The Queen of Versailles Directed by: Lauren Greenfield Written by: N/A Starring: Jaqueline Siegel & David Siegel
Lauren Greenfield’s documentary The Queen of Versailles has images that perfectly define post-2008 recession America. In the wake of the massive layoffs of most of their maid staff, the once impossibly rich Siegel family live in an immaculate 26,000 square foot mansion littered with old food plates, dozens of misplaced toys and covered in dog shit.
Documentaries like this are a product not just of skillful filmmaking and probing insight, but also luck. Greenfield started filming two years before the financial meltdown that nearly crumbles David Siegel’s time share empire, Westgate Estates. Him, his wife Jackie, their eight children (seven of which they made and one who is a niece they took in) and their pets were preparing to move into what would’ve been the biggest home in America.
Tabloid Directed by: Errol Morris Written by: N/A Starring: Joyce McKinney, Peter Tory, Kent Gavin and Jackson Shaw
Tabloid is what you would expect from an Errol Morris documentary, which is the unexpected. With a career that includes films about a former Secretary of Defense, a Holocaust denier and a pet cemetery, it’s impossible to know what his lens will focus on next.
In this latest endeavor, he fixates on Joyce McKinney, a woman who was hounded by the British paparazzi in the 70s after a kidnapping scandal with her Mormon boyfriend. Morris tells this story largely through talking head interviews with McKinney and members of the tabloids who covered her from various angles. To simply say that it is a wildly entertaining film would ironically be to sell it short of its purpose, which is to deconstruct the entire idea of entertainment.
Restrepo Directed by: Tim Hetherington & Sebastian Junger Written by: N/A Starring: N/A
Many fictional films attempt to recreate reality and make it into art, often asking us to project ourselves onto the characters. When a filmmaker embarks on a documentary, they are essentially cutting out the middle man (the actors) and attempting to create art out of life as it is being lived. Restrepo, a war documentary of a new order, is an unassuming work of insightful journalism and people under stress.
Soldiers in Korengal Valley, one of the deadliest battlegrounds in the current war in Afghanistan, live day-to-day in constant chaos. Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger keep the audience in these moments as much as possible, with the excruciatingly loud bangs of their assault rifles and the whooshing sounds of landing helicopters. The only breaks from this combat are interviews with the soldiers shot in extreme close-up, and the occasional break showing them casually goofing off or chatting.
Exit Through the Gift Shop Directed by: Banksy Written by: N/A Starring: Banksy, Thierry Guetta, Shepard Fairey, and Rhys Ifans
The battle between art and commerce is as old as art and commerce. Can you truly put a price on something that you create? Is it possible to attach concrete meaning to something that appears so illusive and immune to analysis? These are big questions, ones that Exit Through the Gift Shop tackles almost effortlessly and on accident.
Initially, this is a film about the evolution of the underground street art movement and its many players. Thierry Guetta is an amateur videographer whose interest is peaked by the illegal art that these renegades create after the sun sets. He follows them around, collecting thousands of hours of footage without any real purpose behind his concept other than it interests and inspires him. In a way he becomes a public relations rep and assistant to these artists’ visions, that is until he meets Banksy.
The Five Obstructions Directed by: Jorgen Leth & Lars von Trier Written by: Jorgen Leth & Lars von Trier Starring: Jorgen Leth, Lars von Trier, Patrick Bauchau, and Anders Hove
Fans of Danish auteur Lars von Trier likely know his penchant for sadism, both on and off the screen. Until The Five Obstructions, we’ve had to take Bjork’s word on the off screen part.
Though there are no grueling executions, rapes or scenes of graphic mutilation, von Trier does have his way with one of his idols, director Jorgen Leth. He challenges him to recreate one of his earlier films, The Perfect Human, five different times with different rules, or “obstructions,” each time.