Kick off 2023 with the best documentaries of 2022

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes the year's best documentaries (Part 1)

Back in December, I ranked my favorite fiction movies of 2022.

Now, it’s time to rank the very best documentaries that I saw last year.

So, fire up your streaming devices for these gripping, informative docs.

Below you’ll find five TV docuseries and 10 feature film docs to watch:

Top 5 TV Docuseries

5. “I Love You, You Hate Me” (Peacock, 2 episodes)

This docuseries explores a generation of children’s love and parents’ hatred of “Barney & Friends” and what that says about the state of our society.

Top 5 TV Docuseries

4. “Theodore Roosevelt” (History Channel, 2 episodes)

Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin makes the case for Teddy Roosevelt as the most underrated of our great presidents.

Top 5 TV Docuseries

3. “Lincoln’s Dilemma” (Apple TV+, 4 episodes)

This warts-and-all portrait of President Abraham Lincoln reveals a complex human who evolved to win a war, end slavery and preserve a union. Must-see stuff.

Top 5 TV Docuseries

2. “The Last Movie Stars” (HBO Max, 6 episodes)

Director Ethan Hawke taps fellow actors to read intimate transcripts in this comprehensive chronicle of Hollywood power couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

Top 5 TV Docuseries

1. “The U.S. and the Holocaust” (PBS, 3 episodes)

Ken Burns’ harrowing work exposes anti-immigrant sentiments among many Americans during WWII and invites viewers to look in the mirror today. What side of history do you want to be on?

And now, onto the feature films…

Top 10 Feature Documentaries

10. ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ (HBO Max)

I wish that director Laura Poitras focused more on the opioid crisis than the slides of photographer Nan Goldin, but the brokenhearted testimony of victims’ parents to the Sackler family is the most powerful scene of the year.

Top 10 Feature Documentaries

9. ‘Downfall: The Case Against Boeing’ (Netflix)

Oscar-nominated director Rory Kennedy (“Last Days in Vietnam”) investigates the tragically preventable crashes of two Boeing 737 Max jets in 2018 and 2019, killing a total of 346 people.

Top 10 Feature Documentaries

8. ‘We Feed People’ (Disney+)

Director Ron Howard chronicles the humanitarian efforts of celebrity chef José Andrés, who rises from D.C. restaurant fame to launch the World Central Kitchen, feeding countless global citizens after natural disasters.

 

Top 10 Feature Documentaries

7. ‘Facing Nolan’ (Netflix)

I was surprised by the number of famous ballplayers who participated in this doc to give flowers to legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan, whose record seven no-hitters and 5,714 strikeouts will likely never be broken.

Top 10 Feature Documentaries

6. ‘McEnroe’ (Showtime)

This expose on the dominance and tantrums of tennis superstar John McEnroe recalls a golden age of Jimmy Connors, Vitas Gerulaitis and Björn Borg.

Top 10 Feature Documentaries

5. ‘Fire of Love’ (Disney+)

Like “Grizzly Man,” Katia and Maurice Krafft died tempting nature, but their volcano hunting is a love story that will shake you to the molten core.

Top 10 Feature Documentaries

4. ‘Goodnight Oppy’ (Amazon)

Narrated by Angela Bassett, this doc follows NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers dubbed Spirit and Opportunity, the latter of which was expected to live for only 90 days but ultimately explored Mars for nearly 15 years.

Top 10 Feature Documentaries

3. ‘Katrina Babies’ (HBO Max)

Rising filmmaker Edward Buckles Jr. fled Hurricane Katrina as a kid and returns to New Orleans to interview a generation of kids who grew up with that trauma.

Top 10 Feature Documentaries 

2. ‘Retrograde’ (Disney+)

After chronicling the border drug crisis in “Cartel Land” and the pandemic in “The First Wave,” director Matthew Heineman turns his lens on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan with on-the-ground footage of the Taliban takeover.

Top 10 Feature Documentaries

1. ‘Descendant’ (Netflix)

No documentary this year moved me, informed me and surprised me more than Margaret Brown’s riveting look at the Alabama descendants of survivors from the Clotilda, the last ship that carried enslaved Africans to the United States.

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes the year's best documentaries (Part 2)

Still Need to Watch

‘All That Breathes’

I’ve heard nothing but great things about this film and am currently setting up an interview with the local filmmaker from Chevy Chase, Maryland. Stay tuned!

‘Moonage Daydream’

I’m about halfway through this David Bowie documentary and so far it is quite the ride, proving the musician was some sort of cosmic gift from the universe.

Bonus Slide

‘Jackass Forever’ (Paramount+)

Sure, it’s not quite a traditional documentary, but this blend of stunts and pranks was a hilarious fourth installment of the “Jackass” franchise.

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