Tina Turner performs with The Ikettes in Tina.
With summer winding down, that murmur of excitement is not exactly about the return of pumpkin spice and chunky sweaters. No— it’s all about the impending awards season. Even as we just now approach the precipice of prestige film releases for the year, chatting about what movies will rack up Oscar nominations is already happening. And when pondering over the fantastic slate of releases in 2021, it’s best not to forget documentaries. The world of unscripted films allows us to bear witness to raw storytelling that packs a punch and can evolve hearts and minds. From the year’s most captivating music documentaries to intimate human portraits, read below for the 10 best award-contending documentaries of 2021.
In the HBO documentary, Tina Turner talks about her second coming of age, which is ultimately what the film by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin captures: the icon’s maturation into a global phenomenon, shedding the personal and professional struggles early in her life. The intimate look at her life serves as a reminder of why we call her the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
This international animated documentary tells the story of Amin, a man on the verge of marrying his longtime boyfriend. However, the successful Danish academic comes to be confronted with a secret from his past. Executive produced by Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, it was directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, who wrote the film with Amin.
Directed and produced by Elizabeth Chai and Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, this National Geographic documentary captures the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue in which 12 boys and their coach are saved from a flooded cave in Thailand. It pieces together the high-stakes effort by the Royal THai Navy SEALS and U.S. Special Forces.
50 years ago today, prisoners in the Attica Correctional Facility enacted the largest prison uprising in US history. Tonight, @StanleyNelson1's #Attica premieres as the opening documentary feature at #TIFF21, giving life to memories from this moment in time for a new generation. pic.twitter.com/jiaZwGvWk1— SHOWTIME (@Showtime) September 9, 2021
Timed to the 50-year anniversary, the Stanley Nelson documentary unveils the five-day prison rebellion that occurred in the fall of 1971 in upstate New York and still reigns as the largest, deadliest prison uprising in the country. Through interviews with inmates, journalists and other witnesses, Attica tells the story of the bloodiest one-day clash on American soil since the Civil War.
The director of the Academy-Award nominated Carol makes his documentary debut with a film about one of the most influential bands in rock and roll history. Exploring the multiple threads that converged to bring The Velvet Underground together, Todd Haynes captures how Lou Reed and company changed the world of music with a new sound.
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Rebeca Huntt opens her first feature with the declaration that “Every one of us inherits the curses of our ancestors. But we may put an end to this cycle by constantly going to war with ourselves. I’m watching the curses of my family slowly kill us. So I’m going to war… And there will be casualties.” What follows is a self portrait of Huntt, a young, NYC-born Afro-Latin working through historical, societal and generational trauma. It was primarily shot on 16 mm film.
Though the Morgan Neville documentary stirred up controversy over voice cloning, Roadrunner is a significant film just for the sake of capturing its beloved subject. To sum, it captures Anthony Bourdain’s multi-faceted career as a chef, writer and host who became renowned for his authentic approach to food, culture and travel.
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Amazon’s first Australian original feature-length documentary takes on the Black Summer of 2019 to 2020, during which 59 million acres of Australia were destroyed by catastrophic fires, taking with it 34 lives and 5,900 buildings and ravaging its wildlife. With Cate Blanchett as an executive producer, the story unfolds through interviews with fire victims, activists and scientists.
Stefan Forbes reveals a more complex, truthful understanding of New York’s longest hostage siege with Hold Your Fire. In 1973, the seizing of a sporting goods store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn led to round-the-clock coverage that alleged the robbers were members of the Black Liberation Army. In reality, the group of four young Black Muslims were just trying to steal guns to protect their families from threats of violence. Hold You Fire is a suspenseful, enlightening portrait of a long misunderstood event.
The first film in Bill Simmons’ Music Box series unfurls the demise of Woodstock ‘99. What began as an event promoting the counterculture idealism of the original 1969 festival devolved into riots, looting, death and sexual assaults. Between footage of artists like Alanis Morissette (an anomaly on the lineup) and Limp Bizkit, Woodstock ‘99 examines the cultural shift in a post-Columbine world hurtling toward Y2K.
Photography by: Courtesy of Rhonda Graam/HBO