Connect with us

Film

‘Apollo 11’ Leads the Best Documentaries of 2019

2019 was a generally strong year for documentaries, with many of the best ones sharing one or more of several elements: a focus on music, a resonance with the current moment, and the word “Apollo” in the title.

The Year’s Best Documentaries

1. Apollo 11. Directed by Todd Douglas Miller, this documentary made masterful use of archival footage — much of it on 70mm film long not available to the public — to tell the story of the Apollo 11 mission on its 50th anniversary. It’s one of those films that’s nerve-wracking, even as everyone watching knows exactly how it all happened. The film opened in theaters, then showed on CNN, and then returned to theaters this month. 

2. The Kingmaker. The Queen of Versailles director Lauren Greenfield takes another look at the ridiculously wealthy, this time catching up with Imelda Marcos, the 90-year-old former first lady of The Philippines. For its first half hour, the film hints that it’s going to be a soft-focused look at a newsmaker of the past, before it takes a sudden turn into showing its subject as a monster who looted her own people of billions and was almost certainly complicit in horrific war crimes. The film played in theaters this fall and will debut on Showtime in early 2020. 

3. Love, Antosha. The life of the beloved late actor Anton Yelchin, which ended in a freak accident in 2016, is celebrated with home movie footage, clips of his movies, and interviews with a star-studded array of his co-stars. It’s a sweet remembrance of a talent gone far too soon — while also telling the story, through both letters and interviews, of his relationship with the loving Russian immigrant parents he left behind. Now streaming from on-demand providers. 

4. City of Joel. Director Jesse Sweet’s film is an astonishing work of anthropological filmmaking, as he looks at the tension and land disputes between a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews who arrived in an upstate New York town, and their secular neighbors. The film, which played the Jewish film festival circuit and is now available on demand, is uncommonly evenhanded, letting both sides of the dispute have their say. 

5. David Crosby: Remember My Name. There were many very strong music documentaries this year, but this film, directed by A.J. Eaton and produced and narrated by Cameron Crowe, was the best of them all. Crosby, knowing he’s in poor health and unlikely to live many more years, is uncommonly candid about his regrets, especially his many feuds with his famous musical collaborators. Now available on demand, it’s also the best film Crowe has been associated with in almost two decades.

6. Cold Case Hammarskjöld. Mads Brügger’s documentary starts off by looking at the mysterious 1961 plane crash death of U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, and then goes off in all sorts of crazy directions, including a supposed plot by South Africa’s apartheid government in the 1980s to infect people with AIDS. Not everything asserted here is true (most likely), but it’s all wildly intriguing. Now available on demand. 

7. The Apollo. The year’s “other” Apollo documentary takes a look back at the history of Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, a mecca of African-American culture for nearly a century. The film looks at how the theater has waxed and waned in importance over the years, while using a staged reading of Ta’Nehesi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” as a framing device. This one played at festivals and then debuted on HBO; it’s currently available on HBO’s streaming platform. 

8. Horror Noire. Director Xavier Burgin’s documentary takes a look at the history of black horror films, using 2017’s Get Out as an inflection point to look back on decades of African-American representation — as well as ugly tropes — in the horror genre. The film had some big-screen showings before streaming on Shudder. 

Tell Me Who I Am CR: Netflix

9. Tell Me Who I Am. Director Ed Perkins’ documentary about a pair of twins, and the family secrets one must tell the other, is very creepy and unsettling, but still essential. It debuted on Netflix, where it’s a perfect fit, and is still streaming there now. 

10. Diego Maradona. This look at the 1980s soccer star, directed by Amy filmmaker Asif Kapadia, makes masterful use of archival footage to depict the rise of this one-of-a-kind athlete. The doc, which played on HBO this fall and is still streaming there now, is a must for the many Americans who have gotten into soccer for the first time in the last decade, and are unfamiliar with the stars and stories of the past. 

****

Honorable mention: Black Mother, The Human Factor, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, Carmine Street Guitars, Mike Wallace is Here, Varda by Agnes, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, Screwball, American Factory, Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce,

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Facebook

Trending

Beyond The Black Rainbow – Austere, Cerebral, and Sometimes Maddening

Film

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time 50 Best HBO Shows of All Time

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time (Part 2)

Culture

Oz Pilot The Routine review Oz Pilot The Routine review

Oz: Revisiting the Pilot Episode of HBO’s Darkest Show

TV

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time 50 Best HBO Shows of All Time

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time (Part 1)

TV

The Shield TV Pilot Marked the Start of the Golden Age for television The Shield TV Pilot Marked the Start of the Golden Age for television

The Shield TV Pilot Marked the Start of the Golden Age of Television

TV

Star Wars Lightsaber Duels Ranked Star Wars Lightsaber Duels Ranked

15 Best Star Wars Lightsaber Duels Ranked

Film

The Wire Season 1 and 2 The Wire Season 1 and 2

20 Years Later, The Wire’s Genre Filmmaking is Still Unmatched (Part 1)

TV

Best of the Wire Best of the Wire

The Best of The Wire: A Superlative List

TV

Apple TV+’s The Big Conn is a Compelling but Overlong True Crime Series  

TV

Jerry West and Mob Hits: HBO’s Winning Time and What Really Happened

TV

We Own This City: Why You Should Be Watching the Anticipated Spiritual Sequel to The Wire

Culture

The Wire Season 3 The Wire Season 3

20 Years Later, The Wire’s Genre Filmmaking is Still Unmatched (Part 2)

TV

Rocky III review Rocky III review

40 Years Ago, Rocky III Brought the Italian Stallion into the ’80s

Film

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a Multiverse Muddle 

Film

The Fifth Element retrospective The Fifth Element retrospective

The Fifth Element 25 Years Later: Still One of the Greatest Space Operas Ever

Film

Ranking Mission Impossible Ranking Mission Impossible

The Definitive Ranking of the Mission: Impossible Series

Film

Connect