10 Best Documentaries of 2017

From families in Philly to protests in Ferguson, sweat shops in Calcutta to head trips in Haight-Ashbury – our picks for the year's best, boldest docs

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4. 'Ex Libris'

For 50 years and counting, Frederick Wiseman has been taking his cameras into army barracks, insane asylums, community-council meetings, department stores, slaughterhouses, high schools, hospitals, you name it – places where people do a job and play and learn how to live in a society. His look at the New York Public Library and its smaller borough-based branches, however, almost feels like a career summation. You get a front row seat to intellectuals discussing history and poets and musicians entertaining audiences, as well as people arguing in back rooms over funding such endeavors. You see how these vast stores of books, microfiche reels, etc. can be bartered over budgetwise, or simply help somebody read up on cancer research. And most importantly, you get a slowly developing picture of how an institutions is really the sum of their working parts, especially when it's something as significant as a place in danger of having its currencies – information and communication – devalued. Plus you get Elvis Costello narrating a clip of his dad doing a goofy version of "If I Had a Hammer." Essential.

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