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“Hoop Dreams” Tops IDA’s 25 Best Docs List; Morris’ “Blue Line” #2

"Hoop Dreams" Tops IDA's 25 Best Docs List; Morris' "Blue Line" #2

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the International Documentary Association (IDA) has announced a list of the 25 best documentaries, as selected by its membership (and presented by Netflix). The IDA’s 3,000 members, including filmmakers, executives and educators, named Steve James, Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx‘s “Hoop Dreams” as the best documentary, selecting the movie from a list of some 700 films. In the #2 spot is Errol Morris‘ “The Thin Blue Line.” According to the IDA, its members ranked and submitted choices, with the option of also including write-in suggestions. The full list, included below, will be published in the Nov./Dec. issue of Documentary, the IDA magazine, which will be published next week and will include essays on the selected films.

“The selected documentaries span over 55 years and have both reflected and, arguably, influenced social history, exploring such areas as wars from WWII to Iraq, corporate downsizing and global warming,” in the words of an IDA statement. “Inner-city basketball players, a reclusive mother and daughter, rediscovered Cuban musicians, grade-school spelling champions and a legendary underground artist are among the people whose intimate portraits have made it to the list.”

“Hoop Dreams,” nominated for an Oscar in 1994, is the acclaimed story of two high school students in Chicago striving to escape poverty by achieving acclaim as basketball players.

“People have always responded strongly to ‘Hoop Dreams’, maybe as it’s such an American story, about a beloved indigenous sport and issues we have always grappled with in this country – race and class,” said IDA executive director Sandra Ruch, in a statement for indieWIRE on Wednesday, “It brought us a real story of the indomitable human spirit, rather than the cliches of the ‘Rocky”s and ‘Chariots of Fire’ of the era.”

Selected for the #2 spot is “The Thin Blue Line,” with director Errol Morris also represented in the #9 spot for “The Fog of War.” Michael Moore, who has “Bowling for Columbine” at #3, has two other films in the Top 25, including “Roger & Me” at #10 and “Fahrenheit 9/11” at #21.

Online movie rental servive Netflix is on board as the presenting sponsor of the program, facilitating sceeners of the films for voters and also making them available to subscribers of their service. The company indicated that the majority of the 700 films on the original ballot are available on their service, with the exception of #19, Frederick Wiseman’s “Titicut Follies,” which has never been released commercially and is only available for educational purposes.

The complete list of IDA’s “25 Best Documentaries” is included below:

1. “Hoop Dreams,” directed by Steve James, Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx
2. “The Thin Blue Line,” directed by Errol Morris
3. “Bowling for Columbine,” directed by Michael Moore
4. “Spellbound,” directed by Jeffery Blitz
5. “Harlan County USA,” directed by Barbara Kopple
6. “An Inconvenient Truth,” directed by Davis Guggenheim
7. “Crumb,” directed by Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb
8. “Gimme Shelter,” directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin
9. “The Fog of War,” directed by Errol Morris
10. “Roger and Me,” directed by Michael Moore
11. “Super Size Me,” directed by Morgan Spurlock
12. “Don’t Look Back,” directed by DA Pennebaker
13. “Salesman,” directed by Albert and David Maysles
14. “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance,” directed by Godfrey Reggio
15. “Sherman’s March,” directed by Ross McElwee
16. “Grey Gardens,” directed by Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer
17. “Capturing the Friedmans,” directed by Andrew Jarecki
18. “Born into Brothels,” directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski
19. “Titticut Follies,” directed by Frederick Wiseman
20. “Buena Vista Social Club,” directed by Wim Wenders
21. “Fahrenheit 9/11,” directed by Michael Moore
22. “Winged Migration,” directed by Jacques Perrin
23. “Grizzly Man,” directed by Werner Herzog
24. “Night and Fog,” directed by Alain Resnais
25. “Woodstock,” directed by Michael Wadleigh

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lynda hansen

Whoops! Typo: Eugene, Michael Lumpkin, as you know, replaced Sandra Ruch as ED of IDA several years ago. Thanks. Lynda


Pretty good list, I’ll check out some of those.

Usually I got to to check out documentaries, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen most of these on there.


I agree with jeffreybeaumont… but I like Hoop Dreams being at number 1. DARIUS GOES WEST should also be on this list!!


I agree with jeffreybeaumont… but I like Hoop Dreams being at number 1. DARIUS GOES WEST should also be on this list!!


this list is to docs what the afi list was to narratives


Too American, too commercial…


There is NO WAY “When We Were Kings” shouldn’t be on this list. It’s a travesty.

Well, maybe not a travesty, but I’m offended by someone not giving this documentary it’s due credit. At least top 20


Most everything to be said has already been said about this pathetic list (even though some of my top 25 ARE on the list) — but come on, it’s a question of commission as well as omission: THREE Michael Moores and NO Flaherty, Vertov or Deren? Jeffery Blitz and Morgan Spurlock (both in the top half) and no Robert Drew or Julia Reichart? No Apted (for UP series)? No SORROW AND THE PITY? No TIMES OF HARVEY MILK? No SHOAH? And notice how lily white this list is. (TONGUES UNTIED, anyone?)

Well, maybe this 25 has more to say about those who didn’t vote, as well as the appalling igorance of the IDA constituancy that DID vote — in the aggregate more than the individual voter sense. I’m sure that all the more obvious omissions were somewhere on various lists, and it would be extremely interesting to see what titles were in the next 25 (and what the top 100 were).

Ah, well . . . time DOES march on, and the test of time is the ultimate evaluator.

Bob Hawk


BUS 174!!!!!


What about “The Making of ‘Clueless'”????


To be fair, any list like this, even if it were the 1,000 top documentaries, would receive criticism.

The “International” part of the IDA’s name certainly seems suspect in this US-heavy list. I won’t reiterate what many here have already said, but perhaps the IDA should rename itself the American Documentary Association. Many documentaries deal with specifically national issues anyway, so I wouldn’t think it would diminish what they stand for or the work they could accomplish.

My two cents: Since the docs here are rather light and user-friendly, I wonder how Ken Burns missed the cut. He has produced some of the most exhaustive documentaries I’ve ever seen. That doesn’t make them great, but it certainly makes them better than some of the others on this list.

I also find it hard to believe that 100% of Moore’s docs made it when so many others were missed completely. His work can be called any number of things, but they certainly aren’t documentaries except in the very loosest use of the term. I would think people involved in something as esoteric as documentary filmmaking would realize that.


This list is ridiculous. How can you not have any film by Charles Guggenheim who was nominated for the Oscar 11 times and won 4 times and not include “The Sorrow and the Pity” and “Shoah.” This is presentism at its worst.


And how is it possible that so few women documentary filmmakers are represented on this list?


I would have Born Into Brothels at number one and 51 Birch Street somewhere on the list.


This is a good list but it’s a little bit recent-commercial-doc-heavy and it’s missing some essentials. Namely, F for Fake, Time Indefinite, The Man with the Movie Camera, Fast Cheap & Out of Control, The Five Obstructions, Tokyo Olympiad, The Gleaners & I, Tarnation, Bright Leaves, Lake of Fire, and My Winnipeg.


How interesting that so many people who are quick to criticize, obviously didn’t even bother to participate in the voting…otherwise they would know that most of the films they are crying for, were on the ballot. If they didn’t win a place on the top twenty-five maybe it’s because you didn’t vote. Or maybe you don’t even belong to the IDA…in that case, shame on you.


You’re all right, of course, about the list. But the omissions seem to me to be a result of few people ever having seen anything other than the recent top American docs. In other words, we have distribution issues for those older, obscure, non-American films. And let’s not forget Maya Deren!


what about THE SORROW AND THE PITY? this really is a list for those with a short memory.


Amen, Margarita. The fact that this list was member-generated is shocking to me. I wonder what the original ballot looked like? Was work like that of Bill Greaves even in the mix?


Ridiculous list, really. Where is “The Times of Harvey Milk” ?


Hard not to have a reaction to such a list. It is appalling by its lack of understanding of what documentaries are about. I agree fully with Betsy A. McLane’s remarks. There are so many names missing besides Flaherty and Vertov (i.e. Bunuel, Solanas, Guzman, Tsuchimoto) -both from the past and the present-.

This list cannot “generate discussion” or provoke thinking about the field when it omits all historical references and is insular, US focused, disregarding almost all filmmakers from abroad, in spite of their influence on current documentary filmmakers. All historic precedent is discarded whether from Europe, Russia, Asia or the United States. I am particularly shocked by the disregard for Latin American documentaries, from the 60s and 70s, many of those directors still working today in the medium…. And what about contemporary directors in the United States that have contributed so much (Trinh T. Minh-ha, Lourdes Portillo, Marlon Riggs….)? This is such a vast and rich field to be converted in such a trite and predictable list.

It is a pity. A 25th anniversary should be an occasion to explore the vast and rich field of documentary and to show the new directors the wide spread of possibilities… Netflix members could then get a sense of the rich possibilities of documentaries.

Margarita De la Vega-Hurtado


You bet I have a reaction… Shame on IDA for pandering to the Netflix list-nazis:


I agree with Betsy on this one. For all the talk of how lists like this “generate discussion” and are subjective, to exclude Vertov & Flaherty is ridiculous and seriously weakens the whole list.

jonathan miller

This list says alot more about the people selecting the films then it does about documentary films. And how could the IDA issue such a list with their imprimatur on it? The IDA is responsible for that.


Hard to believe Michael Apted’s UP Series is not on this list; probably it should be at or near the top. It’s been universally acclaimed by just about every critic in the world as one of the greatest experiments in the history of cinema.


This list is sure to generate a lot of comments, and as someone very close to IDA I applaud the organization for doing this and beginning the conversation. What the list shows though is the short sightedness of many of the people currently making documentaries. There is not even a nod to some of the most important and best work in history. It is as if no one made a documentary prior to 1960, when by record, the form has a history that begins with the birth of cinema.The fact that there is not even a nod to Robert Flaherty, whose work by any standard is among the greatest in all of film or to the pioneering work of Dziga Vertov is enough to make one cry. The list of landmark earlier films goes on, from some of America’s most socially conscious work ever-that of the 1930- goes on, all the way to Drew Associates PRIMARY in 1960-perhaps the first verite film ever. I will only briefly mention the American bias of this list. THE EMPERORS NAKED ARMY MARCHES on, NIGHT AND FOG, and lack of acknowledgement of thousands of of films made outside the US is disheatening. The IDA is not responsible for the short-sightedness of this list. It is people who voted who should be ashamed of their lack of knowledge of a field in which they work.

Betsy A. McLane

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