What is it that makes a movie great rather than just watchable? What makes a movie stay in your memory and you watch it over and over again? Ireland has a proud tradition of producing some of the Industries finest films; films that have gained worldwide popular and critical acclaim. In this feature journalist, Ger Leddin looks at what he considers the best ten movies to have come out of Ireland.
I remember going to see my first film, my mother had taken me to a cinema, one of the then many in Limerick — now there are none in the city centre and only two multi-screen complexes way out in the suburbs. The film was Summer Holidays starring Cliff Richard and I saw it during the summer of 1963. I was four and I discovered for the first time the magic of cinema.
Back in those days, Ireland didn’t have much of a reputation for feature film production. Yes, John Fords’ The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’ Hara was filmed in Ireland during 1951 and went on to achieve two Oscars. And of course, Shake Hands With The Devil starring James Cagney was filmed both in Dublin and at Ardmore Studios during 1959.
It wasn’t until 1980 that Irish film production really took-off with the establishment of the Irish Film Board, now name changed to Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland, which was set up to fund, produce and promote filming making on the Island. Also in 1980 fiscal incentives were first introduced by the Irish Government and these and subsequent tax laws have helped turn Ireland into a vibrant location for feature film production
Now for the list of the ten best Irish films and believe me with literally hundreds to choose from this was a difficult task.
10. Brooklyn (2015)
A Great Film will tell a great story and ideally bring about a strong emotional response.
Based on Colm Tobin’s novel of the same named and starring Saoirse Ronan, tells a great love-story; that of a young small-town Irish Girl, now living in New York and torn not only between two lovers but also between two countries.
Premiering at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Brooklyn was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Actress for Ronan. Filmed in Wexford, Dublin and Coney Island New York, it is one of the best period dramas to have come out of Ireland in recent years.
9. Once (2007)
A great film is often helped by a great soundtrack. “Take this sinking boat and point it home, we still have time.” Is probably the most the most remembered lyrical line from the romantic drama that is the film Once. Starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Once is a typical Boy meets Girl story but with a twist. What makes this a great film is an Oscar-winning Soundtrack. Listen to it.
8. My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989)
Great actors bring a story to life; the actors must convince the audience they are the characters they’re portraying. The above is particularly true of this film depicting the biographical story of — born with cerebral palsy — Dublin writer and painter Christy Brown, for its stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker, most definitely brought Brown’s story to life in Jim Sheridan’s 1989 production. Day-Lewis and Fricker both won Academy awards for best actors in both the male and female categories.
7. The Crying Game (1992)
A Great film will showcase new or previously unexplored ideas or themes. “One day soon you’re going to tell the moon about the crying game.” The Crying Game certainly achieved the above, and I need to be careful here in order not to give the game away, if you’ve seen the film well, then I guess you know about the sting in the tail.
The film plot revolves around the story of an IRA hitman played superbly by Steven Rae who after killing a British soldier goes on the run to England meets and falls in love with the girlfriend of the soldier and gets involved with his former IRA comrades. The film initially was not particularly commercially successful deals with the complex issues of, race, political violence and gender, eventually after its American release, went on to great commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic helped in no small way by the popularity of its soundtrack. The film’s writer and director Neil Jordan took home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and the film was nominated for a total of six Oscars.
6. Hunger (2008)
A Great Film should both dazzle and challenge the viewer. Hunger was Steve McQueen’s first foray into directing, McQueen also co-wrote the story along with Irish playwright Enda Walsh. Premiering at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival it was awarded the Caméra d’Or award for first-time filmmakers.
The plot centres on IRA volunteer and MP Bobby Sands who led the second IRA hunger strike at the Northern Ireland Maze Prison in an attempt to regain political status for republican prisoners. Sands is portrayed by Irish/German actor Michael Fassbender, interestingly and in light of the film’s subject matter, Fastbender’s mother is the great-grand-niece of Irish revolutionary and politician Michael Collins.
The film is shocking, violent and disturbing; not for the fainthearted. Fassbender gives a tremendously insightful and physical performance in a film that uses dialogue sparingly — with one significant exception when Fassbender discusses the planned hunger strike at length with a visiting.