I think it’s clear we are now in the golden age of popular documentary filmmaking. Whether it’s streaming films on hard-to-watch subjects like Recovery Boys and The Bleeding Edge, or more watchable fair like RBG, Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Andre the Giant, or Whitney, these films are finding an audience. Please look at my list of top documentaries this past year; almost all you can find on streaming services right now!
15. Pick of the Litter
They say it’s hard not to make a good documentary; throw some puppies into the mix, and you’ve got a sure-fire hit that should come with a warning label attached about overdosing on cuteness. Entertaining while ultimately being very touching.
14. Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
An engrossing film that spans four decades delving into the life of a human lightning bolt in a bottle, if there ever was one.
13. Seeing Allred
A well-plotted documentary, with a look at her rise as a powerful women’s advocate layered in between her role in the Cosby sexual assault trials and detractor to the 2016 Trump campaign. The film can be one-sided, but it’s an effective look at a controversial figure.
12. The Rachel Divide
One of the most polarizing documentaries I’ve seen. Politician or Follower? Pioneer or Emigrant? Con-woman or Novice? No matter what side you come out on, Brownson’s film will spark debate (or have you change the subject quickly).
11. Reversing Roe
Democrat or Republican, pro-life or pro-choice; religious or Atheist, whatever side you’re on, Reversing Roe is an enlightening documentary with surprising facts on the issue while chronicling a fascinating cat-and-mouse chess match on defending it.
It does an admirable job giving a balanced treatment of the highs and lows of one of the greatest musical stars of all time. It offers some startling revelations that needed more time to breathe, but it’s still a potent documentary in a year full of good ones.
9. City of Joy
A harrowing look at the criminal sexual atrocities women (I say women, but many are just children) suffers at the hands of men (even big business) while reclaiming their lives (body and soul) in a war-torn region of the Congo. Madeleine Gavin’s documentary is undeniably powerful.
8. The Bleeding Edge
The line that struck me most from Kirby Dick’s damning documentary about big medical is when it comes down to medicine or marketing. The latter wins every time. We are the guinea pigs, and the FDA doesn’t have our backs. You’ve been warned.
A well-made doc that looks at the history of RBG shaping inequality laws for almost 50 years. Is it one-sided, or are there no flaws to pick at? I think it’s the latter; she is a real American Hero. Anyone who watched the judicial hearings needs to watch this film.
6. King in the Wilderness
This documentary offers a sober look at one of the last great men of our time and what he taught us that is even more relevant based on today’s political climate. A devasting final half of the film lingers. Essential viewing.
5. Andre the Giant
It pulls back the curtain and offers a revealing look inside the business of professional wrestling: an intriguing, touching, and invigorating view of an entertainment legend. Andre the Giant is wrestling’s version of When We Were Kings! Superb!
4. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Sneaks up on you. A poignant view of a man who brought social issues to the forefront of millions of households across America. Honest, timely, beautifully moving.
3. Three Identical Strangers
I won’t tell you where it goes, but it’s a strange combination of unlikely events and disturbing moral compasses. Remarkably gripping, while leaving me outraged, everyone who sees it should demand answers.
2. Minding the Gap
Liu’s remarkable documentary is much more than a group of kids executing some grinds. That’s the medicine they take to deal with the abuses they grew up with – child, emotional, and graduating to substance. Minding the Gap is lyrical, gritty, and above all, human.
1. Recovery Boys
Sheldon’s film is strikingly real, unyielding in its focus, honest to a fault, and offers outcomes that are never on solid ground. It may not be an entertaining 90 minutes, but it’s a work of uncompromised art. It’s close to a masterpiece.