All the Documentaries You Need to See in January 2023

This month's new documentaries to watch at home and in theaters include works by Joe Berlinger, the Naudet brothers, and Sierra Pettengill.

Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street. Cr. Netflix © 2023

Welcome to Documental, a monthly column keeping fans of nonfiction films and docuseries up to date on all the documentary content coming to theaters and your favorite streaming services. Here’s a guide to all the essential documentary titles to watch in January 2023.

It’s a new year, and with it comes new documentaries. Well, some of the highlights this month are older documentaries, including some of the top films of the previous year. In fact, one of the spotlighted picks for this month ranked high among the best documentaries of 2022. But the others are brand-new nonfiction features and docuseries premiering — in an official commercial release, at least — for the first time this month. Who needs to go to Sundance when you have new works by Joe Berlinger and the Naudet brothers to watch at home?

Here are some of the essentials from the month followed by a calendar marking all the notable documentaries and other nonfiction programs to watch in January 2023 (many to be added as the month goes on).

Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street

When you think of true crime, Joe Berlinger’s name should be at the forefront of your brain. He helped to pioneer the genre of true-crime documentaries with classics like Brother’s Keeper and the Paradise Lost trilogy and has recently become one of the most prolific producers of docs about serial killers and other murderers. But he’s also ventured out to stories involving non-homicidal criminals such as Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, and now Bernie Madoff.

Sure, we’ve seen a lot of docs and dramas about Madoff in recent years, but the four-part series Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street is sure to be a definitive account of his mega Ponzi scheme. Not that anyone could really explain how someone could get away with such seemingly obvious fraud to the tune of $60 billion over many decades. It’s worth noting that Berlinger is no stranger to financial subjects, as 10 years ago he made Hank: 5 Years from the Brink, about Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson. Like that film, this series will be distributed by Netflix.

Watch all three parts of Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street on Netflix on January 4, 2023.

January 6th

Another subject that might seem overdone right now is the U.S. Capitol attack. But nobody does documentaries about date-defining tragedies and catastrophes like Gédéon and Jules Naudet. Their 2002 feature 9/11 was an immediate standout in the documentation of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Years later, they directed the three-part docuseries November 13: Attack on Paris, which delivers harrowing accounts of the city-wide terrorist activity in the French capital on the titular date in 2015.

We can expect another conclusive work with January 6th, a feature documentary that focuses on the attempted coup in the name of Donald Trump that occurred on January 6, 2021. Unlike the balanced accounts of HBO’s Four Hours at the Capital, the Naudets’ film seems to be centered on the victims and the survivors of the attack that day, from the Capitol police officers to politicians on both sides of the aisle, including Nancy Pelosi, Liz Cheney, and Chuck Schumer. It looks to be a talky affair, but with November 13: Attack on Paris, the filmmakers showed that close-up interviews with witnesses can be stronger than any first-hand footage.

Watch January 6th when it debuts on Discovery+ on January 5, 2023.

Riotsville, U.S.A.

Riotsville USA

When Sierra Pettengill isn’t working as an archives producer and researcher for other filmmakers, she’s making some of the best archival documentaries around (also check out The Reagan Show streaming on The Criterion Channel this month), and she’s reached another peak with Riotsville, U.S.A. The documentary presents footage shot by the U.S. military of a fabricated town used for the purpose of training soldiers to deal with protestors in the 1960s. It would be stunning footage to watch on its own, but it’s perfectly edited and accompanied by academically toned narration turning it into a sort of essay film that makes it resonate on a whole other level. One would not be surprised if this footage turned out to actually be more recent.

We first wrote about the documentary on our list of the best documentaries of Sundance ’22, noting that this film’s precise selection of footage is “not so much to showcase that material as it is to spotlight, repurpose, and recontextualize it for a story that involves — but is also about more than — that material.” Since then, it’s been nominated for two Critics Choice Documentary Awards, a Cinema Eye Honor, and an Independent Spirit Award. And it just landed in the top 10 list of the best documentaries of the year based on our annual poll results. Now, after a theatrical release and a recent VOD window, Riotsville, U.S.A. is heading to one of the best streaming services for docs.

Watch Riotsville, U.S.A. on Hulu beginning January 12, 2023.

The Day After Trinity

If you want to see classic documentaries in January 2023, The Criterion Channel has the motherload. Their big program this month is Cinema Verite, which spotlights essential films by D A Pennebaker, the Maysles brothers, Barbara Kopple, Les Blank, and other legends of observational direct cinema. They’ve got the usual, but one highlight there is the often hard-to-find American Dream, Kopple’s second Oscar winner. The Criterion Channel also has a showcase of masterpieces that have been curated at New York City’s Maysles Documentary Center, ranging from 1948’s Strange Victory to the recent A Night of Knowing Nothing. But that’s not all! There’s the streaming premiere of Juliet Bashore’s Kamikaze Hearts!

But what am I picking out of the entire bunch to recommend highest, at least for this month in this year? Jon H. Else’s 1980 documentary The Day After Trinity. This is the one I’m most excited to watch. This Oscar-nominated film hasn’t been the most accessible, so it’s worth watching it now while you can. It’s also the perfect time to see the doc as it’s about J. Robert Oppenheimer, who led the team that developed the first atomic bomb. Millions of people will be seeing his story dramatized on the big screen in 2023 courtesy of writer-director Christopher Nolan and actor Cillian Murphy and their blockbuster biopic Oppenheimer, but the doc option is necessary viewing as an accompaniment or alternative to that.

The Day After Trinity will be available all month on The Criterion Channel but officially premieres on January 9, 2023.

Documentary Release Calendar for January 2023

DateTitleStreaming ServiceNote
1/1The Amazing Race: Complete Seasons 3-4Hulu
America's Next Top Model: Complete Seasons 15-16Hulu
RuPaul's Drag Race: Complete Season 2Hulu
Survivor: Complete Seasons 40-41Hulu
Undercover Boss: Complete Season 6Hulu
I Am Not Your Negro (2017)Amazon Prime Video
Muscle Shoals (2013)Amazon Prime Video
Rejoice and Shout (2011)Amazon Prime Video
The Gospel According to Andre (2018)Amazon Prime Video
20 Feet From Stardom (2013)HBO Max
Kusama: Infinity (2018)HBO Max
Oasis: Supersonic (2016)HBO Max
The Brink (2019)HBO Max
When We Were Kings (1996)HBO Max
The Climb (2023)HBO MaxMax Original Series
Primary (1960)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Chronicle of a Summer (1961)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Crisis (1963)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Don't Look Back (1967)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Portrait of Jason (1967)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Warrendale (1967)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Monterey Pop (1968)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Salesman (1969)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Woodstock (1970)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Gimme Shelter (1970)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Nationtime (1972)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
A Poem Is a Naked Person (1974)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Grey Gardens (1976)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Harlan County, USA (1976)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Running Fence (1977)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Always for Pleasure (1978)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Burden of Dreams (1982)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
American Dream (1990)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
The War Room (1993)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
Kings of Pastry (2009)The Criterion ChannelCinema Verité
First Graders (1984)The Criterion Channel
Homework (1989)The Criterion Channel
ABC Africa (2001)The Criterion Channel
1/2 The Task (2017)The Criterion Channel
Children of Las Brisas (2022)PBSIndependent Lens
1/3The Lie DetectorPBSAmerican Experience
1/4Bachelor in Paradise: Compete Seasons 4-5Hulu
The Bachelorette: Complete Season 11Hulu
Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street (2023)NetflixNetflix Original
Once Was Water (2023)In Theaters
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (2023)In Theaters
Magic of Disney's Animal Kingdom - Season 2Disney+
The Boonies - Season 1Disney+
Locked Up Abroad - Season 12Disney+
Lost Treasures of Egypt - Season 4Disney+
Primal Survivor: Over the Andes - Season 1Disney+
Underworld, Inc. - Season 1 & Season 2Disney+
1/5Death in the Dorms (2023)HuluABC News/Hulu Original
January 6th (2022)Discovery+
1/6Love Island - Season 2 (2023)Netflix
Mumbai Mafia: Police vs The Underworld (2023)NetflixNetflix Original
Pressure Cooker - Season 1Netflix Netflix Original
Strangest Bird AliveDisney+
1/9The Day After Trinity (1981)The Criterion Channel
I Didn't See You There (2022)PBSPOV Episode
1/10The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker (2023)NetflixNetflix Original
The Celluloid BordelloVOD and DVD
1/11This is Life with Lisa Ling - Season 9Discovery+
Chasing Waves (2023)Disney+
Airport Security - Seasons 4-8Disney+
Best in Bridal - Season 1Disney+
Kamikaze Hearts (1986)The Criterion Channel
1/12How I Caught My Killer (2023)HuluHulu Original
Riotsvile, U.S.A. (2022)Hulu
1/13My Father Muhammad Ali: The Untold Story (2023)In Theaters and VOD
1/16Strange Victory (1948)The Criterion ChannelArt-House America: Maysles Documentary Center
The House Is Black (1963)The Criterion ChannelArt-House America: Maysles Documentary Center
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968)The Criterion ChannelArt-House America: Maysles Documentary Center
Salesman (1969)The Criterion ChannelArt-House America: Maysles Documentary Center
Attica (1974)The Criterion ChannelArt-House America: Maysles Documentary Center
India Cabaret (1985)The Criterion ChannelArt-House America: Maysles Documentary Center
The Gleaners and I (2000)The Criterion ChannelArt-House America: Maysles Documentary Center
still/here (2001)The Criterion ChannelArt-House America: Maysles Documentary Center
Cameraperson (2016)The Criterion ChannelArt-House America: Maysles Documentary Center
INAAT/SE/ (2016)The Criterion ChannelArt-House America: Maysles Documentary Center
Shakedown (2018)The Criterion ChannelArt-House America: Maysles Documentary Center
A Night of Knowing Nothing (2021)The Criterion ChannelArt-House America: Maysles Documentary Center
The Village Detective: A Song Cycle (2021)The Criterion ChannelStreaming Premiere
The Big PaybackPBSIndependent Lens
1/17Zora Neale Hurston: Claiming a SpacePBSAmerican Experience
Harry Benson: Shoot First (2016)DOX
1/18Night Stalkers - Season 1Disney+
Secret Life of PredatorsDisney+
Frame-up! The Imprisonment of Martin Sostre (1974)OVIDOVID Exclusive
Anarchism in America (1981)OVIDOVID Exclusive
Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists (1980)OVIDOVID Exclusive
From Swastika to Jim Crow (1999)OVIDOVID Exclusive
Red Squad (1972)OVIDOVID Exclusive
Trafficked with Mariana Van Zeller - Season 3 (2023)NatGeo
1/19Web of Death (2023)HuluABC News/Hulu Original
The Pez Outlaw (2022)Netflix
The Wobblies (1979)OVIDOVID Exclusive
1/20 Kindred Spirits - Season 7, Episode 1: "Broken Spirits"Discovery+
Bake Squad - Season 2NetflixNetflix Original
Big Mäck: Gangsters and Gold (2023)NetflixNetflix Original
Bling Empire: New York - Season 1NetflixNetflix Original
The Real World - Season 28Netflix
Ocean's Breath Disney+
On the Morning You Wake (to the End of the World)In TheatersVR documentary release at the Museum of the Moving Image
1/23The American Sector (2020)The Criterion Channel
No Straight Lines (2021)PBSIndependent Lens
1/24The Bachelor: Season 27 premiereHulu
Physical: 100 - Season 1NetflixNetflix Original
American Masters: Roberta FlackPBS
Danny Says (2015)DOX
The Lovers & the Despot (2016)DOX
Mr. Untouchable (2007)DOX
1/25Bloody Tales of EuropeDisney+
Hacking the System - Season 1Disney+
Riding Britain's RailwaysDisney+
1/26The 1619 Project (2023)HuluABC News/Hulu Original
Killing County (2023)HuluABC News/Hulu Original
1/27Kindred Spirits - Season 7, Episode 2: "What Lies Below"Discovery+
American Blackout Disney+
Challenger Disaster: Lost TapesDisney+
T. Rex AutopsyDisney+
The MissionVOD
1/30Prisoner of the Prophet (2023)Discovery+
Pamela, a love story (2023)NetflixNetflix Original
The Reagan Show (2017)The Criterion Channel
The Picture Taker (2022)PBSIndependent Lens
1/31 Love, Gilda (2018)Hulu
Square Grouper (2011)DOX

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.