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The 10 best documentaries of 2012

Spooool Best Documentaries of 2012

We love documentaries here at, so much so that we are always doing really radical things in order to get someone to make a doc about us. Don’t believe us?

  • This website is actually hosted in the basement of a hotel built on an ancient Indian burial ground in the mountains of Colorado. Unfortunately Room 237 already had enough inhabitants.
  • Páraic recently impersonated a young boy from Texas who had disappeared at the age of 13 in 1994. Unfortunately he wasn’t the first to try this with The Imposter’s Frédéric Bourdin doing a much better job.
  • We did a fund-it campaign to get to LCD Soundsystem’s final show at Madison Square Garden. It didn’t work.
  • Nigel even got himself framed for a crime he didn’t commit just so he could be involved in a miscarriage of justice in the hopes that Amy Berg, Peter Jackson or Ken Burns would get involved like they did with West of Memphis and the Central Park Five.

But we’ve put all that disappointment aside and put our energies into a list of the 10 best documentaries from 2012. Staggered international release schedules mean some of these have not been shown in Ireland yet, but hopefully they will show up in cinemas or on streaming services soon.

The original Spooool reviews are linked to after each piece, and don’t forget to check out yesterday’s “Best of 2012” feature which goes through the year in Irish cinema.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

10. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is an incredibly important man. Time Magazine named him as a runner-up in their 2011 People of the Year list, which is funny considering he came right behind the open-ended cop-out “the protestor”, an umbrella term under which Ai Weiwei can sit proudly due to his political and cultural activism.

Read our original review: Chinese whispers – ★★★½



9. Marley

No matter what you thought you knew about the man who caused a generation of people to sit around in Adidas tracksuits and smoke weed, Kevin Macdonald’s documentary will teach you something new. It’s a solid portrait of a man who won over the music industry by doing things his own way but at the expense of his own family who are quite forthright in expressing how little they really knew about the man who we call Tuff Gong.

Read our original review: Marley and Friends – ★★★



8. Undefeated

The film that won the 2012 Oscar for Best Documentary has yet to gain much traction outside of the United States, with nothing more than one week of screenings in Vue Cinemas, Liffey Valley last August to its name. This lack of exposure is a real shame as the story of the Manassas Tigers, a team from the North Memphis high school football league, is a universal story about poverty, unity and team sports and goddamitifIwasntsuckedrightin! Worth hunting down when it’s released on Blu-ray in the US in February.

Read our original review: Glory of the gridiron – ★★★★½


Queen of Versailles

7. The Queen of Versailles

Lauren Greenfield set out to make a documentary about David and Jackie Siegel, the couple building “America’s biggest home”. Recession hits, the family’s financial security disappears and the project is put on hold. Any self-respecting couple would surely thank Greenfield for the exposure and ask her to pack her bags, but remarkably she is allowed to hang around and watch as a family who once had more money than sense have to try and build a brand new identity for themselves.

Read our original review: ★★★★


The Invisible War

6. The Invisible War

The facts speak for themselves. Since 2006 over 100,000 women serving in the United States’ military forces have been sexually assaulted. Less than 200 of these cases have resulted in jail time for the assailants.  Kirby Dick’s film introduces us to a dozen soldiers who were victims of abuse as they look for justice and recognition from the military for the wrongs that have gone on. It’s not an easy watch but is also one of the year’s most powerful films, documentary or otherwise.

Read our original review: ★★★★


Room 237

5. Room 237

Seriously how good did you think a documentary about people who have devoted their lives to the investigation of conspiracy theories present in Stanley Kubrick’s horror opus, The Shining could be? Director Rodney Ascher’s decision to feature only participant’s voice-overs and no actual interview footage (a limitation caused by lack of budget for camera crews) actually works brilliantly, giving equal credence to each of the claims. Yes the film is pretty hilarious and many of these people are bat-shit crazy, but Kubrick was hardly the most balanced individual so who knows just how far-fetched some of the claims may be…

Read our original review: What is truth – ★★★½


LCD Soundsystem: Shut up and play the hits

4. Shut Up and Play the Hits

James Murphy is the front-man of LCD Soundsystem. He is sad because he is breaking up his band but has decided to let a film-crew document the historic night for posterity. The result is Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern’s concert documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits. Some people will say there isn’t enough concert footage and that Murphy’s introverted self-reflective musings slow down the film, but I’d argue the opposite as these interview recordings and shots of Murphy and pug provide a little bit of context and build things up to seem like something more than a New York electro band playing a gig. If you need convincing as to how BIG this gig felt, get out of your office chair, stand up, crank up the speakers and go full-screen on this recording of 45:33 with Reggie Watts.

Read our original review: ★★★★½


The Imposter

3. The Imposter

People who saw Bart Layton’s The Imposter can be divided into two camps: i) Those who saw the film completely blind knowing nothing of Frédéric Bourdin or Nicholas Barclay and were blown away by one of the weirdest stories to surface that gives weight to the old phrase “truth is stranger than fiction” and ii) people who read reviews and knew a bit of background about the film and the central con that plays out. Reviews from the former are much higher than those from the latter. Sure it’s manipulative and finishes on a strange note of accused insanity and murder, but it all adds up to make for one hell of a ride. 

Read our original review: Impossible, improbable, imposter – ★★★★★


Under African Skies

2. Under African Skies

A documentary about the making of an album from the 80s? Surely that’s the kind of thing that belongs on BBC4 at 10pm on a Sunday night, not in the end of year lists of one of Ireland’s favourite new film sites (ahem), right? Well seemingly not when you’ve got revered documentary director Joe Berlinger (Some Kind of Monster, Paradise Lost) and the story of one of pop culture’s most successful and controversial records, Paul Simon’s “Graceland”. Essential viewing whether you think Simon is closer to Jesus Christ or Frodo Baggins.

Read our original review: Music is king – ★★★★★


Central Park Five

1. The Central Park Five

A documentary that will enrage and inspire introversion in equal measure. Premièring at Cannes and then playing festivals throughout the rest of the year (including Toronto and London), Ken and Sarah Burns’ film tells the story of five teenagers who were convicted for the brutal rape and assault of a female jogger in New York’s Central Park in 1989. Comparisons with the story of the West Memphis Three (themselves the stars of two big documentaries in 2012 – Paradise Lost III and West of Memphis) are sure to be made, with public outrage forcing police to focus their efforts into coercing confessions from innocent parties rather than concentrating on finding the real perpetrators of the crime. There’s no doubt that these five men were in Central Park that night causing trouble but not the kind of trouble that deserved to have them branded with guilty tags for the 13 years that lapsed before the courts vacated the sentences.

Read our original review: It does matter if you’re black or white – ★★★★★’s special end of year coverage continues tomorrow with our TOP FILMS OF 2012. Please contain yourselves.

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Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.

ive only seen one of these. i feel like a failure

Ah don’t worry I’ve only actually seen one doc this year too – Katy Perry: Part of Me.

Hoping no one finds out though so SHUSH.

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