My Favorite Irish Films: No Potatoes, Banshees or Blarney
As Dustin will attest, after going on a Michael Fassbender Bender a few weeks ago, I started a list called “The Best Irish Films.” Then I scrapped that list because I somehow felt obliged to watch all the Irish films before being qualified to talk about “The Best”. But you can’t watch all the Irish films, folks and when you try, as I did, you end up watching a lot of films on terrorism. And then everything gets a little bleak. And then you have to wash your soul in whiskey and start again. I didn’t make it, friends. I didn’t watch them all. So I’m renaming this list “My Favorite Irish Films” and, to add insult to injury, I’m going to use a fairly loose definition of “Irish” (Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Irishmen Abroad!)
Also, lucky for me, a lovely and comprehensive article about Irish biopics was already published on the site today so I get to winnow down my list a bit. So here they are, my favorite “Irish” films. If I missed yours, tell me all about it over a pint in the comments section. I take my Guinness slightly chilled.
11. The Wind That Shakes The Barley Ken Loach’s quiet and moving story about two brothers and the early days of the IRA faced some controversy surrounding its historical accuracy. Whether or not the history is pitch perfect, it’s a finely acted and beautifully shot piece that attempts to paint a small corner of the enormous and complicated picture that is the fight for Irish independence.
10. The Secret of Roan Inish I promised there would be no banshees but I said nothing about selkies (seals who can shed their skins to become human…usually beautiful young women…found nekkid by fishermen…you can see why this is a popular legend). This beautiful fairytale takes advantage of the gorgeous Irish seaside and perfectly captures the wonder and mystery of childhood.
9. The Boxer Though Daniel Day Lewis gained more attention for playing Gerry Conlon and Christy Brown, my favorite of his Irishmen is Danny Flynn, a reformed IRA member who attempts to heal the deep rifts in his community through, well, a non-denominational boxing club. Does it sound cheesy? No, it’s tense and gritty and masterfully directed by Jim Sheridan (my favorite Irish director of all time).
8. The Secret of Kells This fictional account of the creation of The Book of Kells is almost too gorgeous to be fully absorbed upon first watch. I kept pausing and soaking in frame after frame of the intricate and unusual animation style. In fact, it should have beat the pants off of Up at the Academy Awards, but that’s a discussion for a different day. This one is on Netflix Instant if you’re sober enough to be movie watching tonight.
7. Waking Ned Devine I am aware that it is devastatingly uncool of me to admit my love for this movie. It was one in a stream of peppy, feel-good UK exports (Full Monty, Brassed Off, etc.) and not only promotes Irish stereotypes, but also has an extended “elderly naked people are hilarious!” sequence. But, damnitall, some days you need to laugh at a skeletal old man on a scooter. Also, the film features a gorgeous version of “The Parting Glass” that I suggest you sing as you stumble home from the pubs this evening.
6. Ondine Neil Jordan’s film is an obvious nod to The Secret of Roan Inish and features a fine Colin Farrell performance. Can we speak for a second about Colin Farrell and how glad I am he seems to be making better and better films after his flirtation with uber stardom? I think he’s a tremendous talent. In this film he’s heartbreakingly humble as a former-alcoholic fisherman who rescues a mysterious young woman from the ocean. It’s a quiet story, but a great one.
5. The Commitments Alan Parker’s fantastic film based on Roddy Doyle’s fantastic book features a fantastic soundtrack. Unconvinced? Give it a listen. They’re the hardest working band you’ll ever bop your head to. Parker cast the film entirely with unknowns and real musicians and made a tremendous discovery in the gravely-voiced lead singer, Andrew Strong (who was only 18 when the film was made) and guitarist Glen Hansard (oh, we’ll get there).
4. Hunger Okay, this is the probably the hardest-to-watch film on this list but is well worth it for Michael Fassbender’s spell-binding performance. The film was directed by artist Steve McQueen who draws outside the lines of conventional biopics in this depiction of Bobby Sands and the 1981 Hunger Strike. There’s dreadful violence and unspeakably graphic depictions of the human body and its baser functions, but at the center of all of that is Fassbender’s performance and a riveting 16 minute static shot of Sands and his priest debating politics, religion and the roots of Irish struggle. Not for the faint of heart, but well worth it.
3. In Bruges Now we’ve reached the top three. The films I own and watch over and over again. Listen, I have a weakness for Tarantino-esque violence and foul-mouths, I admit it. But I also hope, in future, we can refer to that ouvre as McDonagh-esque. In Bruges was playwright Martin McDonagh’s follow up to his Oscar-winning short Six-Shooter and his first (and to date, only) feature film. Not only was In Bruges written and directed by my favorite living playwright, but it also features fantastic performances from Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell and a delectably villainous Ralph Fiennes. McDonagh packs more wit and pathos into one scene than Tarantino can fit into an entire film.
2. Once It’s a musical? It’s a romance? It’s a musical romance? But it’s not like that. I promise. While the music is gorgeous (they won that Oscar for a reason), and the romance is poignant, it’s the immediacy of this film that makes it stick. Shot digitally and with a deceptively amateurish hand, the film is populated by characters so real you feel as if you are intruding. The lead actors aren’t actors at all, but, rather, musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová and their natural style is enormously compelling. We’re all lucky actor Cillian Murphy pulled out of the lead role, because Hansard’s bearded, shambling woe is just what was needed.
1. In America One of my favorite films of all-time, this is director Jim Sheridan again with a deeply personal story that he wrote with his daughters based on their family life together and Sheridan’s loss of his young brother Frankie. The film’s strong cast features the always wonderful Samantha Morton, Djimon Honsou at his very best, two astonishingly natural young girls Sarah and Emma Bolger (actual sisters) and one of the finest goddamn actors in the business, Paddy Considine. While the story has an arc, and dramatic and filmic things do happen, it’s the tender ordinary scenes (a game of hide-and-seek, cooling the girls off on a blistering day) that linger in the mind and yes, damnit, the heart. This film makes me weep, every time. Atomic fetal weeping. And I keep coming back for more.
So that’s it. My top eleven. I am also enormously intrigued by a project on the horizon which is actor Brendan Gleeson’s directorial debut, At Swim-Two-Birds. The movie is based on a baffling book by Flann O’Brien (all his books are baffling) and features the acting talents of (are you ready? deep breath) Michael Fassbender, Colin Farrell, Gabriel Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Basically every Irish actor except for Liam Neeson and Paddy Considine. WHERE IS PADDY? Well, happy St. Paddy’s anyway, everyone.
Joanna Robinson, controversially, hates Boondock Saints. That’s all she’ll say about it.