So far as I'm concerned, the best music documentaries are those where the band or the artist don't have editorial control or final cut - Crossfire Hurricane stands out as a wasted opportunity because the film needed tougher questions and a sharper focus than the Rolling Stones were willing to offer. Conversely, Netflix' Keith Richards doc was far more satisfying because it asked Keith questions about his music (the scene where Keef demonstrates how he created the distorted acoustic guitars on "Street Fighting Man" crystalizes everything that's been missing from Stones docs to date). OK...that was a minor rant disguised as an editorial. Back to the subject at hand... My favorites, in no certain order: Soundbreaking: A terrific mini-series about the history of music production. The heavy hitters are all here - George Martin, Rick Rubin to name two - and the series isn't tied to one genre, bouncing from Sinatra to Aretha to the Beatles to Dr. Dre. We know why people make music...this is the how. Who Is Harry Nilsson and Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?: Some of docs I've enjoyed most were about artists I knew very little about. I knew who Harry Nilsson was - the familiar hits, John Lennon's drinking buddy - but was less aware of his brilliant, erratic, and eccentric career. It's hard to come away from seeing this not feeling for Harry, a man blessed with talent and cursed with an independent and self destructive streak. That Harry was aware of what they cost him at the end of his all-too-brief life is only of the heartbreaks the film richly details. The movie also backs up the claim that Nilsson was truly ahead of his time - creatively using television instead of live performance to reach an audience and recording an album of standards long before Rod Stewart and others found the gold in them there songs. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay the film is when it's over, you'll go looking to get yourself some Harry. Gimme Shelter: Of this movie, entire white papers and essays have been written so I'll just say this is the Rolling Stones smack (no pun intended) dab in the middle of their Imperial Era, making killer albums (that's them in Muscle Shoals cutting what would be Sticky Fingers) and reclaiming the concert stage. These days when the Stones tour it's like the circus rolling into town, but in 1969 they were dangerous. They didn't just bring the wrong element into town - they were the wrong element, a statement Altamont drew a line underneath. The performances captured here are ragged, but the music has the edge and energy that made the Stones "The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band". And yes, Charlie's good tonight. All Or Nothing At All: Finally, someone steps up and gives Frank Sinatra a worthy documentary. Alex Gibney's film is a trove of Sinatra performances, rare interviews and keen insight from critics and fellow artists. The Sinatra family also chimes in and their remarks are refreshingly candid - at one point Gibney asks Frank Sinatra, Jr. why he keeps referring to the elder Frank as "Sinatra" and not "Dad" or "Father" and Junior's oddly distant reply speaks volumes about their relationship. Even the late Nancy Sinatra - FS's first wife - gets in a little truth of her own by calling Ava Gardner "a bitch". The candor isn't only reserved for the family - the doc wades into Sinatra's mob ties, his volatility, and career lows (Frank sporting beads and a nehru jacket to join the Fifth Dimension for a few songs during a TV special is both hysterical and painful). That's life...at least Sinatra's, anyways. Thelonious Monk - Straight, No Chaser: Thelonious Monk...before the madness took over. Monk's long, slow withdrawal into himself would start not long after the footage that comprises this doc was shot, making this timepiece just that much more valuable. Not that the signs aren't there in the film - Monk dancing in an airport or on stage, dancing around his piano - but at the time, it was Monk being...well, Monk. The upside is this doc features plenty of Monk also being Monk, playing his wonderfully playful yet complex music for enthusiastic audiences. A genuine artifact of jazz history. Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown To Off The Wall: "The Making Of..." album docs are mostly standard operating procedure for any band or artist looking to freshen up the release of a "Deluxe Edition" - and they can range from insightful (the to-date three Springsteen docs) to just shy of an EPK. This one though...is special. Like Monk, Michael Jackson would also begin a long, slow retreat into mental illness (my diagnosis - not theirs), paired with substance abuse and - ahem - "questionable behavior". Director Spike Lee doesn't waste his - or our - time navigating the awkward conversation of Jackson's post-Thriller life. Instead, Lee focuses on a surprisingly rich period for Jackson - the run up to and making of his solo album Off The Wall. There's some necessary backstory of the child prodigy and his band of brothers, but it frames how bold Jackson's moves would be during this period in his life - leaving Motown, the fight to not be seen a novelty act by Epic Records (their new label) and Michael's emergence as the star of the Jacksons, giving him the push to make his first true solo album. I'm sure someone will attempt to tell the fuller, sadder story of Michael Jackson's life...but Lee makes a strong case for these being Jackson's best days, when he was full of youth, talent, and the will to break down barriers for himself and his music. If only he had stayed there.