It might not be remembered as such (there were a few other things going on this year), but 2020 was one heck of a year for documentary film. Because there were so many GREAT docs released this year, I thought it only appropriate that they deserved their own "best of" list.
Here then, are the ten best documentary films of 2020 (I may have cheated a bit and included 11 total films...read on for explanation):
#10 - "Giving Voice"
(Available on Netflix)
Synopsis: Students from across the United States audition for a spot in the August Wilson Monologue Competition, culminating in a riveting final round on a Broadway stage.
What I had said about it: The real stars of "Giving Voice" though, are the young competitors. Wilson gave voices to a generation of people, who are now in turn keeping Wilson's voice alive. His work continues to be a part of this new generation, and not just for African-Americans. (Read Full Review).
#9 - "The Way I See It"
(Available on Peacock Streaming service, also airing on MSNBC)
Synopsis: Pete Souza captures historic and intimate moments as a photographer for President Barack Obama and President Ronald Reagan.
What I had said about it: Best of all though, "The Way I See It" has a call-to-action of its own: For the need of real human empathy to return to not only the political landscape, but to our country. Through photography, Souza was able to contextualize the weight of the oval office, giving each of us a choice as to which America we would like to see through our own lenses. (Read Full Review).
#8 - "You Cannot Kill David Arquette"
(Available on various VOD platforms)
Synopsis: Actor David Arquette returns to the professional wrestling ring for a series of matches.
What I had said about it: ...if the old adage of "what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger" is true, then David Arquette might just be the world's strongest man. (Read Full Review).
#7 - "All In: The Fight for Democracy"
(Available on Amazon Prime Video)
Synopsis: Filmmakers Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes examine the history of voter suppression and the activists who fight for the rights of U.S. citizens, focusing on rising star, Stacey Abrams.
What I had said about it: ...this isn't just an urgent matter but a vital one for the preservation of our democracy. (Read Full Review).
#6 - "Boys State"
(Available on Apple TV+)
Synopsis: In an unusual experiment, a thousand 17-year-old boys from Texas join together to build a representative government from the ground up.
What I had said about it: Adults watching "Boys State" will recognize the frustrations caused by the hurdles that our system places in the way of true change, but these young men also inspire us with their brazen optimism. In all of the hopelessness, there is still hope.
#5 - "Public Trust"
(Available on YouTube)
Synopsis: Despite support from voters across the political spectrum, our public lands face unprecedented threats from extractive industries and the politicians in their pockets. Part love letter, part political exposé, Public Trust investigates how we arrived at this precarious moment through three heated conflicts—a national monument in the Utah desert, a mine in the Boundary Waters and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—and makes a case for their continued protection.
What I had said about it: "Public Trust" is calling for advocacy instead of just "interest" in preserving these lands, and makes the case for why we all should be invested in saving them. It's a beautiful documentary, and an important one. (Read Full Review).
#4 - "The Social Dilemma"
(Available on Netflix)
Synopsis: Tech experts sound the alarm on the dangerous human impact of social networking.
What I had said about it: There might be no other documentary this year that - pardon the pun - "connects" with the audience in such a profound way...they pull back the curtain on how social media works - and its intended, ultimate purpose - and the results are shocking and terrifying. (Read Full Review).
#3 - "Mr. SOUL!"
(Find screenings at www.mrsoulmovie.com)
Synopsis: The history of the PBS series "Soul!" from its creation through its eventual loss of funding.
What I had said about it: With the internet as our tool, SOUL! can now be easily brought into the lives of ALL modern Americans regardless of race, color or creed...a testament of true pride and a visual legacy of the black experience in America. The film is also a time capsule of sorts...discovered all these years later, and opened up to reveal a bevy of wondrous surprises, meaning, and of course, soul. (Read Full Review).
#2 - "Collective"
(Available on various VOD)
Synopsis: Journalists uncover health care fraud in the wake of a deadly nightclub fire in Bucharest, Romania, in 2015.
What I had said about it: "Collective" needs to be seen, especially in this upside-down climate of some world leaders calling the press "the enemy of the people." It is a stark reminder that not only is the press not the enemy, in some cases like this one in Romania, they are the only ones fighting on behalf of the people's interest. (Read Full Review).
#1 - "The Dissident"/"Kingdom of Silence"
Synopsis: These are actually TWO distinct movies...both dealing with the heinous murder of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
Though these are TWO different films by two different film-making teams, they really compliment each other and together, create the year's most compelling - and shocking - visual story. "Kingdom of Silence" debuted on SHOWTIME back in October 2020, and when I originally saw it, I had said:
While "Kingdom of Silence" does a great job in setting the stage for Jamal's disappearance, it would have been even more effective had it put into context exactly why his murder has meaning, and the political fall-out of the American-Saudi relationship being tested as it never quite has before.
Well, unbeknownst to me at the time of that review, but "The Dissident" had all of these answers and more, filling in and adding deeper meaning to the events leading up to, following and surrounding his death. "The Dissident" overall is the better film, having debuted at Sundance in January 2020 (it also opens in limited-release on Christmas Day, before hitting VOD on January 8th, 2021). But "Kingdom of Silence" expands on the details presented in "The Dissident," making these two films really go hand-in-hand.
(Read my full review of "The Dissident").
(Read my full review of "Kingdom of Silence").
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