The Jesus Blog normally does an end-of-year post or two. We sometimes choose a Jesus "Book of the Year" . . . . sometimes we pretend that we had a few "top posts" that are important enough to repost. But 2016 was Scheiße. So sorry if you (like me) wrote a book this year and we'd rather just forget it along with the rest of the events of 2016. Rather than focusing on what 2016 produced, I thought I'd mix it up. These five documentaries are only relative to 2016 because I happened to watch them in the last twelve months. I will rank them according to my experience of their intrinsic awesomeness from 5 to 1. So this is a Jesusesque "last shall be first" list.
5. One in a Billion. This is not your typical sports documentary. It doesn't retell the story of some famous game or personality. One in a Billion is a story about Satnam Singh. He is a 7-foot basketball player born in Punjab, India who is presently trying to make to the NBA. Chances are that he will never be a star and (even so) there are literally millions of people from his home country hoping that he will. I watched this with my 9-year-old son who had difficulty with the Punjabi accents at times. But we both developed a sense of empathy for Singh's struggle and gained a new appreciation for the sacrifice it takes to do something that nobody in a country of a billion people has ever done.
4. TIG. TIG follows comic Tig Notaro from her first attempts to break into stand-up comedy to her fight with cancer, finding love, and pursuit of motherhood. If you are a fan of comedy and/or humanity, Tig's story is fascinating and heartbreaking. My wife and I laughed hard several times too.
3. The Trials of Muhammad Ali. Like all Ali documentaries (I've seen them all) this film explores his career as a boxer. But this documentary puts a spotlight on Ali's political life relative to the Viet Nam war in a new way. In terms of quality of visual experience and story telling, this documentary is not as good as "When We Were Kings." But I felt that I got to see a different side of Ali's life with this one. For a few decades, Muhammad Ali was the most recognizable person on the planet. This documentary takes seriously the impact of his life outside of the ring.
2. 13th. This documentary tells the story of mass incarceration in America. It begins with the antebellum South and traces the relationship between blackness and prison through the Nixon years and into the present. This film creates a macrocosm for the topic in the way that "The Central Park Five" created a microcosm. I defy you to watch these two documentaries and not come away with a different view of jail time and the justice system in America.
1. Stories We Tell. Sarah Polley directs this documentary/biopic of her family. Without giving away too much of the plot, it is a reflection on a beloved mother who complicates the lives of everyone around her with a series of unexpected choices. I highly recommend avoiding reviews with spoilers. This film is well worth the experience without the taint of foreknowledge. I will say this: give it about 40 minutes before you give up on it. Beautiful, tragic, funny, and surprising.