Free Solo

This awe-inspiring National Geographic documentary is as much a celebration of U.S. parks and wilderness as it is a record of one of the most audacious feats in the history of mountaineering: Alex Honnold’s 2017 ascent of Yosemite’s 3,000-foot-high El Capitan without ropes or backup in under four hours. Codirectors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Meru) prepared for three years to film the summit, meticulously planning every possible angle and approach so that they could be ready to go on short notice and also stay out of the athlete’s way to avoid endangering his life. Not surprisingly, the small production crew, climbers themselves, share facetime on camera, and thus the movie takes on a zen-like meta aspect. Equally pleasing is the yin-yang dynamic between the sinewy, boyish, intense Honnold, a UC Berkeley dropout who is philosophical about death, and his petite, irrepressible lover Sanni McCandless, cheerily dedicated to keeping him alive.