It’s end of the year wrap-up time, at a juncture when the world of movies and entertainment and even docs seems a little removed from what’s really on our minds: we appear to be stuck in the muck (but for how long?), though many of us are hopeful that an Obama administration could bring great things.
I’d say the year in docs that’s coming to a close was a mixed bag. Without Michael Moore delivering a first-rate feature or some environmental phenom (I’m grouping An Inconvenient Truth with those cute animal docs, March of the Penguins and Winged Migration) emerging, or some stupendous out-of-left-field creation (á la Capturing the Friedmans) there wasn’t any one film that truly shook the culture. High-profile filmmakers (Errol Morris, Morgan Spurlock, Alex Gibney) disappointed and fest favorites (like American Teen and Bigger, Stronger, Faster) fell flat.
The one film that really took off and is now riding high on ten-best lists everywhere is Man on Wire, a truly solid bit of filmmaking from James Marsh. Other bright spots were Encounters at the End of the World, Roman Polanksi: Wanted and Desired, Waltz with Bashir, Up the Yangtze (POV 2008), Young @ Heart and Trouble the Water. It was a good year overall, I’d say. And yet, and yet…
Man on Wire posterHere’s my moment of blasphemy: I actually didn’t love Man on Wire. I am embarrassed to say it, because everyone so universally adores this doc. And I recognize what a great bit of filmmaking it is. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I especially liked the archival footage. And to top it off, I grew up in New York City and have some murky memories of the actual wire walk, so I feel a personal connection to the moment.
But ultimately, I was not thrilled. I was not blown away. I was slightly irked by the recreations that felt like A&E or Lifetime channel material. And most of all, I felt that the film is, well, overhyped. And the film didn’t stick with me. Am I alone in this? In fact, I’d say that the simple poster for the film, the one with Philippe Petit walking the wire with the haze behind him and the title of the film in black floating above him, is about as powerful to me as watching the entire film. (Okay — so I’ll say that 2008 marks the best documentary film poster of all time!)
So, sorry if I am adding a little buzzkill to the buzz of your holiday parties (providing they haven’t been cancelled!). But, to add a dash of positivity, I also am looking forward to 2009, when we’ll get to see a slew of new docs, including the Barack Obama one by Amy Rice and Alicia Sams, a new one from Michael Moore, and, I hope, a doc or two that can help illuminate the current global-financial mess we’re in.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen