Truth, the maxim goes, is stranger than fiction. And almost every week there's a feature documentary hitting theaters or VOD telling a story just as compelling, if not more, than anything that can be found in mainstream multiplexes and $200 million dollar tentpoles.
Unfortunately, it's relatively rare for these films to cross over to mainstream audiences: the biggest grossing-documentary of the year so far, depressingly, is Dinesh D'Souza's borderline-incompetent right-wing propaganda piece "America" (our review, and its attendant 470+ mostly batshit comments, is here). But that's not accurately reflective, as it has been a very strong year for non-fiction filmmaking so far, and to prove it, we've rounded up an easily D'Souza-free list of the best 20 documentaries of the year so far.
Some have hit theaters already, some are favorites from the festival circuit that should make their way towards your eyeballs before the end of 2014. But from histories of colonial Africa to visionary filmmaker what-ifs, from intimate portraits of world-famous rock stars to glimpses of the small-town version of the American dream, from star-driven baseball docs to a biography of the most famous film critic in the world, there should be something here for everyone. Take a look at the list below, and let us know your own favorites of 2014 so far in the comments section.
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“Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me”
The inimitable brassy Broadway legend Elaine Stritch passed away last week, leaving a tall, stylish, foul-mouthed, completely one-of-a-kind hole in our hearts. Fortunately, we have Chiemi Karasawa’s documentary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” as a testament to Elaine’s unforgettable style and spirit. The film sensitively and intimately portrays the duality of Elaine’s personality: she is at once a fierce, ferocious broad, a seasoned performer who is never without a snappy comeback. But she’s also a sensitive Midwestern gal who still gets stage fright, and speaks with remarkable candor about her nervousness and fears, aging gracefully (it’s not for sissies), alcoholism, the tragedies in her own life and the realities of death. Despite all of the heavy subjects, the film is laugh-out-loud funny, thanks to Elaine’s quick wit and unfiltered personality, and is a fitting tribute to her nearly 70-year career. Ultimately, the truths that she speaks are universal ones in which anyone can find inspiration and solace. If you haven’t already, get to know Elaine Stritch, post-haste. [Full Review]