Gimme some truth, a wise man once said. And the gods of the moving pictures did look down upon us and grant that wish. Soon — very soon — we were up to our ears in cinema verité, TV docuseries, true-crime case dossiers, archival-clip compilations, famous-folk tributes, cultural time capsules, fly-on-the-wall reporting 24 frames (or X amount of pixels) per second, and more. And lo, it was good, even if it was a lot. Some of it, in fact, was great.
We now have such a steady diet of documentaries available to consume, via so many different venues and in such a variety of formats, that trying to boil down an annual “best of” list for nonfiction films and multi-episode series feels like a Herculean effort. (Next up: Our ranked list of 2022’s best sand on the beach.) But not all docs are created equal, and the baker’s dozen we choose for our top picks below represent that work that reminded us why we continue to love what documentarians can accomplish with cameras, boom mics, a vision, and the ability to be at the right place at the right time. The 13 films below may run the gamut from an anything-goes music doc to a many-chaptered, marathon-length revisionist history lesson. All of them, however, made good on their promise to give us some truth.
(Honorable mentions: Cow, Descendant, Donbass, Hold Your Fire, Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues, Lowndes County and the Rise to Black Power, Mr. Bachmann and His Class, My Old School, The Princess, Retrograde, Tantura, and Nous (We). We’ve also suggested some “bonus viewing” options in various blurbs that complement the entry in question.)