50 Greatest Film Documentaries

50. Overnight (Tony Montana, Mark Brian Smith, 2003)

Overnight The perfect example of how not to produce a film, Overnight is a cautionary tale of an ego left unchecked. Having had his script accepted by Miramax's Harvey Weinstein, Boston bartender-cum-filmmaker Troy Duffy is immediately, inevitably heralded as the hot new talent. However, not only does Duffy believe the hype, he convinces others with all the subtlety of a brick to the face. His film, The Boondock Saints, a vigilante thriller with a cast as diverse as Willem Dafoe, Billy Connolly and Ron Jeremy, isn't particularly groundbreaking, yet its $15 million budget and considerable studio support propel Duffy into the very heart of Hollywood. And here's where he self-destructs. Fame has transformed Duffy into a dictator. His endless tantrums and self-aggrandising nature not only drive his friends away, but force Weinstein to put the film in turnaround, yet still he continues to bite the hand that feeds him; his rants against the system turn from delusional to downright vitriolic, before, ultimately, he's booed - and booted - out of town. Although The Boondock Saints did eventually enjoy commercial (if not critical) success through DVD sales, one can't help but feel a smidgen of schadenfreude upon discovering Duffy's contract was revised by Miramax to ensure he received not a penny. Duffy accuses Montana and Smith of manipulating their footage so as to portray him as a monster. There's very little they could have done otherwise.

49. Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders, 1999)

Buena Vista Social Club Ry Cooder travels to Havana to round up some of Cuba's most revered musicians for a unique gig at New York's Carnegie Hall. Sounds simple enough, yet this synopsis says nothing of the film's power and poignance. Having enjoyed fame and success between the Thirties to Fifties, many of the players featured have been forced to retire their music and accept that their time has passed. When tracking down Ibrahim Ferrer (whom Cooder calls ''the Cuban Nat King Cole''), for example, we see that he is shining shoes for a living. Yet, as is the case with almost all the musicians interviewed, his exuberance rings out from Cuba's empty streets like a bell tower. The cast, ranging from their teens to their nineties, record an album that shares the film's title, before touring it in Amsterdam and New York. For many, it is their first trip to the States, dazzled by the bright lights and the audience once again cheering before them. Wenders profiles each musician so that we see not only the impact their music had on their country (and vice versa), but also the incredible stories of a generation defying their age to play the music they love.

48. The Interrupters (Steve James, 2011)

The Interrupters The Interrupters is a documentary following the lives of CeaseFire campaigners, a non-profit group who take to the streets of Chicago to "interrupt" the rising conflict between not only rival gangs but petty disputes before they erupt into further violence. Many campaigners are former gang members themselves and so spread the message of reform having learned the hard way. Patience, understanding and diplomacy are the tools used to disarm and dissuade; appealing to a person's rational thought is almost impossible when they're reaching for their gun. Yet, it's the sense of a crumbling community, shook by the futility of "an eye for an eye", that lies at the heart of the film. Recorded at the peak of Chicago's street violence, the murder of Derrion Albert became national news after footage of his attack was captured on videotape. Since then, CeaseFire members have taken to speaking at funerals of those killed so needlessly. Affecting as these scenes are, nothing quite encapsulates the film, the struggle and the community than the tale of L'il Mikey, the young man who returns to the barbershop he held up two years ago. He apologises to the staff, who are huddled together and weeping as they listen to just how much he's changed. One woman tells him that she genuinely feared for her life, as did her children and colleague held at gunpoint, before slowly approaching L'il Mikey and hugging him.
 
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Yorkshireman (hence the surname). Often spotted sacrificing sleep and sanity for the annual Leeds International Film Festival. For a sample of (fairly) recent film reviews, please visit whatsnottoblog.wordpress.com.

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