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Top Political Documentaries of 2004

Posted by: Aaron West on November 02, 2004

The political documentary has taken on a new form in 2004. Not only has it reached unprecedented box office success, but for the first time, film has become an avenue for influencing public opinion. Most of the political views delivered through the arthouse this year have ranged from moderate to extreme left-wing, but all have been extremely passionate.

Now that Election Day has come, the documentary release schedule will quiet down. The arthouses will revert to their typical independent and foreign offerings. We probably won't see such an unexpected outbreak of films as we have this year, but the doors have been opened and many will use this opportunity to voice their opinion again. Film will likely play a larger role in future elections, most likely from all parties next time. Directors won't hesitate to use the medium as a chance to weigh in on controversial issues, while possibly making a dollar on the side. This is always a business, after all.

I've always been a documentary aficionado and a political nut, so I've taken great pleasure with this year's offerings. So, now that the onslaught is behind us, I give you my top political documentaries of this year.

10. FahrenHYPE 9/11
This has been one of the few documentaries from the conservative viewpoint, and sadly will be the only one to appear on this list. FahrenHYPE is, as you can guess, the answer to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. The filmmakers assert that he was misleading in the way that he presented his view, and they make a great case against him. Unfortunately, what this picture lacks is the same thing that makes Moore successful, a sense of humor. This film is exciting to watch when they take Moore to task, but spends way too much time flag waving and appealing to our patriotic duty. Sure, I can respect that, but I don't call it entertainment.

My review.

9. The Hunting of the President
This film alleges that there was a "vast, right-wing conspiracy" to defame and eventually destroy Bill Clinton during his administration. Most of the arguments seem flimsy and far-fetched, while they fail to state that the president invited many of these scandals onto himself. Regardless of whether you think he should have been impeached, he did lie to the Grand Jury and he admitted doing so. This film shows that there were many political opportunists, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness, but fails to prove that there was an organized effort. The only part of the movie that truly works is during the Whitewater investigations, which eventually proved fruitless and were no doubt politically motivated.

My review.

8. Bush's Brain
Karl Rove is an evil plotster, who has elevated George Bush's career by performing dirty tricks. Based on the book by the same name, this documentary makes an excellent argument. They even gain points by publishing Rove's counter-arguments on certain points, which he originally sent the authors in response to errors in their manuscript. Certain scenes stand out, such as when Rove allegedly planted a bug in his own office and promptly accused the opposing candidate. Clever stuff. If this were a bit more focused and less preachy, it would have been a much more effective and entertaining presentation.

Mel Valentin's review.

7. Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism
In case anyone didn't know, FoxNews is slightly slanted towards the right. Okay, maybe a bit more than slightly. That fact is obvious to most anyone who tunes in (I should hope), but to my surprise, the filmmakers made great use of such a redundant topic. They show the extent to which Fox viewers have been misled, not to mention how much they have influenced other networks who strive to "Outfox" Fox. The only drawback to this project is the expected redundancy of their message.

Mel Valentin's review.

6. Control Room
A terrific portrait of the media coverage of the Iraqi war. We can just be thankful that a documentary team was present to capture such fascinating footage. The contrast of the way Al-Jazeera broadcasts compared to FoxNews (see above) was enlightening. The topic of journalistic integrity was eloquently handled, and I agree with the film that network news cannot help but be slightly slanted towards their nation. Of course the hypocritical remarks by Rumsfeld and Bush regarding Al-Jazeera were classic, and provided a surprisingly humorous edge to the film.



5. Fahrenheit 9/11
Yes, this is the one you all saw. Yes, it is the most controversial, and definitely the most scathing. In case you didn't know, Michael Moore is not voting for George Bush today. Sure, I realize that Moore is manipulative, conniving, and doesn't present things from a completely honest perspective. What can I say, he makes me laugh. I laughed more in Fahrenheit than I did in any other 2004 release, excluding maybe Team America (which almost should have a place on this list). As far as pure entertainment value goes, Fahrenheit was tops this year.

My review.

4. Uncovered: The War on Iraq
There's not much new here for anyone who hasn't perused AP headlines for the past year, but all together it's a devestatingly convincing argument against the Bush administrations motives for war. It argues effectively that the administration manipulated sketchy intelligence to serve their own ambitious needs. Their panelists are a who's who list when it comes to American diplomacy, all of which had a great deal to say about the poor argument for war. If anything, they focus too much on debunking the weapons of mass destruction motive and proving that Iraq was not a global threat.

Mel Valentin's review.

3. Super Size Me
While the topic is fast food, there is definitely a political vibe felt throughout this film. The responsibility may ultimately lie on the shoulders of McDonalds, but Director Morgan Spurlock implies that government intervention is necessary when it comes to dietary restrictions. I can't think of a better premise to demonstrate the dangers of healty eating, even if the end result isn't much of a surprise. Without Spurlock and his sharp wit, these fries would seem stale.

Avril Carruthers' review.

2. Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry
To my surprise, this turned out to be the least political movie on the list. The only reason this one is considered a political documentary is because the subject shares his name on the ballot. Going Upriver follows John Kerry's experiences in Vietnam, beginning with his service on Navy Swift Boats, and ending with his opposition towards the war and leadership of the Vietnam Veterans Against War movement. I found this to be a fulfilling picture of the anti-war movement, and Kerry's participation proved to be the perfect canvas for the story.

Mel Valentin's review.

1. The Corporation
The Corporation is the most sweeping, the most comprehensive, and the most rousing documentary of the year. Unlike its counterparts on this list, The Corporation is a wakeup call regarding the state of the world today. It is not saying that we need to scrap the entire system and begin anew, but it is calling for severe changes. The Corporation succeeds in one area that most of the agenda based documentaries fail. It does not claim to be the complete authority on its topic and does not propose any immediate answers. It just points out that the system is flawed and humanity needs to be concerned with how it is treating the planet.

My review.