This is one of my favorite annual articles to write. This year, the documentary film genre was vital; I placed four in my top twenty-five films list, with Navalny finishing as high as number three. There may have been years with stronger efforts, but the genre found a sweet spot this year, focusing on what it means to live in a world where power is to oppress and our lack of morality. Take the time to seek out these films.
Without further ado, please enjoy my list of the best the medium has had to offer this year. Here are a dozen of my favorites, presented in alphabetical order.
Aftershock is a reminder of another incendiary documentary on healthcare profiting off women, Kirby Dick’s The Bleeding Edge. In that film, a damning line about medicine has stayed with me. That’s when it comes down to medicine or marketing, the latter wins every time. Here, Eiseltand and Lee’s documentary illustrates how systems operate and profit from the intersectionality of minority women in the childbirth industry. Simply put, if someone belongs to more than one group that classifies as unrepresented, the odds begin to stack against you from your first doctor’s visit. While there are many papers on an unconscious bias (if you see the term implicit bias, it is the same thing) in medicine that has to do with race, Aftershock points to something far more damning when it comes to equality in the United States — everything is a business. Available to stream on Hulu!
All that Breathes
A breathing-taking character study on how climate change, caused by humans, affects ecosystems and how those living things survive and adapt. A non-fiction film that is jaw-droppingly astute in its observations, saying, “We’re all a community of air. We shouldn’t differentiate between all that breathes.” But Shaunek Sen’s may be the most beautifully photographed documentary film ever. Available to stream in HBO Max in 2023
David Siev’s exceptional view of what it means to live in Donald Trump’s America highlights how the only thing harder than pursuing the American dream is holding onto it during extraordinary circumstances. Bad Axe is a documentary film that offers rare insight into firsthand experiences of race in America when times are tough. While clearly showing the invisibility of anti-Asian hate. Available to rent or buy on various streaming platforms.
This Netflix film also has the type of morality that people try to convince themselves of its ambiguity as the decade’s pass. Never more than when a white descendant of a slave ship captain mistakes a new and unlikely bond to voice his opinion that is as jaw-dropping as the story itself. Trust me. It’s a stunner. As equally fascinating as it is riveting, Descendant is an extraordinary documentary about oral histories, gatekeeping, and community. Margaret Brown’s film is like no other. Available to stream on Netflix!
Fire of Love
A truly dazzling and wholly original documentary film that takes you to the edge of lava and love. Here, with stunning archival footage, director Sara Dosa combines a narrative about science and adoration for the discoveries made while on the journey. You’ve never seen anything quite like it. Available to stream on Disney+!
The filmmakers hold our interest by capturing the human side of the matter. We did not expect Flight/Risk to play out as a suspenseful political thriller that smartly presents legal arguments, entanglements, and political views as they are, with archival footage and live recreation of the hearings. All combined with Gates walking us through a labyrinth of damning research by Boeing and the FAA, that is, hair-raising. Flight/Risk has a damning indignation demands to be seen and heard. Available to stream on Prime Video!
Good Night Oppy
Rarely can a historic documentary conjure up the wonder, imagination, and grand adventure experienced by the ones who lived it? The sheer spectacle of space travel gives way to timeless tales. Ones such as Treasure Island, Moby Dick, Into the Wild, and The Odyssey. These stories give credence to the human spirit we were always meant to explore. That is where Good Night Oppy lends a helping hand. It shines a spotlight on the innate courage, grit, resolution, and tenacity of those men and women of NASA. And, of course, the world will never be the same once you have seen it through the eyes of Oppy and Spirit. Good Night Oppy is a great adventure film for families because of its educational themes and ability to capture the human spirit’s appetite for unlimited possibilities. Available to stream on Prime Video!
Gladbeck: The Hostage Crisis
Overwhelmingly powerful and raw, that covers 54 hours in 90 minutes and the extraordinary events that transpire. Gladbeck: The Hostage Crisis is a thrilling and powerful documentary about ethics, the arrogance of mythical proportions, and structural incompetence. This was a significant moment that revamped journalistic ethics. What Heise accomplishes here is to show that not much has changed with the viewer’s appetite—for the insatiable, the macabre, and like a moth to the flame, flirting with our own moral ambiguity is not just entertainment but in our reality that remains unchanged. Available to stream on Netflix!
There are moments so shocking that transpire on the screen of the CNN/HBO Max documentary Navalny. People would believe this was a fictional film because they may have trouble believing it. The documented account of a man challenging the sitting Russian president is an astonishing and downright chilling film. One that plays out like a tightly wound political thriller. The ending is so visceral that it can be felt in your bones, and the viewer becomes mindful of the current state of our present world. Available to stream on HBO Max!
You will not find any conspiracy theories about The Princess’s death. I was taken aback by how little time was spent going over the crash, and the funeral was left to the credits. Perkins’ documentary is a tale about the price of fame and a woman smart enough to know how to wield her power. The Princess is a remarkable glimpse of the relationship between the subject, the media, and their audience. Available to stream on HBO Max!
The haunting nature of Matthew Heineman’s Retrograde leaves you so overcome with emotion that you practically become cataplectic by the time you finish the film’s overwhelming ending at the Kabul airport. Powerful in its scope and a documentary with an epic feel, Retrograde is profoundly moving as it begins to settle into its sobering reality. Many promises were made, broken, and those are left holding the sins left behind by a nation that no longer takes up space there. Heineman’s film is sugar-coated free and has an indelible mark. Available to stream on Disney+!
“Sr.” is not about looking back at past mistakes but moving forward, always into the future. That is a constant battle with addiction, where rumination leads to relapses. There is a scene where the camera captures three generations of Downey men that may reveal what the film is about. In a way, Chris Smith’s film is not just a celebration of a nonconformist filmmaker’s punk rock rebellion and “go f*ck yourself” attitude but how the man and his maverick offspring saved their own lives by moving forward, never back. Perhaps so those same mistakes will not affect any other generational member of the Downey clan. Robert Downey Jr has not just done right by his father but by himself and his family. Available to stream on Netflix!
What is your favorite documentary of 2022? Did we leave anyone off our list? Comment below!
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