2018 Movies: Documentaries

In the 10th Post post-Oscars, my true love sent to me: my favorite documentaries of 2018.

RECAP
2018 Favorites: Introduction
In the 1st Post post-Oscars: 2018 Movies — Intro + Complete List
In the 2nd Post post-Oscars: 2018 Genre Movies
In the 3rd Post post-Oscars: 2018 Movie Beginnings and Endings
In the 4th Post post-Oscars: 2018 Miscellaneous Movies
In the 5th Post post-Oscars: 2018 Movie Music
In the 6th Post post-Oscars: 2018 Acting
In the 7th Post post-Oscars: 2018 Movie Year of the Year
In the 8th Post post-Oscars: 2018 Actors
In the 9th Post post-Oscars: 2018 Non-English Language Movies

You’re goddamn right a banner year for the genre warrants an individual post dedicated exclusively to the form. Though documentaries are more popular than ever, there’s still a treasure trove of under-seen gems to which the world desperately needs to pay attention.

Below, you’ll find:

  1. My thoughts on the 15 documentaries shortlisted by the Academy Awards.
  2. My personal favorite documentaries of 2018.
  3. A list of EVERY 2018 documentary I’ve seen.
  4. A second documentary category that the Oscars should add.
  5. The Oscar-nominated documentary shorts.

OSCARS SHORTLIST
  1. Hale County This Morning, This Evening
  2. Minding the Gap
    • Special. If the Academy Awards had a Pulitzer Prize-esque category to reward the movie every year that best wrestles with AMERICAN themes, Minding the Gap would receive my vote for documentaries (and maybe even all movies).
  3. Three Identical Strangers
    • Obviously fact can be stranger than fiction. But it can also be even more riveting, especially when the story’s so rip-roaringly constructed — holy crap, the rollercoaster pacing sustained by the editing!
  4. Of Fathers and Son
    • Director Talal Derki pretended to be a Radical Islamist war photographer to go undercover and film how they brainwash kids into adopting their belief system. An empathetic study in the perpetual indoctrination of violence, a universal cycle that’s in no way unique to any one religion nor nationality.
  5. On Her Shoulders
    • Below, I unfavorably compare the craftsmanship of a few documentaries to the sociopolitical import of their stories. Documentaries should be evaluated not only by the stature of their subjects, but also in the manner they’re explored; it’s not merely about the what — the how is as, or perhaps even more critical. The best obviously do both, but the Academy tends to value relevance over cinematic resonance. On Her Shoulders counters my entire argument; it examines the cost of audiences needing well-told stories for them to feel sufficient empathy to help.
  6. Communion
    • You can always count on documentaries to be some of the bleakest movies in any given year, but even American docs about depressing subjects will try to end on an uplifting note, suggesting hopeful ideas of how we can solve whatever issue it’s about. But Communion comes from Europe, and it’s straight up just “life is miserable for a lot of people who don’t deserve it, and that’s that for most of them”. Not the most enjoyable 80 minutes of my life, but it’s an affecting cinéma-vérité portrait of children living in a broken, impoverished household — I know, sounds like oodles of fun, right?!?!
  7. Dark Money
    • Its politics are EXTREMELY my shit. A juxtaposition between the bureaucratic minutiae of activism within the political system and the unknowably-shady dealings struck behind closed corporate doors.
  8. Free Solo
  9. RBG
    • Do some historical figures deserve toothlessly-entertaining hagiographies?
  10. Crime + Punishment
    • If only the power of the filmmaking was as impactful as the importance of recording these stories.
  11. Charm City
    • Ditto.
  12. The Distant Barking of Dogs
    • The third documentary of this shortlisted crop — along with Communion and Of Fathers and Sons — to focus on children. Centering their innocence emphasizes the senselessness of the personal and political wars they’re thrust into. Us adults have a difficult time comprehending the immensity of these tragedies from the comfort of our cushy movie theater seats; how are these kids expected to fathom any of it, let alone escape without this hatred imbedded in their bones, a point that both The Distant Barking of Dogs and Of Fathers and Sons seem to imply by editing together grown-up warfare with childish horseplay. Violence begets violence, for the young and old alike…
  13. The Silence of Others
    • If only the filmmaking was as powerful as the importance of recording the subject’s stories. Noticing a pattern? It reflects how much the Academy values how much a story should be known over inventive filmmaking.
  14. Shirkers
    • Sometimes, more often than they do now, critics need to fess up when they just don’t get a movie, and remove their voice from the pack; I’m recusing myself on this one.
  15. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

STEVENS SHORTLIST
  1. Hale County This Morning, This Evening
    • See above!
  2. Minding the Gap
    • See above!
  3. The King
    • The gold standard for bio-docs. Instead of Wikipedia-ing Elvis’ life story to us, The King wrestles with how his legacy comments on various sociopolitical problems of today.
  4. Infinite Football
    • All systems — be they related to sports, society, beliefs, organizing structures, operating principles, art, etc — should be questioned, challenged, and thus strengthened; it’s the Hegalian Dialectic of a democracy’s free discourse.
  5. Watergate — Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President
    • As close to a definitive documentary about Watergate as we’ll ever get, the deepest of dives into the political machinations leading up to Nixon’s impeachment. The 280-minute runtime (with intermission) stands as a testament to the drawn-out, complex, bureaucratic nightmare that is the American impeachment process (the title speaks to its contemporary currency). History textbooks gloss over the debate that riled the country regarding Nixon; there was no consensus until the very end, and cronies in his party attempted to protect him by delegitimizing any oppositional arguments, accusing Democrats of blindly-partisan attacks (sound familiar?). The country’s school systems tend to obscure these hard truths by rosily glossing over the whole situation; it was made to seem like everyone in the country agreed he needed to go, when in actuality we were just as divided then as we are now.
  6. The Green Fog
    • Is it a documentary?!
  7. John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection
    • I have a long-ass piece written about this documentary…that I’ll get around to editing one of these days.
  8. Three Identical Strangers
    • See above!
  9. Filmworker
    • The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences — the overseers of the Academy Awards (thus, its name) — exists to record film history for posterity. The Oscars are merely one avenue through which they do so, but it’s an important one. Even though Filmworker was not one of my five favorite documentaries of 2019, nominating it for the genre’s highest award would’ve helped to ensure that Leon Vitali, the documentary’s subject and Stanley Kubrick’s right-hand man who influenced his work and legacy more than anyone not named Stanley Kubrick, permanently enter the annals of film history.
  10. Generation Wealth
  11. Of Fathers and Sons
    • See above!
  12. On Her Shoulders
    • See above!
  13. The Great Buster
  14. Poop Talk
    • The first and probably last documentary devoted solely to talking about pooping (mostly starring comedians, but some scientists show up, too). Documentaries will always drudge up topics the masses ignore, and what’s a more essential part of our day that’s treated as such taboo territory no one wants to wade into?
  15. Hal
    • Ditto the Filmworker sentiments above, but less so, because Ashby’s more of a household name.

FULL LIST
  1. 306 Hollywood
  2. Amazing Grace
  3. American Animals
  4. Bad Reputation
  5. Bathtubs Over Broadway
  6. Beuys
  7. Bisbee ‘17: A Story Told in Six Chapters
  8. Caniba
  9. Charm City
  10. Cielo
  11. Communion
  12. Crime + Punishment
  13. Dark Money
  14. Death of a Nation
  15. Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?
  16. Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes
  17. Fahrenheit 11/9
  18. Far From the Tree
  19. Filmworker
  20. Free Solo
  21. Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable
  22. Generation Wealth
  23. Hal
  24. Hale County This Morning, This Evening
  25. Infinite Football
  26. Itzhak
  27. John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection
  28. Kusama: Infinity
  29. Leaning into the Wind
  30. Love, Cecil
  31. Love, Gilda
  32. Makala
  33. Maria by Callas
  34. Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.
  35. McQueen
  36. Minding the Gap
  37. Monrovia, Indiana
  38. Of Fathers and Sons
  39. On Her Shoulders
  40. Pandas
  41. People’s Republic of Desire
  42. Pick of the Litter
  43. Poop Talk
  44. Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word
  45. RBG
  46. Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
  47. Ryuichi Sakamito: CODA
  48. Science Fair
  49. Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood
  50. Searching for Ingmar Bergman
  51. Shirkers
  52. Studio 54
  53. Tea with the Dames
  54. The Bleeding Edge
  55. The Devil and Father Amorth
  56. The Distant Barking of Dogs
  57. The Final Year
  58. The Gospel According to André
  59. The Great Buster
  60. The Green Fog
  61. The King
  62. The Price of Everything
  63. The Rest I Make Up
  64. The Silence of Others
  65. The World Before Your Feet
  66. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead
  67. Three Identical Strangers
  68. Watergate — Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President
  69. What We Started
  70. Whitney
  71. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

EDITING

A documentary editor is given far more material to be cut and shaped into a story fit for a movie than any of their fiction counterparts. Since voters basically refuse to nominate documentaries in any category besides their own, I propose the creation of Best Documentary Editing. And the 2018 nominations should’ve been:

  1. Joe Garrity, Watergate — Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President
  2. RaMell Ross, Hale County This Morning, This Evening
  3. Evan Johnson & Galen Johnson, The Green Fog
    • IS IT A DOCUMENTARY?!?!
  4. Michael Hearte, Three Identical Strangers
  5. Joshua Altman & Bing Liu, Minding the Gap
  6. Roxana Szel, Infinite Football
  7. Julien Faraut, John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection

SHORTS
  1. “End Game”
  2. “Black Sheep”
  3. “PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE.”
  4. “A Night at the Garden”
  5. “Lifeboat”

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