Kicking off our year-end lists, the five best documentaries I watched this year:

1. Bigger Stronger Faster
Who knew the steroids “epidemic” could inspire such a profound meditation on identity, righteousness, strength, addiction, masculinity, hypocrisy, politics and family?! Seriously, as an unflinching yet entertaining look at the human condition, this one just cannot be beat. Bigger Stronger Faster not only makes a very convincing case for bodybuilding as a Religion, but more than any other film I’ve seen this year, it deserves its own Mockingbird breakout session (it sort of is its own Mbird breakout session). BSF also comes recommended by our resident Documentary King, The StampDawg himself.

Note: the trailer doesn’t even come close to doing the film justice.

2. Public Speaking
This is a brand-new one, directed by Martin Scorsese, and only available on HBO for the time being. Essentially a feature-length soapbox for writer-humorist Fran Lebowitz, it’s jam-packed with wit and wisdom of the utterly non-PC variety. Her thoughts on audience, forgiveness, race, technology, gender, sexuality, self-esteem are all fascinating, wildly entertaining and believe it or not, surprisingly sympathetic. Lebowitz is a treasure.

3. Winebago Man

Another brilliant StampDoc rec, this one looks into the legend of Jack Rebney, the so-called “angriest man on Earth” (if you haven’t already seen the videos which form the basis of his fame, odds are you might not be the target audience – i.e. severe severe warning for Kenny Powers-levels of profanity. Very NSFW). But if you can get past the swearing, the documentary is a powerful depiction of love-for-the-loveless-shown: Rebney thinks what he needs is a pulpit for his political views – what he actually needs (and finds) is one-way love. The final twenty minutes, in which he is totally undone, are pure Gospel transformation.

4. Good Hair
Courtesy of Chris Rock, a very funny window into a totally foreign world, that of Black female hair maintenance, is another steady meditation on identity, race and beauty. The closing competition must be seen to be believed!

5. Surfwise
A final StampDoc rec, this one unpacks the history of the very eccentric Paskowitz family. Doubles as an unintentional primer on how Grace can morph into Law, i.e. how the nonconformist impulse can be just as confining as the conformist one. Also a convicting study of Father-Child dynamics.