Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: The Year in Docs

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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.

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Conor

    FOREIGNID: 18173
    Don’t be embarrassed to say that ‘Man on Wire’ just wasn’t that spectacular. Someone needs to.

  • Kevin

    FOREIGNID: 18174
    Completely with you on Man on Wire. Loved archival and present day interview footage. Was *not* a fan of either the recreations or the music.

  • Matthew

    FOREIGNID: 18175
    So should I see “Man on a Wire” or no?

  • Doc Soup Man

    FOREIGNID: 18176
    Actually, yes, I think you should. It’s good, just not great. But that’s subjective, right? And I’d love to hear what you thought of it–especially with lowered expectations. Check it out and let me know…