Top 5: The Year’s Best Documentaries


Asked to pick the best documentary is like being given a selection of high-performance vehicles and asked which you’d like to buy. Would it be the SVAutobiography Land Rover, the Chrysler Pacifica Limited van, the Tesla Model X, or the Lamborghini Veneo Roadster?

Like cars, there are as many varieties and purposes for a documentary, so choosing which is best is really a bit complicated.

As far as the Oscars go, the Best Documentary is chosen by a special screening committee composed of members from all branches (i.e. producers, directors, actors and actresses, etc.) of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Some changes have occurred in the last three years to winnow the members to those who have been actively practicing in their respective fields during the last 10 years. Also, an increase in membership has occurred as the Academy has responded to a call for greater diversity.

However, I am not interested in predicting how the Academy will vote, though I have included all of their top nominees. Their rationales and criteria are a mystery. What I am fired up about is an honest ranking of the best documentaries made in 2018.


“Minding the Gap” (Oscar nominated) – An outstandingly insightful study of skateboarder mentality, this film confirms that parenting 101 must be a requirement for high school graduation.

“On Her Shoulders” (on the original Oscar list of 15) – This is the artfully produced story of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nadia Murad, who escaped from terrorist captivity in northern Iraq and is now a client of Amal Clooney in her orld Court suit against ISIS.


5. “Hard Money” (on the original Oscar list of 15) – A revealing documentation on the growing methods of illegal and dishonest campaigning, it makes the viewer a more savvy voter.

4. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (on the original Oscar list of 15) – This is the delightful, heart-warming, inspiring story of Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers) whose TV program taught values of respect, compassion and acceptance.

3. “Free Solo” – (Oscar nominated) – In any other year, this feat of cinematographic excellence, led by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, would be a winner. Alex Honnold is followed as he considers, plans, practices and attempts his climb of El Capitan without ropes.

2. “Of Fathers and Sons” (Oscar nominated) – This film will stun, worry and concern viewers more than entertain and inspire. It is a study of an Islamist extremist in Syria over a span of two and a half years by a filmmaker who masquerades as a jihadist in order to get insightful and terrifying access to a psychology bent on leading the world into WWIII.

1. “RBG” (Oscar nominated) – There is no doubt, no question, that this is the best documentary of the year. Audiences have broken into spontaneous clapping, shout-outs and laughter. The work of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and her commitment to justice has touched American lives and laws though time. While it does not involve the extraordinary filming dangers of “Free Solo” or “Of Fathers and Sons,” it is a film that captures what makes America great – that we are on an evolutionary path with the potential to always become better in actualizing what a democracy is all about.

Best Documentary Feature 2019 Oscar Nominations (winners announced tonight):

    “Free Solo,” Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
    “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” RaMell Ross
    “Minding the Gap,” Bing Liu
    “Of Fathers and Sons,” Talal Derki
    “RBG,” Betsy West, Julie Cohen

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