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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Five Best: Mockumentaries

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="265" caption="Actor Joaquin Phoenix courtesy of"][/caption]

This Friday, September 10, I'm Still Here comes out in limited released. If you don't know, this is the film directed by Casey Affleck that details Joaquin Phoenix's transition from an actor to a rapper. Now, most assume this is still a ridiculous joke, but many maintain its truth. I personally don't believe his transformation, so I'm guessing it's just a big, goofy exploitation film about stardom and its "effects." Either way, it made me think of the best "mockumentaries" - movies that are made to look like documentaries, but are actually completely fictionalized. Some are funny, some are not. But, without further ado, in chronological order, here they are.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="309" caption="Scene from "This is Spinal Tap" courtesy of"][/caption]

This is Spinal Tap (1984)

After Rob Reiner graced the small screen as a "meathead" on All in the Family and before he began directing nothing but romantic comedies, he directed this hilarious film about a British "hair" band in the 1970's. A ridiculous look at the vanity and excess of rock'n'roll, Spinal Tap provided a semi-birth, if you will, to the mockumentary genre. It plays out like a film about a film being made, and the performances from Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer are so incredibly over-the-top and clueless that you just may think they are your favorite band and that they are, in fact, that stupid.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="299" caption="Scene from "Man Bites Dog" courtesy of"][/caption]

Man Bites Dog (1992)

This surrealist-feeling French film captures what happens when the line between media and reality gets blurred. A film crew follows around a serial killer as he performs his deeds, serving as a place for him to give dictation about his craft. It's graphic, but it's extremely thought-provoking. Where do you become less an observer and more an accomplice? The film crew walks that line when they are eventually drawn in to help with the killings. Shot entirely in black and white, Man Bites Dog feels like an episode of "Dateline" that goes horribly wrong.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="287" caption="Scene from "The Blair Witch Project" courtesy of"][/caption]

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

I will be the first to admit that Blair Witch is not that good. I saw it in the theater when it was released and laughed through the first half of the film. But, then I began to pay attention and got a little freaked. Blair Witch is not on this list because of the quality of film; it's on this list because of the genius of the filmmakers, producers and actors. Pitching it the entire pre-run as a real documentary, it showed us how morbidly curious people can be. Think about it - a high percentage of audience member went to this film thinking these kids actually disappeared or died. You would've thought one of their parents would've said something, if, in fact, it was real. Thankfully, it wasn't - but it was still brilliant marketing.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="285" caption="Scene from "Best in Show" courtesy of"][/caption]

Best in Show  (2000)

A few Christopher Guest offerings could be included on this list (A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration), but Best in Show takes the cake. A hilarious look at people who treat their pets like children, Best in Show is a look into the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show, the owners, and the handlers that make up the finalists. With a cast including Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, and Jennifer Coolidge, Best in Show shines a light on a sub-culture of people who may just be this quirky in real life, too.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="330" caption="Scene from "Borat" courtesy of"][/caption]

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

It may be crude, it may be offensive, and it may be overdone. But Sacha Baron Cohen's Golden Globe winning role took middle America and turned it on its somewhat ignorant head. Borat is a reporter from Kazhakstan who comes to the states to do a report on the "greatest country in the world." Before he went truly degrading with Bruno, Cohen danced the line of good taste in 2006 with this no-holds-barred look at our welcoming (or unwelcoming) of new cultures, our occasional intolerance to others, and the uncomfortable feelings we all get when we see two grown men wrestling naked through a hotel lobby.

The idea of a mocumentary may get poorly played now and again, but these films certainly do it right. Sometimes, we not only have to be reminded that we're watching a movie; but we also need to remember that most movies are based on experiences somebody had at one time or another.

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