The 50 Best Documentaries of All Time

Still from "Pressure Cooker"

27. Pressure Cooker

Mark Becker and Jennifer Grausman’s 2009 documentary focuses on the Culinary Arts program at Philadelphia’s Frankford High School — politely called an “inner city” school, a little rough, where most of the students are black kids from lower-income families. Wilma Stephenson, the program’s tough-as-nails instructor, doesn’t cut anyone a break, though: she speaks distastefully of the “ghetto palate,” calls her students out (loudly) when they make mistakes, and expects them to come in before school and over spring break for extra class. But it’s all for their benefit, for their opportunities and their future, and by the end of Pressure Cooker, we have a rooting interest in their outcome. It doesn’t have quite the same epic scope (or length) as Hoop Dreams, but it’s cut from the same rich cloth; it is a warm and intimate picture, and its closing scenes are indescribably moving.