St. Patrick's Day is coming up fast and so is my holiday to the Motherland; which got me thinking about movies of course. Ireland has suffered in the eyes of the foreign and domestic market as the bastard step-child of Great Britain. Certainly, the Republic makes fewer films and many of their actors and directors leave for England and the BBC or America. In recent years there has been a bit of a resurgence of Irish film making, though most of it focuses on "the troubles" or the mythology of the land. Hey, if it ain't broke don't fix it, right?
I've compiled an incomplete list of my favorite in Irish cinema. Incomplete in that I got tired scrolling through Netflix which lumps the Republic in with all of G.B. That's a lot of unrelated searching!
Once- One of the best in the new crop of Irish films, "Once" tells the story of a busker (Glen Hansard, "The Commitments") who falls for a Russian immigrant he meets on the street. Their love story is cut short when she reveals she is already married, though he is back home. A beautiful story of a relationship.
The Commitments- Love it or hate it, this movie introduced a large audience to the relateable plight of the Irish middle and lower classes. A group of motley young people (many actual musicians and singers, not actors) band together to bring rock and soul to the Dublin masses. Amazing soundtrack.
Circle of Friends- Arguably a "chick flick", this movie wonderfully expresses the average Irish post-conflict and pre-renaissance. Catholicism dominates social settings and moral values. People work hard to attain what others barely work for. Here we see the growing class system, not found in Ireland until more recent times. The biggest problem with this movie is Chris O'Donnel's accent. It's not bad per se, just distracting. This also introduced us to Minnie Driver as Benny, the protagonist and every-woman.
Intermission- An example of the modern Irish film community, "Intermission" takes it's cues from the films of Robert Altman, Quentine Tarantino, and even Hitchcock. Parallel story lines intersect in this story of love, loss, tragedy, and comedy. Think of it as the Irish "Crash". Colin Farrell returns to his roots here and is amazing as is then newcomer Cillian Murphy.
Wind that Shakes the Barley- (adapted from this previous post) Directed by British wunderkind Ken Loach starring Cillian Murphy, shows us a side of the Irish independence conflict that we never see: What happened outside the cities, in the towns and villages across Ireland. The struggle for Irish freedom was famously fought in Dublin, but the heart of the war raged on in the fields. I loved it- it's quietness, the cinematography, everything. I've heard talk that some in Ireland are unhappy with Loach's representation of The Troubles, but I wonder if that doesn't have more to do with his being English that anything else. Personally, I felt it bathed the Irish people in a noble and strong light.
Michael Collins- There's something almost poetic about a Northern Irish lad (Liam Neeson) portraying one of the most important figures in modern Irish culture. Collins led the IRA and was crucial in the establishment of the Treaty of 1921which granted Ireland its independence as a free state from England. This is the movie I recommend to anyone looking to learn more about the freedom movement. Even American actors Aidan Quinn and Julia Roberts hold their own, accents and all (though poor Julia does have to work harder to overshadow her international movie star image).
Hunger- Let's keep the ball running with this film also about the struggles, these set in the more modern resistance hunger strikes of 1981. Northern IRA leader Bobby Sands (the incredible Michael Fassbender) leads the inmates at Maze prison on a hunger strike when their 'special category status' was removed. This status afforded those arrested due to "Troubles"-related offenses received the same or similar rights of other POW's. Once removed, they were routinely starved, beaten, humiliated, etc. The strike lasted over 5 weeks and resulted in 10 inmate deaths. This is a brutal film that requires the right state of mind and probably a bottle of wine, though it is one of the best I've seen.
Boondock Saints- Hard to have a list of Irish movies without mentioning this cult status gem. Not an Irishman amongst them, this movie still depicts the Irish mentality of family and commitment rather well. It's also seriously funny and entertaining ("I'm an expert in name-ology"). Too bad director Troy Duffy turned out to be an asshat.
Angela's Ashes- Okay, the last of the really depressing titles I promise! The autobiographical story of author Frank McCourt's families struggle out of poverty in pre-war Limmerick. What could have been the typical drunk Irish, poor potato eating, sad sack tale; is instead uplifting in the power of dreams and family.
Ondine- See review by clicking on title.
The Crying Game- It would be impossible not to include this film from Irish bad boy Neil Jordan that introduced the world to the surprise ending motif now so popular in films. I'll save it from you in case you have not seen this movie, in which case you should put it in your queue asap, and instead tell you its the story of the relationship between IRA member Fergus (always amazing Stephen Rea) and his British prisoner (equally always amazing Forest Whitaker). When things go wrong Fergus escapes to London to set things right but winds up in a bigger entanglement than he started in. Winner for best screenplay and nominated for numerous other awards. [side note: Jordan is also an accomplished novelist and I highly recommend his book "Shade" to get you started.]
High Spirits- Another one form Neil Jordan, this time a broad comedy. Again, you either love this movie or hate it. A group of American tourists come to stay at Castle Plunkett, a rundown, about to be foreclosed, and haunted castle. The bad luck- it's not actually haunted. The good luck- it really is! I think this was the first time I saw Liam Neeson and just fell in love instantly.
The Secret of Roan Inish- The Irish have a rich mythology to rival the Greeks. To this day, the legends are known and told to children. Building off the legend of Selkies as well, this film is great for anyone with kids or who just want to be a kid again for a couple hours. Young Fiona is sent to live with relatives on the coast in Donegal. After hearing the Selkie legend, she begins to see one on the beaches. Is she real or just in her imagination?
Into the West- One of my favorite movies when I was younger. Two brothers inherit a horse they believe to be a Pooka, or guide to the underworld; that will take them to their dead mother. When the horse is lost, the boys set out on an adventure across Ireland to find her.
About Adam- Okay, I know what you're thinking, "What the heck is a Kate Hudson movie, let alone one where she's expected to have a decent accent, doing on this list?" Well, I'm sorry to tell you this movie is actually pretty good. Certainly in the more lady friendly category, but the twists will keep even men entertained (and is a great movie to show your girlfriend)! Hudson's character falls in love with Steward Townsend. Unfortunately, so do her two sisters, her brother, and her brother's girlfriend! Who is Adam actually in love with if anyone?
Leprechaun- I'm just making sure you're still with me. The mischievous leprechaun folklore gets a shake up in this tale starring Jennifer Aniston (pre-nose job? Allegedly?) who is chased by the titular character who believes she stole his pot of gold. Oh, this was one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday growing up, watching whatever bad horror movies were playing on USA, TBS, and the like.