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The Five Best Errol Morris Documentaries, Picked By Errol Morris

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We ask the documentary legend and director of Tabloid to play favorites with his filmography.

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris has made eleven films in the past three decades, including the Oscar-winning Robert McNamara profile The Fog of War. His newest, Tabloid, explores the strange life of Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming who became a tabloid sensation after allegedly abducting a Mormon missionary; it comes out this Friday. In celebration of his long career, we asked him to rank his five best films, and he reluctantly (but graciously) accepted.

 

5. Tabloid (2011)

I like this new film because it's a return to a kind of absurdist version of what I do. I love the oddities of how people express themselves. Take [tabloid journalist] Peter Tory's affection for the phrase "spread-eagled." Every time he says "spread-eagled," and he says it again and again and again, I ask myself, "Is he making this up? Is this tabloid journalism in its essence?" At one point, he's talking about the "sex in chains" headline, and he says, "I think it was ropes, but chains sounds better." Tabloid's a story about narrative, about how stories are constructed as they're being told. I wanted to achieve that effect in a movie, and I hope it's there.

 

4. Vernon, Florida (1981)

Many people say this is their favorite of my films. Metaphysicians in the swamp in the middle of nowhere — there's really nothing quite like this movie.

 

3. Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr (1999)

I'm a Jewish guy from Long Island, and I always wanted to make a movie about the Holocaust, but never really wanted to make one of those movies about the Holocaust. And I finally found a way into that story that interested me: I found an electric-chair repairman and Holocaust denier, and made this movie. The more ill-advised a project is, the more someone tells me this can't possibly work or shouldn't work, or shouldn't be made, the more I want to do it.

 

2. Gates of Heaven (1978)

My first film means a lot to me because I had no idea I'd be able to make a film at all. It's on Roger Ebert's list of the ten best films of all time. Roger's been very important to me over the years. I joke with him that every time I make a movie I have to ask myself, how much less will he like it than Gates of Heaven? Because to him, Gates of Heaven is a masterpiece, and everything else I do is not quite as good.

 

1. The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Is The Thin Blue Line my best film? I don't know, but I know that it's an important film for me, because I spent three years on it. Not three years simply making a movie, but three years investigating a murder, overturning a conviction in Texas, and getting a confession from the kid who was the real killer. You don't do that every day. It's one of the defining events in my life, something that I'm really proud of.

Interview conducted by Alex Heigl.