One of two fascinating documentaries this year to blend fact and fiction in a way that shows the real world in a strange new light (the other was the almost-as-impressive ‘Caesar Must Die’). For this film, Joshua Oppenheimer asked former killers in Indonesia to reconstruct their hideous crimes as noir-ish dramas.
Our review said: ‘How do you recreate the horrors of the past without them seeming distant, like stories, or oddly irrelevant? That’s the challenge for Oppenheimer’s powerful and compellingly weird documentary about the legacy of genocide in Indonesia.’
The state-of-the-digital-art ‘Gravity’ is big-budget genre cinema distilled to its absolute essentials: stars, spectacle, sensation, special effects and just a little smidgen of sentiment.
Our review said: ‘The word “breathtaking” is bandied about a lot, but when was the last time a film truly had the power to leave its audience gasping for air, pinned to their seats, sick and dizzy? This isn’t just the best-looking film of the year, it’s one of the most awe-inspiring achievements in the history of special-effects cinema.’
What more can be said about Cate Blanchett's performance as a pearl-encrusted New York lady who lunches? She will win the Oscar. And she deserves it.
Our review said: ‘Overall this is Allen’s strongest film since ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’, but you have to dig deep in the New Yorker’s back catalogue to find a single performance as affecting and well-judged as the one Blanchett delivers.’
Sarah Polley switched her camera on after discovering a secret about her family. Not every family has a Jeremy Kyle-sized secret like hers, but everyone can relate to how people in families remember stories differently.
Our review said: ‘The way families tell their stories with totally different meanings is at the heart of this beautiful and funny doc by Canadian actress-filmmaker Polley.’
Pure happiness distilled onto celluloid thanks to the world’s most sympathetic writer-director, Hirokazu Kore-eda, and a pair of 12-year-old stand-up comedians with pitch-perfect timing.
Our review said: ‘It’s hard to remember a better film about pre-teen life than “I Wish”: every performance works, every character fits, every observation rings true. It’s best summed up by its original Japanese title, “Kiseki”: “miracle”.’
This drama from Belgian writer-director Joachim Lafosse is simply devastating in its examination of a young mother (Emilie Dequenne) driven to terrible extremes by the psychological pressure of simply trying to get by.
Our review said: ‘Can a story be too emotional? Too powerful? Too overwhelming? These questions come to mind when watching this Belgian drama based on tragic real events. “Our Children” is so raw it’s almost unbearable.’
An action movie with brains. You already know the ending, but if that final kill-or-capture Osama Bin Laden scene were any more gripping the audience would’ve needed oxygen masks.
Our review said: ‘”Zero Dark Thirty” is lean, mean storytelling: no backstories, no-frills, just action and an effortless forward momentum. When a Seal finally puts a bullet into a thin, grey-bearded man, you don’t doubt for a second this is what it was like. An instant classic.’
Written, directed, animated, edited, narrated and distributed entirely by one man – 37-year-old Californian Don Hertzfeldt – this is cinema as sublime art, sifting through life’s bitter little details in search of truth and transcendence.
Our review said: ‘A bold attempt to get inside the mind of someone who’s losing theirs: Hertzfeldt has a grip on the idea and reality of death that’s deeply unsettling. The film’s simple appearance hides some great wisdom.’
The controversy was just background noise; actress Adèle Exarchopoulos is a revelation as a schoolgirl who falls in love with a slightly older woman (Lea Seydoux) and finds her whole world turned upside down. Director Abdellatif Kechiche turns the small moments of real life into something wondrous.
Our review said: ‘A minutely detailed, searingly erotic three-hour study of first love. Nothing about the film’s coming-of-age narrative, nor the rise and fall of its core romance, is intrinsically new or daring, yet Kechiche’s freewheeling perspective on young desire is uncommon in its emotional maturity.’
Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino should have won big at Cannes in 2013 for this sprawling, gorgeous, surreal musical epic about a man (Toni Servillo, excellent as a dapper writer and bon viveur) entering the later stages of life in the Eternal City of Rome and questioning what it's all about.
Our review said: ‘For much of “The Great Beauty”, it feels like the film may only ever be a thrilling dip into a strange, rarefied world. But when the party slows down and the music begins to fade, the film creeps up on us. It’s an exploration of all things surface, yes, but it has soul too.’