Best of 2012: The 10 best documentary films

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Jiro demonstrates how to make the finest sushi in the world

2012 was a good year for documentaries.  There were a number of films that were considered for but just missed making this list.  In no particular order, these are the ten best of the crop, in one man’s opinion:

Jiro Dreams of Sushi – the story of the first ever sushi restaurant in the world to receive a three star rating from the famed Michelin Guide, and the chef who makes the place run.  Jiro Ono is 85, runs a restaurant that is in the basement of an office building, seats only ten people at a time and has a minimum one-month wait to get in.  Oh, and it will cost you around $400 for lunch.  This film tells his story while making your mouth water for a piece of the incredibly beautiful sushi he creates.

The Central Park FiveA woman jogging in New York City’s Central Park at night is brutally raped and beaten, allegedly by young teens out “wilding”.  Five of them were arrested and convicted, and many years later were ultimately exonerated.  Ken Burns, along with his daughter Sarah and her husband David McMahon show the story of how five teens were railroaded for a crime they did not commit.

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The Lithuanian basketball team at the 1992 Olympic Games wearing some of the tie-dyed gear provided to them by The Grateful Dead

The Other Dream Team – In 1992, the U.S. Men’s basketball “dream team” cruised to the Olympic Gold medal, following a disappointing defeat in the 1998 Games.  Four players from the Soviet Union team that beat them were Lithuanians and this is the story of how they, and others from their country fought for the right to represent Lithuania in the 1992 Games, and what happened when they met the Russian team in the Bronze medal game.

Craigslist Joe – Joseph Garner decided to see if he could survive for a month off of the largess of people on the “town square” of cyberspace, Craig’s List.  This is the story of his journey across the nation and back during that month and how he not only survived, he thrived.  It is a fascinating tale of generosity and community.

The Manzanar Fishing Club – Powerful story of Japanese-Americans interned at a concentration camp during World War II who risked death to sneak out and go fishing to regain some of their lost dignity and sense of freedom.  And to enjoy some of the best freshwater fishing in California.

Just one instance of bullying captured in the film “Bully”

Bully – An eye-opener for anyone who thinks that bullying isn’t going on in America’s schools all over the nation.  The filmmakers captured actual instances of bullying thanks to great camera placement.  They also illustrate the tragic consequences unchecked bullying can create.

Chasing Ice – An attempt to convince us that there is a real problem with climate change through the use of time-lapse photography of glaciers melting and disappearing at a frightening rate.  Powerful visuals make the thesis tough to argue with.

West of Memphis – Produced by Peter Jackson, this film looks at how three teens were wrongfully convicted of the murder of three 8 year olds.  The trio spent 18 years in prison before gaining their freedom.

Ai Weiwei in 'Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry'
Ai Weiwei in ‘Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry’

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist and activist and this is the story of his persecution by the Beijing government; and his refusal to allow himself to be silenced.

Searching for Sugar Man – Sixto Rodriguez is a musician who had very brief success in the early 1970s.  His music was wildly popular in South Africa and two South African fans of the man decided to find out what had happened to the musician known as “Sugar Man”.

Honorable mention to Hellbound!

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