2021: Best documentary films of the year

As is the tradition around these parts, I separate documentaries into their own list of the best of the year, not because I think they should be judged differently from narrative films, but because I want to attract l I pay attention to as many great documentaries as possible, and trying to do that while limiting my main list to 40 or 50 films is impossible. I get such a load of a great documentary, whether it’s about a topic I’m familiar with or if it covers ground I had never even considered in terms of perspective, information, or fuel for it. outrage or celebration.

Summer of Soul / Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Part of the fun of being a living, thinking and evolving human being is absorbing new things and experiences and allowing that newness to inspire new ideas. That’s the standard I hold documentaries to: don’t just move me or teach me, but change me in a fundamental way. Here are 20 titles that did this to me in 2021 …

20. Collective action park (Dirs: Seth Porges & Chris Charles Scott III) – Watch Now on HBOMax

19. Val (Dirs: Ting Poo & Leo Scott) – Read My Full Review // Watch Now on Amazon Prime

18. The lost Leonardo (Dir: Andreas Koefoed) – Read Lisa Trifone’s review // Available to rent on all major digital platforms

17. The Loneliest Whale: In Search of 52 (Dir: Joshua Zeman) – Read My Full Review // Watch Now On Hulu

16. Roadrunner: a film about Anthony Bourdain (Dir: Morgan Neville) – Read my review // Available to rent on all major digital platforms

15. Rita Moreno: Just a girl who decided to go (Dir: Mariem Pérez Riera) – Read my review // Watch now on HBOMax

14. Lily turns the world upside down (Director: Jeremy Workman)

13. Mayor Pete (Dir: Jesse Moss) – Read My Full Review // Watch Now on Amazon Prime

12. The Sparks Brothers (Dir: Edgar Wright) – Read My Full Review // Watch Now on Netflix

11. Gunda (Dir: Viktor Kosakovskiy) – Read the full Lisa Trifone review // Watch now on Hulu

ten. Attica (Dir: Stanley Nelson) – Watch Now On Showtime

9. The velvet metro (Dir: Todd Haynes) – Read my review // Watch now on AppleTV +

8. The Beatles: Come Back (Dir: Peter Jackson) – Watch Now on Disney +

seven. Introducing Selma Blair (Dir: Rachel Fleit) – Watch Now on Discovery +

6. My name is Pauli Murray (Dirs: Julie Cohen & Betsy West) – Read the full Lisa Trifone review // Watch now on Amazon Prime

5. Procession (Dir: Robert Greene) – Watch Now On Netflix

4. In the same breath (Dir: Nanfu Wang) – Read Lisa Trifone’s Full Review // Watch Now on HBOMax

3. The rescue (Dir: Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) – Read The Full Lisa Trifone Review // Watch Now On Disney +

2. To flee (Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen)

1. Summer of Soul (… Or, when the revolution couldn’t be televised) (Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson)

Since I saw the film on the opening night of the Sundance Film Festival in 2021, this is the documentary to beat. Scoring the directorial debut of Roots drummer and “Tonight Show” musical director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Summer of the soul brings together images that have been in a basement for over 50 years of the Harlem Cultural Festival, circa 1969, an event meant to unite a community just one year after the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and pay homage to the many cultures and influences that made Harlem so special at the time. But Thompson does more than put together a concert film starring such dignitaries as Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, the Staples Singers, BB King, Gladys Knight, David Ruffin, Mahalia Jackson, Sly and the Family Stone, and even the 5th. Dimension ; he also places the different musical styles (R&B, gospel, Afro-Cuban jazz, blues and funk) in the context of the time.

The most shocking moment in the documentary comes near the end when it is revealed that the reason no one has seen or used these footage for over 50 years is that no studio or TV network wanted it because he was “too dark”. Maybe mainstream entertainment centers were nervous about projecting such positive and proud images of black people, but I can only imagine how the rest of the country at the time – still very steeped in the horrors of the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and a reassessment of the efforts non-white people would make to achieve equality – reportedly reacted to seeing a sea of ​​black faces in Harlem so thrilled to be at the center of such a celebration.

look The summer of the soul … now on Hulu.

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