The Dissident

– harrowing true story of the Jamal Khashoggi murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the orders of Mohammed bin Salman. The CGI infographic style of presentation didn’t really do it for me, but the story, CCTV and transcript footage is so jaw-dropping the alternative visuals really aren’t that relevant. Definitely worth watching, if only to remind yourself what individuals in positions of power get away with.

Assassins (2021)

– tightly gripping true crime documentary shows the extraordinary plight of two oblivious girls caught up in one of the most high profile political assassinations of our time – Kim Jong-Nam. Though staid in style, the story is so captivating it really doesn’t need added panache. Brilliant.

My Octopus Teacher

– a documentary about a man who falls in love with an octopus (his words, not mine), and in the process gains more of an appreciation for the natural world. Somewhat less revelatory than I had anticipated given the acclaim it received, this is, nonetheless, a unique insight into an octopus’ world.

Merchants of Doubt

– documentary about the lobbyists hired by corporate behemoths to cast doubt on scientific consensus somehow manages to elicit extraordinarily candid and revealing interviews from the paid spin doctors themselves, leading to some jaw dropping confessions. It imparts great insight into why, despite the facts, progress addressing major health issues is so slow. Everyone should watch and learn from this, especially students and journalists.

Navalny

– ironic that two of the best documentaries of our era each stem from passionate, articulate and inspiring individuals intent on highlighting the overreach (and in this case, murderous intent) of their respective enemy countries: Snowden in Citizenfour, and Alexei Navalny, with his extraordinary investigations into Putin and the Kremlin. That Putin can be so thoroughly exposed as he is in this documentary and remain in power goes to show the formidable death grip he has on Russia and its people. Hopefully this will not be the end of Navalny’s story.

Downfall: The Case Against Boeing

– not to be confused with the famed WW2 film that prompted one of the internet’s most famous memes, this documentary reveals the astonishing failures and deliberate cover-up that took place at Boeing causing two fatal crashes and the needless deaths of 346 people. While it doesn’t innovate as a documentary, the story it tells is jaw-dropping, and also heavy going at times (fair warning!)

The Sparks Brothers

I’d heard Edgar Wright’s doc was a ‘come for Wright, stay for the Sparks’ type deal, but despite my best effort, the subject matter was simply not interesting enough and the music not to my taste. It’s inventively directed, and I’m sure if you’re a fan of the band, this is exactly what you’ll be after. For the rest of us, it’s a music documentary about a semi-obscure band.

The Mole: Undercover in North Korea

– an astonishing fly-on-the-wall account of a ten year mission to infiltrate North Korea, so far fetched as to be entirely unbelievable without the visual evidence documented here. Jaw dropping and totally gripping. The only question left is where is the accountability?

Tiger King S01 (TV)

– batshit crazy biopic cum true-crime documentary about the deadly rivalries between private zoo owners in the USA. Definitely unique and worth watching for the extraordinarily eccentric characters and the eye opening lives they lead. The chronology is chaotic though and the whole series too drawn out. It also feels a little manipulative, as these shows so often do, withholding key information or revealing it in drips to frame audience opinion and maximise shock factor.

Earthlings (2005)

– Joaquin Phoenix narrates this sadistic abattoir of a documentary, which throws nauseatingly graphic, savage butchery at you while his Eeyore tones describe it. Too repulsive to actually watch most of the time, I didn’t finish it, and I still feel traumatised. Though no less shocking, in most instances the footage used lacks a source or date, which undermines its integrity somewhat.

Free Solo

– documentary about climber Alex Honnold scaling El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes is nail-biting, edge of the seat, stress-saturated brilliance. The vistas, the personalities, his philosophy and, of course, the feat itself are all profoundly affecting, and together make for an introspective and inspiring piece of cinema.

The Great Hack

– documentary raising the alarm on data manipulation and election rigging is certainly timely (if anything, belated – Twitter just banned political advertising). It deserves viewing, particularly by big data skeptics and critics of Carole Cadwalladr, but in its efforts to be mainstream and accessible, it barely scratches the surface of these major issues, with a narrow focus on a small cast of characters.

Icarus

– the best documentary I’ve ever seen and a fascinating expose of Russian doping. Whether it’s a subject that interests you or not, the political ramifications and behind the scenes machinations by Putin’s government are a stunning reminder that conspiracies do exist.

We Are Legion

– quite an enjoyable documentary about the hacktavist organisation Anonymous, from their beginnings as internet trolls on 4chan and other message boards to the headline grabbing hacking collective

13th

– fascinating and troubling Netflix documentary about the state of race relations in America and how it’s exacerbated by the justice and penal system.

Killswitch

– interesting documentary, not exactly original in the lines it covers, but very worthwhile. Good to hear such experts speak on the subject of privacy, surveillance and copyright.

Into The Abyss

– disappointingly generic death row documentary, with often seemingly irrelevant and invasive questioning from Herzog. There are vastly superior documentaries. Not ideal Christmas day viewing!

The Act of Killing

– Exceedingly impactful, unique and compelling documentary about the genocide in Indonesia, in which killers reenact their war crimes. Horrifying and unsettling, but somehow very human (perhaps for this precise reason).

The Frozen Ground

– Moderately wearisome attempt at a thriller. Cage and Cusack carry it. The script is too revealing to be satisfying, devoid of the intrigue and suspense that’s vital for an effective thriller and without a twist or a solid finishing blow it’s simply too forgettable. The most emotive scenes of the whole film are the factual closing titles.