The Year in Film: The 10 Best Documentaries of 2016

'O.J.: Made in America,' 'Cameraperson,' 'Weiner,' and more of the docs that knocked us out this year.

1. I Am Not Your Negro

The year’s most essential movie, and its best – documentary or no – is Raoul Peck’s thrilling exploration of civil rights in our past, present, and future, viewed through the searing words of James Baldwin (in the notes he left for an unfinished book). Yet what’s so bracing about Peck’s work isn’t just the importance of this history, or even the prescience of Baldwin’s text; it’s how alive he is to the possibilities of cinema, how he’s unbound by rules of chronology or source, seeing everything in the world around him – music, film, prose, photographs, archival footage, faces from today’s news, and tomorrow’s – as raw materials for this potent mosaic. “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America,” Baldwin wrote. “It is not a pretty story.” Truer words were never spoken.

Also worth singling out this year: 13th, Michael Jackson’s Journey from Thriller to Off The Wall, Tickled, Into the Inferno, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, Zero Days, Presenting Princess Shaw, Team Foxcatcher, Accidental Courtesy, TRAPPED, The Lovers and the Despot, and Life, Animated. Stay tuned for our ten best narrative films of the year.