They are the anti-megamovies, the blockbuster busters. They boast no big special effects, no $20 million stars. Yet documentaries have become part of the summer-movie landscape, thanks to the robust business done by Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004 and March of the Penguins last year. Docs can hit audiences where all the best movies do: in the heart, in the gut. Here are five of this summer's essays in political outrage and personal triumph.
Ken Burns sees the New York Times crossword puzzle as "a set of boxes in which you practice the wordplay of this particularly exquisite language." Bill Clinton solves his Times crosswords as he would a political problem: "You start with what you know the answer to, and you just build on it." Jon Stewart begins a Tuesday puzzle with such confidence, "I'm gonna do it in glue stick."
These eminences (all left-handed; explain) are among the legion of Will Shortz's subjects. Shortz, the Times's crossword editor, is a genial gent who since 1978 has run an annual tournament for the sort of people who can finish a Sunday puzzle in 10 min.--in ink. Their number include Ellen Ripstein, a self-described "little nerd girl," and Tyler Hinman, who at 20 could become the tournament's youngest-ever winner.
Patrick Creadon's fizzy documentary uses interviews, tournament lore and some very cunning graphics to capture all the obsessive excitement of word love. The movie screen is a box too, and this film is as smart and funny as its topic and its stars. Release date: June 16
THE HEART OF THE GAME
Seattle coach Bill Resler calls his Roosevelt High girls' basketball team a "pride of lions." Which sounds simple and uplifting until he explains that in the jungle, female lions leave the males and go prowling to "kill and devour" their foe. His offensive strategy: he has none, instead establishing a pressing defense that exhausts the opponent.
Ward Serrill's feel-good doc, which covers seven years in the life of Resler's Roughriders, is hobbled by a narration so syrupy, it could be poured on pancakes. But the movie soars because of the sport's natural drama (every game seems to come down to a last, desperate shot) and its luck in finding a complex heroine. Darnellia Russell, the rare black girl on a white team, has dimples, drive and enough problems to fill an afterschool special. The film can't help touching on issues of race, child abuse and teen pregnancy, even as it out-Hoosiers Hoosiers with a real-life parable of improbable victory. Girls have hoop dreams too. And dreams can come true at the final buzzer. Release date: June 9
WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?
Tom Hanks trumpeted its arrival. Ed Begley Jr. mourned its passing. When you realize that the film is narrated by a liberal President of the U.S. (well, Martin Sheen, who plays one on TV), you may suspect that the electric car was another ego trip for Hollywood's preachy leftists. But even Mel Gibson, no liberal, touts the vehicle's benefits. And when you hear the litany--it's clean, quiet and rechargeable at home, and, best of all, it doesn't rely on a product found in some of the least stable, most despotic nations on earth--you start thinking maybe it was a good idea. So why did General Motors, having invested a billion dollars in electric cars, not only pull the plug on them but also recall and destroy virtually every one?