The 2000s were a great decade for documentaries, both artistically and commercially. Four films (Fahrenheit 9/11, March of the Penguins and this year's Earth and This Is It) grossed more than $100 million worldwide, with two of them even topping the $200 million mark. Meanwhile, plenty of other films, whether due to their politics or their humorous entertainment value, broke through with mainstream audiences, primarily in the arthouse circuit but also on home video. And speaking of home viewing, thanks to Netflix and free online streaming sites like SnagFilms, more and more people have access to more and more non-fiction films than ever before.
So obviously it's a tough task to narrow down all these docs for a list of the best in the last ten years. In order to spotlight some particularly deserving films (25 of them), I've decided to follow the lead of William Goss' action flick list and break these up into separate categories (15 of them). In a perfect world all these types of documentary would be respected as their own genre, like fiction is with comedy, action, science fiction, etc. And with the amount of non-fiction films produced these days it wouldn't be difficult to list ten favorites for each style and subject sort. Certainly I've had to leave out a lot of favorites, both mine and yours (doing a list like this really makes you realize the films you've not yet seen), so let's keep the discussion going in the comments section.
Best Expository Doc: Documentaries comprised primarily of talking heads and archive footage are so conventional, common and, yes, oftentimes boring that it's a shame most people associate them with non-fiction cinema as a whole. Occasionally, though, the stringing together of facts and expert testimony can be stimulating as well as educational, such as in the case of Eugene Jarecki's Why We Fight (2005), a film that says and asks so much about the questionable direction of the U.S. military in the past 50 years and the complicated origins of our current conflicts in part by referencing, with the intention of contrast, Frank Capra's far more clear-cut expository Why We Fight films from WWII. Everything within the actual film simply and straightforwardly illustrates history and the filmmaker's stance on it, which is all you really need from a doc. Honorable Mention: One of the great things about Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight (2007) is how much information it will feed you about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in so little time. We should only be so lucky to have such quick, comprehensive detail communicated to us about every topic.