The Best Documentaries of 2022 (So Far)

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Sometime, during the great Documentary Boom, we lost our way. HBO pioneering a wave of deft, uber-journalistic true crime documentaries gave way to the Dahmerification and Bundyification of Netflix. (Read: regurgitating serial-killer-obsessed stories and re-traumatizing victims along the way.) The glory days of ESPN’s 30 for 30 feel long gone, as documentaries like Tom Brady’s Man in the Arena—where the athlete seemingly lords over their portrayal—become more commonplace.

Thankfully, 2022’s slate of documentary films and series feels like a shift back toward good-intentioned, impartial filmmaking in the genre. There’s Trish Adlesic’s A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting, which puts the focus squarely on the victims of the tragedy at its center. Say Hey, Willie Mays! is a beautiful, bold exploration of a man who transcended his sport. And Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues? Well, we highly recommend that you watch yourself—and let the jazz legend’s music sweep you away. So rejoice, documentary obsessives: we’ve complied the best of the year so far.

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A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

Just over four years ago, the mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue devastated the Jewish community—and sparked another wave of the always-raging gun control debates in our country. In her empathetic portrait of the shooting and its aftermath, director Trish Adlesic puts the focus squarely on the victims of the tragedy. The result is a rare, stunning portrait of human resilience in the face of loss.

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Following the careers of famed French scientists Katia and Maurice Krafft, Fire of Love puts viewers up close with active volcanoes—one of Earth’s most destructive and near-apocalyptic forces. The two volcanologists bond over their shared obsession chasing these erupting behemoths as they collect samples of the bubbling and scorched earth that lit a flame for their love in the process.

Already missing baseball? Hell, are you a Phillies fan who’s already missing baseball? Sheesh. Tough loss. Either way, please accept this gift of Say Hey, Willie Mays!, director Nelson George’s great love letter to the Giants icon.

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Earlier this year, HBO brought us the true story of the Jane Collective, a group of Chicagoans in the ’60s and ’70s that helped women find safe abortions in the pre-Roe v. Wade era. Of course, The Janes has only become more relevant since Roe v. Wade was overturned shortly after the documentary’s debut—especially as we near a critical midterm election.

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Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues

At least once a year, a documentary takes on a once-in-a-generation icon, somehow digs up an astounding amount of archival footage, and delivers something that transcends the genre. This year, that documentary is Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues. Watch. Listen. Meet one of the greatest jazz musicians to ever live.

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Ever wonder how Star Wars, you know, pulled it all off? How about Indiana Jones? Honey I Shrunk the Kids, anyone? Enter Light & Magic, the ultimate profile of Industrial Light and Magic, the visual effects company behind Hollywood’s greatest technological developments of the past 40-odd years. Screenwriting great Lawrence Kasdan directs this six-episode docuseries, in what will absolutely be your nerdiest binge of the year.

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Playing point guard—floor general, spiritual leader, physical dynamo—is pure art. Few hoops documentaries has ever captured the spirit of basketball quite like Point Gods, which dove into the very heart of legendary New York City point guards Stephon Marbury, Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith, and more.

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Is there a documentary filmmaker more prolific than Ken Burns? (We’ve ranked all of his films here, if you want to get lost in a rabbit hole today.) In April, he turned his eye to founding father Benjamin Franklin, to characteristically brilliant results.

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We Need to Talk About Cosby

Director W. Kamau Bell wrestles with Bill Cosby’s legacy in this four-part docuseries that features extensive interviews with the comedians Cosby influenced, the actors who worked with him, and the many women who came forward in the 2010s to accuse him of sexual assault.

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In his review of jeen-yuhs for Esquire, Alan Light described the Netflix docuseries that profiles Ye as “a remarkable, possibly unprecedented chronicle of the making of a major artist.” The series director, Coodie Simmons, began filming West more than 25 years ago, right before he caught his big break producing albums for Roc-a-Fella records. A lot has changed for the artist since then and a lot could still happen. But jeen-yuhs is the best portrait we have to date of the polarizing artist who, like him or not, has changed hip-hop and fashion completely.

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Neymar: The Perfect Chaos

A Neymar documentary featuring interviews with Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, and David Beckham? It’s as good as you think. Sounds like the best way to make 2022 the year you finally get into soccer.

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Shimon Hayut is a conman for the digital era. Posing as an heir to a diamond fortune, the 31-year-old Israeli defrauded dozens of women he met on Tinder to the tune of nearly $10 million dollars. Eventually a Norwegian tabloid caught wind of Hayut and began interviewing the victims, helping connect the dots between his crimes. This breezy documentary recounts the whole ordeal from the perspective of the women who eventually brought Hayut down.

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Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song

It’s all in the title, isn’t it? Hallelujah explores Leonard Cohen’s curious, culture defining song, which has been covered and replayed an immeasurable amount of times. Trust us: after watching this documentary, you’ll only want to listen to the song more.

Navalny, one of our Best Movies of 2022, recounts the harrowing and surreal assassination attempt of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The film begins in the immediate aftermath of Navalny’s poisoning and follows the former presidential candidate as he recovers alongside his family and makes disturbing discoveries about the forces behind the hit. Spoiler alert: It was exactly who you think it was.

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We Met in Virtual Reality

Haters of virtual reality, the metaverse, clunky Oculus headsets, come hither. We Met in Virtual Reality is the counterargument. The HBO documentary which premieres July 27 is filmed entirely in VR—we don’t need to tell you how wild that is—and profiles people who count their virtual lives are as essential as anything in our IRL world.

ESPN keeps knocking out the all-timers, one by one. Michael Jordan in The Last Dance. Tom Brady in Man in the Arena. In 2022, New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter saw a fittingly serviceable highlight-reel treatment in The Captain.

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