Art rises to a challenge, and 2023 saw plenty of documentaries do exactly that. Amid a swarm of vanity projects and puff pieces, brand extensions and overstretched stories, the best documentaries of the year stood out for their scrutiny and decisiveness; their unique perspectives and razor-sharp editing. Rather than be dragged down by industry forces, be it the lingering effects of streaming or resurgent demand for star vehicles masked as docs, these 20 nonfiction works rose above — and, as audience members, we thank them for it.

There were some heavy hitters working in 2023. Matthew Heineman, Maite Alberdi, Steve James, and Errol Morris all delivered impressive new pieces. Breakthroughs came screaming to the forefront as well, many aided by festival or critical support (or both). Films like “Kokomo City,” “Beyond Utopia,” and “A Still Small Voice” managed to crack the zeitgeist and pique cinephiles’ interest. While over in television, genre hybrids like “Paul T. Goldman” and experimental adaptations (like “The 1619 Project”) got people talking, and plenty of powerful stories found room to grow and expand along with their audience. (“How To with John Wilson,” you will be missed.)

The documentary landscape is shifting, along with an industry adapting to a new reality. To some, the end of the “too much TV” era and the studios’ slow pivot away from streaming indicates less space for documentaries, even if there’s more demand for true crime tales and continuations of established hits. (Get ready for “The Jinx 2” in 2024 — no, really.) But to others, it’s just another sea change. Hollywood has seen them before, and we’ll see them again. Documentaries always find a way through, and this adjustment will be no different. Instead of feeling worried or threatened, take heart in the abundant offerings that broke through in 2023. Below, we’ve listed the best documentaries of the year — listedin alphabetical order — for both features and series. Enjoy, and don’t worry: There will be even more next year.

Kate Erbland, Marcus Jones, Ryan Lattanzio, Tony Maglio, Mark Peikert, Sarah Shachat, and Brian Welk contributed to this list.

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