake
13. Finders Keepers
14. Twinsters
15. Western

Salt of the Earth

Landon Palmer
Film Critic, Nonfics and Film School Rejects
1. The Salt of the Earth
2. The Look of Silence
3. Listen to Me Marlon
4. Night Will Fall
5. Best of Enemies
6. Peace Officer
7. A Poem Is a Naked Person
8. Approaching the Elephant
9. The Russian Woodpecker
10. Iris
11. Amy
12. The Nightmare
13. In Jackson Heights
14. Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll
15. Junun
16. 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets

The Visit

Jason Gorber
Film Critic, Nonfics and Twitch
1. The Look of Silence
2. Best of Enemies
3. Cartel Land
4. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
5. Western
6. Call Me Lucky
7. The Visit
8. What Happened, Miss Simone?
9. Listen to Me Marlon

Cartel Land (The Documentary Group)

Jamie Maleszka
Contributing Writer, Nonfics and Mass Appeal
1. The Look of Silence
2. Cartel Land
3. Palio
4. In Jackson Heights
5. We Come As Friends
6. Iris
7. Stray Dog
8. (T)error
9. The Salt of the Earth
10. (TIE) Best of Enemies
Listen to Me Marlon
Meru
Western

'You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder in the South' (Vision Films)

Deanna Barton
Nonfics Patron

1. You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder in the South
2. Klansville U.S.A.
3. Al Capone: Icon
4. Momo: The Sam Giancana Story
5. Sriracha
6. Soaked in Bleach
7. Getting to the Nutcracker
8. Art and Craft
9. Keith Richards: Under the Influence
10. Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
11. What Happened, Miss Simone?
12. The Wolf Pack
13. All This Mayhem
14. 700 Sundays
15. The Cheshire Murders
16. Very Semi-Serious
17. Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story

Call Me Lucky (Type 55 Films/MPI Media Group)

Dor Dotson
President,
Genuine Article
Nonfics Patron
1. The Look of Silence
2. Heart of a Dog
3. Call Me Lucky
4. Best of Enemies
5. The Russian Woodpecker
6. Amy
7. 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets
8. Listen to Me Marlon
9. The Wolfpack
10. The Hunting Ground

Best unreleased:
1. Scrum
2. Pervert Park

Amy

Allison Loring
Film Critic, Film School Rejects
1. Amy
2. All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records
3. Iris
4. I Am Chris Farley

Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck

Tom Roston
Blogger, PBS’s POV Blog
1. The Look of Silence
2. Cartel Land
3. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
4. Standby for Tape Play-back
5. Winter on Fire
6. Almost There
7. Hitchcock/Truffaut
8. The Wolfpack
9. Listen to Me Marlon
10. The Hunting Ground

Sunshine Superman (CNN Films/Magnolia Pictures)

Patrick Mullen
Assistant Online Editor, POV Magazine

1. Sunshine Superman
2. What Happened, Miss Simone?
3. Al Purdy Was Here
4. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
5. Cartel Land
6. A Woman Like Me
7. Where to Invade Next
8. Heart of a Dog
9. Listen to Me Marlon
10. Best of Enemies

3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets (Participant Media)

Sam Adams
Criticwire Editor, Indiewire

1. The Look of Silence
2. Approaching the Elephant
3. In Jackson Heights
4. Heart of a Dog
5. Finders Keepers
6. 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets
7. Almost There
8. (T)error
9. Peace Officer
10. Listen to Me Marlon

Steve Greene
Special Projects Editor, Indiewire
1. Stray Dog
2. Best of Enemies
3. Those Who Feel the Fire Burning
4. Meet the Patels
5. How to Change the World
6. 1971
7. Winter on Fire
8. Amy
9. Only the Dead
10. Meru
11. Listen to Me Marlon
12. 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets
13. The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest

Best unreleased:
1. The Birth of Sake
2. Tea Time

The Big Short (Paramount Pictures)

Matt Patches
Entertainment Editor, Thrillist

1. The Look of Silence
2. The Big Short
3. A Poem Is a Naked Person
4. Amy
5. Best of Enemies
6. The Russian Woodpecker
7. Tales of the Grim Sleeper
8. Finders Keepers
9. The Wolfpack
10. Meru

Batkid Begins

Edward Douglas
Film Critic, Freelance

1. Batkid Begins
2. The Hunting Ground
3. Janis: Little Girl Blue
4. Meru
5. Amy
6. Song of Lahore
7. Sherpa
8. Call Me Lucky
9. Best of Enemies
10. He Named Me Malala

Ballet 422 (Magnolia Pictures)

Jordan Raup
Editor-in-Chief, The Film Stage

1. Listen to Me Marlon
2. The Look of Silence
3. In Jackson Heights
4. Ballet 422
5. The Salt of the Earth
6. Junun
7. Iris
8. Hitchcock/Truffaut
9. Call Me Lucky
10. Finders Keepers

Shannon in Finders Keepers

Cameron McAllister
Film Critic, Reel Georgia

1. The Salt of the Earth
2. Western
3. Amy
4. Stray Dog
5. Frame By Frame
6. Best of Enemies
7. Finders Keepers
8. The Wolfpack
9. Mavis!
10. Above and Beyond

Sherpa (Felix Media)

Alex Billington
Founder, FirstShowing.net

1. Sherpa
2. Listen to Me Marlon
3. Junun
4. Cartel Land
5. Finders Keepers
6. How to Dance in Ohio
7. Where to Invade Next
8. Best of Enemies
9. Call Me Lucky
10. Seymour: An Introduction

Don't Thing I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll (Argot Pictures)

Victor Morton
Film Critic, Rightwing Film Geek

1. Approaching the Elephant
2. Toto and His Sisters
3. What Happened, Miss Simone?
4. In Jackson Heights
5. The Look of Silence
6. Amy
7. Western
8. Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll
9. Cartel Land
10. The Storm Makers

In Transit (Submarine Deluxe)

Neil Young
Film Critic, The Hollywood Reporter
FIRST SELECTION
Brame
Brouillard: Passage #14
Embargo
Isabella Morra
Kierkegaard
Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars
Toponimia
Veruda: A Film About Bojan

SECOND SELECTION
Abdul & Hamza
Black Rain White Scars
Business Club
The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul
In Transit
Shift
Thy Father’s Chair

BONUS: OTHER MID-LENGTHS AND FEATURES OF NOTE
A Crackup At The Race Riots
Fragment 53
Hand Gestures
Maidan
The Never Ending Factory of the Duomo
Of the North
Patient
The Road
Western

Stray Dog (Still Rolling Productions)

Serena Donadoni
Film Critic, Village Voice/L.A. Weekly and The Cinema Girl
1. Stray Dog
2. Amy
3. Above and Beyond
4. The Salt of the Earth
5. Almost There
6. The New Rijksmuseum
7. I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story
8. The Creeping Garden
9. Seymour: An Introduction
10. Best of Enemies

'Heart of a Dog' (Abramorama/HBO)

Joshua Brunsting
Film Critic, The CriterionCast

1. Heart of a Dog
2. The Look of Silence
3. In the Basement
4. Welcome to Leith
5. 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets
6. We Come As Friends
7. In Jackson Heights
8. Counting
9. Frame By Frame
10. Dreams Rewired

Western

Don Simpson
Managing Editor, Smells Like Screen Spirit

1. God Bless the Child
2. Western
3. Tangerine
4. Heaven Knows What
5. Best of Enemies
6. My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
7. Stray Dog
8. Approaching the Elephant
9. The Look of Silence
10. Censored Voices
11. Homme Less
12. Vessel
13. The Royal Road

'What Happened, Miss Simone?' (Netflix)

Shane Slater
Film Critic, Awards Circuit

1. What Happened, Miss Simone?
2. The Armor of Light
3. Winter on Fire
4. Cartel Land
5. Meet the Patels
6. The Look of Silence
7. Listen to Me Marlon
8. 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets
9. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
10. The Hunting Ground

Listen to Me Marlon (Showtime)

Matthew Lucas
Film Critic,The Lexington Dispatch and From the Front Row
1. Heart of a Dog
2. The Look of Silence
3. Listen to Me Marlon
4. Stray Dog
5. The Pearl Button
6. I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story
7. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
8. Tales of the Grim Sleeper
9. Welcome to Leith
10. Amy

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (Magnolia Pictures)

Edwin Arnaudin
Film Critic, Asheville Citizen-Times

1. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
2. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
3. Where to Invade Next
4. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
5. A Lego Brickumentary
6. Listen to Me Marlon
7. Merchants of Doubt
8. Lambert & Stamp
9. Cartel Land
10. Amy

(T)error (Tribeca Film Festival)

Tim Grierson
Senior U.S. Critic, Screen International
Film Critic, The New Republic
1. (T)error
2. The Look of Silence
3. In Jackson Heights
4. Cartel Land
5. We Come As Friends
6. Stray Dog
7. Western
8. The Nightmare
9. Approaching the Elephant
10. Amy

In Jackson Heights

J.S. Lewis
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Cineflect.com
1. The Look of Silence
2. We Come As Friends
3. In Jackson Heights
4. The Jinx
5. Best of Enemies

Welcome to Leith

Kenny Miles
Film Critic, The Movie Blog and FilmFad

1. Welcome to Leith
2. Western
3. The Wolfpack
4. Cartel Land
5. Best of Enemies
6. (tie) Amy and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
8. Meru
9. Heart of a Dog
10. The Nightmare
11. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon

Very Semi-Serious (HBO)

Christian Hamaker
Film Critic, Crosswalk.com
1. Very Semi-Serious
2. Listen to Me Marlon
3. Amy
4. The Look of Silence
5. Best of Enemies
6. The Salt of the Earth
7. Hitchcock/Truffaut
8. Maidan
9. Mavis!
10. Be Known

'Afternoon' (Toronto International Film Festival)

Paul Landriau
Founder, Point de Vues
1. Afternoon
2. Amy
3. Juanicas
4. The Birth of Sake
5. The Cockpit

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (HBO)

Mike Sales
Film Critic and Owner, Midlands Movies

1. Amy
2. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
3. (tie) Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?

Andy Markowitz
Chief Content Wrangler, MusicFilmWeb.com
1. The Look of Silence
2. The Russian Woodpecker
3. Amy
4. Best of Enemies
5. Orion: The Man Who Would Be King

'A Thousand Suns' (Anna Sanders Films)

Amanda Rose Wilder
Filmmaker, Approaching the Elephant

1. A Thousand Suns (Mille Soleils)
2. A Poem Is a Naked Person
3. Western
4. In Jackson Heights
5. Stray Dog

Jeanie Finlay
Filmmaker, Sound It Out and Orion: The Man Who Would Be King

1. In Transit
2. Dreamcatcher
3. The Look of Silence
4. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
5. Adam Curtis: Bitter Lake
6. Approaching the Elephant
7. The Closer We Get
8. How to Change the World
9. Finders Keepers
10. Almost There

'The Jinx' (HBO)

Ben Godar
Filmmaker

1. The Jinx
2. Finders Keepers
3. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
4. The Look of Silence
5. The Wolfpack
6. Listen to Me Marlon

'Toto and His Sister' (Tribeca Film Festival)

Tim Horsburgh
Director of Communications and Distribution, Kartemquin Films
1. Toto and His Sisters
2. Almost There
3. Adam Curtis: Bitter Lake
4. 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets
5. Best of Enemies
6. (T)error
7. Breaking a Monster
8. The Wolfpack
9. All Things Ablaze
10. Dreamcatcher

Honorable Mentions:
Starting Point
Field Niggas
Hard Earned
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

Best of Enemies

Hussain Currimbhoy
Programmer, Sundance Film Festival

1. The Russian Woodpecker
2. Amy
3. Best of Enemies
4. A Family Affair
5. 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets
6. What Happened, Miss Simone?
7. Call Me Lucky
8. 6 Desires: DH Lawrence and Sardinia
9. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

The Wolfpack

Clint Bowie
Director of Programming, New Orleans Film Society
1. The Wolfpack
2. Heart of a Dog
3. Dreamcatcher
4. What Happened, Miss Simone?
5. Finders Keepers
6. Welcome to Leith
7. Missing People
8. Best of Enemies
9. Amy
10. The Look of Silence

Almost There (Factory 25)

Basil Tsiokos
Director of Programming, DOC NYC and Nantucket Film Festival

Almost There
Amy
Best of Enemies
Cartel Land
Democrats

Dreamcatcher
Heart of a Dog
In Jackson Heights
Listen to Me Marlon
The Look of Silence
Meru
The Russian Woodpecker
Western
What Happened, Miss Simone?
The Wolfpack

This post was originally published on December 23, 2015.

More to Read:

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.