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Paste’s Best of 2012 series continues through Dec. 31 and is made possible by our friends at Tretorn.

When all your favorite bands are on Twitter and Instagram, it can seem like you’ve got the inside scoop on all that goes on off stage. But there’s nothing like a well-crafted documentary to see what went into the music you love so dearly. This year saw directors like Spike Lee, Jonathan Demme and Kevin Macdonald filming some iconic music legends. But it also showed that little-known filmmakers documenting smaller acts can create just as a powerful a story. Here are the 10 Best Music Documentaries of 2012.

10. How to Grow a Band
Director: Mark Meatto
A good film—and a good band, for that matter—can be much like The Wizard of Oz. If everything goes just right, if the curtain doesn’t get pulled back, then the audience can find itself part of a great and powerful experience. But with How To Grow A Band, director Mark Meatto proves that, sometimes, a look behind the curtain can yield just as amazing of an experience. Meatto followed the folk-formal-fusion-but-don’t-you-dare-call-it-bluegrass band Punch Brothers for two years: on tour, in studio, on the street, in the living room, in comfort and in flux. The portrait of the band that emerges is clear and precise. We come to know the band so well that the music is comfortingly familiar by film’s end; we come to the know the band members so well that we can hear each individual personality filter through each song. And that’s what How To Grow A Band is really about. Meatto shows us how five virtuosos come together to take traditional music in a new direction.—Joan Radell

9. Bad25
Director: Spike Lee
Airing on ABC on Thanksgiving Day, Spike Lee delved deep into Michael Jackson’s Bad—both the album and the tour—a quarter century after its release. With no more records to break after Thriller, Jackson poured the pressure on himself, pushing himself and everyone around him to take things even bigger. With current interviews with folks like Quincy Jones and Martin Scorsese (who directed the BAD short film) and historical interviews with Jackson, Bad25 captures the moment in pop history. But it’s the candid moments that are most special. While the TV version was just over an hour, you can see the full 123-minute documentary coming to DVD in February, including a clip of Jackson dancing with Sheryl Crow, a section on his purchase of the Beatles’ catalog and interviews with Stevie Wonder and the Biebs.

8. Carol Channing: Larger Than Life
Director: Dori Berinstein
Carol Channing is such an endearing, sharp, funny personality that director Dori Berinstein could easily have just thrown her camera on a tripod, have the 90-year-old musical theater legend spin anecdotes for an hour and a half, and had a great documentary. Thankfully, what she made is even better. Sure, Channing still tells those stories about her life and stage career in her paradoxically inimitable-yet-oft-imitated style. But there are also heartfelt testimonies from fellow actors and personalities, most legends in their own right, about how talented and genuine she is. Carol Channing: Larger than Life is like a warm cinematic hug from Shubert Alley, not to be missed by anyone with even the remotest passing interest in Channing or Broadway history.—Dan Kaufman

7. Crossfire Hurricane
Director: Brett Morgan
Oscar-nominated documentarian Brett Morgan (On the Ropes) interviewed The Rolling Stones on the eve of the band’s 50th anniversary. “No cameras were allowed in the room,” he lets us know at the beginning of Crossfire Hurricane. But immediately we’re taken back to one of the band’s earliest tours of America, where they reigned as the bad boys to The Beatles’ cleaner image. With tons of concert clips, interview footage and backstage moments—much of which was previously unreleased—it’s an entertaining story about natural entertainers. Courtney Love liked it enough to invite Morgan to helm the upcoming Kurt Cobain documentary.

6. Neil Young: Journeys
Director: Jonathan Demme
Neil Young Journeys is director Jonathan Demme’s documentary of the last two nights of Young’s solo world tour performing at Toronto’s Massey Hall. The uncut performances, almost entirely from his 2010 album Le Noise, are interspersed with footage of Young driving around his hometown of Omemee, Ontario, in a 1956 Crown Victoria. In the car, he tells stories about his childhood, showing Demme the places where he grew up, almost all of which have been completely destroyed. Demme’s third documentary about Young assumes that his audience has a deep biographical knowledge of Young, but it’s enchanting to watch. There’s a reason he has had such a long and successful career as a musician and performer: watching him is enthralling and, at times, chill-inducing. The film offers a rare chance to experience an incredibly intimate performance from a rock-and-roll icon.—Emily Kirkpatrick

When all your favorite bands are on Twitter and Instagram, it can seem like you’ve got the inside scoop on all that goes on off stage. But there’s nothing like a well-crafted documentary to see what went into the music you love so dearly. This year saw directors like Spike Lee, Jonathan Demme and Kevin Macdonald filming some iconic music legends. But it also showed that little-known filmmakers documenting smaller acts can create just as a powerful a story. Here are the 10 Best Music Documentaries of 2012.

5. Big Easy Express
Director: Emmett Malloy
What happens when you have all the members of Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show on an old, historic train traveling 2,800 miles throughout the American Southwest playing shows in the unlikeliest of places? Lots of jamming, a set with a high-school band and a hell of a lot of fun. If you have any interest in the Americana/folk-pop movement, Big Easy Express will give you a glimpse into its motivation, showing even those now-enormous pop stars in Mumford playing around in their roots.

4. Under African Skies
Director: Joe Berlinger
Joe Berlinger’s fascinating, immersive documentary Under African Skies celebrates the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon’s landmark Graceland album and examines the firestorm of controversy that it ignited.The narrative core of the film is Simon’s 2011 return to South Africa to stage a reunion concert and, most poignantly, a conversation between him and Dali Tambo about their opposing stances 25 years ago and where they find themselves today. To his credit, Berlinger presents all arguments impartially and leaves the viewer to come to his or her own terms with Simon’s motives and actions.—Clay Steakley

3. Marley
Director: Kevin Macdonald
It’s not entirely clear why director Kevin Macdonald decided to make a documentary about the musician Bob Marley, a cultural icon whose life has been recounted countless times through a variety of mediums. Macdonald claims it’s because he wants to understand why Marley continues to speak to legions of fans around the world. Whatever his reasons, he’s clearly up to the task. Marley offers an expansive and at times fascinating perspective on the man through interviews with his fellow former Wailers, family, and childhood friends. The film is fairly detailed concerning Marley’s songwriting and musicianship from his early ska days up through the release of Catch a Fire. After this, however, it skips through his catalogue, choosing to focus more on his personal life, conversion to Rastafarianism, the tumultuous state of Jamaican politics, and his prolific womanizing—all of which are important elements of the artist’s character.—Jonah Flicker

2. Searching for Sugar Man
Director: Malik Bendjelloul
“The Story of the Forgotten Genius” is such a well-worn formula for music documentaries that it was already being parodied more than three decades ago in This is Spinal Tap. In Searching for Sugar Man, as Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul begins to tell the story of Rodriguez—the Dylanesque folk rocker who released two apparently brilliant albums in the early 1970s, then disappeared—it appears he’s traveling a familiar road. But that road takes a sharp left turn when we learn that bootleg recordings catapulted Rodriguez to stratospheric heights of fame in apartheid-era South Africa. (When a record-store owner is asked if Rodriguez was as big as the Rolling Stones, he matter-of-factly replies “Oh, much bigger than that.”). In fact, his uncensored depictions of sex and drugs were so thrilling to South African musicians that he became the patron saint of the Afrikaner punk movement, which in turn laid the groundwork for the organized anti-apartheid movement that eventually brought the regime down. It’s just a shame that Rodriguez never lived to see it—he burned himself to death onstage in the middle of a show. Or overdosed in prison. Or shot himself alone in his apartment. Or… could he still be alive? Bendjelloul’s film manages to create an aura of mystery and suspense around a search that actually unfolded 14 years ago—a “detective documentary” set in the very recent past.—Michael Dunaway

1. Shut Up and Play the Hits
Directors: Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern
A year ago, hundreds of friends and thousands of fans converged on Madison Square Garden for LCDSoundsystem’s farewell performance. All the while, the cameras were rolling, resulting in Shut Up And Play the Hits, a documentary that follows James Murphy and the band in the days leading up to, during and after the tumultuous four-hour farewell. Directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern use a staggering number of cameras and crosscut liberally to provide an experience that’s arguably even better than seeing the band live (okay, maybe not quite that good but…). And the scenes outside the concert footage are equally compelling. —Michael Dunaway/Bo Moore

— articles by josh jackson for paste magazine. image from uncut.co.uk
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