Across every branch of entertainment, 2017 has been an especially incredible year.
However, few categories better represent the power and innovative strides in pop culture we've seen this year than documentaries, reports news.com.au.
From an explosive masterpiece that attempted to make sense of Gawker's chilling end (Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press) to a docu-series about the names that changed the music industry as a whole (The Defiant Ones), this year has been a parade of exceptional documentary filmmaking.
This year has captured so many incredible real-life stories, narrowing down the best has proven to be a harrowing challenge. The below list is by no means a complete list of all of the remarkable documentaries that were released in 2017.
However, from docos that provided heartfelt examinations of crises that are too often ignored to surprisingly introspective blocks of comedy, below are the documentaries (all available on Netflix) that resonated with us the most this year.
THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON
Director David France's documentary walks a delicate line, both celebrating the life and accomplishments of the transgender legend Marsha P. Johnson and unravelling her death as well as a law enforcement community that refuses to take crimes against transgender people seriously.
A haunting question echoes throughout The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson: If the NYPD didn't care about the death of one of the transgender community's best-known icons, how much attention are they really paying to crimes against the transgender community at large?
The implications of Johnson's death are largely filtered in director, trans activist and researcher Reina Gossett's analysis. Through her meticulous research, Gossett paints a disturbing picture of the transgender community, one in which people are simultaneously being ignored by law enforcement and being left behind by the LGBTI community.
For every inspirational, optimistic story about Johnson's life, there's a counterpoint about our society's treatment of trans people in this haunting documentary. — Kayla Cobb
In a year full of strong documentaries, Strong Island stood out as a force to be reckoned with. Strong Island tells the story of William Ford Jr, a black man (and director Yance Ford's brother) who was murdered in cold blood by Mark Reilly, a white vehicle mechanic, in Long Island in 1992. Instead of seeking justice for the crime, police insisted that Ford intimidated Reilly, thereby justifying his murder.
Over the course of the film, Yance Ford interviews his mother, sister, and, ultimately, himself in an attempt to explain how his brother became the prime suspect in his own murder and why the state doesn't seem to care about rectifying this wrong.
The resulting documentary provides an intimate look at a family torn apart by racism and violence. It's no secret that systemic oppression is a pervasive issue in America, but when focusing on the global consequences, it's often easy to forget the personal toll of such bigotry.
Strong Island rightly denies us a chance to forget, insisting from the very beginning that the victims of racism matter, and even more importantly, that we're all complicit. — Claire Spellberg
In May, Netflix premiered a true crime docu-series that put shows like The Jinx and Making a Murderer to shame. The Keepers is a seven-part series that investigates the murder of Baltimore nun Sister Cathy Cesnik and the larger Catholic Church conspiracy that likely led to her killing.
Two of Cesnik's former students, Gemma Hoskin and Abbie Schuab, take up the decades-old unsolved mystery, and over the course of the series, the women interview countless individuals who may know something about Sister Cathy's murder or who were involved in Church activities in the 1970s. They're not experienced investigators, and they don't claim to be; the show's heart comes from the fact that they're just two regular women who want some closure after years of uncertainty.
Did Gemma and Abbie mean to uncover a community-wide conspiracy to cover up the Church's many abuses? Probably not, but as soon as they begin to understand the implications of their search, they adapt to their new role with grit and determination.
If you're looking for a docu-series that will inspire you, make you yell at the TV, and shock you to your core, look no further than the very excellent The Keepers. — Claire Spellberg
ONE OF US
In October, Jesus Camp directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing released One of Us, a scathing portrait of the Hasidic Jewish community in New York.
The documentary focuses on three individuals, Luzer, Ari, and Etty, who attempt to leave the abusive community and the impact their departure has made on their lives. For each subject, leaving the tightly knit, insular environment is disorienting at best and life-threatening at worst.
Etty, a woman who married a domestic abuser at 19 and spent her 20s in a constant cycle of battery, childbirth, and depression, tells a particularly heartbreaking story about what happens when the community comes to see your presence as a threat. As Etty's struggle unfolds, she becomes subject to constant harassment, intimidation, and physical violence, tactics that are meant to separate her from her seven firmly entrenched children.
It's not easy to watch Etty, Luzer, and Ari struggle, but if one thing is easy, it's understanding why documentaries like One of Us are so important. — Claire Spellberg
GAGA: FIVE FOOT TWO
For Lady Gaga fans, Gaga: Five Foot Two is a treat. The day-in-the-life documentary follows Gaga as she prepares for the Super Bowl halftime show, finishes her most recent album, Joanne, and deals with debilitating pain stemming from a hip injury.
Director Chris Moukarbel's Gaga: Five Foot Two is a raw, genuine portrait of a woman known for her outlandish outfits and head-turning behaviour, and it provides Gaga a chance to reclaim her pre-stage identity, Stefani (in front of the cameras, that is).
There are moments where Gaga performs for the cameras, but for the most part, the doco portrays the pop icon as a determined, take-no-bullshit woman who will stop at nothing to achieve her artistic vision — even if that vision changes dramatically over time.
No matter your feelings about Lady Gaga, you'll find something to like in this 100-minute documentary. — Claire Spellberg
Structurally, Bryan Fogel's documentary about doping isn't the best documentary on this list. However, you would be hard-pressed to find another documentary that predicted such a huge news story.
The film starts as a sort of Super Size Me for doping with Fogel using himself as a guinea pig to explore how easy it is for amateur cyclists to trick drug tests.
In his pursuit to fool the authorities, the filmmaker recruits the help of Grigory Rodchenkov, the man who is credited for orchestrating the biggest doping scandal in Olympic history. As Rodchenkov decides to finally come clean about Russia's doping scandal during the 2012 and 2014 Olympics, the documentary shifts from a vaguely interesting experiment to the revelation of a full-blown conspiracy.
If you want to understand why Russia has been banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics and how the country was able to get away with this doping scandal for so long, Icarus is a must watch. — Kayla Cobb