List: Top 20 Films of 2012 3 237

Thoughts On Film - Top 20 Films of 2012

It’s that time of year again when everyone releases their top films and Thoughts On Film is no different! As always it’s been a year of ups and downs, with plenty of excellent films alongside some absolute stinkers. However, of the near 200 films I saw theatrically (and more on DVD that I may have missed) I’d have to say that this has been a pretty damn great year overall.

Below is my list of my top films of the year. It’s a mix of what I consider the best films and those which are my personal favourites – striking a balance of those two things is always on my mind when making most kinds of movie lists and nowhere is that more the case than a year-end Best Of.

Note: This list pertains to the UK release schedule so films like Django Unchained, Cloud Atlas, Lincoln and Wreck-It-Ralph, which aren’t released until 2013, are not counted.

So without further ado here are my top 20 films of 2012. Enjoy!

20. Killer Joe

EIFF 2012: Killer Joe movie review

William Friedkin’s violent jet black comedy-thriller was often a tough watch, centering on a low-life family who hire the titular detective/hitman to kill the estranged alcoholic mother of the family in order to collect on the insurance. Matthew McConaughey has never been better as the enigmatic, too cool for school Joe – you’re never quite sure moment to moment just what the hell he’s going to do, and it’s hard to take your eyes off him throughout. The film’s extreme violence is handled with expert precision, walking the very fine line of being provocative without going too far, culminating in a final scene that shocks, disturbs and grotesquely entertains in equal measure. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

19. Brave

EIFF 2012 - Brave Movie Review

After the lacklustre Cars 2 Pixar returned to form with Brave, a visually stunning and hugely enjoyable Scotland-set adventure featuring great voice performances from the likes of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson. It may not live up to the standards of previous triumphs like Toy Story 3 or Up but Brave was nevertheless a delight, with a winning heart at the centre of its adventurous storyline. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

18. ParaNorman

ParaNorman movie review

2012 was a very good year for animation and ParaNorman just pips Brave to the top of the pile. An enchanting, heartfelt, funny and lovingly crafted stop-motion from the makers of Coraline, this was a big pleasant surprise as it was sold somewhat as a throwaway kids movie. Indeed there is plenty in there for kids to enjoy – a savvy mix of being spooky enough but not overly scary for those younger viewers – but also lots for adults to get out of it, too. So many animations try and strike that balance these days (often failing) but ParaNorman succeeds with aplomb. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

17. Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom movie review

Even a lot of Wes Anderson naysayers were won over by this utterly charming tale of young love. Featuring a stellar cast that includes Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton, as well as two fantastic newcomer performances from Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, this was Anderson at his arguably most sincere in a long time. His uniquely meticulous and whimsical style is very much still there – in fact it might just be the most Wes Anderson-esque film yet – but there’s a crucial innocence and heart running consistently throughout. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

16. The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods movie review

We all know the set-up of The Cabin in the Woods; a bunch of teenagers (ranging from the jock to the geek to the innocent virgin) travel out to a secluded cabin for the weekend where they will inevitably be attacked by some sort of killers. Been there, done that. However, this Joss Whedon co-written meta-horror brilliantly plays around with the conventions and expectations of the genre in a way that’s fun rather than patronizing. It’s best to go in knowing as little as possible about this one but then again the surprise is only half the fun. A real treat for horror fans. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

15. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild movie review

Featuring what might just be the best film score the year, Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature Beasts of the Southern Wild is wholly inspiring and passionate filmmaking, beguiling in its aesthetic as much as it touches with pure emotion. A terrific performance from young newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis (which, if there’s any justice, will be nominated at the Oscars) anchors this story of innocence triumphing in the face of tough circumstances. The fact that this is the director’s first film makes the result all the more impressive. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

14. The Hunt

The Hunt movie review

Mads Mikkelsen rightfully won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his masterful portrayal of a man wrongfully accused of child abuse who then becomes the victim of a modern day witch hunt. Walking a delicate line between boldness and tact, The Hunt is an anger-inducing exploration of innocence, doubt and the dreaded stupidity of the mob mentality. A fittingly ambiguous ending leaves the film wide open for interpretation and adds to the reasons why it’s a real conversation starter. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

13. Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly movie review

New Zealand-born director Andrew Dominik followed up his masterpiece The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford with this politically themed tale of low-life gangsters which sees star Brad Pitt on top form as mob enforcer Jackie Cogan.  Its dense, talky style won’t be to everyone’s taste but if you’re in tune with the film it’s a richly rewarding experience. It may wear its politics firmly on its sleeve but does so with engrossing dialogue, compelling performances and stylish visual flourishes. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

12. Café de Flore

Cafe de Flore

This one seemed to split people, especially when it made its way to UK screens, with some finding it tasteless and even offensive. However, I was captivated and supremely moved by this cross-era love story – one between a mother and son in the 1960s and one between a man and woman in the present day. The way it links those two timelines is completely fascinating, punctuating its unpredictable plot with amazing performances and astonishing use of music (any film that uses Sigur Ros in such a way gets my vote). It also culminates in one of the boldest endings I’ve seen in a long time.

11. Skyfall

Skyfall movie review

After the disappointing Quantum of Solace, Bond was back with a bang in Skyfall, Sam Mendes at the helm to deliver arguably the most stylishly effective 007 film yet. Expanding the role of Dame Judi Dench’s M and adding the likes of Ben Wishaw as the new Q, Naomie Harris and a fascinating villain in Javier Bardem’s Silva, Skyfall mixed the old and the new in the best way possible. And Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography resulted in what might be the most beautiful blockbuster in years. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

10. Holy Motors

Holy Motors movie review

It’s hard to even sum up my thoughts on Leos Carax’s madcap film, his first in more than a decade, except to say that it’s undoubtedly the strangest film of the year. It is made up of a series of segments in which one man (played by the incomparable Denis Lavant) almost literally becomes – via make-up and prosthetics – a variety of different characters, ranging from the crazed homeless man seen in the above image who kidnaps Eva Mendes (seriously) to a caring father picking his daughter up from a party. At once bizarre, ludicrous, fascinating and strangely compelling, few other films this year packed so many opposing things into its narrative and made them work so exquisitely. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

9. Prometheus

Prometheus movie review

No other blockbuster film this year seemed to disappoint as many people as Ridley Scott’s sort-of Alien prequel Prometheus. Many found it nonsensical, ridiculous and generally an insult to the good Alien name. However, I am one of those people who found it a terrific watch filled with pleasingly moody atmosphere, great performances (particularly from Michael Fassbender as the life-like android David) and stunning production design, amongst many other things. It may have asked more questions than it answered – akin to screenwriter Damon Lindelof’s work on the TV show Lost – but those questions were big and interesting enough that I found it satisfying on its own merits, for what it was rather than constantly comparing it to Scott’s first foray into the Alien universe. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

8. The Avengers

The Avengers Assemble review

Marvel pulled off what a few years ago seemed like an impossible task – they brought together a bunch of the comic book world’s biggest, most outlandish superheroes and made a film that was not only fun and light-hearted without being overly silly but one that was just damn good entertainment for pretty much all of its runtime; no small feat when you consider it goes on for almost two and a half hours. God of the Geeks Joss Whedon balanced the action and humour to amazing effect, employing the likes of Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and particularly the Hulk in the best way possible – by giving each of them a good amount of runtime and letting them do their own thing (Hulk smash, anyone?) while still making it feel like a team game. It’s hard to imagine Whedon will top this with the inevitable, but still very welcome, sequel. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

7. Headhunters

Headhunters movie review

Scandinavian crime tales are all the rage these days and Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters continues to prove the excellence. A stylishly told story, based on the book by popular author Jo Nesbo, about a company headhunter by day-fine art thief by night who one day steals from a very different sort of headhunter was amongst the most unpredictable and thrilling films of the year. The plot is filled with all manner of twists and turns and has several sequences that will have your heart racing and your breath held. A cracking cat-and-mouse thriller indeed. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

6. Berberian Sound Studio

EIFF 2012 - Berberian Sound Studio Movie Review

Berberian Sound Studio is one of those films that survives on the strength of how it captures atmosphere. Eerie, powerful and transfixing all at once, it’s a film which celebrates the very nature of sound and how it relates to image, how we as cinema goers experience film as a medium. A love letter to a bygone era of analogue technology, it is fronted by an absolutely fantastic performance by Brit actor Toby Jones, and a brilliantly strange and ambiguous denouement which allows it to linger long in the mind. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

5. Amour 

Amour

Critics’ favourite Michael Haneke won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago for his austere black-and-white drama The White Ribbon. He won the top prize again this year, this time for Amour, perhaps his most sentimental film to date, though not the kind of sentiment we’re used to seeing. This devastating drama about an elderly man who has to look after his wife after she suffers a stroke contains arguably the two finest acting performances of the year from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva (both of whom have won awards for the film). Some found it simply wallowed in misery for two hours but I found it to be an achingly truthful, supremely powerful drama.

4. Looper

Looper movie review

Having already made a good name for himself with high school noir film Brick and quirky con caper The Brothers Bloom, Rian Johnson finally burst into the big time with this genius mix of heady sci-fi ideas and thrilling action. Utilizing time travel in a fascinating, and more importantly entertaining, way that never got too complex or boring, the film was infused with influences ranging from The Matrix and The Terminator to Twelve Monkeys and Inception (to name but a few) while still being a unique beast in its own right. Hollywood needs more intelligent blockbusters like this. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

3. The Imposter

The Imposter Movie Review

Touted as one of the year’s finest documentaries and rightly so, Bart Layton’s debut feature is a compelling and utterly fascinating exploration of a story that’s just so unbelievable it had to be real. Brilliantly exploring the very idea of what’s truth and what’s fiction, via stylish storytelling and semi-reenactments, it takes a fascinating story and makes it into a truly cinematic experience. Like The Cabin in the Woods found earlier in this list, it’s best to go into this one knowing as little as possible about the story at hand. It really has to be seen to be believed. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

2. The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises movie review

Having already brought the Batman franchise back to life with Batman Begins and then managed to improve on that with The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan did what everyone was worried he may not be able to do: finish off his trilogy on a high note. But as far as I’m concerned he did just that with The Dark Knight Rises, a monumental blockbuster that was as engrossing and entertaining as I could have ever hoped for. Though The Dark Knight’s Joker is hard to beat, the masked tank that was Bane was an enthralling villain in his own right, with Tom Hardy on brilliant form as he delivers his speeches with conviction (while using his eyes to say a lot more), and providing Batman with the first villain that can really go toe-to-toe with him in a fist fight. The last 20 minutes of TDKR had me literally gripping the arms of my seats and the ending was damn near perfect. For me this is the best of the trilogy. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

1. The Raid

The Raid movie review

It was very close between this and The Dark Knight Rises as to what would be my top film of the year but The Raid won out in the end. The film’s set-up is beautifully simple; we follow an elite SWAT team who head into a tower block which has been ruled by a ruthless gang leader for the last decade, having to battle their way up through a legion of baddies located on every level to get to him. The Raid delivered the purest kind of action film, barely stopping for breath throughout, visceral and uncompromising with its gleefully brutal violence made somehow beautiful because of the expert, seamless choreography. No other film this year entertained me as much as The Raid did. I can only name it my film favourite of the year. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

Honourable mentionsArgoSinisterDetachmentCosmopolis, DreddGrabbersUnconditionalSeven PsychopathsSightseersThe Grey, Michael, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

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So those are my top 20 films of 2012. But what about you? Leave your own best of 2012 list, as well as your thoughts on mine, in the comments below. Remember – play nice!

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

3 Comments

  1. interesting, you have TDKR, Looper, Prometheus and the Avengers all ahead of Skyfall.
    Out of all those sort of big movie blockbuster types I was excited for this year, Skyfall impressed me the most.

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List: 20 Underrated & Overlooked 21st Century Horror Movies 1 1133

I love horror movies. Ever since I was probably way too young to be watching them, I have delighted in the heightened sense of fearful thrills that they deliver, whether it’s bumps in the night (The Haunting, The Others et al.) or full-on terror (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead).

Despite some of the best horrors of all time being found decades ago, I still think the last 17 years have provided some truly examples of the genre. And often this is not the highest grossing and/or most well-known but those hidden and underrated gems that sneak under the radar for all but the most ardant of the genre fans.

I’ve compiled a big list of my favourites, in no particular order. Enjoy!

Pulse (2001)

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - Pulse (Kairo)

Possibly my favourite horror movie of the century thus far comes from Japan, a country that does the genre like no other. It follows a group of students who are investigating a series of mysterious and baffling suicides that appear to have been caused by a website that promises its visitors a chance to speak to the dead. It can be viewed as a shrewd social commentary on technology and the way the internet affects everyone’s lives but also enjoyed purely as a straightforward horror experience. It has a deeply unnerving atmosphere about it, avoiding cheap jump and gory scares for something far more creepily insidious.

Pontypool (2008)

10 Alternative Halloween Movie Choices - Pontypool

This Canadian horror thriller sadly flew under the radar for most people but it’s one of the most unusual and unique horrors to come out this century thus far. It centres on a group of workers at a radio station in quiet, wintery Ontario town. One particularly cold morning a mysterious virus descends upon the place, causing the victims to turn into babbling zombie-like versions of their former selves. This darkly funny, memorably surreal film presents the “zombies” in a unique way which I won’t spoil here and features amazing sound design to bring the horrific situation to life.

The House of the Devil (2009)

the house of the devil

Indie horror maestro Ti West (The Innkeepers) directs this Rosemary’s Baby-esque tale of a babysitter who accepts a late night job from a mysterious yet perfectly nice stranger (Tom Noonan). At first everything seems normal but she slowly realises something isn’t right in that big house. It’s a cool throwback to horrors of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s – including being shot in that grainy old style – eerily brooding with atmosphere and slow-building towards a nerve-shredding finale.

Visitor Q (2001)

visitor q

Prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer) proves why he’s one of the most striking filmmaking talents around with this tale of a disturbed and perverted family who are visited by a mysterious stranger who seems to bring some sort of harmony with him. This is not for the easily offended as there are moments that are deeply troubling, if not downright reprehensible. But it makes for a truly unforgettable experience that’s tough to shake from your mind.

Switchblade Romance (2003)

switchblade romance

A firm member of the “New French Extreme” wave of films, this follows a young woman who goes to stay with her friend at her father’s remote farmhouse. The first night they are brutally attacked by a mysterious stranger. There’s a reason the film was known as High Tension in some markets because it provides for some serious edge of your seat viewing accompanied by some wince-inducing gore. It’s unfortunately let down by a stupid, plot hole-laden ending but for the most part it’s an excellent watch.

May (2002)

may

From director Lucky McKee (The Woman, All Cheerleaders Must Die) comes this unnerving tale of a lonely young woman who tries her best to connect with people following a traumatic childhood. Anchored by a terrifically creepy central performance by Angela Bettis, it’s a wonderfully strange horror that keeps you on your toes and delights in providing moments of real horror shock value.

Grave Encounters (2010)

grave encounters

A bunch of good looking young people decide to stay the night in an abandoned insane asylum in the hopes of capturing some spooky footage for their Most Haunted show. Blah blah blah, we’ve seen this type of thing a million times before. But this particular found footage horror flick actually defies expectations by not only doing something interesting with the in-camera style of shooting and the “things going bump in the night” type of horror but is, most importantly, genuinely scary.

Dumplings (2004)

dumplings

Raising disgust in horror a new, strange level is this Hong Kong shocker that started out as a short film in anthology Three… Extremes. Without spoiling the gag-inducing surprise, it follows an ageing TV actress who, seeking something that will return her youthful looks, visits an enigmatic chef whose dumpling recipe has a special ingredient. Don’t watch this one with a full stomach!

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

tucker and dale vs evil

What if those evil, backwards, killer hicks you see in horror movies all the time were just a victim of circumstance and unfair negative assumptions? That’s the brilliant concept behind this hilarious horror comedy, which follows a couple of friends (Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine) who are vacationing in their mountain cabin when they happen across a group of kids who keep being killed off around them. It’s ultimately more of a comedy than a horror – and what a hilarious one it is – but there are some awesomely gruesome moments to be found, too.

Session 9 (2001)

session 9

One of the best horror movies that few people have ever heard of, this follows an asbestos cleaning crew (including David Caruso and Peter Mullan) as they work a job at an abandoned mental institution which has a horrific backstory that seems to be coming back to haunt them. Directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist), this is watch-through-your-fingers creepy, using realistic scares and palpable atmosphere to achieve its horror goals.

Rigor Mortis (2013)

rigor mortis

Who says a horror movie has to just play within that genre? This audacious Hong Kong debut from singer-turned-director Juno Mak hearkens back to the vampire flicks made in the ’80s, namely the long-running Mr. Vampire series. The meta plot follows a formerly successful star of that series, Chin Siu-ho, who becomes depressed and suicidal after his wife leaves him and goes to stay at a rundown apartment building that’s actually inhabited by supernatural creatures, ghost hunters and the souls of the undead who co-exist with the neighbours. Creepy horror, thrilling crime, dark comedy, crazy and unique CGI… it’s all in there and more.

Inside (2007)

inside

Another of the celebrated “New French Extremity” films, this insanely gory horror follows a heavily pregnant young woman who is targeted and attacked in her own home by an scorned older woman who is clearly after her baby. Definitely not one for the faint-hearted, you’ll need a strong stomach for what is an extremely graphic but seat-clawingly tense horror experience.

Eden Lake (2008)

eden lake

Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly play a young couple who decide to have a relaxing weekend at the reclusive Eden Lake. When they confront a group of disruptive youths (one of whom played by rising star Jack O’Connell), their getaway turns nightmarish as the group start to terrorize the couple. It’s so effective because it feels scarily real throughout; there are no ghosts or demons to be found here but rather just human beings being nasty and brutal.

Them (2006)

them

This very scary French horror (known as “Ils” in its native language) follows a young couple who get terrorized by a group of hooded strangers at their secluded farmhouse. It works so well because the situation feels terrifyingly believable, brilliantly tapping into that basic fear of intruders trying to get into your home at night and hurt you. The jaw-dropping ending only adds to why it’s so unnerving.

Thirst (2009)

thirst

Celebrated South Korean director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Stoker) puts his definitive mark on the vampire movie with this story of a priest (Korean superstar Song Kang-ho) who is turned into a vampire following a failed medical experiment and is forced to abandon his priestly calling in order to feed on blood. Beloved by vampire movie and international cinema aficianados, it unfortunately remains a bit lesser known in the wider field. It’s a visually striking film, dripping with brooding, atmospheric tension and never afraid to show the horrors of vampirism or the classic sensuality that goes with it.

Frozen (2010)

frozen

Definitely not to be confused with the animated Disney musical, this one has the simple premise of a group of three friends who get stuck up in ski left at a resort just as the park closes. It might seem boring just watching people stuck in one place for the whole movie but director Adam Green wrings every bit of tension out of the situation, chucking in shocks and tense “what would I do?” situations to rival the best of ’em.

Ritual (2012)

ritual

Sometimes it’s best to go into a horror film knowing as little about the plot as possible. Such is the case with Ritual, a cracking Indonesian horror from director Joko Anwar. In basic terms it’s about a man who mysteriously wakes up buried alive in the woods, with no idea who he is, how he got there or why. He then goes on a search for answers, eventually finding himself struggling to escape the clutches of a mysterious assailant. Its best to leave it there as it provides a chilling, mystery-filled ride full of twists and turns and with an absolute killer ending.

Ginger Snaps (2000)

ginger snaps

This terrific teen horror follows a couple of death-obsessed high schoolers and outcasts in their suburban neighbourhood whose morbidity becomes all too real when one of them gets bitten by a werewolf. As befits a lot of the best horrors, it uses the surface level werewolf story to examine universally relatable themes of puberty and growing up in a world that doesn’t accept being different.

Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

trick r treat

This wonderful love letter to the Halloween season tell its story in four segments – including a high school teacher with a secret life as a serial killer, a college virgin looking to meet “the one,” a legend about school bus tragedy and a crotchety old man who hates the holiday – each interweaving with one another on All Hallow’s Eve. Filled with chilling, blood-soaked surprises and in-jokes for horror fans, few movies exemplify that spookiest of holidays as much as this one.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

behind the mask

This hugely under-seen meta horror follows a wannabe serial killer in training who takes his inspiration from legendary horror killers like Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees. It’s chalk full of in-jokes and nods to horrors of years past – for instance, that Leslie has to do lots of cardio so he can keep up with his victims while making it look like he’s just walking – using a faux documentary style at first before turning into a scary full-on slasher.

That’s it for our list. Have you seen any of these movies? Can you think of any other underrated/lesser known gems you want people to seek out? Comment below!

List: 10 Great Documentaries to Watch on Netflix 0 772

Documentaries are one of my favourite kinds of films, whether they’re exploring a subject that I’m already drawn to or introducing me to a topic about which I know nothing. Luckily Netflix has proven a more than decent resource for docs and at this very moment have some fantastic ones available. Here’s a list of 10 such docs well worth your time.

Note: This list refers to the UK region of Netflix.

13th

13th-netflix-documentary

Ava DuVernay impressed mightily with her Oscar-winning Martin Luther King Jr. “biopic” Selma a couple of years back. She followed that up with this masterful documentary that looks at the U.S. prison system and its history of systemic, institutional racism. Illuminating facts such as a quarter of the world’s incarcerated criminals are imprisoned within the U.S. is just the tip of the iceberg exposed by this essential doc that looks at everything from the Civil Rights movement to D.W. Griffith’s ever-controversial 1915 film The Birth of a Nation to the state of discrimination in today’s society and beyond. It informs you with statistics and figures but never feels like a lecture, shining a spotlight on conversations that more than ever need to be had.

Cartel Land

cartel-land-documentary-recommendation

A great non-fiction companion piece to Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, this Oscar-winning doc from director Matthew Heineman explores the murky world of Mexican drug cartels and the vigilante groups dedicated to fighting them however they can. The inherent false equivalence of the approach niggles away as an issue, particularly as you think back over it, but it’s undoubtedly harrowing and vividly showcased viewing in the moment, particularly when you see how people put themselves in such dangerous situations in order to get the footage crucial to giving us a picture of a drug war that shows no signs of ending or offering up any easy answers.

The Hard Stop

the-hard-stop-netflix-documentary

The compelling British documentary explores the case of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old black man and father of six who, back in 2011, was shot and killed by armed police in Tottenham after stopping him by the side of the road using the controversial eponymous police tactic. Purportedly because he was wielding a gun despite evidence to the contrary. Documentarian George Amponsah’s hard-hitting and uncompromising film explores everything from the ensuing headline controversy, the riots that it sparked and the damaged lives of Mark’s best friends, Marcus and Kurtis, who try to battle against ongoing discrimination in getting on with their own lives as well as continuing to fight for justice for what happened to their friend. Amponsah displays a keen eye for human emotion and a shrewd way of re-illuminating a story that, since the tragedy occurred, has faded from a lot of people’s memories.

The Fear of 13

the-fear-of-13-netflix-documentary

There have been many documentaries about life on death row but few I’ve seen have resonated quite so powerfully on a gut-punch and profound level. David Sington’s stylishly done and piercing film explores the story of Nick Yarris, a man who spent more than two decades on Death Row on DNA evidence that, as would later show, was flimsy at best. It’s a tremendously up-close-and-personal film, with Yarris himself writ large on-screen as he tells his incredible story, full of jaw-dropping twists and turns, in fascinating detail. The eerie opening sequence is particularly potent, as Nick describes the punishing psychological effect of the enforced deafening silence on the Death Row block.

Jesus Camp

jesus-camp-netflix-documentary

Religion is always a hot button topic and it particularly scorches in this unflinching and oftentimes shocking documentary from directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. It takes us on a journey into the “Kids on Fire” summer camp for that teaches (or indoctrinates, depending on your viewpoint) children into becoming evangelical Christians. Crucially the documentary never takes the angle that the very idea that faith itself is a bad thing but taps into how the means by which religious information disseminated particularly to young kids can be as damaging (if not more so) than the so-called immoral behaviour to which it’s trying so desperately to prevent them from succumbing.

The Queen of Versailles

the-queen-of-versailles-netflix-documentary

This stranger than fiction documentary follows the lives of David Siegel, the billionaire owner of timeshare Westgate Resorts in Florida, and his former beauty queen wife Jackie who embark on a mission to build Versailles, a lavish house that would be the biggest privately owned, single family home in America. But it’s about more than just showcasing the extravagant life of a super rich family; it explores the effect the U.S. economic crash (David’s business was directly tied into what caused the financial crisis) has on the family – a twist of fate thrust upon director Lauren Greenfield that turns the film into a far more complex prospect – how they need to readjust their lavish lifestyle while trying to keep up appearances as they come crashing down from the heights their wealth affords them. The colourful characters that populate the film, particularly the flamboyant woman of the title, keep things entertaining as we navigate their riches-to-rags story.

Into the Inferno

into-the-inferno-netflix-documentary

This Netflix-produced documentary by the incomparable Werner Herzog would fit perfectly into a group with his other natural world docs like Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Encounters at the End of the World – it actually takes its cue from the latter as it’s where Herzog first met the volcanologist and co-director, Clive Oppenheimer, during a crucial scene. It’s an educational film but lent a purely cinematic quality, flavoured with Herzog’s signature style of fascinating insight, endearing genuine curiosity and unashamed obsession with the mystical nature of the natural world. It gives us a frighteningly up-close-and-personal look one of earth’s most ferocious natural features and the reiterates the idea that Mother Nature really doesn’t mess around.

Life Itself

life-itself-netflix-documentary

Roger Ebert is probably the most famous and influential American film critic of all. He sadly passed away back in 2013 and this love letter of a documentary does an amazing job of showcasing what made him so special. It gives us a lifelong view of his time here on earth; his upbringing, him making headway into the world of film journalism at the Chicago Sun Times (where he would remain for the entirety of his career), his often tumultuous friendship with fellow At the Movies critic Gene Siskel, his marriage to loving faithful and loving Chaz and how he persevered with his writing despite his devastating throat cancer diagnosis that would ultimately claim his life. It’s a documentary that bowled me over when I first saw it, for its deep sense of empathy and sense of reverence for a man I, like many, held up as a hero. It’s essential viewing for those who felt the same about him or even those who have even a passing interest in film criticism as an art form.

The Look of Silence

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Alongside its predecessor The Act of Killing, this documentary from Joshua Oppenheimer is one of the toughest and most harrowing docs I’ve ever seen as it further explores the sickening genocide that took place in Indonesia back in 1965-66 at the hands of so-called “death squads” who deemed the victims as Communists that needed be wiped out. Where the previous film took a more expansive and unusual approach – getting the killers themselves, years later, to reenact the crimes – this one zeroes in on one of the families affected by the devastating event. We see how a man named Adi plucks up tremendous courage to not only speak out about what happened to his brother, Ramli, but confront those who took his life, many of whom are still in positions of power. It’s never what you would call an easy watch but an essential one that makes sure you never forget its difficult subject matter.

Precinct Seven Five

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This gripping and impressively detailed documentary from director Tiller Russell explores the murky and dangerous world of police corruption, particularly focusing on the case of Michael Dowd, a once-bright young New York City cop who in the ’80s morphed into one of the most corrupt in the department’s history, heading a ruthless criminal network that stole money and drugs while patrolling the city he swore to protect and serve. The film sidesteps cliches of cop corruption so often explored in fiction and non-fiction storytelling alike by painting an enthralling portrait of the individuals surrounding Dowd, each with their own angles to tell. It presents its fascinating documentary recounting with both panache and gritty authenticity.