2012 has been a very good year for Irish film. It has been some time since I can remember so many releases in the cinema and indeed such positive reviews. There have been some trends that have yet to go away such as wildly over praising some films just because they are not bad. What is needed in film criticism for Irish film is the exact same approach to film criticism for films of any country. We need to forget where they are from and fairly assess the film based on merit. This really should be happening all the time but alas, it is not. There are too many extremes of opinion going from over praise to burying a film. The middle ground surely has to be the hope for 2013.
In looking at my favourite Irish films of 2012 I have to say that I did not get to see everything that was released in cinemas. The two major misses were Dollhouse and Death of a Superhero which came and went too quickly. I intend to see and review both as soon as possible. If they are good enough I will revise this list as appropriate. Without further ado, here are my favourite Irish films of 2012.
Best Irish Film of 2012 Award – Silence
And so it was in early August I headed to the Lighthouse cinema to see a film I knew very little about. 90 minutes later I came out reeling from the pure power of Pat Collins’s film. It is the story of Eoghan (Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride) who comes back to Ireland for a job involving recording landscapes free from man-made sound. This is the jumping off point for a magnificent journey into memory, exile and the soil, the beating heart of a country left behind. The further Eoghan travels away from sounds, the closer we come to understanding his need to reconnect to the land he left behind. This is a mesmerising film, full of stunning landscapes and interesting people and stories. Ultimately, it is a journey to within: burrowing into the dark heart of emigration and our need to understand who we are and where we come from. This is not only the best Irish film of 2012 but one of the best films of 2012 full stop.
The Return of the King Award – Lenny Abrahamson for What Richard Did
The return of Lenny Abrahamson to cinemas was celebrated with the release of What Richard Did. This was a rich and rewarding glimpse into a world I had not seen on screen before: namely the young and affluent set on the Southside of Dublin. The story is well known so I won’t go into detail here. Suffice to say that it is loosely based around the Club Annabel killing in 2001. This is the kind of film that Ireland should be making. What should be celebrated here is something which has been rarely seen in Irish film, namely a contemporary drama with confidence and flair and a belief in what it is doing. Abrahamson’s next film stars Michael Fassbender. Stardom and Hollywood surely awaits. But on a purely selfish note, there is a hope that he will stay and make films in Ireland for many years to come.
The Debut from Hell Award – Charlie Casanova
Here was a film that got people talking. And arguing. Not to mention public spats between director Terry Mc Mahon and film critic Donald Clairke. Charlie Casanova was a film that made people uneasy. A lot didn’t like it as a film (perfectly acceptable) but there were also people who seemed to take great offense at someone putting out a film that was as aggressive and unlikeable but also successful at getting distribution and advertising. Who do they think they are? This was a film that was hard to love but easy for this reviewer to admire. Charlie Casanova, I believe, is a film whose stature will increase as the years go by. Its message is one that is too hard to take right now. It also has one of the best central performances of the year in Emmett Scanlon. It is not a perfect film but it is unforgettable, bleak, unsettling and as impressive a low budget debut as I have seen.
The Why didn’t it Make Billions Award – Grabbers
Back at the beginning of the year I did a post about 5 Irish films to see in 2012. When talking about Grabbers I said that it would be likely to be the most financially successful of the films on the list. The premise should have had people flowing to the cinema. A comedy horror set on an island off Ireland in which alcohol had a big part to play, this looked like it couldn’t miss. But audiences in Ireland seemed underwhelmed. This is a real pity as Grabbers is one of the most purely enjoyable Irish films in years. Featuring a very funny script by Kevin Lehane, great direction by Jon Wright and superb special effects for such a low budget this is a film that now seems tailor made for a cult run on DVD.
There were films that were co funded by the Irish Film Board that came out this year such as Shadow Dancer and This Must be the Place. To be honest I was left a bit underwhelmed by both although they were interesting choices for funding. I was not a fan of Albert Nobbs either, finding it dull. Honourable mentions for 2012 include the The Other Side of Sleep and Stella Days. Two films which have played throughout the year at festivals but will not have a general release until 2013 are Citadel and Pilgrim Hill. I have heard good things about both. They will be covered in more detail in a future article about Irish films in 2013.