Top 10 Misfit Documentaries

littleedieI’m a documentary junkie. I’ll watch a documentary about history, true crime, art, science, society …whatever. I realize that I have included many documentaries on past lists, but I have never made  best documentaries list. I’m calling them “misfit documentaries” because these movies don’t really fit into a category. They are strange and peculiar and wonderful each in their own unique way. Hopefully you’ll find a few new films to add to your movie que. (I didn’t include obvious films like “Grizzly Man”, or “West of Memphis” because I really wanted to find a few gems most of you haven’t seen.) So, without further ado – My Top 10 Misfit Documentaries.

  1. Marwencol – This movie moved me in ways that I still think about years after viewing the film. It tells the story of artist and photographer Mark Hogancamp who survived being beaten, nearly to death, by five men outside of a bar. He spent nine days in a coma, and forty days in the hospital before being discharged with brain damage so severe it left him with little to no memory. At all. The film shows his recovery through his art – photographs of dolls and action figures that tell the story of his “previous life”. Or at least what he wants his life to have been. It is an amazing movie of survival that makes you appreciate your life and those you care for. 
  2. King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters – This movie will speak to your inner kid if your inner kid liked to play video games at the local pizza joint or arcade. This movie follows a group of competitive Donkey Kong players. It’s a race for the high score to beat all high scores. The movie is fun and entertaining til the end. It gives you a good guy and a bad guy and an all around happy feeling by the end. 
  3. Winnebago Man – This movie is bound for cult status. It is an incredible and very touching story of a man who was known for, well, getting really pissed off. If you look up “Winnebago Man” on YouTube you’ll find a video of a man trying to get his lines right for a Winnebago commercial. He became an internet sensation and a couple of film makers set out to find this guy, and see what happened to him. What they find is more than just a foul-mouthed man. His story is awesome. 
  4. Stories We Tell – This follows director/actor Sarah Polley’s search for truth within her own family. The film uncovers the secrets and lies that all families have and brings them up front and personal. It’s a brave movie that makes me like Sarah Polley even more than I already did. 
  5. Monster Road – I love watching movies about creative people like underground artist Bruce Bickford. We get to see what makes them tick and what their process is. In this movie we not only get to meet the artist, but we are also treated to his father who is just as eccentric. Bruce Bickford is pretty famous in the underground art world and did a fair amount of collaboration with Mr. Frank Zappa. He’s pretty rad. 
  6. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple – This story has always captivated me. What would lead over 900 people to follow a man to their deaths? The term “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” came from this story. I like this movie because it starts at the beginning, and we get to see what attracted people to Jim Jones in the first place, and how very manipulative he was. 
  7. Kumaré – While we’re on the subject of false prophets, I thought I would mention the mind splitting awesome Kumaré – a film that explores Americans need for a guru, a spiritual leader. This guy decided to just become a Guru… and it worked! People followed him! It shows how the lie affected the people who followed him, and how it affected him and his life. A great little lesson in this one. 
  8. Grey Gardens – I can’t make a list about misfits and not include Little Edie. I know most of you have seen this movie, but if you haven’t then you get the joy of seeing it for the first time. And you won’t believe what you see is real, but it is.  Grey Gardens tells the story of the Beales – Former socialites, a mother and daughter who live in an old mansion with too many cats, and no running water. Little Edie was the first cousin of Jackie Kennedy and fancied herself a singer, dancer and entertainer. She failed to find “a suitable husband” and moved in with her mother Big Edie in her home in The Hamptons. What you get is a sad story of how the need for fame and fortune can ruin a person. Or save them. 
  9. Stop Making Sense – Still one of the all time great music documentaries. It’s no coincidence that David Byrne has something to do with it. In 1984, well before filming bands was cool, Jonathan Deme filmed one of the best concert documentaries of all time. Stop Making Sense captures The Talking Heads in all of their weird, quirky glory. It shows you first hand the artistry that went into their shows and their music. And we get to watch David Byrne dance in an oversized, boxy suit which is nothing short of delightful. 
  10. Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred Leuchter – This is the guy who invented the modern day electric chair. His father was a corrections officer, and when Fred was a young boy he witnessed a few executions. As he grew older he saw the chair as ineffectual and unsafe and he revamped the model. Oh, and he denies The Holocaust ever happened. 
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3 thoughts on “Top 10 Misfit Documentaries

  1. This is a great list. I’m particularly fascinated by the subjects for Kumare and Marwencol, both of which are netflix accessible. Nice to see some props for documentary filmmaking.

    -Spencer

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