I'm a certified economics nerd, and I love Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's Freakonomics and its sequel, Superfreakonomics, but the film adaptation of their first book does not need to exist – at least not theatrically. It's a competent retelling of the duo's findings divided into five chapters with different directors (Super-Size Me director Morgan Spurlock's being the best), but only one of those segments deviates from the book, and all of them look like something you might linger on if they came on cable but wouldn't willfully pay to see.
4. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage
Since this actually did hit theaters, I don't feel too weird about putting it here. It's a pretty standard band doc, but it was directed by Sam Dunn of Flight 666 and Metal: A Headbanger's Journey fame, so it's naturally very well-made. I learned a lot about one of my favorite bands, and while I would have liked a little more music in it, it was still a very interesting movie.
3. Once Brothers
This perhaps belongs a bit less than the Rush movie since it only ever aired on television and is part of a series of documentaries, but it was the only 30 for 30 film I was able to watch in 2010, so I'll count it. While Once Brothers bums me out because I half-intended to write the story it tells in book form, it's still a brilliant exploration of the fallout between former Yugoslav basketball teammates (principally Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic) divided by that country's civil war. The filmmaking techniques are a little bland – it's directed by "NBA Entertainment" rather than a human being – but the story it tells is consistently riveting.
It's inevitable that I'll get around to it since every review I've read says it, so I'll get it out of the way now: Restrepo is the documentary version of The Hurt Locker. While the former takes place in Afghanistan and the latter in Iraq, the two films are structured fairly similarly. Restrepo documents one year in the life of a platoon stationed in Afghanistan's Korangal Valley, the place CNN dubbed "the most dangerous place on Earth." It's the best insight on the War on Terror I've ever seen, and it very briefly made me want to enlist – that's how powerful its depiction of our troops in the Middle East is. It's an unflinchingly honest film, and in most years, it would be my favorite documentary.
1. Exit Through the Gift Shop
The only 2010 doc I saw that was able to top the greatness of Restrepo was Exit Through the Gift Shop, a seemingly straightforward documentary about street art that has stirred up more controversy than perhaps any other movie this year. Directed by infamous British street artist Banksy, the film follows French filmmaker/possible sociopath Thierry Guetta as he goes from documentarian of the street art movement to bona fide street artist. Whether Mr. Brainwash, Guetta's artist alter ego, is actually real or not, is the film's principle question, and while Banksy insists that he is, it's as though he's winking under that trademark hoodie of his, leaving it intentionally open to the viewer's interpretation. Whether some of Exit Through the Gift Shop is fabricated or not, it's the most riveting documentary of the year, and well worth anyone's ninety minutes.