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2018: MY FAVORITE DOCS OF THE YEAR [ranked]

by MATTEO BITTANTI
2018: MY FAVORITE DOCS OF THE YEAR [ranked] by MATTEO BITTANTI
Compared to 2017, this year’s doc scene felt somehow less vibrant (if stats have any value, I listed half the number of entries but I’ve seen the same amount). Nonetheless, two YouTube montages stood out: The Road Movie and Our New President, both set in Russia and both dealing with the post-tv mediascape. The former dispenses an overdose of dash-cam footage to provide a post-human look at the state of the country through the eyes of vehicular subjectivity (in a sense, The Road Movie is the ultimate Ballardian film). The latter is an assemblage of Russian propaganda aimed at both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump collected from YouTube, RT,… Read more

Compared to 2017, this year’s doc scene felt somehow less vibrant (if stats have any value, I listed half the number of entries but I’ve seen the same amount). Nonetheless, two YouTube montages stood out: The Road Movie and Our New President, both set in Russia and both dealing with the post-tv mediascape. The former dispenses an overdose of dash-cam footage to provide a post-human look at the state of the country through the eyes of vehicular subjectivity (in a sense, The Road Movie is the ultimate Ballardian film). The latter is an assemblage of Russian propaganda aimed at both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump collected from YouTube, RT, and other shady media platforms. I listed Dirty Money at number two, but I really meant only the first episode, directed by Alex Gibney, on the so-called Dieselgate. Gibney’s masterful reconstruction of the Volkswagen’s scandal highlights the connection between Nazism, technocratic rationalism, the car manufacturing industry as a whole, and climate change. It sounds like a conspiracy theory, instead it merely illustrates that greed is a bottomless pit. In many ways, Dieselgate is the reason why these days France is on fire and Emmanuel Macron will be likely remembered as the most hated President in the history of the country. Money is not only dirty, but also dark. Kimberly Reed’s eponymous doc felt like the sequel to Get Me Roger Stone! They both make clear that the American political system in inherently rotten and unless a major overhaul is undertaken, the future will be bleaker than the dystopian present we live in (see Lawrence Lessig’s new book, America Compromised). Minervini’s latest film – the only doc that I saw at a film festival this year (Venice) – confirms his status as the most talented Italian director working today – while Carlo Ferrand’s fascinating mixed-media portrait of Walter Benjamin (courtesy of Festival Scope) is not as enlightening as I hoped, but it is nonetheless, grand. PFOA, the synthetic chemical used in Teflon that has been contaminating non human animals and human animals since its creation it’s the “protagonist” of The Devil We Know. DuPont has been aware of the toxicity of this substance since 1961 and, obviously, has not done anything about it aside from obfuscating maneuvers and PR-campaigns about its “safety”. Stephanie Soechtig’s documentary is basically an update to Marie-Monique Robin’s The World According to Monsanto: Who’s more evil, Monsanto/Bayer or Dupont? It’s like asking if vampires are more lethal than zombies. Corporate America will definitely kill you either with Roundup, subprimes loans, or Teflon. The Devil We Know is also the best (real) horror film of the year, as the title suggests. The most shocking revelation of Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?? is that Mister Rogers was a Republican. It’s an ironic discovery – at least for me – considering that today the GOP stands for everything that the popular TV presenter despised: bigotry, racism, ignorance, corruption, misogyny, and, again, greed. Liz Garbus’s analysis on The New York Times’s reaction to the Trump election was already anachronistic by the time it was released, pace Michael Barbaro. It’s not her fault: the 24-hour news cycle is not exactly conducive to the documentary format. Alyson Clayman’s doc Take Your Pills is the unofficial adaptation of Jonathan Crary’s 24/7. I gave her extra points for featuring my heroine, UC Berkeley’s Professor Wendy Brown. Shirkers, Three Identical Strangers, Wild Wild Country, Eating Animals left me cold. Generation Wealth was a huge disappointment. Among the many docs I missed this year are Frederick Wiseman’s Monrovia, Indiana, RaMell Ross’s Hale County, This Morning, This Evening, and Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap (mea culpa). The most depressing doc of the year was, by far, Bert Marcus’s The American Meme: a useful (?) reminder that social media have irreparably damaged our society. The most depressing doc of the year was, by far, Bert Marcus’s The American Meme. It confirms what we already knew:  We’re living in the end of times.

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