Very little felt real in 2020. Time started to slip and slide. Screens became not just entertainment portals but a connection to the rest of the world, where we worked, learned, attended birthday parties and holiday gatherings, played games, and tried to maintain some semblance of real life.
So maybe it’s appropriate that 2020 was a brilliant year for documentaries, rife with engrossing nonfiction films in every genre — from comedies and dramas to journalistic exposés and category-defying tricksters. They explored mortality and love, showed us the past and the present, and challenged us to engage in the future, even in the midst of an unreal present.
Here are my (unranked) picks for the 18 best documentaries of 2020, plus how you can watch them.
There have already been a few documentaries about the Covid-19 pandemic, and I expect many more in the years to come. But 76 Days will surely be remembered as one of the gutsiest, best, and — oddly — most hopeful. It was shot inside a hospital in Wuhan, China, from the beginning of the outbreak until the city’s lockdown was lifted after 76 days. Even with the nurses and doctors in full PPE and patients struggling to survive in their hospital beds, 76 Days manages to be funny and tense, heartbreaking and humanizing — and it ends, improbably enough, on a note of hope. It’s a massive project (helmed by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and an anonymous collaborator) that provides a glimpse into reality and an invaluable record of this moment.
How to watch it: 76 Days is currently playing in virtual cinemas (short-term digital rentals that benefit the brick-and-mortar theaters that host them). See the full
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