Now that the Academy Awards excitement has settled down, it is time for another look at some of last year’s greatest films. This time, we are going to look at ten of 2019’s best documentaries. Often overlooked, these documentary films made for some of the most rewarding watches we’ve had last year.
The number of documentary films released every year is huge and this is without taking into consideration the miniseries, so narrowing this list down to 10 titles wasn’t an easy task. We are sure we’ve missed a few of your favorites from last year, so please spread the word about them in the comments section.
10. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
You’ve all heard about “The Irishman”, but how many of you knew that there was actually a second Scorsese film released last year?
This experimental documentary/concert film blends fictional and non-fictional materials and, through 16mm old footage and interviews with Dylan, prominent figures of the tour, and some fictional characters, captures the troubled spirit of America in 1975 and the intimate “Rolling Thunder Revue” concert tour that Dylan performed during the fall of that year. Ingenious, enthralling, and a joy to the ears, this is the 2019 Scorsese film people should be talking about.
9. One Child Nation
Winner of the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2019 Sundance Festival, this American documentary directed by Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang covers the damaging effects of China’s one-child policy that lasted for over 30 years, from 1979 to 2015, when it was replaced by the two-child policy.
Harrowing and deeply personal, “One Child Nation” unearths many truths about China’s long-lasting policy. It is one of the most devastating documentaries of 2019, an eye-opening film of great importance that should receive much more attention.
8. Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror
Directed by Xavier Burgin and adapted from the book of the same name by Robin R. Means Coleman, this Shudder original documentary that tells the untold history of Black Americans in horror movies is one of the most enlightening and entertaining films of 2019.
From the 1915 silent film “Birth of A Nation” to Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” (2017), the film analyzes the way that black people were portrayed in horror films throughout the years and how the genre utilized, caricatured, exploited, sidelined, and in the end, embraced them. Featuring insightful conversations with actors, directors, writers, and critics, “Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror” is both enjoyable and very informative. If you are a fan of horror films – or film history in general – this is a must-see.
7. Amazing Grace
Sydney Pollack’s previously unreleased documentary/concert film captures Aretha Franklin’s two recording sessions of her 1972 live album “Amazing Grace”.
Shelved for nearly half a century due to difficulties syncing the audio tracks with the footage, Pollack’s film was finally released by producer Alan Eliott after many postponements caused by Aretha Franklin’s unwillingness to screen the footage. After Franklin passed away in 2018, Eliott came to an agreement with her estate and the film eventually hit the screens to universal acclaim.
“Amazing Grace” is among the most powerful concert documentaries we’ve ever seen. It is a transcending experience that feels like traveling back in time. The raw, unembellished footage perfectly captures Franklin’s overwhelming intensity, pure emotion, and enormous talent as she performs one of the most glorious musical moments of all time.
6. 63 Up
“63 Up” is the ninth installment in a documentary series that started with “Seven Up!” back in 1964, and that for over five decades, once every seven years, has documented the lives of a group of British people as they went from childhood to adulthood and now old age.
One of the most unique and fascinating documentary series/social experiments ever made, the “Up” series asks important questions about life, personality, and how much people change over the years. This ninth entry in the series, where the protagonists are all in their 60s and have all started to experience loss and grieving, is both sad, funny, and altogether one of the best entries in the series.
While we encourage you to watch each one of the “Up” films, “63 Up” also works great as a standalone film, as it includes lots of archival footage from the previous entries in the series and it offers an insightful overview of the whole experiment.