I’ve been saying it all year: documentaries have been fire this year. Some of the best viewing experiences of the year have been in the form of documentaries. They came out swinging at Sundance and SXSW, and have been going full speed ahead all year round. I did my best to catch as many of them as I could, and have a pretty decent sized pool of films to choose from. As always, I can only rank the documentaries I’ve seen, as I have at least some integrity and won’t included one I didn’t actually watch.
For some additional disclaimers, I will not be including documentary series of any kind, limited or not. This excludes a large majority of Netflix and their vast catalog of true crime docs. There’s a lot good ones to choose from, but I had to limit the selection down somehow, and this seemed like the best way to do that. Lastly, I recognize some of these selections are readily available (be it streaming or theatrical) and recommending people see a film that doesn’t even have distribution is kind of cheating. But I did see them, and they have stuck with me, so I’m going to go ahead and count them on this list.
Here are the 10 best documentaries we watched in 2022.
1 10. Downfall: The Case Against Boeing
This should tell you just how stacked the documentary category was this year. “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing” is a riveting, gut wrenching documentary about gross negligence and corporate greed resulting in innocent lives. It also sent a chill in body unlike any other, because “Downfall” feels designed to make you question every single airplane you ever board, and I literally travel for a living. But it’s well made, and kind to its victims by allowing them to take over as the main voice of the doc as it goes along. You can read my full review here.
2 9. Fire of Love
Truth be told, this one should be higher on the list. Yes, I say that even as someone who’s can make it whatever number I want, seeing as how it’s my own rankings. “Fire of Love” is truly incredible, and I will forever second guess where I’ve ranked it. A visceral view of volcanos and love, the film blends both the love of a craft with the love of each other into a stunning journey of both. This is the kind of film that should be played in schools. More people would be way more into magma and volcanoes if “Fire of Love” was their introduction. The imagery that is captured along with just how much love is poured into this decades long study is captivating, and though I have regrets of placing it so low on my list, it is truly one of the best documentaries of the year, and probably the best in its own genre. You can read my full review here.
I can’t explain it, but something about “Sr.” remains resonating, far beyond what I thought it ever could given its subject matter. This is a rather odd documentary, as it really is three different creators all attempting to make their own version of the film, and somehow manages to transform itself into something else entirely. It is deeply effecting and personal, and explores more between the lines than any of the people involved thought they were doing. It’s hard to explain what “Sr.” is about, but the longer it went on in its own chaos the more clear it all became, and it’s a rather unique experience to watch the magic of filmmaking take place in real time. We are discovering the vision at the same pace as the subjects, and it makes “Sr.” standout as a truly great documenary.
3 7. Tony Hawk: Til the Wheels Fall Off
If you would’ve told me a year ago that a film about skating would make the top ten of my favorite documentaries, I would laughed at you. Never one to get into the skate culture, all I knew of Tony Hawk is that he’s a famous skater and had a pretty cool video game for Playstation. “Tony Hawk: Til the Wheels Fall Off” manages to immediately get me invested in both; the birth of the skateboarding phenomenon and the life and career of Tony Hawk. “Til the Wheels Fall Off” is shockingly engaging and surprisingly vulnerable, with Hawk being one of the more open athletes examined in recent years. And it is also about growing up and growing old, and explores that difficult cross roads of your body telling you no more but your drive tells you to give it everything you have, no matter the cost. I loved this one more than I ever thought I would, and it was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year for enjoyable docs. You can read my review here.
4 6. Aftershock
Any other year, and “Aftershock” would easily crack the top 5 best documentaries of the year for me. The competition on 2022 is just too stacked, and so an incredible film like this one lands just outside of it. “Aftershock” is a must see, a film that may anger and frustrate you given its subject matter, but one that needs to be understood in order for us to enact true change. The film focuses on the mortalities of pregnant women among minorities, and follows the fathers and families of victims who’s lives were claimed by nothing other than system designed to deny them proper healthcare. it is a harrowing reality and at time a bit too much at once, but “Aftershock” is as powerful as it is necessary, and remains one of the best documentaries of the year.
5 5. Descendant
I really wish Netflix did more to put “Descendant” or more people’s radar, because it is about as good as any film you’ll see this year. There have been a few docs (some of which are on this list) that begin as one thing and slowly transform into another, and “Descendant” falls into that category. Both journeys are absolutely riveting, and it works hard to add meaning and connection behind everything studies and discovered. “Descendant” begins as an archeological discovery, and in of itself could be a documentary all by itself. But as it goes along, that every discovery begins to dive into what it means to those in gentrified and marginalized communities, all of which are deeply tied to the history being explored. “Descendant” is a phenomenal documentary not enough people have seen, and I highly recommend you check it out. You can ready my review here.
4. Crows are White
And we’ve come to that documentary you cant’ see, have never heard of, and couldn’t track down even if you really wanted to. “Crows are White” had its debut at SXSW, and I haven’t been able to shake it since. I’m not even sure why it resonated with me so much, but its examination of religion, tradition, and familial reconciliation all seemed to just work for me. “Crows are White” has a little bit of everything and it predominantly on the lighter side of documentary filmmaking. But like many others on this list, it begins as one thing and slowly transforms into something else entirely. The journey of “Crows are White” is marvelous and worth taking. I adored this one, and I’m really bummed more people don’t have the opportunity to watch it.
6 3. Is that Black Enough For You
Netflix really did just swoop in and grab as many documentaries as it could this year. “Is That Black Enough For You” is a hidden gem discovered almost on accident, but one I can’t recommend enough. An in depth look at the history and influence of black cinema, the film shatters myths of black filmmaking and black film eras, and allows prominent black creators to talk about their work, history, and influences themselves. “Black Enough” is a history lesson for sure, but one that feels less pedantic and more personal than a synopsis may make it seem. I was not planning on “Is That Black Enough For You” to be this high on my list, but the more this one rattles around in my brain, the more I feel its impact. Not just as a film critic, but also as a genuine lover of cinema and knowledge. This one’s a must, folks.
7 2. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
It was really hard for me to decide where this one should fall on the list. “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” makes a strong case for the number one spot, and honestly the top two could be interchangeable on any given day. But I’m going to put “Bloodshed” here, and coming in this high with this many great documentaries is no small feat. “Bloodshed” is ferocious and timely, one that will inspire and deliver hope in what can feel like a hopeless battle. “Bloodshed” does feel at times like two different documentaries, but both are wonderful apart and together, and though somewhat jarring they are intricately tied to one another. “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” is truly one of the best of the year, and deserves all of its praise and acclaim. You can ready my full review here.
8 1. Navalny
I know the awards clout for this one has lost quite a bit of steam, but I haven’t stopped thinking about “Navalny” since I saw it in January and it remains one of the riveting, thrilling, and shocking documentaries I’ve seen all year. Playing like a straight up true crime novel, “Navalny” has just about everything you could ever want from a documentary and more. Something about watching a man investigate his OWN attempted murder in real time and all of the colorful and unbelievable characters we meet in real time just continue to put this unbelievable puzzle together. What makes “Navalny” truly special is it does all of this while never simplifying its subject. Navalny is a complicated man, one who may be the hero in this story but a villain in others. The balance of complexity while also unraveling this, at times spy thriller is masterful work. I just love this documentary, and I feel good about placing “Navalny” at the very top of my list. You can read my full review here.
So there you have it! My top 10 best documentaries of the year! What were some of your favorites this year?