The next time you walk through your local video store and can't seem to find anything worth watching, take a walk down the aisle with the documentaries. Four of the BEST movies of any category in the past year are documentaries -- and all four are now available at Blockbuster, or any well-stocked video store.
Grizzly Man -- This movie traces the strange, amazing and ultimately tragic journey of Timothy Treadway, who spent 13 summers living among Alaska's grizzly bears until he and his girlfriend were fatally attacked on the last day of his 13th year. Much of the film is shot by Treadway himself, and it is some of the most amazing wildlife footage ever seen. While Treadway at times seems delusional about his relationship with the bears, there is no denying that he lived more intimately with them than perhaps any human ever has. In the wilds of Alaska, where bears seldom see humans, he could touch the nose of a bear cub while the mother looks on. But there is also a rage inside of Treadway. He films his profane rants against the National Park Service and other humans who explore the area. The final moments when a bear attacks Treadway, then his girlfriend, were actually caught by the camera -- but with the lens cap on. While the director listened to the tape, he wisely chose not to include the last horrifying moments in the film. We are left with a spectacular and puzzling portrait of a remarkable but troubled man, and the wondrous creatures with whom he live -- and died.
Murderball -- Not at all what you might expect from the title, this movie captures the fiery competitive world of quadriplegic rugby. Played in wheelchairs that are built more like tanks, this game seems a combination of basketball, football and demolition derby, played by men who are impaired in all four limbs -- but not in spirit. Now called wheelchair rugby to sooth nervous corporate sponsors, the players still prefer the more appropriate original name of the game -- murderball. But the real story is about the men who play and coach this brutal sport. For most of us, it gives new insight into those we consider "handicapped." I think this movie does more to change one's views of "handicaps" than "The Miracle Worker" ever did.
March of the Penguins -- This is probably the most publicized documentary in a decade -- and maybe ever. And with good reason. Narrated by Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, this incredible movie follows the life cycle of penguins from their first step on to Antarctica in late fall, through mating and then birth of baby penguins, then through horrific winter storms, and finally to the march back to the sea. The making of the film is nearly as amazing as the penguin rituals which it records. But beware -- this is not a Disney film. The death of young penguins may be too much for very young children. But for everyone else, this is a true wonder in movie making.
Paper Clips -- This movie records the amazing journey of a small rural Tennessee elementary school which set out on a simple project to increase the awareness of diversity in its students, and ended up touching the hearts of people around the world. The school's principal sought to expand the understanding of her students for people different than those in rural Tennessee by studying the Holocaust. During one session, a student asked "how many is 6 million." Even the teachers realized they had never seen 6 million of anything. So the school decided to collect 6 million paper clips. When a pair of German journalists heard of the project and gave their support, paper clips began coming in from Germany, many with notes attached expressing sympathy and apologies. The most moving moments in the film come when four Holocaust survivors from New York City come to meet with the townspeople and the students. Despite their lack of common experiences, they build a bridge of humanity across cultures and history. Ultimately, the students seek a fitting memorial for the paper clips, and it comes in the form of a German rail car -- one used to transported Jews to the concentration camps. With care, it is transformed into a moving memorial for the victims of not just the Holocaust, but all of World War II.
So one of these winter nights when you're looking for a good movie -- check out one of these documentaries.