Documentaries became a box office factor with the rise of such films as "Hoop Dreams" and "Roger & Me." Before then, there were hit music documentaries like "Woodstock" but most other nonfiction films could expect short runs in few theaters before dutiful audiences. What a small but growing minority of Friday night moviegoers is beginning to discover is that there's a good chance the movie they might enjoy most at the multiplex is a doc.
In alphabetical order, these were the best documentaries I saw in 2010:
Some of the best documentaries of 2009 hardly seemed to exist. "What's the matter with Kansas," based on a best-seller, is still awaiting its fifth vote at IMDb. "The Beaches of Agnes," a luminous film by the New Wave pioneer Agnes Varda, grossed $127,605. "Of Time and the City," by a great British director, grossed $32,000. "Anvil! The Story of Anvil," a hit in terms of buzz and critical reception, brought in $666,659. "Tyson," $827, 046.
Such figures come from IMDb, which may be wrong, but if it's $1 million off, we're still not talking big numbers. What we're really talking about is eyeballs, or, as old Jewish exhibitors used to ask, "how many toochis on the seats?" The audiences for these films were found first at film festivals, and will now be found on DVD and video on demand. None