Searching for the Real Love

Amazon Studios

Mary J. Blige’s My Life (2021)

The first two credits that appear in the “Mary J. Blige’s My Life” documentary belong to the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul herself and producer Sean “Diddy” Combs, one of the masterminds behind the seminal album referenced in the title. Those are a bit concerning given how Prime Video’s other recent music documentary “Pink: All I Know So Far” has turned out. Thankfully, Ms. Blige isn’t interested in a glowing profile of herself. During the film, she revisits an old TV interview during which she appeared evasive and seemed to be lashing out. This movie affords an opportunity to set the record straight and finally answer those invasive and uncomfortable questions with her guard down and the wisdom and introspection that only come with age and experience.

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Family Portrait

Andrew Macpherson/Amazon Studios

Pink: All I Know So Far (2021)

“Pink: All I Know So Far” is the cinematic equivalent of a fawning cover story from a magazine on display at the supermarket checkout aisle – not the tabloids; not Billboard; not Rolling Stone; but People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly. The film follows 20 days out of the pop singer’s 19 month long “Beautiful Trauma” world tour with her husband, Carey Hart, and children, Willow and Jameson, in tow. Although Pink and Mr. Hart insist the 225 tour staff members are also family, none are interviewed on camera.

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A Great Season in Harlem

Mass Distraction Media/Sundance Institute

Summer of Soul (. . . Or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) (2021)

A documentary on the Harlem Cultural Festival in the summer of 1969 – when Woodstock took place upstate – “Summer of Soul” features previously unseen footage from this star-studded but mostly forgotten event, with performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips and many more.

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Hot Fuzz

Jake Polonsky/Sundance Institute

The Sparks Brothers (2021)

“The Sparks Brothers” is an Edgar Wright documentary; and fun is the operative word. No stodginess allowed! Unlike the incredibly tedious “Summer of Soul (. . . or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)” that also premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Mr. Wright seizes every opportunity to make this a lively experience – yes, he is not above IDing talking heads Nick Rhodes and John Taylor as Duran and Duran.

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Unsung Heroes

2016 Tribeca Film Festival

Bad Rap (2016)

The documentary “Bad Rap” encapsulates the travails of Asian-American rappers striving to make their voices heard. Some profiled here are relatively well known, most notably Awkwafina, who has parlayed her viral hit into VH1 punditry and bit movie roles. Another is Dumbfounded, an underground artist who recently garnered mainstream attention spitting verses on #OscarsSoWhite and #WhitewashedOut with the viral track “Safe.” Jin, the first Asian-American rapper to score a major label deal following an impressive freestyle-battle winning streak on BET, gets honorable-mention treatment.

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When 'Pirates' Becomes the Pirated

Central Pictures Corporation

If you were one of the 9 million people who illegally downloaded “Fast Five,” it might not occur to you that 2011 was a magnificent year at the movies. And you wouldn’t be interested in any of the myriad 10-best lists, let alone one you’re about to read from some obscure critic. This is not about fancy art films with subtitles being more legitimate than Hollywood blockbusters. If you pride yourself on being a movie buff, you would insist on seeing “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” in Imax. Then you would agree that 2011 was indeed awesome. But since you already know movies like “Hugo,” “A Dangerous Method,” “The Tree of Life,” “Melancholia” and “The Descendants” to be great, this list champions films that need a little cosmic extra push.

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The Age of Innocence Lost

Magnolia Pictures

Full disclosure: Due to a professional detour, I saw fewer films in 2010 than in any of the previous 14 years. No self-respecting critic or dedicated movie buff would stand for that, and to change it is a top priority for the new year. But for this annual list-making exercise, it means there are a couple more sentimental favorites in place of critically defensible choices.

Musically, the oversaturating trifecta of Lady Gaga, Eminem and Justin Bieber effectively drove me to the thriving scenes in Japan and South Korea. Unadulterated pop music is making a comeback on a global scale, but folks in Asia craft it exceptionally enough to truly transcend any language barrier.

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Finding Neverland

Michael Jackson's This Is It (2009)

Kevin Mazur/AEG/Getty Images

Genuine tribute or cynical money making ploy? That question has surrounded “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” since the project — a compilation of rehearsal footage and behind the scenes interviews accrued during the run-up to Jackson’s planned 50 dates at London’s O2 Arena — was announced shortly after the King of Pop’s death. By keeping the film shrouded in secrecy, first showing it to most critics last night and at a courtesy screening this morning, Sony Pictures and AEG Live did little to stem the tide of suspicion.

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Die Fidelity

I Need That Record! (2008)

Brendan Toller/Unsatisfied Films

Independent record stores — as with most independent retailers — are dying out. Small chains simply can’t compete with big-box or Internet retailers on price or the “long tail” — the ability to stock small amounts of the majority of items, which sell only very small numbers. But what they lack in mainstream success, the smaller shops make up for with a synesthetic shopping experience that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere. Some call this heart, others authenticity, still others community spirit.

Director Brendan Toller taps into the longing for this experience in “I Need That Record!” via the owners of Record Express and Trash American Style, two shops near his hometown in Connecticut. Record Express’s closing was the impetus for the film, in which Mr. Toller went on a road trip to other small record stores in Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts to discuss how the music industry and retail markets have changed, and what small store owners are doing about it.

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Got the World on Six Strings

It Might Get Loud (2009)

Eric Lee/Sony Pictures Classics

One could argue that in his latest film, Davis Guggenheim — the Academy Award-winning documentarian behind “An Inconvenient Truth” — has outdone the impressive accomplishment of imbuing an Al Gore slideshow with riveting dramatic heft. For “It Might Get Loud,” he’s assembled Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, three musicians who have never been especially prone to talking about themselves or their craft, and gotten them to candidly face his cameras and do just that.

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