#3. Searching for Sugar Man -- Sugar Man Was Touring, Shooting Up the Charts in the '80s
Searching for Sugar Man is the tale of two South African music fans going on a quest to find a mysterious American singer called Rodriguez, who had become huge in their country but whose whereabouts were unknown. The story is that this musical genius had released two little-heard albums in the early '70s and then vanished (rumors swirled that he had long ago committed suicide onstage). He remained unknown until a sudden surge in popularity when his songs about poverty and urban decay made him an icon in apartheid-era South Africa. So the guy was a star, but nobody knew where he was or even if he was still alive.
Spoilers: The documentary discovers Rodriguez toiling in anonymity in his native Detroit, having no idea of his superstar status abroad. Thanks to the documentary, Rodriguez became the ultimate artist-you-probably-haven't-heard for hipsters everywhere, and he was even invited to play at some festivals.
Via Michael Robinson
"Wait, he didn't kill himself? Fuck this, let's see if Nirvana is playing."
The documentary tells us that Rodriguez is a guy who put out two extremely obscure albums in the '70s, had zero success, quit music, and became a regular Joe. That makes for a great story -- the idea that the guy threw the albums out there and dropped off the map, unaware that his work had become huge on the other side of the globe years later. Well, we don't know about you, but we haven't met any regular Joes who spent years touring Australia with bands like Men at Work and Midnight Oil.
Andy Kropa/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
He still has fucking "Down Under" stuck in his head.
Yep, Rodriguez was a huge sensation in Australia in the late '70s and early '80s, with his singles shooting up the charts for over a year. One of the fans from the documentary is a record shop owner and a massive Rodriguez nut -- surely he'd heard of his 1981 live in Australia album? Maybe he listened to it and figured the huge crowd cheering for the guy at the beginning was in some tiny Detroit cafe. Also, the name of the album is Rodriguez Alive, so maybe he should have taken it as a clue.
It's true that Rodriguez's work didn't catch on the U.S. before the film, and that he wasn't aware of his popularity in South Africa, but to paint him as a criminally ignored genius is absurd. He enjoyed a sterling career lasting over a decade before his 15 minutes were up and he was forced back into the real world, making his story about as remarkable as any '80s hair metal band (that is, if Blackie Lawless inexplicably became the poster boy for the Egyptian revolution, which -- can we make that happen?). That might explain why he seemed so underwhelmed when he met up with the filmmakers.
He was just relieved that they didn't call him "Menudo."
#2. Winged Migration -- A Study of Editing Trickery and Trained Birds
This Oscar-nominated thrill ride captures the awe-inspiring movements of several different species of bird as they embark on the incredible journey to go fuck other birds or whatever. If it sounds boring, you haven't seen it -- it's full of heartbreaking scenes like this in which an injured bird is surrounded by crabs and, unable to fly away and escape, is eventually ganged up on and eaten.
You have a little something on your arm there.
Damn, that's one of the most disturbing things to happen to an innocent creature in a movie in recent years that wasn't made by Pixar.
Yeah, that scene is fake. To their credit as human beings, the filmmakers actually pulled the bird to safety before he could be attacked. And to their non-credit as documentarians, they left that part out and instead included a shot of the crabs eating some dead fish (which wasn't their friend, so they didn't save it). They just cleverly edited the clips together to make you think that poor little bird got the Hannibal treatment, because they feed on tears. There's also a scene where a goose steps into a puddle of oil in a factory -- that was shot in a studio, and the "oil" was actually milk and vegetable dye.
To be fair, milk is highly toxic to birds and will make them instantly explode.
But who cares, right? All that matters is that the majestic movements of the birds are real. Or real-ish. Those amazing flock formations, the brilliant displays of instinct in which animals move together that humans can never attempt to emulate? All staged. Half of those aren't wild birds. They've been raised from the egg by the filmmakers, and what we're seeing is just trained animals following orders. The filmmakers aren't following the birds -- the birds are following them.
Those birds seriously think they'll grow up to become flying robots one day.
Don't get us wrong, it's still a breathtaking movie (especially if you like birds and/or drugs), but nominating it for Best Documentary is kinda like giving an MMA title to Hulk Hogan.
#1. Nanook of the North -- An Amazing Achievement in Utter Bullshit
Nanook of the North not only is the granddaddy of documentaries (made back in 1922), but is widely considered a masterpiece of the documentary genre and one of the most influential movies ever made. Before Nanook, "documentaries" consisted of static shots of people walking near trains or boring shit like that (it was all Vines, basically). This was the first one that A) lasted more than a few minutes and B) showed something actually worth watching.
For Nanook, director Robert Flaherty went deep into the Alaskan wilderness to steal a glimpse inside the lives of the notoriously closed-off Inuit population. He follows a family headed by the titular Nanook and his two wives, Nyla and Cunayoo, as they build an igloo, hunt seals with spears, and become hilariously confused by modern technology, such as poor Nanook trying to eat a gramophone record.
The original title of the documentary was Fucking Idiot.
The whole thing was almost completely made up. Robert Flaherty was the Michael Moore of the 1920s, only he left more illegitimate Inuit children in his wake.
First of all, "Nanook" was actually named Allakariallak, although we can kind of understand why they changed it. His "wives" were also not his wives, but the "common-law" wives of Flaherty (i.e., his ethnic trophies). They were also renamed: There's no record of Cunayoo's real name, but Nyla's was actually the much plainer "Alice." "Nyla" was suggested by the locals and supposedly meant "the smiling one," but unknown to Flaherty, it was actually a dirty word. (A quick Google search suggests it has something to do with farting.)
They called him Robutt Farterty. Apparently it means "Great White God."
Of course, since Flaherty constructed the whole family from scratch, none of the events filmed were part of their actual lives, either. In order to show to the world how the Inuit really lived, Flaherty simply made them act out scenes from how everyone already thought they did. He asked them to hunt with spears instead of the guns they'd been using for decades, made them dress in furs, and had them build an igloo, even though they'd actually heard of houses by then. Allakariallak was also very familiar with modern technology and knew well not to eat gramophones. Notice how he spends half the movie looking at the camera and smiling?
He's literally laughing his ass off at the silly shit Flaherty asked him to do for his "documentary."
Related Reading: Still not full of things that are full of shit? Read our article on professions that are filled with lies. If you think wine tasters aren't lying their asses off, think again. For national stereotypes that are total B.S., take this article out for a spin. You'll learn that British dentistry is actually quite good. End your study in perfidy with this list of well-known dangers that are hugely overhyped.