The Best Documentaries of 2018

We've assembled the best nonfiction films of the year.

Best Documentaries

20. Filmworker

Filmworker

When he was 27 years old, Barry Lyndon co-star Leon Vitali gave up the dream of acting to become the go-to grunt of Stanley Kubrick. Why? Tony Zierra’s film attempts to understand the personal sacrifice it took to forever live in the shadow of a genius, and the drive required to give completely to another man’s vision. We hear from the filmworker, his family, and those that populated the sets of Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. Everyone involved remains mystified. Of course, anyone who has seen 2001: A Space Odyssey may comprehend the initial desire of Vitali, but in detailing that lifelong journey of creator and assistant, Vitali’s long-haul commitment is astonishing. – Brad Gullickson


19. People’s Republic of Desire

Peoples Republic Of Desire

For the nearly 1.4 billion citizens of China, a rigid social structure affords little hope or opportunity for advancement. Behold the exciting new world of live streaming! Hao Wu’s glitzy documentary follows the successes and failures of several young internet hosts who have ascended to the top of the live streaming world. Caught between the demanding advertising agencies that bankroll them and the adoring fans that idolize them, these insecure teenagers are destined for a fall. “All I know is how to make money,” one singer of questionable talent admits. She full realizes the painful reality of her situation; when her popularity fades, another singer will be recruited to replace her. It seems that in a digital fantasy world where culture has been abandoned in favor of commerce, talent is the cheapest commodity. – JK


18. The Rachel Divide

The Rachel Divide

If you ask almost anyone, they’ll say that Nkechi Amare Diallo, who made headlines under her former name Rachel Dolezal in 2015 after being outed as a white woman heading up a chapter of the NAACP, doesn’t need more time in the spotlight. They’re right, yet through Laura Brownson’s lens, The Rachel Divide still manages to be one of the most fascinating and complicated documentaries of the year. Diallo’s self-proclaimed trans-racial identity is only one part of the bizarre puzzle; there’s also her fraught family history, her attempts to regain a livelihood following the 2015 scandal, the actual racism that motivated her outing, and her deep but self-centered love for her put-upon sons. Brownson is in no way overly sympathetic to Diallo, but she succeeds in capturing each and every one of her subject’s dizzying dimensions. – VE


17. The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

Zen Diaries Of Gary Shandling

Only Judd Apatow could concoct such an epic and searing tribute to comedian Garry Shandling. At four and a half hours, the film calls upon every friend, enemy, and casual acquaintance of Garry Shandling and asks them to explain the appeal of the man. On top of that, the film exposes an exhaustive array of letters and journals detailing Shandling’s most intimate doubt-filled thoughts. Wading into this film feels like an invasion of privacy at times, and at others, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling reveals itself to be a most giving act of love from one friend to another. – BG


16. Hal

Hal

Director Hal Ashby was truly a man of his time. Emerging from the turbulent and experimental cinema of the 1970s, Ashby infused his anti-authoritarian beliefs into such benchmark films as The Last Detail, Coming Home, and Harold and Maude. Director Amy Scott wisely peppers her love letter to the auteur with lots of clips from his classic films, as well as plenty of salacious details from cast and crew. Most fascinating are the words of Ashby himself, who was a voracious letter writer and often made audio recordings of his various tirades. The same fire that informed his work alienated him from friends, family, and pretty much every studio executive he ever met. Hal both embraces and questions Ashby’s uncompromising artistic integrity, wondering aloud if the price for creative freedom is sometimes too steep to pay. – JK


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