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'50 Documentaries To See Before You Die'

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Hoop Dreams

For the last four weeks, Current TV has been running down its list of 50 documentaries every person must see in his/her lifetime. Tomorrow night, the series unveils its No. 1 documentary: Hoop Dreams. Steve James’ moving portrayal of inner city athletes is a safe choice to top the list of docs, though its only Oscar nomination at the time was for editing. Still, there are some glaring omissions that made room for host Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me (#5) and network honcho Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (#8), not to mention more dubious inclusions like last year’s Catfish. See what we think was left off the list and share your own opinions after the jump.

Perhaps Current TV takes it moniker a bit too literally, as there are no docs on the roster earlier than 1988. That leaves no room for 1922’s groundbreaking Nanook of the North, Alain Resnais’s brilliant Night and Fog from 1955, Leni Riefenstahl’s controversial Triumph of the Will (1935), or Dziga Vertov’s 1933 proto-study in cinematography, Man with a Movie Camera.

The narrow date range of the documentaries selected also fails to pay credit to the people who shaped the form. Emile de Antonio (Point of Order, In the Year of the Pig) is missing entirely. And the Maysles’ brothers’, whose “Direct Cinema” style heavily influenced Brother’s Keeper (#34), are nowhere to be found. Where is Grey Gardens? Salesman? Gimme Shelter? That rock doc is one of a slew of music-related documentaries that were buried under the blush-inducing bravado of Madonna in Truth or Dare (#49). Where are 1970’s Woodstock, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, Dylan doc Don’t Look Back, Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense, and Buena Vista Social Club?

Naturally, modern documentarians Werner Herzog and Michael Moore figure prominently, but of the other fine auteurs of our time are conspicuously missing. Where is Ken Burns? Or Spike Lee, who took on Civil Rights in Oscar-nominated 4 Little Girls and Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath in If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise. Where is Michael Apted, who began his Up series about British schoolchildren in 1965 and is taking it into its sixth decade of cinematic anthropology next year?

March of the Penguins makes the list (#38), but its Morgan Freeman-less — and visually superior — counterpart Winged Migration didn’t make the cut. Nor does The Cove. Other omissions include 1984’s The Times of Harvey Milk, 2004’s Born into Brothels, and last year’s exploration of soldiers’ lives in Afghanistan, Restrepo.

So, PopWatchers, which docs do you think got dissed? Which ones made the list that you don’t think are up to snuff? Do you think Hoop Dreams deserves its place at the top of the list? Are Spurlock and Gore’s high rankings legit?

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