2022 was a very good year for narrative films. It was also a very good year for documentaries. With a wide variety of subjects and an equally wide variety of styles, the non-fiction format offered something for everyone. Celebrating the best of them from the past twelve months is an honor. For this list, I'm keeping it to single movies, rather than anything with multiple parts (i.e. Judd Apatow's two-part George Carlin's American Dream, which you should definitely watch nonetheless). Here are my picks for the Ten Best Documentaries of 2022:
10. My Old School - A fun, fascinating account of a bizarre Scottish scandal from the '90s. Now-grown classmates recount their memories of a new kid who turned the whole school upside-down with his extraordinary lies. This is one of those fascinating “How can this possibly be true?” stories that keeps you hooked.
9. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed - Laura Poitras offers an in-depth portrait of photographer Nan Goldin, whose colorful life and career led her to become an intense activist against the Sackler family, the people most responsible for the opioid crisis in America. Her work is amazing, and this politically-charged film may leave you feeling galvanized.
8. The Return of Tanya Tucker: Featuring Brandi Carlile - Country music legend Tanya Tucker attempts to make a comeback, under the guidance of mega-fan – and successful musician in her own right – Brandi Carlile. You don't even have to like country music to appreciate this look at creative rejuvenation.
7. Moonage Daydream - Brett Morgen chose not to make a straight documentary about David Bowie. Instead, he created a kaleidoscopic visual and auditory experience designed to replicate its subject's penchant for continually reinventing his image. The effect is dazzling, but it also provides insight into Bowie's creativity.
6. 2nd Chance - Richard Davis is the inventor of the modern bulletproof vest. To prove that his product worked, he shot himself point blank 192 times. Believe it or not, that's one of the least insane things he's done. In this mesmerizing documentary, director Ramin Bahrani looks at the myth Davis built around himself.
5. Navalny - Alexei Navalvy is Vladimir Putin's harshest critic, and he's paid a price for opposing the Russian leader. Navalny is set in the period after he was famously poisoned with a nerve agent, as he and his team attempt to figure out who, specifically, did it. Their investigation plays with the same level of intensity as a well-crafted Hollywood thriller. Directed by Daniel Roher, this is a riveting examination of a fearless public figure.
4. Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down - Representative Gabby Giffords became a gun control advocate after being shot in the head during a meet-and-greet event. This film takes us inside her recovery with incredible hospital footage, then delves into her dedication to do something about America's gun crisis, despite the cognitive limitations caused by her injury. It's one of the most inspiring films of the year.
3. Buried: The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche - In 1982, a massive avalanche decimated the Alpine Meadows Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe, California, leaving eight people buried in the snow. This harrowing documentary mixes news footage, personal photos, and interviews with employees and rescue personnel to recount the rescue/recovery mission. Seeing what happened will leave your nerves frayed. The film is additionally a hard-hitting depiction of the trauma that comes from enduring such a tragedy.
2. Fire of Love - Maurice and Katia Krafft were married volcanologists whose study and footage of volcanos was revolutionary. Sara Dosa meaningfully recounts their love affair with each other and with the natural wonders they studied – a love affair that led to their tragic end. The up-close images of volcanos here are breathtaking.
And my choice for the Best Documentary of 2022 is:
1. Good Night Oppy - Director Ryan White takes viewers deep inside NASA's efforts to place a rover on Mars. Opportunity was only on a 90-day mission, but it endured up there for 15 years, sending back remarkable images that have taught us a lot about the “red planet.” Good Night Oppy is a rousing tribute to the wonder of science, as well as an emotionally affecting look at what Oppy's journey meant to the people who launched him into space.
For more on the year's films, check out my lists of the Ten Best Films of 2022 and the Ten Worst Films of 2022.