Religulous (Larry Charles, 2008)

Bill Maher goes for a stroll through crazy town

In the comedic documentary Religulous, Bill Maher tours the world and takes the task upon him to discover why religious people believe. Not in any dead serious way, but with a sort of casual, honest kind of inquisitiveness that lends some fresh air to the thing. Religious discussions can quickly become complicated philosophical arguments spread out into dozens of little skirmishes, so it's nice to see something like this.

Budo: The Art of Killing (Masayoshi Nemoto, 1979)

Wallow in the fantasy of Japanese martial arts

Budo: The Art of Killing is a documentary that waxes poetic about the founding principles and thoughts behind samurai and the fighting styles and sports of Japan. The presentation is straight-up like a National Geographic documentary. In truth, it is a work of fiction, choreographed to appeal to a caricature: the myth of Japan as the Other, the Japanese as an unknowable and mystical race. This is part of a superficial tradition with roots in Japan's closed country policy and the Second World War, where the US portrayed everything Japanese as alien. Budo presents not so much a concise picture of martial arts as it partakes in the same fantasy world as The Karate Kid.

Buried (Rodrigo Cortés, 2010)

The lone and level sands stretch far away

I didn’t want to see Buried. I had read the premise and knew I wouldn’t be able to take it. I don’t have claustrophobia, but that doesn’t mean I want to be locked in a coffin for an hour and a half. So I decided not to go, because I know my limits. Then the sneak preview in the local cinema tricked me. It lured me in with promises of another movie, one I did want to see. Then, darkness. Muffled breathing. A sneaker bumping into wooden planks. Buried.

Minecraft: The Story of Mojang (Paul Owens, 2012)

Lego for the 21st century

Welcome to the exciting world of future entertainment. Everything about this documentary shows how our media landscape is evolving in all sorts of different, unknown directions. It isn’t just the subject of this film, but the very film itself – which was paid for by crowd funding through the now-popular Kickstarter website. This documentary exists because the audience wanted it to and put down their money for it in advance. It only gets better from here.

Collateral (Michael Mann, 2004)

Night-time vistas expose LA’s dangerous beauty

Most buddy movies feature an involuntary pair-up of opposites. The retiring officer with a screw-loose rogue (Lethal Weapon), an overly serious city cop with a laid-back countryside local (Hot Fuzz). If you’ll excuse my deliberate misapplication of the genre: Collateral has the most involuntary team of all.

Gentlemen Broncos (Jared Hess, 2009)

When the going gets weird, the weird get a beard

Like Napoleon Dynamite before it, Gentlemen Broncos revels in weirdness for weirdness’ sake. But unlike its spiritual predecessor (both films are from the hand of writer/director Jared Hess), it has a hero who is, shockingly, likeable and relatable.

The Great Buck Howard (Sean McGinly, 2008)

Isn’t that wild, folks?

Buck Howard is a has-been magician. His decade-old repertoire consists of simple sleights of hand, cheesy stand-up and cheesier piano songs: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love”, perennially dedicated to his old friend George Takei. The only one who doesn’t seem to realize his career is over and that Takei wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole, is Buck. Two people are in for the ride: his agent and a new road manager, the drifting kid Troy Gable. To him, his boss is a bit of a sad figure and a stepping stone to figuring out what he wants from life.

Fetih 1453 (‘Conquest 1453’, Faruk Aksoy, 2012)

The largest cannon ever smelted versus the strongest walls in the world

The year is 1453 and Constantinople is under siege by the Ottoman empire. History tells us that it will fall (Constantinople is now known as Istanbul, Turkey’s foremost city). But tell me: looking at the picture in your head, who are the villains in this battle? The warmongering Turkish force? According to Fetih 1453, you might just have been brainwashed by western films.

Shrek Forever After (Mike Mitchell, 2010)

Ach, wie gut, dass niemand weiß, dass ich Rumpelstilzchen heiß

Last time I monitored how this series had been all but played out. Shrek the Third had reached those decidedly middling grounds where franchises go to die. Lame story, a rehash of old jokes and recycled bad guys. What a surprise Shrek Forever After is in that light. It’s a breath of inventiveness that recaptures the charms of the first two films.