The Year in Film

The movie highlights of the year

The best Irish film I saw during the year was Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did, based loosely on the death of a young man called Brian Murphy outside the Burlington hotel some years ago after a fight with some of his Blackrock College schoolmates. People said the person, or persons, responsible for his death (he was kicked in the head) got off lightly because they had ‘the right addresses’, being ‘yuppies’.

 Abrahamson’s film gave a different slant, focussing on the manner in which the young man responsible for his friend’s death simply didn’t own up to it, deciding to just get on with his life after some initial soul-searching gave way to escapism. It was an incredible film with a powerhouse performance by newcomer Jack Reynor in the lead role.

 I can’t remember when I last saw such spontaneous professionalism in a film made in Ireland, or indeed anywhere else. Abrahamson is definitely a name to watch. I hope he’s not a one-shot wonder because this, for me, put bigger names like Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan in the shade in terms of naturalistic direction.


On a more positive note, the most cathartic film I saw during the year was Flight, which dealt with the final coming to terms of a pilot (Denzel Washington) with his alcoholism. For me this was the performance of the year but Daniel Day-Lewis, as predicted, took the Oscar for the more straightforward Lincoln. The Academy usually goes for the long-winded epic and this was no exception. (A friend joked to me after he saw it, “The first 10 hours were the best”).

 Steven Spielberg, once again, was a bridesmaid in the Best Director category. More controversially, why was Kathryn Bigelow not nominated for Zero Dark Thirty? Because the film was deemed to be anti-American? 

Meryl Streep won Best Actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. As was the case with Day-Lewis in Lincoln, this was a faultless performance, maybe too faultless. One might have welcomed a bit more Streep and less Thatcher, and a bit more Day-Lewis and less Lincoln. Otherwise we’re talking documentary.

 On the other hand, when I saw Diana later in the year I found myself pining for some Streep-like fidelity. Naomi Watts made probably the biggest mistake of her (thus far glittering) career in taking on the role of ‘The Queen of Hearts’ here. The film was so fanciful in its treatment of her romance with a Pakistani doctor, all we were short of was having him murdered in a Parisian tunnel in the last reel. He came across as a kind of male Monica Lewinski being bundled into the boot of Diana’s car as she sped in and out of Kensington Palace like some demented rock chick.

Margaret Thatcher

After Day-Lewis was presented with his Oscar he quipped: “I was originally supposed to play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl was going to be Lincoln but we switched at the last minute.” It was refreshing to see that the actor (often tagged with being too solemn) evinced a sense of humour. (It was equally touching to see him devote so much of his time, and money, in the succeeding months to the setting up of a hospice in Wicklow, where he mostly lives).

The Best Actress award went to Jennifer Lawrence for David Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, a decision I didn’t really go along with. I thought she was better in Winter’s Bone a few years ago. (But then Oscars are often “back-dated” so maybe this was what was going on here).

 In general I felt this film was over-praised. We were told it was Robert de Niro’s ‘comeback vehicle’ and he too snared an Oscar nomination for it in the Best Supporting Actor category. I went to the film with Dickensian ‘great expectations’ but found De Niro’s performance to be, while definitely a step in the right direction after all the fiascos of the past decade or so, no more than adequate.

Another film I thought over-praised was Argo. Yes, it was gripping but was it the classic we were led to expect? I didn’t think so, even though I continue to be impressed with Ben Affleck’s transition from beefcake to someone who now seems steadily determined to produce substantial work from both sides of the camera. 


In the animation category I was rooting for Wreck It Ralph but the more user-friendly Brave took the gold instead. Once again a victory of the ‘safe choice’ above the more experimental movie.

 The best film of the year with a religious theme was White Elephant. It was set in a drug-infested shanty town in Argentina and dealt with the efforts of three priests to stop the youth of their parish from falling into the clutches of the barons. The priests also had problems within themselves which director Pablo Trapero handled with scorching intensity. The film was made with such authenticity it almost left me reeling onto the footpath after I left the cinema. You felt you were happening upon events in every scene rather than having had them pre-arranged for you.

Alfred Hitchcock

The person I felt most maligned during the year was Alfred Hitchcock. The Girl dealt with his fraught relationship with Tippi Hedren, whom he’s alleged to have made sexual advances to. When these were rebuffed, the story goes, he made her life hell on the set of The Birds. If this was true, though, why did she then go on to make another film (Marnie) with him? No doubt Hedren had her problems with him but he isn’t around to defend himself so we’ll probably never know the full story. 

 My favourite documentary of the year was Chimpanzee. The most enchanting foreign film I saw was Populaire, and I also caught up with Tomboy, which I urge you to see for its very sensitive portrayal of a young girl trying to come to terms with her identity.  

Another engrossing foreign film was Tobias Lindholm’s The Hijacking, which put me in mind of the more recent Tom Hanks movie Captain Phillips in its captivating treatment of nautical piracy. Hanks seemed to be everywhere towards the end of the year as he also appeared in Saving Mr Banks and was the executive producer of Parkland, which I praised highly on this page at the time. 

 Some people complained that we knew what was going to happen in it but that wasn’t the point. I only had one problem with it: We should have seen Lee Harvey Oswald getting arrested. (As a Secret Service agent, Billy Bob Thornton seemed more interested in seeing Abraham Zapruder’s footage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy than nabbing its perpetrator).

Blue Jasmine

My favourite movie score of the year was Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. This had such an effect on me I bought the CD of it immediately after seeing the film: it brings you right back into the jazz era in which it was written. The acting wasn’t half bad either. Kate Blanchett looks like a shoo-in for the Best Actress Oscar for it, though she could be denied by former winners Sandra Bullock (for Gravity) or Meryl Streep (for Orange County). If Streep wins again, maybe they should just let her keep a perennial one.


Judi Dench might even be in with a shout for Philomena. I had some problems with this film but most of them related to her character (which had too many inconsistencies) than her performance. The script was also amateurish in parts. For example, when she finds out that the journalist helping her to trace her son (Steve Coogan) actually knew him – one of the dramatic high points of the film – she asks Coogan what kind of “handshake” he had.

This kind of nonsense ran through a lot of the script. Sometimes the best reaction of all to a shock revelation like this is a simple “What?” Followed by a Pinteresque pause…