'Apollo 11' Voted Best Documentary of 2019 in 7th Annual Nonfics Year-End Poll

100 films ranked from the votes of critics and filmmakers.

Apollo 11 poster image

For the seventh year, Nonfics polled critics, filmmakers, and patrons for a glimpse at the best documentaries released in the past 12 months. Admittedly, we received fewer submissions this time around and the compiled results only amount to 100 titles, including features, shorts, and series. That’s surprising given how exciting documentary was in 2019, with numerous box office successes and an Oscar shortlist lacking in duds.

There was an expected number one, but many of these 100 films could have fit the top spot and I’d be happy and unsurprised. In most years, I’m disappointed with my others’ favorite docs. Not this time. Almost all of the docs on this list (maybe excluding the few dramatic biopics that one participant put on his list) are works that I appreciate if not love. And the top 10 is an awesome and excitingly varied bunch.

One thing to note is that two popular docs this year were on last year’s list and so weren’t eligible, even if they did qualify for the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards. They are They Shall Not Grow Old and Amazing Grace, both of which would have ranked in the back half of the top 20. There was also one late submission for Minding the Gap, which was actually last year’s winner.

Starting this year, I stopped putting the point values for each doc. It wasn’t a number that really meant anything to anyone but me anyway and was just included in the past to show how close or far apart some of the results were. That’s not necessary, though, and it’s kind of embarrassing for lower-ranking films that maybe are only there because they were less-seen than others.

All six of the past Nonfics Poll winners — The Act of Killing, Citizenfour, The Look of Silence, O.J.: Made in America, Faces Places, and Minding the Gap — have gone on to an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature. They’ve only won twice, however. Still, the nomination tradition should be good news for this year’s winner since it matches the CCDA winner for Best Documentary Feature and the last two of those have been entirely snubbed.

As usual, some voters included or added on titles that have not yet been officially released in the U.S. You can find an alphabetical list of those documentaries after the ranking of eligible films. Be sure to check out all the contributors’ individual lists here.

Without further ado, here are the 100 best documentaries of 2019 according to the seventh annual Nonfics poll:

1. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller)

2. American Factory (Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert)

3. One Child Nation (Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang)

4. For Sama (Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts)

5. Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov)

6. The Biggest Little Farm (John Chester)

7. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (Martin Scorsese)

8. Black Mother (Khalik Allah)

9. The Cave (Feras Fayyad)

10. Leaving Neverland (Dan Reed)

Love, Antosha

11. Love, Antosha (Garret Price)

12. Varda by Agnès (Agnès Varda and Didier Rouget)

13. Hail Satan? (Penny Lane)

14. Knock Down the House (Rachel Lears)

15. David Crosby: Remember My Name (A.J. Eaton)

16. Sea of Shadows (Richard Ladkani)

17. Midnight Family (Luke Lorentzen)

18. Midnight Traveler (Hassan Fazili)

19. The Kingmaker (Lauren Greenfield)

20. Cold Case Hammarskjöld (Mads Brügger)


21. Maiden (Alex Holmes)

22. The Hottest August (Brett Story)

23. The Edge of Democracy (Petra Costa)

24. Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé (Beyoncé and Ed Burke)

25. What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? (Roberto Minervini)

26. Mike Wallace is Here (Avi Belkin)

27. Tell Me Who I Am (Ed Perkins)

28. Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)

29. I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter (Erin Lee Carr)

30. Jawline (Liza Mandelup)

Los Reyes

31. Los Reyes (Iván Osnovikoff and Bettina Perut)

32. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (Timothy Greenfield-Sanders)

33. Roll Red Roll (Nancy Schwartzman)

34. The Gospel of Eureka (Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri)

35. Diego Maradona (Asif Kapadia)

36. The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard)

37. Chinese Portrait (Xiaoshuai Wang)

38. Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins (Janice Engel)

39. Black Godfather (Reginald Hudlin)

40. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (Chris Smith)

The Great Hack

41. The Great Hack (Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim)

42. Aquarela (Viktor Kosakovskiy)

43. Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Midge Costin)

44. Ask Dr. Ruth (Ryan White)

45. American Dharma (Errol Morris)

46. At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal (Erin Lee Carr)

47. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (Xavier Burgin)

48. Echo in the Canyon (Andrew Slater)

49. We Are Columbine (Laura Farber)

50. Emanuel (Brian Ivie)

The Boy Band Con

51. The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story (Aaron Kunkel)

52.  (tie) Richard Jewell (Clint Eastwood)
– The River and the Wall (Ben Masters)

54. (tie) Letter to the Editor (Alan Berliner)
– Meeting Gorbachev (Werner Herzog and André Singer)
– Memory: The Origins of Alien (Alexandre O. Philippe)
– Unplanned (Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon)
– Who Will Write Our History (Roberta Grossman)
– Wrestle (Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer)

17 Blocks

60. (tie) 17 Blocks (Davy Rothbart)
– Easter Snap (RaMell Ross)
– For the Birds (Quentin Krog)
– Framing John Delorean (Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce)
– Harriet (Kasi Lemmons)
– Lynch: A History (David Shields)
– Origin Story (Kulap Vilaysack)

Among Wolves

67. (tie) Among Wolves (Shawn Convey)
– Cooked: Survival by Zip Code (Judith Helfand)
– Dark Money (Kimberly Reed)
– The Eyes of Orson Welles (Mark Cousins)
– The Island of Hungry Ghosts (Gabrielle Brady)
– It Must Be Schwing: The Blue Note Story (Eric Friedler)
– Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love (Nick Broomfield)
– Period. End of Sentence. (Rayka Zehtabchi)
– Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation (Barak Goodman and Jamila Ephron)
– The Apollo (Roger Ross Williams)

77. (tie) Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (Eva Orner)
– Country Music (Ken Burns)
– The Legend of Cocaine Island (Theo Love)
– Surviving R. Kelly (Nigel Bellis and Astral Finnie)
– Well Groomed (Rebecca Stern)
– Who Let the Dogs Out (Brent Hodge)

63 Up

83. (tie) 63 Up (Michael Apted)
– The Amazing Johnathan Documentary (Benjamin Berman)
– The Proposal (Jill Magid)
– Prosecuting Evil (Barry Avrich)

87. (tie) Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky, and Nicholas de Pencier)
– Don’t Be Nice (Max Powers)
– Running with Beto (David Modigliani)
– The Show About the Show: Season 2 (Caveh Zahedi)
– Western Stars (Bruce Springsteen and Thom Zimmy)
– Where’s My Roy Cohn? (Matt Tyrnauer)


93. (tie) 5B (Paul Haggis and Dan Krauss)
– Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (Pamela B. Green)
– The Graduation aka The Competition (Le Concours) (Claire Simon)
– Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project (Matt Wolf)

97. Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles (Max Lewkowicz)

98. Screwball (Billy Corben)

99. Shooting the Mafia (Kim Longinotto)

100. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (Alex Gibney)


The following 17 titles mentioned on individual lists or given a special mention have not yet officially been released in the U.S.:

– Acadiana (Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau, and Yannick Nolin)
– City of Joel (Jesse Sweet) — opens 1/3/20
– Collective (Alexander Nanau)
– The Cordillera of Dreams (Patricio Guzmán) — opens 2/12/20
– Delphine and Carole (Callisto McNulty)
– Gaza (Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell)
– The Hidden City (La Ciudad Oculta) (Victor Moreno)
– The Human Factor (Dror Moreh)
– Jaddoland (Nadia Shihab)
– Nailed It (Adele Pham)
– nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up (Tasha Hubbard)
– No Data Plan (Miko Revereza)
Pahokee (Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas)
– Rewind (Sasha Joseph Neulinger)
– Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played with Fire (Henrik Georgsson)
– Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another (Jessica Sarah Rinland)
– Where the Pavement Ends (Jane Gillooly)

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.