The Best Documentaries of 2018

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

Best Documentaries

10. Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Hale County This Morning, This Evening

According the RaMell Ross in a 2015 piece for The New York Times, the photographer and first time filmmaker “moved from Washington to Hale County, Alabama, in 2009, replacing freelance anxiety with a steady job and a slower pace of life in a city of 2,700 people,” and eventually, “the novelty of the historic South gave way to the quotidian”. His renowned photography morphed into lyrical motion in which a pair of Southern African American males, Daniel and Quincy, are depicted as human beings rich in character, but remain spiritually rooted deep in the historical iconography of the American South. Hale County is the cinematic equivalent of a memory quilt, woven together with a deep love of community, comprised of intimate though disparate moments from others’ lives, and poetically comforting despite its historically weighty components. – JS


9. Free Solo

Free Solo

You don’t have to know anything about free soloing — the incredibly dangerous practice of scaling mountains without any gear — to be riveted by Free Solo. Actually, you don’t have to care about mountain climbing or the outdoors at all. The curious story of climber Alex Hannold and his obsession with looking death in the face hits on something primal and universal, while breathtakingly gorgeous imagery captured by Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, and a team of visibly anxious camera-people helps cement the film as one of the year’s best. Hannold is preoccupied with climbing El Capitan, a 3000-foot sheer rock at Yosemite that has, to date, been the site of over two dozen climbing-related deaths. He’s got a magnetic pull to danger like some war movie soldier bent on re-enlisting; many his friends have died doing this, but he can’t stop himself from going back, even as his stressed-out girlfriend waits for bad news. The detached way with which Hannold considers his likely death may not be entirely relatable, but his relentlessness and single-minded determination are enthralling, and the result is an extraordinary feat that will leave your heart pounding with adrenaline. – VE


8. Science Fair

Science Fair

Filmmakers Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster follow nine students as they venture to the International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles. One kid explores number theory through Kanye West, another contemplates halting the Zika virus, and another might have cracked an inventive method for understanding the human brain. Their enthusiasm will change the world, and yet we can barely register any teen’s existence outside of the high school gym. Science Fair manages to hit the beats as a heartwarming hero’s journey but never rides on fuzzy Hallmark sentimentality. – BG


7. Three Identical Strangers

Threeidenticalstrangers

Tim Wardle’s case study of identical triplets separated at birth reads like the stuff of bad fiction. Three brothers, each raised by markedly different families and separated by a distance of fewer than 100 miles, lived for 18 years without ever crossing paths. The first half of Wardle’s account is a lighthearted fairy tale, with the gregarious brothers re-connecting and taking the New York City social scene by storm. The second half mines darker territory, as Wardle explores the nefarious forces that separated the triplets in the first place. Packed with sensational details and tantalizing twists, Three Identical Strangers takes the nature vs. nurture debate into the realm of a mystery thriller. – JK


6. Bisbee ’17

Bisbee 17

Robert Greene has been working over the borders between nonfiction and performance for a decade at this point, carefully kneading the edges until the seams begin to disappear before our eyes. With Bisbee ‘17, he takes this obsession one step further by digging into the dark history of Bisbee, New Mexico, where exactly a century ago roughly 2,000 striking immigrant miners were violently exiled to the middle of the desert outside of town and left there to die by their fellow community members. Greene employed the people of Bisbee, many of whom are direct descendants of those who survived the Bisbee Deportation, to reenact the horrifying events as a sort of cinematic memorial performance meant to heal wounds, change minds, and snap into focus just how scarily contemporary old fashioned anti-union xenophobia has once again become. – JS


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