Monday, March 19, 2007

Favorite Irish movies

OK, I know, St. Patrick's Day was two days ago, so I guess I'm a bit late with this. But looking through my DVD shelf, I realized that, next to America, Ireland has produced (or at least figured prominently in), the most movies I own.

So, in honor of the Emerald Isle, here are my 10 favorite "Irish" films (the quotes are an acknowledgement, before we get started, that some movies on this list are from non-Irish directors.)

Anyways, here goes:

1. Some Mother's Son
Considering all the vacuous crap that manages to make it onto DVD these days, the fact that this great Terry George movie is nowhere to be found is just utterly offensive (luckily I have a very beat-up VHS copy.) This nonsentimental tale looks at the 1981 hunger strike in a British prison, in which IRA prisoner Bobby Sands led a protest against the treatment of IRA prisoners as criminals rather than as prisoners of war, through the eyes of two of the prisoners' mothers (hence the title.) Featuring fantastic performances from Helen Mirren and Fionnula Flanagan, this one is my favorite in the George/Sheridan canon.

2. The General
This John Boorman flick about the notorious Irish gangster Martin Cahill holds a special place in my heart for introducing me to Brendan Gleeson. He's dynamic as Cahill, and the movie is just a really fun and smart game of cat-and-mouse between Cahill and the police who pursued him (led, surprisingly, here by Jon Voight.)

3. The Secret of Roan Inish
Though "Passion Fish" remains my favorite John Sayles movie, this is probably the one I've seen the most times. It's just the perfect example of a children's movie that works just as well for adults, and a lovely ode to the power of imagination.

4. Breakfast on Pluto
I get very nervous when my favorite books get turned into movies, but this is one case where the transition was nearly flawless. Cillian Murphy gets all dolled up to play Patrick "Kitten" Braden, who just wants to drift through life in a dream but can't escape the harsh world around him. Lighter than air, but still a delight.

5. The Crying Game
Make it back-to-back titles from Neil Jordan. All the more-than-a-little ridiculous hoopla about Jaye Davidson distorted the fact that this remains one of the better IRA dramas. The opening sequence with Forest Whitaker as a British soldier being held captive by IRA members Stephen Rae and Miranda Richardson has been permanently burned in my brain.

6. The Snapper
Although I'm numbering these (at least in part so I can keep track of where I am in the list), it's not in order of affection. If so, this charming little Stephen Frears movie would be No. 1. It's the best movie from Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy, and one that just makes me laugh from start to finish.

7. The Boxer
Of all the Sheridan/George IRA movies, this one for me has the strongest sense of time and place. The mood throughout just perfectly captures the fragile peace negotiated for Northern Ireland, and Daniel Day Lewis and Emily Watson are great as the romantic leads.

8. War of the Buttons
One of the odder movies I've ever seen, but still a winner. This 1994 flick is about just what the title implies: Two gangs of Irish teenagers get into a "war" in which, when a combatant is captured, his opponents snip a button from his clothing. It shouldn't work by any standard, but somehow it just does.

9. Bloody Sunday
Paul Greengrass made his mark as a master of the docudrama with this look at the Jan. 30, 1972, clash between Northern Ireland activists and British troops that left 13 protesters dead. James Nesbitt should have garnered an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of march leader Ivan Cooper.

10. Felicia's Journey
Having been directed by Canuck Atom Egoyan and with much of its action taking place in England, this one only tangentially belongs on this list, but so what? It mines familiar Egoyan themes of family ties and how they can warp, but it's set apart by Bob Hoskins' completely over-the-top performance as caterer-turned-serial-killer Hilditch.

And there you have it. A very contemporary list, I know, but all movies I love. There are definitely some great Irish movies I have snubbed, so please feel free to add your favorites to my list.


jeremy said...

Not so contemporary, but I like The Quiet Man (just about the only John Wayne I can stomach) and Brigadoon (which might actually be Scotland, but same smell, right?). Still need to get around to watching Some Mother's Son . . .

Reel Fanatic said...

If you can find it, Jeremy, I can pretty much guarantee you will like it ... Any fan of Helen Mirren shouldn't miss it

jeremy said...

If I can find it? We've got one of the best video stores in the nation here.
But the main reason I came back this morning is cuz I just watched the trailer for The Kingdom which looks like it could be as good as Heat. What do you think? (I mean, besides that its great that Jason Bateman is getting work.)

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm definitely happy that Jason Bateman is working steadily, Jeremy, but I'm not sure how excited I can get about "The Kingdom" .. it looks like a fairly pedestrian action movie with the terrorism thrown in for a wrinkle, but the cast is enough to make me at least give it a chance .. If I'm not mistaken, it's been pushed back to September

Chalupa said...

Loved Breakfast on Pluto and watched The Snapper on your recommendation a while back. Crying Game and Bloody Sunday are two other classics. Have you seen The Devil's Own? I don't know if that's "classic" or not. Would Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch count as Irish?

Reel Fanatic said...

I have to admit I had never heard of The Devil's Own, Chalupa, but after I finish this I'm gonna see if I can Netflix it ... As for Lock, Stock and Snatch, though they have Irish actors in them, I would think those would have to be classified as English flicks

* (asterisk) said...

How about Miller's Crossing? Anything with a massacre set to "Danny Boy" must be considered Irish, surely?

Anonymous said...

How can you leave off The Quiet Man and The Commitments?

Chalupa said...

I don't know if The Devil's Own is anything to write home about or not, but it's Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford. Takes place in the US and has some IRA entanglements. I've always been a fan of it.

cindy said...

darby o'gill and the little people! the banshee scared the begeezus out of me as a kid!

Reel Fanatic said...

You're right to take me to task on "The Commitments," anonymous one, but I decided at the outset to only have one movie from the Roddy Doyle novels ... Of the three, "The Snapper" is just the superior movie, mostly because I love a good comedy

And you're right about "Miller's Crossing," Mr. * ... It's definitely got to by my favorite Irish mob flick

Anonymous said...

Excellent list. I actually haven't seen most of the ones on the list (with the exception of the excellent Felicia's Journey) and Breakfast on Pluto is on my list to see. I think I may need to add a few more to my list including Some Mother's Son.

Kara said...

Can you count The Boondock Saints? Granted, it didn't take place in Ireland, but I'm pretty sure both actors didn't have to fake those Irish accents!

Chalupa said...

If Boondock Saints counts would you have to count The Departed as well?

Reel Fanatic said...

We're definitely stretching the rules here, but since I didn't really set any to begin with, I'll take both of those suggestions, especially The Departed

kookie said...

One of my favorite Irish movies is "Waking Ned Devine".

Love Cillian Murphy, so I guess I must see "Breakfast on Pluto". Thanks for the tip.

Reel Fanatic said...

Waking Ned Devine is indeed a very funny pick, kookiejar, and one that almost made my list

Terence Towles Canote said...

I have to agree with Jeremy as far as The Quiet One, although I have to point out Brigadoon is set in Scotland (Gene Kelly even wanted to film there). I have to say tha tI love The Secret of Roan Inish, it's possibly my favourite Irish film besides The Crying Game.

Linda said...

Intermission is an interesting Irish thriller. A little slow, but intricate and has my 2 favorite Irish actors, Cillian Murphy and Colin Farrell. Loved Breakfast on Pluto and Bloody Sunday, good list.

Reel Fanatic said...

Intermission makes two movies I had never heard of but will soon be seeing, Linda .. that's the real reason I like doing these lists!

BostonMaggie said...

Jeremy - "...the only John Wayne I can stomach"....what kind of crack is that! LOL

I loved "The War of The Buttons".

Cormac said...

I was moved to writing a long piece on this in my own blog after reading these comments! Folks, the Quiet Man and the Devils own are about as Irish as Cassius Clay.

Some nice movies mentioned here though, Intermission is a great Irish movie. Check out my post anyway for the retort!

Oh, plus, the Kingdom looks really cool!

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am from Northern Ireland and your list is excellent, there is another little gem titled "Song for a raggy boy" about a teacher starting in a boys reformatory school in Ireland and soon becomes an enemy of one of the priests and his bullying tactics used to keep the boys in line.It is superb! Best Wishes

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Anonymous said...

There are 2 films no one has mentioned that are a must see.

The Break starring Stephen Rea and Brendan Gleeson (a.k.a. A Further Gesture) and Trojan Eddie again starring these 2 brilliant actors.

You can find Trojan Eddie on DVD.
Why The Break isnt on DVD is criminal.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe that nobody brought you to task for leaving out My Left Foot - Sure it is Sheridan but not IRA.

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