Top 20 Crime / Prison / Drugs Documentaries of the 2010s (2010-2014)

10. Louis Theroux: Miami Mega Jail (Emma Cooper, 2011)

Louis, the nosey but sympathetic and witty british documentarian, spends time at Miami Jail and discovers a dangerous world of different norms and values.


9. The House I Live In (Eugene Jarecki, 2012)


The Wire in real life.

Did you know that the ‘War on Drugs’ was a scandalous sham by the American government? They seem to put a lot of effort to spread democracy and police not only their own country but the whole world. Actually their actions can all be simplified to self-interests or random opportunistic behavior.


8. Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life (Werner Herzog, 2011)

Herzog’s stories are always fascinating, sometimes I’m not sure that’s because of his compelling telling skills or because of the intriguing images. Without prejudices, he interviews prisoners convicted to death penalty and the family of the victims.


7. Planet Rock: The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation (Richard Lowe / Martin Torgoff, 2011)

Crack is an awful drug but sometimes the only choice for young, poor African Americans. Famous rappers, Ice-T and Snoop Dogg among others, tell their backstories. Next to heroïn, crack will become a drug you’ll rather want to avoid.


6. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Bruce Sinofsky / Joe Berlinger, 2011)

Third and conclusive part of Sinofsky and Berlinger’s trilogy about the ‘West Memphis Three’ is somewhat rushed through at the end because of the sudden release of the prisoners, just after the film was already wrapped. West of Memphis (see below) does a better job in that respect to answer final questions of investigation as good as possible. This one does have some interesting revealing bits as well and the three parts of the murder trial expose a nice evolution in accusing different persons or even animals through the nineties and noughties. Documentaries and the media in general tend to have more and more power to convince people of their truth up to the fact it could be dangerous. Great documentary makers, looking forward to see Berlinger’s Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (2014).


5. Narco Cultura (Shaul Schwarz, 2013)

Drugs, violence, gang wars, it is al featured in popular mexican shlager songs. Have a look at crazy contemporary Mexican culture. See my list of best of contemporary Mexican cinema.


4. Tabloid (Errol Morris, 2010)

How religion and press tabloids can make a scandal and villain about something and somebody. Much more fun if you start without any foreknowledge but if you really want to know, the film is about kidnapping, rape and cloned dogs. Make sure to check out Errol Morris entire career, he is a great documentary maker.


3. West of Memphis (Amy J. Berg, 2012)

A fascinating conclusion to an extraordinary documentary series about murder and the fallibility of the whole justice system as we know it. After three Paradise Losts by Berlinger and Sinofsky, this West of Memphis by Berg finishes the story actually quite better than they did. It goes deeper into the Terry Hobbs character and the release of the wrongfully accused boys, now men. I still recommend to see those three Paradise Losts by Sinofsky and Berlinger first because they are very mind-boggling and essential to understand the whole story and legacy.


2. Reindeerspotting: Pako Joulumaasta [Reindeerspotting: Escape From Santaland] (Joonas Neuvonen, 2010)

Trainspotting but in Finland. This hidden pearl tells the story of a charismatic young drug addict trying to escape the world by living from day to day, hit to hit and traveling south. But in the end, he is still being followed by his past. Top notch Cinéma Vérité that makes you think about life and what the hell we are doing with it.


1. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)

Ruthless killer thinks he is a national hero, makes a film about his life, comes to repentance. Werner Herzog produced this 2012 masterpiece that gives an insight into mass murdering.