What a year for nonfiction cinema. The power and the poetry and the perspective of documentaries in 2013 all reached groundbreaking levels. Films are changing minds, maybe some industries, perhaps even eventually some national histories. They’re illustrating imaginations and emotions and memories in ways that expand the mode beyond realism to points of greater truth. We saw things this year that we’ve simply never seen on film before, and we also embraced the very familiar through totally fresh points of view.
Whether it was a story of one family’s secret or of the shockingly unhidden yet unexplored travesty of a whole country, or of an investigation into the covert dealings of our own military or of the previously unspoken complexities of a serious issue of medical and moral controversy, the best docs of this year dove deep into the unknown and came out offering astonishing tales and testimonies. Or they blew fiction films out of the water in terms of their cinematic spectacle and narrative creativity, their capability to depict romance and suspense and humor and even a sense of magic.
Below are the 13 titles that Nonfics has democratically determined to be the greatest U.S. theatrical releases of the year. Compiled and tallied from the individual lists of columnist Robert Greene and critics Daniel Walber, Dan Schindel and Landon Palmer, as well as Nonfics Managing Editor Christopher Campbell, the selections do well to represent the bounty of varied works we had this year that continue to broaden the scope of nonfiction and raise the bar of documentary. They are not just the best docs of 2013, they’re among the best films of the year, period.