2012 wasn’t just an Olympic year for sports, but for Hollywood too. Christopher Nolan ended his run on the hugely successful and influential Batman franchise and The Avengers made regular billion dollar openings for superhero franchises a reality. Heavyweights like P.T Anderson, Spielberg, O’Russell, Lee and Tarantino returned with some of their finest yet while others like Affleck, Zeitlin and Evans made big statements. And like the year after an Olympics or World Cup, 2013 has come with a little less fanfare with Hollywood seemingly retooling for the 2015 summer of blockbusting bacchanalia. That said, it’s still been a year of bloody good cinema; whether it came in the form of a documentary that deifys a soundboard, a feel good story set during The Troubles or a $200 million imagining of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots fighting Godzillas.
The film team here at State have compiled 20 of our favourites. Feel free to tell us how right, wrong or just plain delusional we are in the comment section.
20. Sound City
If there is one thing that sets Dave Grohl apart it his capacity to surprise. The former hard-hitting Nirvana drummer has embarked on a number of side projects in his time, and his directorial effort Sound City is one of the most noteworthy. As he explores the history of the studio in Van Nuys, California in which too many classic albums to mention were produced, Grohl encounters the likes of Frank Black, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Neil Young, Trent Reznor, Butch Vig and Rick Rubin. Each has his own story to tell, and the involvement of people-person Grohl ensures that we see the better side of these musicians. Sure, there’s a lot of talk about the changing nature of both technology and the music business that can seem a bit fuddy-duddy at times, but there is a warmth and sincerity to Grohl’s effort that makes Sound City special. (Aidan O’Donoghue)
Jake O’Brien was a big fan of this film too, read his full review from March here.
Far from being some sort of PETA rallying call against animal cruelty, Blackfish is instead a carefully crafted, compelling argument against the idea that a mammal honed by millions of years of evolution into a killing machine being kept in a large swimming pool by another species that lucked out by developing opposable thumbs. Using the story of Tilikum, a large, by their considerable standards, Orca who was separated from his family in the most harrowing manner imaginable as its central thread. Copperthwaite’s documentary sets about separating the Disneyfied picture put forth by Sea World and the reality of keeping wild animals in captivity. (David Cadwallader)
Aidan O’Donoghue sat somewhere on the fence with this one, read his full review from July here.
18. Upstream Colour
In the pantheon of romantic movie tropes, I’m pretty sure that parasites and field recording pig farmers aren’t quite up there, but, at the same time, no one has tried before. This is a Shane Carruth romance though. And Shane Carruth doesn’t fear isolating his audience—his debut Primer was a masterclass in doing just that. With Upstream Colour, the gauntlet is still thrown down, but the rewards are tenfold. Beauty is found everywhere; from recessed lighting in office blocks to burlap sacks decaying in rivers; and its hypnotic leads. Its puzzling narrative negotiates a three-stage organic life cycle that might alienate some—a lot in fact—but for those who stick with it, its course is simply breath in to breathtaking to breathless. (Dave Higgins)
17. The World’s End
From the zombies of Shaun of the Dead to the neighbourhood watch of Hot Fuzz, the final instalment of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy saw Pegg, Frost and Wright facing off against suburban aliens in a John Wyndham inspired science fiction comedy. At its core was the story of a group of knights hunting for their Holy Grail. Only for them the chalice was the golden mile; a crawl across the twelve pubs of their hometown. Yet the film was more than that; it tackled the Starbucking of the high street and the concept of masculinity in an age obsessed with adolescence. This layering alone set it apart from the other comedies of the year and that’s before we consider the sheer amount of belly-laughs and the invention of Pub Fu, the martial art of half remembered wrestling moves brought on by alcohol consumption. The best film of the trilogy and the finest comedy of the year. (David Cadwallader)
16. This Is the End
To anyone who saw The Watch, Your Highness, The Sitter or The Green Hornet; you kind of feel like we were owed a This Is the End. There was only so much good will that Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride’s their best work could stack up for—and you’ll find that credit like that gets eaten up real quick when you continue to indulge Judd Apatow’s bloated self-serving oeuvre. This Is the End played like one big apocalyptic cry for penance. They gave us Michael Cera on coke. They gave us Michael Cera grabbing Rihanna’s ass. They gave us Michael Cera impaled by a lamppost. We give them forgiveness. (Sort of.) (Dave Higgins)
Aidan also enjoyed this one. Read his full review from June here.
15. Before Midnight
Perhaps inevitably, Before Midnight compares unfavourably with its predecessors, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). But then the giddy rush of romantic teen love found, then thought lost forever but rekindled again ten years later, is bound to be more exciting, enthralling, entertaining and life-affirming than the tetchy complications of middle-aged partners-for-life. Also, although it was probably difficult for director Richard Linklater to avoid at this stage, the opening out of Celine’s (Julie Delpy) and Jesse’s (Ethan Jawke) obsessive dialoguing to include Other Characters, however minor, may not have sat well with purist devotees of the series. And yet,the third instalment of this on-going project—it seems presumptuous to call it a trilogy since, all being well, who’s to say there won’t be a part four, five or even six. Linklater’s spin on Haneke’s Amour, anyone?—has much to recommend it. Celine and Jesse are our friends by now, after all, and while their squabblings in sunny Greece may verge at times on the tediously generic, they are still a long way from the soft-focus bourgeois boredom of Home Counties twits having an eternity of ennui in Provence or a cocked-up summer in Chiantishire. Moreover, there is something innovatively compelling about revisiting these characters in almost real time, in terms both of the elapse of years and the frameworks of the discrete films. As is by now customary, we terminate on a cliffhanger. See you again in 2022, or thereabouts? (Desmond Traynor)
Jason was also a fan of this one, read his full review from June here.
14. Only God Forgives
Drive is a fine film, but not without its problems. It’s tempting to read Only God Forgives as a withering roll of the eyes to those who wound up sporting their own white, scorpion-emblazoned jackets. Alas, its script was penned pre-Drive and Ryan Gosling was a late replacement for original actor Luke Evans. Still, the film lands a string of uncomfortable blows from the off as Nicolas Winding Refn takes us into his own personal hell, all drenched in neon red. The message—”Vengeance isn’t a great idea, violence begets violence, we’re all doomed, etc…”—has been illustrated better in the likes of Oldboy and I Saw The Devil but Only God Forgives is atmospheric in ways where Drive sometimes stumbled. There, the prolonged silences were awkward. Here, they invite necessary reflection. The passive nature of Gosling’s Julian works where it failed with Michael Fassbender’s character in The Counsellor. Julian says even less than The Driver, but his mania is more understandable. He’s not a cipher, but a pawn, trapped in a purgatory that will not, cannot grant catharsis. (Dave Hanratty)
This movie was cinematic marmite, read Jason’s take on it from August here.
13. Behind the Candelabra
It’s staggering that this film wasn’t released in American cinemas, spoiling Michael Douglas’ chance of winning an Oscar. Still, their loss was our gain, as this oddball, flamboyant love story was happily devoured on Irish arthouse screens. Douglas is complex, vulnerable and charismatic as the fading queen of light piano entertainment, and Matt Damon is just as good as his much younger lover. There’s also a reptilian, darkly funny and scene-stealing Rob Lowe. Stephen Soderbergh directs it (ahem) straight, allowing the strange love story to blossom into a funny, chintzy and deeply moving affair. Dysfunctional love is still love, after all. (Joe Griffin)
Read Aidan’s full review from June here.
12. Stories We Tell
When I originally wrote about Stories We Tell, I encouraged the prospective viewer to read as little press as possible and just see the thing—but here I am again, contributing copy. Sarah Polley excavates the family skeletons with considerable adroitness; personal documentaries often trade structure in for exploitation, but Polley’s art is quieter and wiser than that. In the end she goes for a big display of sympathy. And ends up finding just what she’s looking for—with Polley behind it, the camera becomes a remarkably credible confidante. To quote myself again (watch out, Jonah Lehrer), imagine pursuing the same project with your own family secret. If you think you don’t have one, you’re not looking hard enough. (Darragh McCabe)
Read Darragh’s full review from June here.
11. Frances Ha
There’s been an element of “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” to Greta Gerwig’s Hollywood career—she’s been dragged around Rome by Woody Allen and a loyal mate to Natalie Portman. With Noam Baumbach, though, she’s seem to have found the perfect creative outlet. Gerwig’s Frances is hugely likeable and funny, yet, at the same time, utterly hopeless. Her social life hangs on the thread of someone she thinks is the same person as her but who considers her a “three-hour brunch friend,” she has grand allusions of being a relevant dancer in New York’s ruthless burgeoning scene and makes many ill-advised decisions—like taking a two-day trip to Paris and sleeping for a whole day. It could all have degenerated into a boring pejorative look at mid-20s creatives in New York but Baumbach and Gerwig poke fun where others would point and laugh. (Dave Higgins)
Fergal Rock rated this one somewhere in the middle, read his full review from July here.