2018 was a remarkable year for documentary cinema. We enjoyed insightful and unsettling features about the impact of anonymous lobbying groups on America’s political system in Dark Money; mind-bending psychological puzzles and thrilling family dramas in Three Identical Strangers; necessary and informed explorations of what life is like growing up in an Islamic caliphate in Of Father & Sons and poetic, intimate portraits of race and class in the deep south in Hale County This Morning, This Evening.

2018 was a remarkable year for queer cinema. We’ve enjoyed Oscar-winning trans narratives that inspire and energise with A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantástica); powerfully intimate documentaries about queerness past and present with McQueen, Studio 54, Susanne Bartsch: On Top and Shakedown; breakout indie hits with The Miseducation Of Cameron Post and Rafiki; and even blockbuster teen rom-coms with Love, Simon. How will 2019 fare?

Once dominated by bros shouting over one another about sports, or straight, white comics making jokes about ‘the missus;’ the last few years have seen podcasting breath new life into spoken word stories. From much-needed investigations into ISIS, to fictional feminist stories about art and attraction, we shortlist our favourites from 2018.

Throughout 2018 we’ve seen widening social divides as our beliefs become more entrenched, and the stories we see and share become increasingly tailored to our interests. Political unrest has been catalysed by erratic, and frustratingly binary approaches to nuanced social, economic and international issues, and, whilst some journalistic institutions have been attacked, undermined for the way they seek to challenge authority, others have begun to thrive in a new age of misinformation. Throughout it all, a host of insightful and necessary documentaries have catalogued these changes, reflecting this new set of preoccupations back at us, working to inform viewers about the changing status quo whilst simultaneously providing a platform for marginalised communities to raise their voice above the din.

In 2018, the cinema feels like a more precious space than ever. How many other places do we have in the world where we go to sit, in the dark, with our attention entirely transfixed on one thing for at least an hour? In fact, how many spaces do we have where there’s a social contract that we all put our phones away? As a sanctuary of escapism from endless newsfeeds, the cinema is where we took refuge this year. And thank God we did, because it was a great year for film.

Robert Shafran’s first day of college in 1980 got off to a peculiar start. Classmates he’d never met kept calling out to him, welcoming ‘Eddie’ back to school, as if greeting an old friend. When Eddie’s slightly bemused roommate – who knew that Eddie hadn’t planned to return to class that year – found Robert, he was stunned. Whilst certain that the man standing in front of him wasn’t Edward Galland, he was the spitting image of his absent friend. The hair, the eyes, the nose, the mouth, even the way Robert carried himself, was indistinguishable. After a frantic drive to Eddie’s house, the two men, newly reunited, soon realised that they were, in fact, identical twins. When the story ran in the New York Post, and another 19 year-old, David Kellman, realised he was their triplet, the story went from a happy accident to an unthinkable coincidence.

Take a look at any of Sebastián Lelio’s recent films and one thing becomes abundantly clear – the Chilean director has a particular knack for telling thoughtful stories, anchored by complex, compelling, assertive women. Perhaps best-known for his Academy Award winning A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantástica) – which sees Marina Vidal fight for an acknowledgement of her humanity and her grief after the death of her long-time lover Orlando – his latest feature pushes that sensibility a step further. Disobedience, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Naomi Alderman, follows Ronit as she returns home to the Orthodox Jewish community where she grew up, in preparation for her father’s funeral. There she reconnects with old childhood friends, Dovid and Esti, reigniting a relationship that pushes the boundaries of faith and sexuality. With its focus on these three friends, their history, how they challenge one another and, in the process, themselves, Lelio elevates the story to what he calls “a baroque piece where you have three narrative lines which are mixing all the time.”

“It’s a comedy, a drama, a teen, coming-of-age film wrapped up in a popcorn crunching blockbuster,” says Hari Nef, when I ask her how she’d describe Assassination Nation. A modern day retelling of the Salem witch trials set in the Snapchat age, Assassination Nation is just that – an irreverent, candy coloured, pop-horror which aims to skewer fragile masculinity and misogynistic hysteria with sahara dry satire and four, matching, red-plastic macs.

Posing as an extremist, Syrian-born filmmaker Talal Derki spent more than two years, on-and-off, living with a Jihadi family for his Sundance-winning documentary Of Fathers And Sons. The end result is a thoughtful, nuanced and profoundly shocking portrait of what life is like for those living in an Islamic caliphate. It’s a world so rarely seen – except through political dog-whistles and sensational headlines – and Derki pulls back the curtain with unflinching honesty.

Once dominated by bros shouting over one another about sports, or straight, white comics making jokes about ‘the missus’, podcasting has since blossomed into a safe space for queer people to spotlight fascinating stories from the LGBTQ community. With humour, artistry and empathy, queer podcasters are championing the people and the movements that have shaped our shared history.

Born and raised in Bäretswil, Switzerland, a sleepy town nestled between the Glatt and Töss Valleys, Susanne Bartsch rejected the pastoral, “hausfrau life” that was planned for girls in her village in favour of parties and punk music when she moved to London in 1979, aged just 17. There she discovered Vivienne Westwood, Leigh Bowery and milliner Stephen Jones, falling in with a crowd of musicians and creatives which included Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, and Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren amongst others. Several years later she moved again, resettling in New York, bringing her favourite British designers with her, opening an eponymous avant-garde fashion boutique in central SoHo. When the economy began to slow in the late 80s, Susanne took her menagerie of costumes and couture to the basement of the Chelsea Hotel for her first party in 1986 at Savage. From that moment, her life’s work has been spent creating moments of safety and self-expression for the queer and disenfranchised. Constructing fleeting, overnight reveries from Paris to Tokyo, Susanne and her parties have helped propel performers and designers like RuPaul, Amanda Lepore and Marc Jacobs onto a global stage, crowning her Warhol’s heir and “Mother Teresa in a glitter G-string” in the process.

Tonight, October 10, Channel 4 will premiere the first episode of its new dramedy The Bisexual. The show is written by, directed by, and stars Iranian-American filmmaker Desiree Akhavan – creator of Appropriate Behaviour and The Miseducation of Cameron Post – and is set in London. The show is also a very rare screen-stealing moment for bisexuals, who, let’s be honest, don’t get the best deal when it comes to media representation. To celebrate this moment of visibility, five queer Dazed writers sat down to watch the first episode and write about what they took away from it.

“I was talking to an editor about writing prose. I was trying to figure out my life basically,” says Desiree Akhavan, when I ask her how she first stumbled across a copy of Emily Danforth’s The Miseducation Of Cameron Post. Danforth’s novel tells the story of Cameron, a young Montana girl who’s raised by a religious aunt after both her parents die in a tragic car accident. Akhavan’s adaptation of the book focuses largely on the second half of Cameron’s story – the time she spends at “God’s Promise,” a gay conversion therapy camp, after being caught having sex with a close female friend in the backseat of her date’s car at the school prom. “This was the first thing I’d read that felt really honest about the experience of being a teen and coming of age. It also happened to be queer and female driven but that wasn’t the only thing about it that made it really special to me.”

With thoughtfulness, clarity and a meaningful sense of urgency, Reed’s Sundance Grand Jury-nominated Dark Money begins by looking at how dark money groups have influenced the politics of her home state of Montana, before zooming out to consider the macro effects of unbridled campaign donations on the US government as a whole. Dark Money is a gripping and essential watch that posits the frightening possibility that House Of Cards might not be quite as removed from reality as we would like. Ahead of the documentary’s broadcast on PBS this October we spoke to Reed about America’s current political climate, why dark money poses more of a threat than Macedonian article farms, and what we can do to combat its influence.

Sundance and Emmy award-winning filmmaker/photographer, Lauren Greenfield, has spent the last 25 years documenting the impact of consumerism on youth, gender, body image and our wider social mores. Deepening and developing the themes she first began exploring in Thin and Queen Of Versailles, her latest feature Generation Wealth examines extremes of wealth and addiction through a series of intimate portraits filmed around the world. From disgraced Wall St financiers to Chinese etiquette coaches, Russian trophy wives to LA teenagers every inch the adult, Generation Wealth is a rigorous historical essay, entertaining expose and deeply personal journey which bears witness to the human cost of capitalism.

Foreshadowing the opioid epidemic currently tearing through present-day America, 1980s Detroit was caught in the grip of a deadly and far-reaching crack crisis. In the midst of an era defined by bloody turf wars, crippling social disarray and widespread police corruption a bizarre urban legend began to emerge – that of a skinny, teenage kingpin better known as ‘White Boy Rick.’ Appointed the mastermind behind one of the city’s largest drug organisations, Richard Wershe was arrested in 1988, aged just seventeen. Thirty years later he’s still behind bars, imprisoned under Michigan’s draconian 650 Lifer law remaining, until recently, the only one of 200 individuals still serving a life sentence without parole for a non-violent drug offence.

The epicentre of 70s hedonism, Studio 54 became a monumental magnet for beautiful stars, casual sex, and mounds of cocaine. A den of excess that defined its own rules by welcoming the ostracized, the queer, and the fabulous, the nightclub enshrined itself as an enduring and  contradictory symbol of openness and exclusivity. Chronicling the rise and fall of the most talked-about club in history, Matt Tyrnauer’s latest documentary Studio 54 tells the story of two best friends from Brooklyn, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, who conquered New York City only to have it crumble before their eyes. Combining never before seen footage with brutally honest interviews, Studio 54 is a parade of colour, creativity and celebrity which pulls back the curtain on the club’s hidden history.

One of the largest and most significant celebrations of non-fiction filmmaking in Europe, the 25th edition of acclaimed documentary film festival Sheffield Doc/Fest returns to South Yorkshire from 7th to 12th June this year. Featuring a powerful, thought-provoking and eclectic mix of features, shorts, discussions, talks, workshops and live performances, this year’s festival reflects on themes of race, identity, sexuality and mental health amongst others.