Actor, comedian and director Christopher Guest has become the leading authority of mockumentaries, or mock documentaries. These are comedy films disguised as documentaries – usually on some type of absurd topic. And Christopher Guest returned with his latest mockumentary, this one on sports mascots, with a direct to Netflix release in October 2016. Simply titled Mascots, the latest mockumentary is the fifth one written and directed by Guest in the past 20 years. However, he is not the only person who has made some truly hilarious and memorable mockumentaries. Here are the 10 best mockumentaries of all time, in our humble opinion.
10. Real Life (1979)
Long before the proliferation of reality television shows, and before mockumentaries were well known, actor and comedian Albert Brooks made a name for himself with the inventive and subversive 1979 mockumentary called Real Life. This hilarious movie is a spoof of the overly sappy 1973 reality television program called An American Family. Brookes, who made his directorial debut with this mockumentary, plays a documentary filmmaker who attempts to live with, and film, a dysfunctional family for an entire year. Actor Charles Grodin plays the angry head of the family who allows a camera crew in to film his Arizona-based family. However when the film crew realizes that real life is actually pretty boring, they begin to go to great lengths to make things around the family more exciting – including setting the house on fire. Not only is this mockumentary seriously funny, but it foreshadows a lot of what we see on television today. Check it out.
9. Hard Core Logo (1996)
Director Quentin Tarantino is such a fan of this Canadian mockumentary that he allowed his name to be used on the DVD cover of this movie. It reads “Quentin Tarantino’s Hard Core Logo.” In reality, Tarantino had nothing to do with this mockumentary about an ill-fated reunion of a punk rock band. But he is such a fan of the movie that he consented to having his name associated with it. Directed by independent movie maker Bruce McDonald, the movie is about a punk band called Hard Core Logo that reunites to play a benefit after one of their punk mentors is shot. A short-lived reunion tour ensues, where the band members slowly unravel and the whole group implodes. Real life punk legends such as Joey Ramone and Art Bergmann have cameos in the movie. Funny and irreverent, Hard Core Logo has been named in various polls as one of the greatest Canadian movies ever made.
8. Bob Roberts (1992)
A political satire wrapped up as a mockumentary, the 1992 movie Bob Roberts was written and directed by, and stars, Tim Robbins as a right-wing American politician who is a candidate for an upcoming United States Senate election. Candidate Bob Roberts is well-financed from past business dealings, and is widely known for his music, which espouses extremely conservative ideas. With the tagline “Vote first. Ask questions later,” Bob Roberts is a hilarious look at the U.S. electoral system and a major condemnation of the political process. Tim Robbins savagely skewers right wing politics and gets across his own left leaning views in this movie that is portrayed as a documentary crew following Roberts on the Senate campaign trail. Interestingly, Tim Robbins got the idea for this mockumentary after he came up with the character of Bob Roberts while guest hosting Saturday Night Live.
7. Waiting for Guffman (1996)
The first mockumentary written and directed by Christopher Guest, the 1996 film Waiting for Guffman tackles small town community theater. Bringing together the familiar Guest cast of Eugene Levy, Catharine O’Hara, Parker Posey, and Fred Willard, Waiting for Guffman shows how the cast of a small town musical in rural Missouri go overboard when they learn that a Broadway theater producer plans to attend their show. This movie is seriously funny and sets the template for the Guest mockumentaries that have come after it. Particularly funny is the My Dinner with Andre action figures that theater director Corky St. Clair introduces at the end of the movie. And good news, Guest reprises the role of Corky St. Clair in Mascots. Hooray!
6. I’m Still Here (2010)
Probably the most controversial mockumentary on this list is the 2010 film I’m Still Here, which was directed by Casey Affleck and stars Joaquin Phoenix as a spaced out version of himself. The film is positioned as a documentary about Joaquin Phoenix as he retires from acting and embarks on a new career as a hip hop artist. Throughout the filming of the mockumentary, Joaquin Phoenix remained in character for his real life public appearances – including a memorable one on David Letterman – giving the media the impression that he was seriously pursuing a new career in music, and possibly that he had lost his marbles. This performance was so convincing that many people did not even realize that I’m Still Here was a comedy movie, or a mockumentary. The question remains though: Why make this movie at all? Why Joaquin, why?
5. Brüno (2009)
In addition to Guest, actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen is a master of the mockumentary. Case in point, his 2009 mockumentary Brüno, which is about Austrian fashion journalist Brüno who travels to the United States with a documentary camera crew in tow so that they can film his efforts to become “the biggest gay Austrian celebrity since Hitler.” What’s interesting about Brüno, and all of Sacha Baron Cohen’s work, is that he involves real people in his mockumentaries who have no idea that they are being involved in a fake movie or that the ridiculous situation they find themselves in is completely fake. Sacha Baron Cohen even involves clueless celebrities in his pranks – such as when he tries to get singer Paula Abdul to sit on a Mexican worker instead of a chair. This movie is politically incorrect and outrageous, and it involves one shocking scene after another. But there is no denying how funny it is – definitely worth checking out.
4. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
You don’t normally associate filmmaker Woody Allen with mockumentaries. However, the famous director made a great one with 1999’s Sweet and Lowdown. About a fictional jazz guitarist named Emmet Ray (played by actor Sean Penn), Sweet and Lowdown is filmed as a fake documentary about the guitarist with real life historians, jazz critics, and even Woody Allen himself commenting on Emmit Ray as if he was a real person. Co-starring Samantha Morton as a kindhearted mute woman who falls in love with Sean Penn’s character, Sweet and Lowdown also features, and mentions, many real life jazz musicians, notably European guitar master Jean “Django” Reinhardt, whom Sean Penn’s character spends the movie obsessing over and comparing himself to. This mockumentary was so convincing that it led many people to Google the name “Emmit Ray” after seeing the film, not realizing he was a fictional character created by Woody Allen. This is a funny and sweet flick.
3. Best in Show (2000)
A classic of the mockumentary genre is 2000’s Best in Show, again written and directed by Christopher Guest. The movie follows a group of zany dog lovers as they head to the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show in Philadelphia to see which animal will be named “Best in Show” at the prestigious contest. The film has an almost identical cast to Waiting for Guffman, with Eugene Levy and Catharine O’Hara stealing the movie as Gerry and Cookie Fleck, a middle class couple from Florida who constantly run into men that Cookie slept with during her youth (“It’s the only time I ever did it on a roller coaster”). Funny from beginning to end, and a little poignant, Best in Show carries on the tradition of poking fun at eccentric people and their strange pursuits and hobbies. One of the best in the Christopher Guest cannon.
2. Borat (2006)
Another great Sacha Baron Cohen mockumentary is the 2006 movie Borat. Or, as it is officially titled: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. In this no holds barred mockumentary, Sacha Baron Cohen plays Borat Sagdiyev, a fictitious Kazakh journalist who travels through the United States recording real life interactions with Americans. As with his other movies, Borat involves real life people who have no idea they’re part of an elaborate spoof, and watching their reactions is priceless. Banned in all Arab countries except Lebanon, Borat features some truly outrageous scenes, including one showing Christians torturing Jews. Several people involved in this movie sued the producers and star after the film premiered. Despite the controversy, Sacha Baron Cohen won the Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and the film’s screenplay was nominated for an Oscar (ironic since much of the movie was improvised).
1. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
One of the original mockumentaries, and still widely considered the very best, 1984’s This Is Spinal Tap is a legendary movie that still seems original and hilarious to this day. Starring Christopher Guest as one member of a dysfunctional heavy metal band called Spinal Tap, the movie was actually directed by Rob Reiner, who plays a documentary filmmaker following Spinal Tap on a U.S. tour. Co-starring Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, This Is Spinal Tap contains one classic scene after another. From the midgets dancing around a miniature Stonehenge to the scene where the band gets lost backstage at their own concert, to the uproarious scene where Christopher Guest explains to Rob Reiner how his guitar amplifiers go “all the way to 11” rather than 10. This Is Spinal Tap set the bar for what a truly great mockumentary should be and gave every single one made since a lot to live up to. If you haven’t seen this movie, stop what you are doing and rush out to see it. A true classic.