Documentary movies provide us with unique ways of looking at the world. They attempt to capture reality in both artistic and realistic ways, with some films leaning more towards one than another.
2022 wasn't just a great year for films but a stellar year for documentaries, with so many great ones that came out over the last twelve months.
This year's documentary movies looked at everything from happy and uplifting topics, to bizarre stories that are hard to believe, to investigations that peeled back some hard truths of the world.
Here are my picks for the best documentary movies of 2022 that are absolutely worth checking out when you're able to.
8. 2nd Chance
2nd Chance tells the story of Richard Davis, a man who shot himself... one-hundred and ninety-two times. Yes, you read that correctly.
To demonstrate the efficacy of his bulletproof vests, Davis would routinely shoot himself in the chest. He made friends in law enforcement and in the Army in order to sell his product.
However, this is ultimately a true-crime story: David was knowingly selling lousy merchandise, despite it being meant to save lives.
This isn't just a surprising documentary, but one that's equally entertaining and disturbing. Definitely worth a watch.
7. Moonage Daydream
David Bowie was a total rockstar. If you were skeptical of that and you needed video evidence of it, you now have the great fortune of being able to watch Moonage Daydream.
This documentary is a perfect representation of what Bowie's music was: a psychedelic mish-mash of styles. Director Brett Morgen utilizes plenty of archive footage and splices it together with awesome music.
The Bowie estate were incredibly supportive of the endeavor, and that's great news—this documentary has received a seal of approval from those who knew the self-proclaimed "Rock God" best. It captures the person who Bowie truly was: charismatic, witty, and utterly unique.
6. Fire of Love
Fire of Love is the story of Maurice and Katia Krafft. While some couples like to go for walks on the beach, these two adventure-love-birds went for walks along active volcanos.
Together, they documented hundreds of hours of footage about the world's most explosive environmental phenomenon. Thanks to them, we have some of the most visually stunning—and absolutely terrifying—clips of nature ever captured.
This kaleidoscopic film by National Geographic won awards at Sundance Film Festival and was selected by the Critic's Choice Documentary Awards for Best Archival Documentary. However, it's important to keep in mind that Fire of Love is, at its heart, a love story.
5. The Dance
Described as a "rousing ode to the joy of creativity," The Dance is a documentary that examines the creative process of crafting a dance performance by Michael Keegan-Dolan, one of Ireland's best choreographers working in theatrical dance today.
Featuring breathtaking dance performances and some of the most incredible traditional Irish music you'll ever hear, it's a spell-binding film.
The work of Pat Collins is so difficult to find, so if you're lucky enough to have a chance to see his new masterpiece, absolutely take it.
Note: The Dance was technically released in 2021, but it didn't get a full theatrical release until February 2022, so we're including it!
Timothy Meaher was many things: landowner, businessman, human trafficker. After the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807, Meaher took a bet that he could smuggle enslaved Africans into the country.
In 1960, he succeeded—and he remains the last person to do so.
Descendant focuses on the finding of Clotilda, the ship Meaher made and destroyed to smuggle Africans into the country. His crime was almost erased and it has never been told in history books. Until now.
But as one interviewee importantly points out, this story is not just about Meaher and Clotilda. It's about the lives of the people who followed, and the subsequent construction of an Alabama town called Africatown.
You can watch Descendant on Netflix now.
3. The Janes
During the 1960s, when it was congressionally recognized that "fetal death is murder" and pregnant women were barred from working, a group of Chicago women strived to fight back.
The Janes is about feminism in the 1960s, about struggling against injustice, about women trying to save lives in a time when they weren't allowed to. In doing so, they were convicted as felons.
If there was ever a time when this documentary was needed, it's now. Ever since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, films like this have grown exceedingly important.
2. Children of the Mist
Children of the Mist is a documentary that looks at the systemic impact brainwashing can have on a culture and a population.
In North Vietnam, we spend time with Di, a 13-year-old girl who lives in fear that she will become the next victim of a cruel custom: child brides. In Hmong, young girls are kidnapped to become wives of their captors.
What's most terrifying is seeing how this custom trickles down into cultural games and jokes. For example, young girls play a game of "kidnapping" that foreshadows their potential, eventual fates.
Due to its sensitive subject matter, discretion is advised when watching Children of the mist. Ha Le Diem's directorial debut isn't one to miss.
1. Blue Island
Toward the end of 2019 but before COVID-19 took over the globe, everyone was talking about the mass protest in Hong Kong. It was a fight for democracy, a fight that quickly grew brutal and violent.
Director Chan Tze-woon documents the resistance against the Chinese government. He stated that he wanted to make this film because he wanted "to capture the final moments of a sinking island."
The activists who resisted against tyranny are now in prison or waiting their turn to be prosecuted. In that sense, Blue Island is both a love letter and a warning of what's necessary to achieve freedom.
Films like this are vital to be watched. Combine that with the beautifully realistic approach by Tze-woon and it tops our list.