The 10 Best Documentaries Of 2022: Holding up the truth isn’t all that is true of documentaries. The ceaselessly evolving genre has come impressively far in both its style and allowing the space for the maker’s individuality to shine through. It’s a space safe for the voices of the people it surrounds. It’s a medium forever extracting the intrigue from the undeniably real happenings. Its fascinating clearance of picking elements from whichever genre it chooses ensures that documentaries never run out of new stories and never run the risk of being monotonous.
Documentaries saw a fantastic revolution in 2022 with films that made preconceived rulebooks fall apart and venture into unique paths. Genre-blending escapades have offered up incredible expeditions that sought out stories from all over the world and place both likely and unlikely. For those of you who like to dabble in the non-fictional charms of the world, I have chosen the best of 2022 documentaries. You will find mind-boggling variety in the list, and if you decide to take a shot with these films, the genre will most likely achieve a new fan or strengthen its bond with an existing one.
10. The Tinder Swindler
It isn’t an easy task to come out and talk about something that can make you vulnerable to the know-it-alls’ bullying on social media. Why the three women in Felicity Morris’ Netflix documentary fell for the cruel designs of a detailed conman is something that will get an answer that says more about the one answering than anyone else. So it entirely depends on who you ask. Conquering their fear of being unfairly judged, three victims of the Israeli conman, Cecilie Fjellhøy, Pernilla Sjöholm, and Ayleen Charlotte, went ahead with baring their truths to the Norwegian newspaper, VG, and subsequently to the 2022 true crime documentary, The Tinder Swindler.
While bringing the emotional con into the discussion, the documentary elaborates on the mind-blowingly intricate con designed by Simon Leviev to manipulate women he met on Tinder into giving him money. Posing as the son and heir to an Israeli diamond magnet came easy for Leviev. All he did was fashion a convincing lavish lifestyle with the money he stole from the last victim into manipulating and conning his next. Instead of a glorification of Simon’s con art, The Tinder Swindler chooses to assign its impact around the heartbreaking emotional and financial loss of the three women who had to have immense courage to come forward and destroy his cruel Ponzi scheme.
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9. Girl In The Picture
The mortifying story of a young girl who lived with as many names as was required of her by a walking, breathing embodiment of evil, Skye Borgman’s Netflix originals documentary Girl In The Picture will traumatize you some more just when you start comforting yourself with the idea that it can’t get any worse. While in fiction, there is solace in knowing that the horror you’re witnessing is not a hell the characters have actually been through, the same can not be said about true crime documentaries. The extraordinarily soul-crushing crime that Girl In The Picture helps unfold makes you wish that none of it was true.
The feature-length delineation of the tremendously unfortunate Sharon Marshall walks through the case’s investigator, Mark Birkbeck’s books “A Beautiful Child” and “Finding Sharon.” It took a group of professionally driven and emotionally engaged people several decades to get to the bottom of a case that emerged with the mysterious death of a young mother. Through the troubling tales told by the heartbroken people who took part in the asphyxiating anguish that unraveled in the same line of the real story, Girl In The Picture exceeds the creepy meter progressively. Jumping back and forth in time to extract just how horrifying the abuse the bright girl had to face was, the film has managed to become an experience a lot of people won’t have the stomach for.
Documentarian Chris Smith breaks several rules along the way while making Sr. not just accommodate but blatantly celebrate the fascinating outlaw of filmmaking and father to Iron Man, Robert Downey Sr. Film and life break free to meld together in Sr. as it looks back at Robert Downey Sr’s incredible career as a rebellious filmmaker and his endlessly loving and complicated relationship with his son, the more conventionally successful actor Robert Downey Jr. Neither the intrigue of Senior’s career nor the intricacies of his eccentric life receive a lack of attention for both to co-exist in the film simultaneously. That is not a risk in an increasingly personal documentary that talks of a life that not just influenced the art but became one with it.
Through Smith’s interesting ability to blend into the familiarity of a home, Sr. sees a rightfully invasive and honest portrayal of the relationship between the father and son. It is three years of a life that saw no difference between bravely bending its laws as it saw fit for art and interpersonal relationships. And it is an affecting one at that.
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7. Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues
Did the jazz king know that what he thought was important to collect of his life and works would one day become the very essence of a documentary made about the man and the myth himself? Sacha Jenkins stumbling on the excessive riches that turned up in the collections of Louis Armstrong’s very own memory box of newspaper clippings, recorded conversations, pictures, and scrapbooks made the director pay a fitting tribute to the musical genius in a style that stays authentic to his personality. Louis Armstrong’s Black And Blues earnestly reminisces the creator of jazz through his own words.
A life and career that found itself held back by the troubles of racial discrimination that didn’t allow many before him to flourish get an honest and warm pronouncement through Jenkin’s excited storytelling. There are celebrations aplenty as there are the grim notes of controversy surrounding Armstrong with the armchair critics. Presenting the long-gone legend with an opportunity to answer for himself is how Jenkins shuts down the unfeeling blame game that neither knew nor it could imagine Armstrong’s unique position as a public figure who protected his career just so that he could help in silence. Louis Armstrong’s Black And Blue gleams with the joy of jazz as it encompasses the bewitching details of the irreplaceable star’s life.
6. Liquor Store Dreams
Director So Yun Um is consumed by the necessary urge to include her love for films in the entirely specific experience of the Korean-American liquor store owners of Koreatown, LA. The complex and captivating individualistic nuances of growing up as the second generation of Koreans in the Koreatown liquor stores have been heartily explored in So Yun’s docu-short Liquor Store Babies. What feature-length Liquor Store Dreams continues to probe into further is the under-surface bitterness of generational gaps with the warmth of empathy for both sides. So Yun’s first-hand authenticity emerges as the heart that is an ever-present emotion covering each perspective without overcoming it.
The stores that opened with racial agony, immigrant’s predicament, and a blinding American dream, hold with ease the generation-specific rebellion against glaring capitalism. Well within their own understanding of hard work and reward, however, the owners can’t particularly wrap their minds around their children growing up with less pragmatic dreams comforted by the relative privileges the parents didn’t have. The question of both comprehensive and faulty understandings of intertwined racial trauma between the Koreans and the African Americans, especially in the context of the fiery 1992’ LA riots and the more recent Black Lives Matter movement, float up repeatedly in Liquor Store Dreams’ progression. Maintaining the personal and familiar warmth of a community that found comfort in their own culture and people while raising questions about all that needs change is how the documentary elevates and flaunts its impressively complex understanding of closeness and muted differences.
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5. Eternal Spring
Jason Loftus weaves a dual-toned tale in the documentary with a hybrid mouthpiece. With animated reenactments and brave talking heads, the Canadian documentary revisits one of the relatively peaceful actions of revolt made against the radical communistic indoctrination of China. Although it’s a topic exceedingly personal for Loftus, the director leaves the responsibilities of judgment and forming opinions on the survivors of the aftermath, and their detailed accounts of the attack find an affecting expression through the comic-book-like use of animation.
The film encapsulates the tension between communist China’s habit of violently persecuting any unapproved religious practices and the people that find comfort in the nest of their faith. Revisiting the 2002 hijacking of the airwaves of state TV, Eternal Spring talks to the exiled activists themselves to earnestly understand what made the members of Falun Gong fight back and face the traumatic repercussions. Falun Gong’s methodical correlations with the problematic far-right of America do affect the credibility of their supposed harmless practices. Nonetheless, Eternal spring is an undeniably significant and technically brilliant account of an incident that will have strong political consequences in times to come.
4. The Janes
With triggering anti-abortion laws still ravaging the disturbed states of America, The Janes is frighteningly relevant even in the contemporary context. Sitting with and celebrating the heroes of The Jane Collective, the documentary remembers with horror and wonderment the pre-Roe-Wade America, where women had even less agency over their own bodies. Before the more progressive abortion law was passed by the supreme court, the understated warrior-women of The Jane Collective helped over 11000 women seek safe abortion and take back the control that was slipping through their fingers.
Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin paint an astonishing picture of early 70s Chicago, where the women who once had to risk their entire survival to get risky abortions in seedy motels came together to form a safe haven so that no other women would have to go through the same. Formed around interviews with the Janes themselves, the documentary makes space for their absorbing narrative to take over. Through their words, we get a perplexing picture of a time in Chicago when women hardly had a say about their own bodies, misogyny was at its horrifying peak, and a group of courageous women slipped through the overlooked cracks and passed on their reassuring message of help.
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3. This Place Rules
The incomparable charm of Gonzo journalistic documentaries clings completely to the journalist’s ability to make the subjects, however bizarre they may be, feel safe enough to open up. And that is a talent that Andrew Callaghan, the maker and the host to This Place Rules, is soaked in. In the Corona-controlled time of 2020, Andrew drove up his RV to the puzzling streets of DC to talk to the conspiracy mongers on Trump’s side and the clueless communist dreamers. The result is an enticingly real picture of a split-in-halves America where one half fights tooth and nail to nonsense its way through the death of their lord and savior Trump’s presidency, and the other side’s sensible demands get lost under a pile of extreme far-left projections.
Starting from the early signs of troubles in the 2020 Trump-Biden presidential election and being led up to the infamous Capitol riot of January 6th, 2021, This Place Rules unearths an America that is completely engulfed with the redirected toys of lies and hardly has a working brain to revolt against the real issues. Hearing the ramblings of conspiracy theorists, proud neo-Nazi chauvinists, and straight-up racist right-wingers, we find a drowning country that consciously lives in its denial of greatness while everything falls apart.
2. All That Breathes
It isn’t just that Saunak Sen’s All That Breathes rises above the stuffiness of preachy environmental documentaries that unintentionally do more harm to the cause in a way than anything else; Sen’s documentary is evocative of humblingly intense beauty in its shots of all that is wonderful and sad. In the telling silence of the film passing through the dingy, dirty streets of crowded New Delhi, the urgency of the need for a reformative change is severe. At the same time, there is joyful comfort in its portrayal of the parts of the city where man and animal coexist in indifference–as was intended by nature.
In the Muslim community facing the escalating threats of state-approved racial violence, two brothers, Nadeem Shehzad and Mohammad Saud, have turned the purpose of their lives towards helping the native black kites. In saving the broken and hurt birds while trying to make ends meet in a faltering economy, the two brothers intend to fix and flourish the beauty of the sky’s escape in the worsening air of the city. There’s an upsetting reality in Sen’s All That Breathes. But seeing the truth of all that is made of flesh and blood through the film’s watcher-eyes brings forth a soothing sense of being one with nature. And it is that very sense that needs saving.
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1. Fire Of Love
A mesmerized love letter to the lovers, Fire Of Love once again brings to life the celebrated volcanologists and couple Katia and Maurice Krafft. Getting as close to the effervescent remains of the underearth as possible brought close the two people whose undying love for volcanos overcame everything else until they found each other. Sara Dosa’s documentary sings gloriously of the Kraffts’ fearless fascination of being one with the liquid fire, capturing its layered truth through their videos, and celebrating the love they share near the scalding hot of magma.
Fire Of Love is poetry at its core. It has no wish to materialize the dangers and the suicidal counterparts of loving something inconceivably deadly. The fervid hollowness left behind by Maurice’s words of a foreseeable death erupts the ache of remembrance. It takes you straight to imagining what it was like when the couple did lose their lives in the horrific eruption of Japan’s Mt. Unzen. But Fire Of Love is not the pragmatic story of a tragedy. Nor is it anything like the nihilistic approach of Warner Herzog’s Into The Inferno. It’s a lively story of a blazing love that made them find the world within themselves and the volcanoes and turned them immune to the fear that is associated with deadly passion.