You can have all the arguments you want about the quality of mainstream cinema this year – and people have certainly had them – but here’s an unimpeachable truth: it was a great, great year for documentaries. This year, we saw nonfiction cinema tell vital stories, conduct bold experiments with form, and (over and over again) provide history and context for the most pressing concerns of the present day – and, it seems, of the years to come. These are our picks for the films that achieved those feats, and more, most memorably.
10. Author: The JT LeRoy Story
You can imagine just about any reputable nonfiction filmmaker making something compelling out of the notorious ‘90s literary scandal, in which an HIV-positive homeless teen fiction writer was unmasked, after years of literary fame and celebrity gallivanting, as a full-on hoax, the creation of a quick-thinking fabulist named Laura Albert. Director Jeff Feuerzeig digs deeper, beyond the customary then-she-did-this-and-then-she-did-THIS approach, to ask the more interesting question: why did she do those things? What compelled her to manufacture this tragic/triumphant person out of whole cloth? And, what, ultimately, did she gain from it?