Free Solo – 8.5

I’ve awarded the non-Oscar for Best Director of a Documentary to Jimmy Chin for this engaging, gripping drama cum tutorial about Alex Honnold’s obsession to climb El Capitan in Yellowstone without a safety net – e.g., free solo. First, there’s the charming main character, wonderfully ingenuous and open for someone in his position: the best in the world, who calmly and openly faces death for the sake of experiencing perfection. His girlfriend, fortuitously, is easy on the eyes, as well. Second, the director inserts himself and his camera crew discreetly into the film, not to share the glory but to give the viewers a sense of how the amazing photography of Hannold’s ascent is accomplished. They also serve as on-screen stand-ins for us, especially when Mikey Schaefer turns his back, afraid to watch. Third is the dramatic story: how Alex prepared for years for his climb and then pulled it off, in less than four amazing hours. My face was wet with tears, and I felt I’d been through the proverbial wringer by the time we said goodbye to a world we had just discovered.

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