'Rat Film,' 'Dawson City' and 2017's Offbeat-Doc Renaissance
It's not that hard to cobble together a 10-best documentary list every year if you watch a decent amount of nonfiction flicks – and thanks to HBO, Netflix and a number of distributors still willing to get them out to a moviegoing public, you've arguably never had a better chance to see them en masse. But 2017 was the year we had serious trouble limiting a documentary list to just 10 – from Faces Places to Ex Libris, The Challenge to The Work, there was a bounty of cinema vérité ready, willing and able to blow your mind.
But for us, this was the year that experimental, offbeat, WTF docs really hit their stride. Films like Dawson City: Frozen Time, Bill Morrison's tale of lost silent movies found in a remote Canadian mining town that doubles as a case history of bootstrap capitalism and a gorgeous display of decaying imagery. Or Theo Anthony's incredible Rat Film, which appears to be a look at amateur vermin exterminators in Baltimore before diving into urban planning, institutional racism and cosmic head-trip detours. Or Machines, a narration-less tour of an Indian factory that forces you to rethink not just third-world labor but first-world cine-activism. These were micro-to-macro looks at our past, present and future that reflected the world around us in creative, soul-searching ways. See them by any means necessary.