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The Best Documentaries of 2012

Written by on December 26, 2012 

If one looks at the most-attended documentaries this year, with a batch topped by 2016: Obama’s America and including Katy Perry: Part of Me, one may come to the conclusion that the genre is in a sad state of affairs. However, that notion could not be further from the truth, as year in and year out the documentary form has produced some of the most fascinating stories cinema has to offer. 2012 was no exception and, while it hurt to select just ten of the best, we’ve got a rundown of our favorites, which you can see below.

How To Survive a Plague (David France)

My favorite documentary of the year, How to Survive a Plague, has the amazing ability to at once educate, entertain and emotionally eviscerate along the way. Director David France gives the men and women fighting for their lives in the face of the AIDS epidemic a voice — well, actually, he uses their voices to tell the story via archival home videos taken by ACT UP members as the battle raged. He introduces key members as they’re dually labeled terrorists and scientific visionaries, each protesting the establishment while they reinvent it. It’s a tale of hope told by the hopeless who were left to die if not for their own unwavering strength to survive. – Jared M.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb)

It’s easy for a documentary to gain your attention if you have any interest in the subject matter. Thus, when an avowed sushi-hater like myself somehow manages to find a connection with Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you can be assured that this isn’t your average preaching-to-the-choir documentary. The joy comes in watching a man dedicated to a craft executing his chosen art to perfection, and watching the ways in which time and history have shaped his work. The fact that Jiro also lends a detailed insight into Japanese social and familial culture rarely hinted at in any work of fiction only serves to add another layer to an already transformative experience. – Brian R.

The Imposter (Bart Layton)

One of those so-wild-it-has-to-be-true kind of docs, The Imposter brings back the lost art of re-enactment. Director Bart Layton builds a thriller around this tale of a professional shapeshifter and his specific encounter with a Texan family. You won’t want to believe what you’re seeing, but you won’t be able to believe anybody could make this stuff up. – Dan M.

Indie Game: The Movie (Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky)

In Indie Game: The Movie first-time filmmaking duo Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky document a new breed of struggling artists who refuse to compromise on their personalized creative visions. Devoting countless nights to caffeinated coding sessions, these indie developers pour their heart and soul into perfecting not just the gameplay experience but the overall emotional connection they hope people will have. You will surely be shocked by the amount of work and dedication it takes to bring these special interactive experiences to life and their drive for passion will transfer to anyone not even remotely interested in their craft. – Raffi A.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (Alex Gibney)

Alex Gibney’s riveting documentary exploring multiple international cover-ups of pedophilia in the Catholic Church is one of the most eye-opening of the year. Giving voice to a group of men who, as boys, were molested in a Catholic Boarding School in Milwaukee in the 1950s, Gibney uncovers a horrifying cover-up reaching to the very top of the Vatican. Gibney, a master storyteller, approaches the subject matter via talking heads, including interviews with the victims, attorneys and the church’s own specialists. – John F.

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