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The Best Documentaries of 2014 So Far: ‘Actress,’ ‘The Case Against 8,’ and ‘Concerning Violence’ Join the List

The Best Documentaries of 2014 So Far: 'Actress,' 'The Case Against 8,' and 'Concerning Violence' Join the List

Throughout 2014, members of Indiewire’s Criticwire Network — comprised of nearly 500 critics from around the world — have been adding their grades and reviews to our database of film pages. Below is a collection of those films released in theaters during that time that have a) received 10 or more reviews and b) maintained a grade average of “B+” or higher. (A complete list of all the top-rated films can always be found here.) We’ll update this list as new additions surface and as fresh waves of feedback arrive. Averages and totals are subject to change (grade totals listed in italics below have changed since the last update), but for now, these are the titles that many members of the Criticwire Network suggest you should watch.

READ MORE: The Best Indies of 2014 So Far

It’s been a big year for director Robert Greene. Following his editing work on the acclaimed “Listen Up Philip,” his well-received documentary “Actress” premiered last Friday in New York. (The film is still playing a handful of festivals before the end of the year.) Following the performer Brandy Burre, the film examines how her career is mirrored in her life off the screen. Indiewire’s Eric Kohn wrote about the film after it premiered at this year’s True/False Film Festival, describing how it “isn’t just focused on dashed hopes of show business aspirations. Instead, it funnels them into an absorbing expression of daily struggles irrespective of their context.” It debuts on our list with an A- average.

Ben Cotner and Ryan White’s “The Case Against 8” has had an interesting run since its first showing at Sundance back in January. Filtering the gay marriage debate through the eyes of those fighting the existing legal precedent in the American judicial system, “The Case Against 8” examines some unlikely heroes working within the mechanics of that battle. The most positive reviews of the film have emphasized how the film’s unabashed one-sidedness on the central issue doesn’t prevent engaging storytelling. Intense focus on legal workings at the expense of a more comprehensive overview is a choice that hasn’t worked for all critics, but the strongest praise has come from those who find the film’s choice of characters and battleground the most effective. It currently has a B+ average in our network.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” was one of the most acclaimed documentaries of 2011, having played at Sundance and earned a spot at New Directors/New Films. This Friday, Swedish director Göran Hugo Olsson returns with “Concerning Violence,” a look at revolution against colonial rule in Africa during that same time period. Many critics have pointed out that, through its presentation of archival footage and narration by Lauryn Hill, the film isn’t designed purely to provoke — instead, it examines a chapter in recent global history in danger of being overlooked.

Our overall list now stands at 34 films. The year’s best-reviewed docs are all gathered below:

The Top-Rated Documentaries of 2014

1. Life Itself (Film Page), directed by Steve James (2014 Sundance Film Festival; July 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (53 grades)

2. Tim’s Vermeer (Film Page), directed by Teller (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; January 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (41 grades)

3. Citizenfour (Film Page), directed by Laura Poitras (2014 New York Film Festival; October 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (30 grades)

4. The Missing Picture (Film Page), directed by Rithy Panh (2013 Cannes Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (29 grades)

5. The Overnighters (Film Page), directed by Jesse Moss (2014 Sundance Film Festival; October 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (28 grades)

6. Manakamana (Film Page), directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez (2013 Locarno Film Festival; April 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (25 grades)

7. The Last of the Unjust (Film Page), directed by Claude Lanzmann (2013 Cannes Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (23 grades)

8. 20,000 Days on Earth (Film Page), directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard (2014 Sundance Film Festival; September 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (21 grades)

9. Rich Hill (Film Page), directed by Andrew Droz Palermo & Tracy Droz Tragos (2014 Sundance Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (20 grades)

10. The Kill Team (Film Page), directed by Dan Krauss (2013 Tribeca Film Festival; July 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (18 grades)

11. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (Film Page), directed by Chiemi Karasawa (2013 Tribeca Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (17 grades)

11. WHITEY: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (Film Page), directed by Joe Berlinger (2014 Sundance Film Festival; June 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (17 grades)

13. National Gallery (Film Page), directed by Frederick Wiseman (2014 Cannes Film Festival; November 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (16 grades)

14. Actress (Film Page), directed by Robert Greene (2014 True/False Film Festival; November 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (14 grades)

14. Last Days in Vietnam (Film Page), directed by Rory Kennedy (2014 Sundance Film Festival; September 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (14 grades)

14. Maidentrip (Film Page), directed by Jillian Schlesinger (2013 SXSW Film Festival; January 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (14 grades)

17. Code Black (Film Page), directed by Ryan McGarry (2013 Los Angeles Film Festival; June 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (12 grades)

17. Concerning Violence (Film Page), directed by Göran Hugo Olsson (2014 Sundance Film Festival; December 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (12 grades)

17. Particle Fever (Film Page), directed by Mark Levinson (2013 Sheffield Doc/Fest; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (12 grades)

20. Jodorowsky’s Dune (Film Page), directed by Frank Pavich (2013 Cannes Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (40 grades)

21. The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld (Film Page), directed by Errol Morris (2013 Telluride Film Festival; April 2014 release date)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (38 grades)

22. Finding Vivian Maier (Film Page), directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (23 grades)

22. The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (Film Page), directed by Brian Knappenberger (2014 Sundance Film Festival; June 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (23 grades)

24. 12 O’Clock Boys (Film Page), directed by Lotfy Nathan (2013 SXSW Film Festival; January 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (17 grades)

25. The Dog (Film Page), directed by Allison Berg & Frank Keraudren (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (16 grades)

26. The Final Member (Film Page), directed by Jonah Bekhor & Zach Math (2012 Hot Docs; April 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (13 grades)

26. Mistaken for Strangers (Film Page), directed by Tom Berninger (2013 Tribeca Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (13 grades)

28. The Case Against 8 (Film Page), directed by Ben Cotner & Ryan White (2014 Sundance Film Festival; June 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (12 grades)

28. Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia (Film Page), directed by Nicholas Wrathall (2013 Tribeca Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (12 grades)

28. Ivory Tower (Film Page), directed by Andrew Rossi (2014 Sundance Film Festival; June 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (12 grades)

31. Art and Craft (Film Page), directed by Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker (2014 Tribeca Film Festival; September 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (11 grades)

31. Keep On Keepin’ On (Film Page), directed by Alan Hicks (2014 Tribeca Film Festival; September 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (11 grades)

31. Visitors (Film Page), directed by Godfrey Reggio (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; January 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (11 grades)

34. Finding Fela (Film Page), directed by Alex Gibney (2014 Sundance Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (10 grades)

READ MORE: Robert Greene’s Mesmerizing ‘Actress’ Features a Disgruntled Actress-Turned-Housewife Facing Life After ‘The Wire’

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Comments

LP

ARSHAD, you might want to read that again…Art and Craft is on there, and at least 8 directed or co-directed by women at my first glance (though I still agree there should be more)

Giuliano

How about Algorithms by Ian McDonald and Geetha J. It’s been nominated for the Grierson’s, got glowing remarks about the film from Nick Broomfield but has been ignored by the media. A real shame. This is a fantastic film.

Yo

Tim’s Vermeer world premiered at Telluride 2013 alongside The Unknown Known. both had their Canadian premieres at Toronto 2013.

Ray (@RaySquirrel)

I’m surprised to see Life Itself and Tim’s Vermeer at the top of the list. If there is anyone who has had more of an impact on my life than Roger Ebert it is Penn Jillette. Ebert taught me everything I know about film and Penn taught me the proper way to make a documentary film.

aidan

This list is missing a political documentary built like a Heist Movie about a palestinian bride and her band of merry man crossing from Italy to Sweden undercover as a wedding party. It’s called "Io Sto Con La spoza" and premiered at the 71st Venice Film Festival in September 2014 were I was presiding as one of the three judges for CICAE’s contribution to the orizzonti section.

Andre

The Look of Silence?

Brian

This list is sooooo not representative. Where’s E-TEAM?

Yair Raveh

Ebert and Siskel on the same list (1 & 13). Nice.

niqqer jim

Duck this shift! i aint tellin none of my niches to watch these shifty movies. id rather watch 23 jump street

arshadfilms

Seriously? Where is The Case Against 8? Where is Meet The Patels? Where is The Backward Class? What about Arts and Craft? This list is really incomplete! No films by women or people of colour either!

G6

We’re making them. Just not making the guys’ lists…

Shannon Walsh

Only 2 films directed by women? And 4 co-directed by women with men. That’s quite bleak for how many women are making documentaries.

Lilia Grey

Springhaze

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