Notables of the Noughties: 35 documentary films, 2000-2009

Werner Herzog's Grizzy ManIt’s a special time that comes around every ten years in which we take a moment to reflect back on the past decade and make our “favorite” and “best-of” lists. It was a good decade for documentary films, here’s my own idiosyncratic list of thirty five notable documentaries released between 2000 and 2009 (in chronological order).

  • The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, 2000, French title: Les glaneurs et la glaneuse)
  • Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, 2001)
  • In the Mirror of Maya Deren (Martina Kudlácek, 2002)
  • A Kalahari Family (John Marshall, 2002)
  • Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz, 2002)
  • The Kid Stays in the Picture (Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen, 2002)
  • Winged Migration (Jacques Perrin, 2002, French title: Le peuple migrateur)
  • The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Errol Morris, 2003)
  • My Architect (Nathaniel Kahn and Susan R. Behr, 2003)
  • Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette, 2003)
  • The Corporation (Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, 2003)
  • The Weather Underground (Sam Green and Bill Siegel, 2003)
  • Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock, 2004)
  • Darwin’s Nightmare (Hubert Sauper, 2004)
  • March of the Penguins (Luc Jacquet, 2005, French title: La marche de l’empereur)
  • Grizzly Man (Wener Herzog, 2005)
  • Al otro lado (Natalia Almada, 2005)
  • The Cats of Mirikitani (Linda Hattendorf, 2006)
  • Mirror Dance (Frances McElroy and Maria T. Rodriguez, 2005)
  • Favela Rising (Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary, 2005)
  • Havana — The New Art of Making Ruins (Florian Borchmeyer and Matthias Hentschler, 2006, German title: Havana – Die Neue Kunst Ruinen Zu Bauen)
  • An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006)
  • Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman (Jennifer Fox, 2006)
  • When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (Spike Lee, 2006)
  • Shadow of the House (Allie Humenuk, 2007)
  • Helvetica (Gary Hustwit, 2007)
  • Iraq in Fragments (James Longley, 2007)
  • Made in L.A. (Almudena Carracedo, 2007)
  • Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008)
  • Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008)
  • The Garden (Scott Hamilton Kennedy, 2008)
  • Intimidad (David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, 2008)
  • King Corn (Aaron Woolf, Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney, 2009)
  • Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness (Llewellyn Smith, 2009)
  • Shooting Beauty (Courtney Bent and George Kachadorian, 2009)

It was tough reducing the list down to thirty five, there are some really good films that fell off the list simply because I made an arbitrary decision to limit myself to thirty five. And so it goes.

Minor revision 12/27/2010 to correct typo.


  1. says

    Jesus Camp
    The Great Happiness Space
    Dear Zachary
    Capturing the Friedmans

    Those are some of my all time favorites, sad they couldn’t make the list

  2. Haggus says

    ‘Fathead’ was the best from my POV. I’d also include ‘March of the Penguins’ and the documentary on the making of behind the documentary.

  3. Cliff Mannon says

    I would have liked to have seen IOUSA and Food Inc on this list, but I am not sure of the exact date they were released. Both were excellent and address current issues.

    Super Size Me is a great one for kids to see today. I showed it in my health class that I was teaching to 8th graders. I used the educational version which is cleaned up some of Morgan Spurlock’s comments. Nice to see it on the list.

    2 other documentaries I saw this year via Netflix that were incredible were King of Kongs and Man on a Wire. It is amazing how far this genre has come. It is good to see Man on a Wire on the list. Amazing story and hearing it from the participants makes it even better.

  4. Andy Thomson says

    Genuinely surprised to see Bowling for Columbine not here. Appreciate everyone has their own opinion but I cant think of any other film thats made America take a long hard look at itself.

  5. says

    “The Power of Nightmares” and “The Century of Self” by Adam Curtis both belong on the list. Maybe somewhere near the top.

  6. Harold says

    Every list has it’s inconvenient bias. I was a little disappointed that there were not links to these films. Given the current state of perspective I would have included “the powers of ten” although I don’t ascribe to all the thinking people want to attach to its meaning. Thanks for the list; some of these are new to me.

  7. says

    In my opinion, you guys forgot to mention the “Bus 174″, a Brazilian documentary produced on 2002 and directed by Jose Padilha (the same director of the movie Elite Squad).

  8. says

    I appreciate all the comments on my list and I’ve added several titles to my “to be watched” documentary list, and I guess I should expand my list to 50 to do justice to so many other amazing documentaries that were made in the past ten years, and by the way, this is a list of notables, not necessarily the “best” films of the past decade, some omissions are simply due to the fact that I’ve not seen a film,

    Karin, I fixed the list, it’s now 35. Somehow five movies got chopped off.

    Sean, Ron Fricke’s Baraka (1992) is a wonderful film, but it was not released in the past decade. I’ve not seen The Great Happiness Space, Dear Zachary, Capturing the Friedmans so I don’t know if they would make my list or not. So many documentaries, so little time.

    Gui, José Padilha and Felipe Lacerda’s)Bus 174 is an amazing film, I guess I should squeeze it in and drop a film…

    Cliff, I’ve not yet seen Food, Inc. so perhaps I was premature in making my list, I suspect it will be very good, it’s on it’s way to me right now from Netflix.

    Andy, as far as “Bowling” not being on the list, well, Mr. Moore’s films are not my cup of tea, great entertainment, excellent box office revenue, but not my idea of the documentaries I like to watch and recommend to others…

  9. says

    Cliff and Patrick, I just finished watching Food, Inc., in terms of both the importance of the message and excellence in filmmaking craft, it’s certainly a notable film of the past decade.

  10. Travis says

    A few more stellar documentaries:

    Hell House
    Devils Playground

    I agree with Sean:
    Jesus Camp
    Capturing the Friedmans

  11. Abbey says

    Small correction: That’s “King Corn” — about how corn grown in Iowa winds up in the food supply.

    Thanks for the list!

  12. NS says

    King of Kong as mentioned somewhere above is a top documenatary, very enjoyable, also Man on Wire, and another good BBC Storyville documentary is Why We Fight?

  13. NS says

    Also that I see Dogtown & Z-boys on the list maybe a consideration for Riding Giants. Another interesting one to watch is called Solo.