Though scripted features tend to dominate must-watch lists, this year's lineup of documentaries (so far) just might change that. From biopics about Taylor Swift, Hillary Clinton, and Greta Thunberg to investigative features that take on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the opioid crisis, and fake news, there's no shortage of unscripted, real-life films to sink your teeth—and eyes—into. Not to mention, Tiffany Haddish will be appearing in a hidden-camera prank film that absolutely counts as a documentary. Even if you get your fill of hard-hitting journalism via podcasts and the paper, there will still be a feature you won't want to miss. Check out 12 of this year's most exciting releases below.
Miss Americana (January 31)
In what is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated biographical documentaries of the year, Miss Americana lifts the veil on the ever-divisive Taylor Swift. Available to stream on Netflix, the feature provides a revealing look at the sexism and misogyny that marred the artist's rise to fame (Kanye West's famous interruption at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards included), Swift's subsequent year of "hiding," and her triumphant return to the spotlight. Moving and revelatory, it also highlights her immense songwriting talents, following along during late-night studio sessions with Jack Antonoff and other collaborators.
The Pharmacist (February 5)
Arriving to Netflix as a four-part series, The Pharmacist centers on the story of small-town pharmacist Dan Schneider, whose son was shot and killed in 1999 while buying drugs in New Orleans. Schneider took it upon himself to hunt down his son's killer and bring him to justice after finding the police's efforts unsatisfactory, but soon, another overlooked crisis would cross his path. He began noticing an uptick in high-dose prescriptions for Oxycontin at his pharmacy way before the opioid epidemic became a recognized national emergency. With his son's addiction and subsequent death on his mind, he embarked on a new mission: prevent the same fate from befalling others in his community while holding Big Pharma accountable.
Hillary (March 6)
Whether or not you voted for her in 2016, there's no denying Hillary Clinton is a groundbreaking political figure. In March, a four-part docuseries that examines her life and remarkable political ascent from lawyer to First Lady to Secretary of State to presidential candidate will hit Hulu. Featuring interviews with Clinton herself, Bill and Chelsea Clinton, journalists, staff members, and others, it promises to provide an intimate look into the world of one of the most iconic women on earth.
After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News (March 2020)
If there's one documentary every American should watch ahead of the 2020 election, it's this one. Examining the rise of fake news and delving into various disinformation campaigns that affected the 2016 presidential election, this HBO release is an eye-opening reality check about the growing dangers of a post-truth culture.
Bad Trip (April 24)
Anything that Tiffany Haddish is in is definitely worth watching, but this project features the comedian as you've never seen her before. Part hidden-camera documentary, part narrative comedy, it's a prank-based project along the lines of Bad Grandpa and Borat, and will undoubtedly result in serious laughs. Producer Eric Andre costars in the project, which will hit theaters nationwide.
The Dissident (TBD 2020)
On October 2, 2018, The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul at the order of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Directed by Bryan Fogel, who won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for Icarus, which covered the Russian Olympic doping scandal, The Dissident provides a comprehensive account of the murder and the surrounding circumstances that ultimately led to it.
Surviving Jeffrey Epstein (TBD 2020)
Though horrifying to watch, Lifetime's 2019 six-part documentary Surviving R. Kelly ultimately played an integral role in turning public sentiment against the R&B figurehead and helped bring new charges against him. Now, the network is turning its sights on another sex offender, the late Jeffrey Epstein. This four-hour film will look into how exactly the billionaire financier used his power to cover his tracks while exploiting and abusing underage girls, even after he registered as a sex offender in 2008 for being convicted of procuring prostitution from a minor.
Vivos (TBD 2020)
On the heels of his 2017 documentary Human Flow, which centers on the global refugee crisis, artist and activist Ai Weiwei is back with an equally moving project. In 2014, 43 male students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College forcibly disappeared and, in some proven cases, were killed following a police raid in Guerrero, Mexico. The harrowing event was carried out in collusion with organized crime, with the Mexican government claiming that the police thought the students were members of a drug gang. Featuring the families of the disappeared and murdered, Vivos centers on their collective trauma and determination to discover the truth.
Greta (TBD 2020)
No one is more emblematic of today's crusade to address the climate crisis than 17-year-old Greta Thunberg, who has been nominated for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. Capturing the Swedish teen's journey from igniting worldwide school climate strikes to making now-iconic speeches at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference and the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, this Hulu documentary is guaranteed to be an inspiring call to action.
Assassins (TBD 2020)
In February of 2017, Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was publicly assassinated by two young women at a Malaysian airport. Caught on airport security cameras, the murder was carried out with the assistance of VX, a highly toxic nerve agent banned worldwide. Assassins tracks the trial of the two women, who claimed they were separately recruited (one is Vietnamese, and the other Indonesian) to participate in funny prank videos for YouTube, unknowingly being roped into an explosive plot to kill. With many believing Kim Jong-un masterminded the scheme, the film is sure to be a bombshell.
A Thousand Cuts (TBD 2020)
Within hours of Rodrigo Duterte taking office as the President of the Philippines in 2016, he ordered a government-sanctioned drug war that targeted poor addicts rather than their wealthy dealers. Bodies began piling up in the streets, and when independent journalists attempted to report the truth, Duterte launched a massive disinformation campaign that absolved him of any wrongdoing. Chronicling the continued battle between press and government, A Thousand Cuts delves into the intricacies of each side and reveals frightening parallels with what's been happening on American soil.
Welcome to Chechnya (TBD 2020)
On April 1, 2017, a damning article detailing the secret abductions, brutal torture, and extrajudicial killings by authorities of LGBTQ+ men in the Chechen Republic was published in Russian-language opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, sparking international outrage. Despite increased scrutiny and criticism from around the world, anti-gay purges have continued within the republic, which is a part of the Russian Federation. Welcome to Chechnya focuses on LGBTQ+ Chechens, as well as members of the Russian LGBT Network and the Moscow Community Center for LGBT+ Initiatives, who are working to help them escape persecution.
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