The 10 Best Documentaries of 2021 - Rolling Stone
Home Movies Movie Lists

The 10 Best Documentaries of 2021

From a host of legendary music docs to portraits of a still-in-progress pandemic and a Civil Rights leader’s persecution — the highlights of a banner year in nonfiction filmmaking

Photo Illustration by @photoeidtorjoe . Images in Illustration: HBOMax; Apple Corp/Disney+; Atzmor Productions; Searchlight Pictures

Gimme some truth, a wise man once said — and in 2021, documentaries did their damnedest to deliver exactly that in a variety of shapes, sizes and forms. Some of it came from straight reportage, tinged with personal touches. Other times, things veered a lot closer to what Werner Herzog memorably referred to as “ecstatic truth.” It was a very good year for nonfiction movies that utilized a host of creative tricks, in the name of both workarounds and wild, swing-for-the-fences conceptual gambles. (Dramatic recreations! Animated therapy sessions! Avant-garde split-screen-a-go-go!) It was a great year for music docs, with everyone from the Beatles to the Velvet Underground getting gamechanging looks back at their long and winding roads. And it was a banner year for documentarians using longform, multi-episodic storytelling to their advantage — you’ll notice that we’ve included two entries that are great examples of how TV docuseries have become such a vital part of our vérité-with-benefits diet.

Here’s our list of the 10 best documentaries we saw this year, from a portrait of a pandemic still-in-progress to a restored concert movie for the ages, an essay on the evils of colonialism to an examination of a Civil Rights leader’s persecution. (Shout-outs also to: The Rescue, Gunda, I Carry You With Me, State Funeral, The Truffle Hunters, Attica, Listening to Kenny G and Adam Curtis’ mind-blowing “emotional history of the modern world” Can’t Get You Out of My Head.)


Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.