Heartwarming. Dreadful. Incredible. These non-fiction films offer an incredible cinematic experience.
The following 10 documentaries are brilliant.
It is almost painful to choose a list of the best documentaries of 2020. There have been so many good films, not to mention countless more that we all haven't seen because their releases have been thwarted by the pandemic.
Even so, every film on this list offers something that is either completely revolutionary, incredibly important, or artistically ingenious.
If you have a piece of ice in your solar plexus region that was once your humanity, this movie will melt it. And it will likely change the way you view people with disabilities completely.
This film has an amazing story: one of the directors, a Doc Sound Mixer and disabled superhero Jim LeBrecht, thought he might be able to find old black and white footage from a place called Camp Jened. The result was revolutionary! Working with veteran filmmaker Nicole Newnham, this film became the first ever to be produced by the Obamas.
The movie is a must see and reads a brilliant interview with the filmmakers here.
First thing you should know: filmmaker Hasan Oswald sold his blood plasma to make this film. Are you that committed His unique vision for the film is visible on screen every minute – he follows his motives through harrowing substance abuse, searches the streets for loved ones, and raises young children. Throughout the film, the film combines the Vérité style with bohemian montages and ethereal drone shots so that viewers get a feel for the people living within the walls of the imploding post-industrial American city.
Drop most of the jaw
Welcome to Chechnya
Jaw drop for two reasons: how the film is made and the story itself. Welcome to Chechnya follows the gay and lesbian purges in Chechnya. The story is shocking.
And jaws drop because of the extremely precarious safety of the people in the film. The documentary used deepfake technology to protect their identity at all costs. Listen to editors Tyler H. Walk and Maxwell Anderson on the No Film School Editors roundtable to hear some of the incredible details of this film.
Following the mass shooting survivors who became Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School activists, Us Kids documents a group of teenagers growing up. They commute between larger-than-life characters dealing with PTSD and lost classmate trauma as they lead the march for our lives, and are regular teenagers who graduate high school and walk the path for the rest of their lives. It is as convincing a portrait of gun violence as it is of this generation.
Read our interview with filmmaker Kim A. Snyder here.
The truffle hunters
Michael Dweck first stepped into the documentary with his unusual film The Last Race, which was an existential high-art look at a final race track. In collaboration with co-director Gregory Kershaw, this signature style continues in this new document on exquisite Italian Cacciatori di Tartufi. The film is so visually stunning that Sony Pictures Classics picked it up.
Best political thriller
A thousand cuts
This is some kind of learned crime drama, maybe where the crime is free press and the victim is Filipino President and Dictator Rodrigo Duterte. The heroine? Independent journalist. The film artfully constructs the feeling of being a country under a wave of democracy-eroding, murder-punishing government oversight – from the perspective of a group of journalists who work tirelessly to tell this story. Even if it means getting arrested for it.
Bloody nose, empty pockets
When it premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, people left the theater asking for their money back. Why? They were shocked to hear how the film was made and thought it was pushing the envelope too far. It broke the rules!
That's why it's interesting. Read our interview with the clever filmmakers here and find out why the film is so controversial.
maɬni – towards the sea, towards the shore
In his first feature film, after compiling a canon of experimental shorts, Sky Hopinka uses the circle of the chinookan origin of the death myth to reimagine the linear conventions of storytelling. The result is an impressive experimental documentary that is based on cinematic realism as well as high and unconventional.
Read an excerpt from Hopinka's film strategy here.
Most relevant to the American zeitgeist
In a year when the streets are full of protests against police brutality and growing awareness of an unfair prison industrial complex, a movie like Time is sorely important. The film follows Sibil Fox Richardson and over 100 hours of diaries in which she struggled to get her husband back after serving a 60-year prison sentence.
Listen as Editor Gabriel Rhodes discusses some of the most difficult and rewarding aspects of putting this movie together.
Best human portrait
We are like gods
Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado have had careers profiling eccentric geniuses, from Bill Nye: Science Guy to almost insane immortalist scientists in search of the cure for death. This time around, the filmmakers are returning to work on what some people call Stewart Brand the "DaVinci of Cyber Culture." The documentary combines their characteristic visual style with archives and always modern sound design and brings Brand to life. And the cherry on top is that the film has an original score by Brian Eno!
Have you seen any of these documentaries? What did we miss