With autumn’s arrival, that murmur of excitement is not exactly about the return of pumpkin spice and chunky sweaters. No—it’s all about the impending awards season. Even as we just now approach the precipice of prestige film releases for the year, chatting about what movies will rack up Oscar nominations is already happening. And when pondering over the fantastic slate of releases in 2021, it’s best not to forget documentaries. The world of unscripted films allows us to bear witness to raw storytelling that packs a punch and can evolve hearts and minds. From the year’s most captivating music documentaries to intimate human portraits, here are the 10 best award-contending documentaries of 2021.
ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN
Though the Morgan Neville documentary stirred up controversy over voice cloning, Roadrunner is a significant film just for the sake of capturing its beloved subject. To sum, it captures Anthony Bourdain’s multifaceted career as a chef, writer and host who became renowned for his authentic approach to food, culture and travel.
Hold Your Fire
HOLD YOUR FIRE
Stefan Forbes reveals a more complex, truthful understanding of New York’s longest hostage siege with Hold Your Fire. In 1973, the seizing of a sporting goods store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, led to round-the-clock coverage that alleged the robbers were members of the Black Liberation Army. In reality, the group of four young Black Muslims were just trying to steal guns to protect their families from threats of violence. Hold Your Fire is a suspenseful, enlightening portrait of a long-misunderstood event.
Directed and produced by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, this National Geographic documentary captures the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue in which 12 boys and their coach were saved from a flooded cave in Thailand. It pieces together the high-stakes effort by the Royal Thai Navy SEALs and U.S. Special Forces.
The Velvet Underground
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND
The director of the Academy Award-nominated Carol makes his documentary debut with a film about one of the most influential bands in rock ’n’ roll history. Exploring the multiple threads that converged to bring The Velvet Underground together, Todd Haynes captures how Lou Reed and company changed the world of music with a new sound.
In the HBO documentary, Tina Turner talks about her second coming of age, which is ultimately what the film by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin captures: the icon’s maturation into a global phenomenon, shedding the personal and professional struggles early in her life. The intimate look at her life serves as a reminder of why we call her the queen of rock ’n’ roll.
Timed to the 50-year anniversary, the Stanley Nelson documentary unveils the five-day prison rebellion that occurred in fall 1971 in upstate New York and still reigns as the largest, deadliest prison uprising in the country. Through interviews with inmates, journalists and other witnesses, Attica tells the story of the bloodiest one-day clash on American soil since the Civil War.
Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage
Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage
WOODSTOCK 99: PEACE, LOVE AND RAGE
The first film in Bill Simmons’ Music Box series unfurls the demise of Woodstock ’99. What began as an event promoting the counterculture idealism of the original 1969 festival devolved into riots, looting, death and sexual assaults. Between footage of artists like Alanis Morissette (an anomaly on the lineup) and Limp Bizkit, Woodstock 99 examines the cultural shift in a post-Columbine world hurtling toward Y2K.
Photography by: COURTESY OF CNN/FOCUS FEATURES
BY STEFAN FORBES
COURTESY OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
COURTESY OF APPLE
COURTESY OF HBO
COURTESY OF SHOWTIME
BY DAVE HOGAN/COURTESY OF GETTY/HBO