Year in review: 50 best documentaries of 2020

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December 23, 2020
The Social Dilemma, LLC

Year in review: 50 best documentaries of 2020

When the coronavirus caused most of Hollywood to shut down in early 2020, ceasing production on dramas and comedies, documentaries carried on with filming. Since documentaries aren’t usually reliant on physical sets and massive crowds, they have proven to be more adaptable to social distancing requirements and safe practices. Because of that, several films have been fully shot, edited, and released over the past nine months, something that can’t be said of films of other genres.

This ability to create new content coupled with the fact that it’s the “golden age of documentary” where these films can easily earn over $1.5 million at the box office, means that 2020 was a huge year for documentaries. Films like “Tiger King,” “The Social Dilemma,” and “Miss Americana” swept social media and led Netflix stream counts while many of us were stuck at home during lockdown. And while we all loved these films and docuseries, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re representative of the genre’s best offerings. So what is? Stacker answers this question.

To do so, Stacker compiled Metacritic data on all 2020 documentaries and ranked the top 50 by Metascore. Ties were broken by review count. Further ties remained. To qualify, the film had to be released to the public in 2020 and be categorized as a documentary on Metacritic. IMDb scores were not considered, seeing as the majority of documentaries are not widely watched enough within a year of release to garner data that tells a story which reflects mass opinion. Critic data is more useful here, because critics cover documentaries more evenly than the public, and their data reflects a level playing field, which is ultimately a better measure of what the year had to offer in nonfiction storytelling.

So, from “Coded Bias” to “Collective” read on to find out which documentaries knocked our socks off this year.

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1 / 50
7th Empire Media

#50. Coded Bias

- Metascore: 73
- Reviews: 7

Many of this year’s documentaries, including “Coded Bias,” examine the dangers of Big Tech. After MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini uncovers startling racial bias in facial recognition algorithms, the movie goes on to discover how artificial intelligence (AI) often perpetuates humanity’s pre-existing biases and inequalities. Roger Moore, a critic at Movie Nation, raved about the film, calling it “the best wake-up call documentary of 2020, a movie filled with warnings discussed by the very smart women sounding those warnings, the very smart women doing something about this very real threat.”

2 / 50
National Film Board of Canada (NFB)

#48. This Is Not a Movie (tie)

- Metascore: 73
- Reviews: 9

“This Is Not a Movie” profiles famed writer and journalist Robert Fisk, following him as he works on stories and susses out facts. Throughout his career, the U.K.-born Fisk, who often writes about foreign policy and life in war-torn countries, is no stranger to controversy. Still, Los Angeles Times critic Robert Abele declared, “However one ultimately feels about Fisk’s reportorial compass, ‘This Is Not a Movie’ presents a necessary, thought-provoking portrait of a dedicated truth-seeker.”

3 / 50

#48. Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You (tie)

- Metascore: 73
- Reviews: 9

“Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You” is a making-of style documentary that accompanied the release of his 20th studio album “Letter to You.” The 90-minute film is chock full of never-before-seen archival material, performances from the E Street Band, and in-studio footage, granting audiences a deeper look at Springsteen’s creative process. Critic Al Alexander called the movie, “A heartfelt missive set to muscle and brawn of songs baring Springsteen’s soul and addressing his growing awareness that the best things in life are finite.”

4 / 50
Cinetic Media

#47. Slay the Dragon

- Metascore: 73
- Reviews: 16

A timely release considering the presidential election, “Slay the Dragon” follows groups of concerned citizens as they attempt to end the democracy-threatening system of gerrymandering. Vox critic Alissa Wilkinson explained the film’s power best when she wrote, “‘Slay the Dragon’ isn't a glorified PowerPoint presentation about the history of voting. It’s an unabashed activist documentary aimed at convincing viewers they can fight gerrymandering in their home states.”

5 / 50
Edgeline Films

#46. The Fight

- Metascore: 73
- Reviews: 23

Another politically minded documentary, “The Fight” follows a group of ACLU lawyers as they fight against the Trump administration for things like abortion rights, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and immigrant rights. Incredibly informative, the film not only provides a closer look at the inner workings of the organization but, as one Third Coast Review critic put it, “‘The Fight’ reminds us that all is not lost, that there remains an opportunity to right even the worst wrongs and that … even the most insurmountable obstacles can be overcome.”

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6 / 50
Science Photo Library

#45. Spaceship Earth

- Metascore: 73
- Reviews: 26

In 1991, eight researchers spent two years living inside Biosphere 2, a giant sealed-off replica of earth’s ecosystem. In “Spaceship Earth” viewers get a closer look at what that wild experience was like. A hit with science geeks and movie lovers alike, Nashville Scene summed up praise for the film best, writing, “It’s got a lot to say about the state of our planetary ecology and the psychology of creative dreamers, and it’s also a superbly well-timed release as a study of life in isolation.”

7 / 50

#44. Circus of Books

- Metascore: 74
- Reviews: 9

Offering viewers a glimpse into an often untold chapter of queer history, “Circus of Books” tells the story of Karen and Barry Mason, a young couple who took over a small Los Angeles area gay porn shop and soon found themselves as the largest distributors of the material in the country. The Chicago Reader called the film, which was directed by the Masons’ daughter Rachel, “a triumph of filmmaking in the way it covers such a range of topics so seamlessly: LGBTQ history, pornography, religion, obscenity law, media, AIDS, coming out, parenthood, and more.”

8 / 50

#43. Father Soldier Son

- Metascore: 74
- Reviews: 11

At its core “Father Soldier Son” is a documentary about American masculinity, generational tragedy, and family. On the surface, it follows the Eisch family—dad Brian, a third-generation soldier, and sons Isaac and Joey—for close to a decade as the trio deals with deployments, battle-sustained injuries, and the aftershocks of war. While it would have been easy for the film to veer into the political, it refrains, and instead, as Point of View magazine says, the “longitudinal study of the effects of war on American families is a valuable portrait of the nation’s troubled decade.”

9 / 50
Sundance Institute

#42. The Infiltrators

- Metascore: 74
- Reviews: 13

In “The Infiltrators,” a group of Dreamers intentionally allow themselves to be detained by border patrol in order to infiltrate a sketchy, for-profit detention center. Variety critic Peter Debruge highlighted the film’s importance in his review, saying, “I don’t pretend to have the answers here, but I know the issue isn’t being dealt with honestly in this country, and I see a film like ‘The Infiltrators’ as an important tool in reframing the conversation.”

10 / 50
Vegas Media

#41. The Ghost of Peter Sellers

- Metascore: 74
- Reviews: 15

Peter Medak directed this behind-the-scenes tale of the complete unraveling of his 1973 comedy pirate film “Ghost in the Noonday Sun,” at the hand of its intended star and Medak’s close personal friend, comedy actor Peter Sellers. The film feels almost like a therapy session, but the Los Angeles Times' Noel Murray argued that it’s relevant on a wider scale as it “demonstrates the ludicrous leeway granted to celebrities and the ways that obvious warning signs of possible mental illness often went unheeded.”

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11 / 50
Fresh Bread

#40. Beastie Boys Story

- Metascore: 74
- Reviews: 24

Spike Jonze directed this intimate look at the Beastie Boys band and the trio’s 40 years of friendship. Featuring Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz, the film is, as critic Brad Keefe puts it, “...a revelation. From the baseline of their hardcore roots, their discovery of early hip-hop and the evolution of a sound that’s still so uniquely their own, it’s a musical document.”

12 / 50 Filmproduktion/Navigator Film

#39. Heimat Is a Space in Time

- Metascore: 75
- Reviews: 9

Clocking in at almost three hours long, “Heimat Is a Space in Time” traces 100 years of German history through the prism of four generations of director Thomas Heise’s own family. While critics agree that the film ran a tad on the long side, Slant critic Carson Lund felt that it managed to “excavate real human thought and feeling beneath the haze of larger political structures."

13 / 50
Zappa Movie LLC

#38. Zappa

- Metascore: 75
- Reviews: 11

“Zappa” is a fully crowdfunded look at the life and works of musical legend Frank Zappa, as told through archival footage and interviews with those who knew the man best. An excellent biography, the Hollywood Reporter declared that the film “captures its subject’s spirit without tipping into mere hero worship.”

14 / 50
Honeywater Films

#37. Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy

- Metascore: 75
- Reviews: 13

Diana Kennedy is widely regarded as the world’s leading expert on Mexican cuisine, and this SXSW Special Jury Award-winning documentary examines her vibrant, unconventional life. FilmWeek raved about the prize-winning movie, writing, “It’s a really likable documentary, even if you didn’t know anything about [Diana Kennedy] ... She’s a really compelling subject.”

15 / 50
Gabriel Polsky Productions

#36. Red Penguins

- Metascore: 76
- Reviews: 11

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Pittsburgh Penguins collaborated with the Red Army hockey team, in an ill-fated venture that was intended to demonstrate how anything was possible in a post-socialist Russia. “Red Penguins” is a documentary about this capitalistic, opportunistic partnership, that, according to critic Christopher Llewellyn Reed, “... is both wildly entertaining, filled with boozy tales of backroom deals, and a perfect primer for those struggling to understand the Russia of today.”

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16 / 50
Stone Circle Pictures

#35. Howard

- Metascore: 76
- Reviews: 13

A certain generation of Disney fans who grew up on classics like “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” and “Beauty and the Beast” are sure to know the work of songwriter Howard Ashman. This Disney documentary takes a closer look at the life of the man behind the music, who died from AIDS complications at 40. CNN reviewer Brian Lowry called the documentary “a fitting celebration of [his] life and career. It’s a chance for those who knew him to pause and fondly look back, in a way that merely adds to an appreciation of the parade that he helped start.”

17 / 50
Muck Media

#34. Mucho Mucho Amor

- Metascore: 76
- Reviews: 16

At one point, the cape-wearing Walter Mercado was the world’s most famous astrologist, delivering televised horoscopes to nearly 1.2 million Lantino viewers each day. Then, he abruptly disappeared. “Mucho Mucho Amor” is an homage to the celebrity while also answering the question of what exactly happened to Mercado. Culture Mix praised the 90-minute film as a “a true reflection of its subject ... accomplishing the intended goal of making people feel uplifted and entertained.”

18 / 50
Rise Films

#33. Mayor

- Metascore: 77
- Reviews: 8

Musa Hadid is the Christian mayor of Ramallah, Palestine, who aims to repave the city’s sidewalks, plan its Christmas celebrations, and end the occupation of his country. The documentary “Mayor” follows Hadid through the ups and downs of his second term, in a way that results in “an inspiring tale of maintaining dignity in the face of overwhelming odds,” according to critic Edwin Arnaudin, adding that it is a “pretty decent Christmas movie.”

19 / 50
Sandbox Films (II)

#32. Human Nature

- Metascore: 77
- Reviews: 9

“Human Nature” takes a deeper look at the century’s biggest scientific breakthrough, CRISPR, which gives humans a newfound control over the basic building blocks of life. Heavily scientific, the film is still easily watchable, winning audiences and critics alike. John DeFore, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, called it “maybe the best-yet guide for those mystified by CRISPR.”

20 / 50
Beech Hill Films

#31. A Secret Love

- Metascore: 77
- Reviews: 12

“A Secret Love,” tells the heart-wrenching story of former All-American Girls Professional Baseball League player, Terry Donahue, and her partner Pat Henschel, who have lived together for seven decades without revealing their romantic relationship to either of their families. Directed by their great-nephew, Chris Bolan, the movie was praised by critics, including CNN's Brian Lowry, who admired the film for “being sweetly understated, at a time when that’s especially welcome." Lowry added, "It’s a deeply felt testament to both the strength of this couple’s bond, and the fragility and hard choices that often come at the end of a lifetime.”

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21 / 50

#29. Crazy, Not Insane (tie)

- Metascore: 78
- Reviews: 7

Dorothy Otnow Lewis is one of the leading dissociative identity disorder and criminal psychologists in the world. “Crazy, Not Insane,” directed by Alex Gibney, examines the work she’s done with some of the nation’s most violent offenders. CNN critic Brian Lowry declared, “While the documentary might not convince those who prefer a black-and-white picture of crime and justice, for anybody with an open mind, it’ll definitely make you think.”

22 / 50
Kino Lorber

#29. Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint (tie)

- Metascore: 78
- Reviews: 7

The Hollywood Reporter's Sheri Linden called “Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint” a must for anyone who cares about modern art. The documentary tells the little-known story of artist Hilma af Klint, the world’s first abstract artist. It was released in tandem with her first solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

23 / 50
Amazon Studios

#28. All In: The Fight for Democracy

- Metascore: 78
- Reviews: 8

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Stacey Abrams and her team single-handedly changed the course of the most recent presidential election. “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” which highlights the work Abrams and other voter-suppression activists have been doing, would agree. Not your ordinary boring political documentary, Los Angeles Times' critic Kevin Crust reported that the movie “... manages the triple-E feat of being entertaining, educational and enlightening.”

24 / 50
The Social Dilemma, LLC

#26. The Social Dilemma (tie)

- Metascore: 78
- Reviews: 9

A lockdown hit, “The Social Dilemma” features interviews from dozens of tech whistleblowers who reveal that the addiction and invasion of privacy caused by favorite social media platforms were not accidental side effects, but intentional pieces of their construction. The Los Angeles Times said that it might be the most important documentary you see this year, while Roger Ebert critics praised it for “ask[ing] fundamental and existential questions about whether we are literally writing, (with code) ourselves out of the ability to make vital decisions.”

25 / 50
Element Twenty Two

#26. My Darling Vivian (tie)

- Metascore: 78
- Reviews: 9

“My Darling Vivian” tells the frequently overlooked and misconstrued story of Johnny Cash’s first wife, Vivian Liberto. Peter Ranier spoke to why critics agreed that it was one of the best documentaries of the year in his review, saying, “It’s an interesting movie ... It’s a sort of reclamation project to restore his first wife to some kind of prominence and not just an asterisk to his career.”

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26 / 50
Quotable Pictures

#25. Robin’s Wish

- Metascore: 78
- Reviews: 11

When Robin Williams died from suicide in 2014, the world was shaken at the loss of one of its greatest comedians. In “Robin’s Wish,” filmmaker Tylor Norwood takes a closer look at the actor’s life, final days, and the many ways that his post-death diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia was affecting his reality. Variety described the film as a documentary that’s honest and scary, wrenching and moving.

27 / 50

#24. The Painter and the Thief

- Metascore: 78
- Reviews: 29

After two of her most valuable paintings are stolen, Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova forms an unlikely friendship with the thief, Karl-Bertil Nordland. Full of twists and turns, this fast-paced, drama-packed documentary is “a beautiful story about extraordinary compassion," according to critic Leila Latif. 

28 / 50
Ready Fictions

#23. Feels Good Man

- Metascore: 79
- Reviews: 18

“Feels Good Man” follows quiet artist Matt Furie, the creator of the Pepe the Frog character, as he embarks on an uphill battle to reclaim his creation from a far-right movement that has claimed it as its own. Associated Press critic Jocelyn Noveck raved about the movie, saying “... seeing what happened to Furie and his chill stoner frog dude ... will likely make your blood run cold. It sure makes for a chillingly effective internet-era cautionary tale.”

29 / 50
Disclosure Films

#22. Disclosure

- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 10

Sam Feder’s “Disclosure” takes a deeper look at the various ways transgender people are often depicted by Hollywood and the way those depictions affect the trans community and the broader public’s perception of them. An often overlooked topic in an often overlooked community, the film stands apart as it “isn't just a glorified Wikipedia entry, but a history of trans representation of screen as told by actual trans people.”

30 / 50
Smoking Bear Productions

#21. White Riot

- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 11

The Rock Against Racism group was founded in 1976 London and protested the racism that was being promoted in U.K. politics through their punk and reggae music-centric gatherings. Called a “blueprint for resistance” by Rolling Stone's David Fear, the Austin Chronicle's Tim Stegall reiterated the sentiment saying, “In an America saddled with an anti-immigrant president who refuses to denounce white supremacist organizations like the Proud Boys, White Riot is a timely history lesson.”

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31 / 50
Amirani Media

#20. Coup 53

- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 12

Critics agree that the storytelling in “Coup 53” makes it feel more like a spy thriller than a documentary. The film expounds on the CIA/M16 mission “Operation Ajax” that overthrew Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. Gripping and engrossing, the London Evening Standard's Charlotte O'Sullivan said, “‘Coup 53’ is stranger than fiction and a terrifying reminder that the past never goes away.”

32 / 50
Cabin Creek Films

#19. Desert One

- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 13

Academy Award-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple directed this film about the failed attempt made by the U.S. Army to rescue the 52 American hostages that were being held in the Tehran embassy during the Iranian Revolution. Produced for the History Channel in honor of the mission’s 40th anniversary, the film may sound as if it would be dry, but it’s actually the complete opposite. James Kendrick of the Q Network Film Desk said, “What makes the film really work is the humanity that Kopple draws out of the narrative.”

33 / 50
Jigsaw Productions

#18. Totally Under Control

- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 25

In “Totally Under Control” filmmakers examine the way the Trump administration handled the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, often comparing its inadequate response with that of South Korea. Empire's Ian Freer said that the documentary “is a vital, powerful examination of how one political administration could get something so wrong by ignoring the experts.” Many critics also agreed that the film was a must-watch for undecided voters.

34 / 50
Go Gigi Go Productions LLC

#16. The Truffle Hunters (tie)

- Metascore: 81
- Reviews: 8

Alba truffles are the most sought-after, yet hardest to find edible fungi out there. Despite their popularity, the truffles can only be found in the forests of Northern Italy, and only by a handful of elderly men who know exactly where to look. In this documentary, which a critic for The Playlist called charming and life-affirming, filmmakers sat down with these men, and their dogs, and were given the real scoop on this fungus-related treasure hunt.

35 / 50

#16. A Thousand Cuts (tie)

- Metascore: 81
- Reviews: 8

“A Thousand Cuts” explores the way that Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte uses social media to spread misinformation in his country, and highlights the importance of the free press, which gives the public the real story. Particularly timely in the United States as well, Film Week critic Claudia Puig stresses the film’s importance, saying, “... if you care about freedom of the press and democracy, it’s a film you have to see.”

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36 / 50
Polygram Entertainment

#15. The Go-Go’s

- Metascore: 81
- Reviews: 15

The Go-Go’s were a groundbreaking punk-rock band that first popped up in the late ’70s. This documentary highlights the rise of the all-girl group that wrote and performed all their own music, taking the Billboard charts by storm along the way. Vulture critic Jen Chaney hit at what makes this film—which is not the first to tell the band’s story—so special when she wrote that it was “... a testament to sisterhood and how age, wisdom, and an understanding of how rare and special certain relationships are can bust through even the most hardest grudges.”

37 / 50
Department of Motion Pictures

#14. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

- Metascore: 82
- Reviews: 23

“Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” blurs the line between documentary and fictional film. It purports to tell the story of the final days of a Las Vegas bar called Roaring ’20s, but there’s a catch: The bar is located in New Orleans and very much still open. Regardless of the film’s hazy “truth,” the final product, which is classed as a documentary, is still engrossing, with Los Angeles critic Mark Olsen summing up its value this way: “The most important thing is that it is genuinely great, a singular and moving glimpse of loneliness, community and finding the strength to face another day.”

38 / 50
76 Days LLC

#13. 76 Days

- Metascore: 83
- Reviews: 16

Another coronavirus-related documentary, “76 Days” recounts how hospitals in Wuhan, China—the believed origin of the virus—dealt with the pandemic in its earliest days. Even those dealing with the coronavirus fatigue are sure to find themselves absorbed in the film. Washington Post writer Ann Hornaday said, “This is a film about courage, as well as empathy, professionalism and resilience—and it’s a film that embodies those values itself. With luck, viewers will take its cautionary pleas to heart.” Los Angeles Times critic Kevin Crust agreed, saying that out of all the films about the coronavirus that are sure to come, “‘76 Days’ is one that will stick in your consciousness for some time" thanks to its sheer rawness.

39 / 50
Walking Iris Media

#12. Our Time Machine

- Metascore: 84
- Reviews: 10

After Chinese artist Ma Liang learns that his Peking Opera director father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he invites the older man to collaborate on a final project—an autobiographical stage performance that features life-size mechanical puppets. As the two create the show, which they name “Papa’s Time Machine,” they begin to consciously deal with the reality of their own mortality. The San Francisco Chronicle's Allen Johnson wrote, “The issues of aging and familial relationships and the appealing nature of this family would make ‘Our Time Machine’ worthy of a look in any case, but what puts it over the top is Maleonn’s fascinating visual creations.”

40 / 50
Artemis Rising Productions

#11. On the Record

- Metascore: 84
- Reviews: 22

In this #MeToo movement-inspired documentary, a former hip-hop executive struggles with her decision to bring her rape allegations against Russell Simmons public. Times' critic Kevin Maher described “On the Record” as “the quintessential conversation starter, smartly edited, and always thought-provoking.” A particular moment in the film serves as “a poignant reminder for Black women that relief can be found if their voices are heard. In order to do that, society needs to listen and ‘On The Record’ is an important place to start," according to Stylist's Hanna Flint magazine.

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41 / 50
Concordia Studio

#10. Boys State

- Metascore: 84
- Reviews: 32

Regarded as a remarkable glimpse at the state of politics today, “Boys State” follows a series of teens as they navigate a mock government exercise where they’re tasked with building a republic from the ground up. Nashville Scene critic J.R. Lind raved about the film after its August release, saying, “It’s compelling from the start to its heart-wrenching finish—an examination of young manhood and citizenship, and a reminder that we will choose what our democracy becomes.”

42 / 50
BBC Scotland

#9. Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin

- Metascore: 85
- Reviews: 9

Filmmaker Werner Herzog embarks on a nomadic journey in honor of his late friend, acclaimed travel writer Bruce Chatwin in “Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin.” The sentimental pilgrimage reminds viewers that, “... in a sense, we all came from the same unfixed place," according to New York Times' critic Glenn Kenny. 

43 / 50
Actual Films

#8. Athlete A

- Metascore: 85
- Reviews: 12

Pulling the curtain back on USA Gymnastics “Athlete A” follows a brave group of gymnasts and investigative reporters as they break their silence about the abuses many young women suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar. Although the film may be hard to sit through, it’s an important watch, because, as critic Noel Murray put it, “Like a lot of recent documentaries about the overdue reckoning for sexual predators in positions of power, ‘Athlete A’ is a reminder that the rot is sometimes within the system itself, not just within the criminals it benefits.”

44 / 50
BBC Storyville

#7. Welcome to Chechnya

- Metascore: 86
- Reviews: 17

“‘Welcome to Chechnya,’ is a “moving and vital indictment of mass persecution,” according to New York Times critic Jeannette Catsoulis, that features a brave group of activists who confront Chechnya’s government-directed campaign to capture, torture, and eliminate members of the LGBTQ+ community. Rolling Stone critic David Fear described the film as “a collective profile in courage ... on the people who are the last thing standing between survival and a purge.”

45 / 50
Higher Ground Productions

#6. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

- Metascore: 86
- Reviews: 29

In the early ’70s, teenagers with disabilities flocked to Camp Jened in upstate New York where everyone was included and fit in. Years later, they reconvened in Berkeley, California, to lead the charge for the Americans with Disabilities Act. An interesting and inspirational film, Detroit News critic Adam Graham wrote that “‘Crip Camp’ shows change can come from anyone, anywhere at any time. It’s a lesson that should always be taken to heart, but rings especially true now.”

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46 / 50
Step 1 Productions

#5. Rewind

- Metascore: 87
- Reviews: 12

Sasha Neulinger used footage from old family videos to reconstruct the story of his abusive childhood in his surprisingly intimate documentary, “Rewind.” Critics across the board agreed that it was a difficult movie to watch, but also frequently pointed to its power. Writing for Cinemalouge, Todd Jorgenson said, “It’s intensely personal, yet this gut-wrenching documentary also provides harrowing broader insight into the way child sexual abuse impacts family legacies in general.”

47 / 50
Zipporah Films

#4. City Hall

- Metascore: 88
- Reviews: 17

Clocking in at four-and-a-half hours long, “City Hall” is not light viewing, but it is important. The film gives audiences a closer look at Boston’s city government, painting a hopeful picture of what government can, and should, look like. Austin Chronicle reviewer Josh Kupecki wrote, “While the phrase ‘required viewing’ gets thrown around a lot, I cannot think of another film that plainly and comprehensively lays bare both the complex apparatus at work, and the people dedicated to serving its populace.”

48 / 50
Netflix Worldwide Entertainment

#3. Dick Johnson Is Dead

- Metascore: 89
- Reviews: 8

Upon finding out that her father had dementia, Kirsten Johnson was having trouble coping with the fact that the disease would eventually kill him. So her father agreed to participate in a project in which the two would imagine all the ways he could die, a project that turned into the documentary “Dick Johnson Is Dead.” The way the film conquers death is what “makes ‘Dick Johnson Is Dead’ a strangely satisfying, yet bittersweet watch in this dark time, when fears of mortality are closer to the surface for most people.”

49 / 50
Concordia Studio

#2. Time

- Metascore: 91
- Reviews: 23

In “Time” Fox Rich, a Black woman, entrepreneur, abolitionist, and mother, fights for the release of her husband, Rob G. Rich, who’s been sentenced to 60 years in jail after committing a robbery in the mid-’90s. The black-and-white film combines video diaries Fox previously made as well as glimpses into her family’s everyday life. Empire writer Ian Freer described “Time” as “a thought-provoking hymn to love, family and the power of Black female courage.” The film is also a criticism of the way the prison-industrial complex has become such a major fixture in the ongoing story of America.

50 / 50
Alexander Nanau Production

#1. Collective

- Metascore: 95
- Reviews: 23

Finally, critics agree that “Collective” is the best documentary to come out in 2020. The film follows a group of investigative journalists as they uncover massive health care fraud in the wake of a fire at a Romanian club. Thought-provoking and disturbing, FilmWeek's Amy Nicholson reports, “This is a documentary about a few things: journalism, what we should expect from our government, and how to figure out the truth when people don’t want you to know. It’s incredible to watch.”

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