The best documentaries of 2018 (updated)
We're living through a golden age for documentaries in 2018.
But with so many worthy series and films to sift through, it's easy to get cold feet 15 minutes into whatever you've finally settled on. So, trust us - from crazy cults to assassinations to the greatest England managers of all time - these are the documentaries worth finding time for.
Wild Wild Country
Cults will never not be brilliant subjects for documentaries, and the story of how Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh moved his sect from India to Oregon in 1981 is the best example for years. It's got everything you'd want in a cult doc - corruption, sex, espionage, attempted murder, Hollywood glamour and interviews with slightly spaced lifelong hippies - and it's so brilliantly constructed, the weirdness and revelations just keep cranking up.
This study of the brash and brilliant Alexander McQueen goes beyond analysing his nuclear impact on fashion and gets to the heart of the man. Raw interviews with close friends - still clearly shocked by his death - and very, very funny never-before-seen home videos make this a much more vibrant and vivid retelling of McQueen's myth than anything that's gone before.
The third series of The Staircase - the first came in 2004, with a follow-up in 2012 - continues telling an apparently simple whodunnit about the death of Kathleen Peterson, which mutates into a sprawling family saga. Her husband, Michael Peterson, is accused of beating her to death with a fireplace tool. He says he's not guilty. So who is responsible?
It sounds bleak, and it is at times, but the whole thing is so strange and so thoroughly suffused with tragicomedy (especially a scene with a dodgy PowerPoint presentation) that it transcends that. Top tip: watch it all, make your mind up on Peterson's guilt, then look up the owl theory. It'll melt your brain.
Bobby Kennedy For President
JFK dominates reminiscences of the 1960s so thoroughly that Bobby Kennedy's life and death tends to get shuffled a fair way down the pecking order. This doc is a necessary corrective: it's the whole story of John's kid brother, from assisting Joe McCarthy in his hunt for communists in the American establishment to running John's presidential campaign, and on to Bobby's conversion to fighting for civil rights and against poverty and Vietnam, before his assassination and the long swirl of conspiracy which followed. It suggests he was exactly the leader the 1968 generation needed - impassioned but pragmatic, idealistic but worldly - and was cruelly denied.
The poppy, peppy instalments in this Netflix series are all less than 20 minutes long and all give a simple but vigorous overview of a completely unrelated subject: cricket, the stock market, weed, astrology, K-pop (pictured) and monogamy to name just a few. They're not just jaunty little intros, though.
While each episode is tightly put together, there's room enough to let the expert talking heads get into some depth and they swerve simplistic explanations. It's quite an achievement to explain what cricket is, how it works, where it came from and why it matters, while also weaving in the thesis that cricket's story is that of the rise, decline and overhauling of the British Empire by its former colonies, in 18 minutes.
Bobby Robson: More Than A Manager
The key snapshots of Bobby Robson's managerial career - Maradona's half-evil, half-divine double against England in 1986 and That Night In Turin in 1990 - have been turned over so many times and become part of the weft of English football's folklore, but this doc goes well beyond them.
It shows how his working class upbringing instilled his sense of decency and doesn't shirk the vicious press campaign Robson faced as England manager, the political sniping he was caught in the middle of at Barcelona, and the discovery of his brain tumour. That the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Ronaldo, Paul Gascoigne and other luminaries wanted to talk about Robson's impact says a lot, and, most movingly, the film uncovers Sir Bobby's 11 simple, unpretentious commandments for motivating players, which explain why his myth and legacy are so potent still.