It's been a banner year for the genre, as it has become a pop culture phenomenon and sparked real-world change.
Documentaries weren’t always this cool. Factual films used to be stigmatized as pointy-headed fare, not exactly big-screen must-sees. Not anymore—since streaming services brought documentaries into our homes, viewers have thoroughly caught the doc bug.
And 2019 was another great year for documentary fans. Among the offerings were some gripping tales of high-profile frauds, like Fyre Festival, the music festival that was such a total shistorm that it somehow spawned not one, but two great films. And there’s The Inventor, which follows the rise and fall of unicorn start-up Theranos, whose gravelly-voiced founder Elizabeth Holmes vowed to save lives with her blood testing technology and instead ended up imperiling them.
There were films that made for sobering, challenging viewing. Some of the best docu-series and movies of the year featured harrowing tales of sexual assault, like Leaving Neverland, which tells the story of two men who say that for years during their childhoods they endured horrifying sexual abuse at the hands of Michael Jackson. Surviving R. Kelly recounts the R&B star's long and painfully well-documented history of allegedly abusing young women and girls. (The documentary and attention it generated it probably had something to do with the fact that Kelly was arrested this year and charged with multiple counts of abuse). And At the Heart of Gold tells the story of another accused serial sexual abuser, former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. The true crime boom is still going strong, and crime buffs can’t do much better than Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, or HBO’s documentary on the Michelle Carter murder-by-text messages case. But if you’re in the mood for lighter fare, there’s also plenty of that, from Hulu’s portrait of the life of beloved sex therapist Dr. Ruth to the Aretha Franklin concert documentary Amazing Grace.