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The glass may be half empty but it will contain good whiskey. I write film reviews for http://www.scannain.com/ , say hi and we can debate films forever and ever and ever...... Warning this blog may contain more than just film talk.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

My top 10 Irish films of all time

The danger in compiling a list like this is that there is a possibility of leaving out a film that is glaringly obvious. The only way to be fair is to not call the list the 10 best Irish films ever made. There is something reductive about articles that definitive. Film preferences are a deeply personal thing, completely subjective and there really is no right answer to the best ever. This list below comprises of my favourite Irish films. But I must stress that it is my top 10 films that I have seen. There may well be a film just around the corner that will explode into my favourites list and bump one of these out. In fact I am sure of that. There are still a lot of Irish films I have still to see or re-visit in some instances.

The main reason for doing this is to stir up some feeling about our national cinema. If you forcefully disagree with my choices, let me know. I want the whys and wherefores. I even want the ‘you don’t know what you are talking about’ comment if someone can give me alternative titles and a reason for their inclusion. All film fans in Ireland have a huge part to play in how we view our own films and how much exposure they get. The more we see now the more we will see in the future. It is about economics and bums on seats. The more we debate our cinema and how much it means to us (or not and why not) the more predisposed we will be towards Irish films in general. This may be overly optimistic but why not be optimistic for a change. Anyway here are my favourites. They are from 10 to 1 but the order is somewhat arbitrary as it changes with my mood.

10. The Wind that Shakes the Barley
Ken Loach’s Palme D’Or winning film about the struggle for Irish independence is a film more about tone and emotion than it is about visual representations of violence. This isn’t sensational and it isn’t a thriller. It is a fraught and angry film that dares to make every bullet count. There are moral ramifications for the murders that take place here. Every death counts. Cillian Murphy’s character asks at one point ‘whether this Ireland of ours will be worth it?’. This gets to the heart of a very philosophical film. How much violence, if any, can be justified for a particular cause? It is an important question in an important film.

9.  What Richard Did
 Lenny Abrahamson makes his first appearance on this list with his latest film. Anchored by a career making performance by Jack Reynor as the titular Richard, Abrahamson explores in the most naturalistic way that difficult transition into adulthood for young teens in Dublin. With a terrific script by Malcolm Campbell and beautiful camerawork, this is a world expertly drawn without missing a beat. The pivotal moment is captured in a disturbingly beautiful way and its aftermath is dealt with sensitively and with great filmic skill. Abrahamson is surely about to make it big on the world stage. Let us hope he continues to focus on Ireland as well as there is not a filmmaker that comes close to capturing as it is warts and all.

8. The Crying Game
Neil Jordan’s Oscar winning film is one that can be mulled over for quite a bit of time. It starts off as one film and by the end becomes quite another. It is a tribute to Jordan’s really strong screenplay that it all gels together so well. It is a story about a kidnapped British soldier, which becomes a love story, which turns everything on its head. There is a big reveal in the middle which sums up the film for some people but the film is so much more than that. Jordan can be a frustratingly indifferent filmmaker but when he is on form he is a brilliant one. Between this and The Butcher Boy Jordan has secured his place as one of Ireland's great filmmakers.

7. Silence

Acclaimed documentarian Pat Collins’ Silence is a film that came from nowhere with practically no advertising and blew me away. Silence is the story of Eoghan, a sound recordist living in Berlin who accepts a job back home in Ireland to document the countryside away from manmade sounds. This a feature film with a beguiling documentary feel, full of haunting and beautiful images of landscapes. For all the beautiful images on show this is really about the feeling inside, an urge to reconnect with a land and a life left behind. As Eoghan moves further and further away from civilisation he moves closer to where he hails from. This is his journey home. And what a stunning and moving journey it is. Silence is not just one of the best Irish films in 2012 but one of the best films of 2012 period.

6. Adam and Paul
Lenny Abrahamson’s film is quite frankly an unexpected joy. It is a film that came out of nowhere to confound an audience ready to jump on another clich├ęd story about drug addicts. But Adam and Paul is so much more. There is humour in the darkest of places. There is even an element of hope that bursts through on occasion. But what is most impressive is how humanistic the film is. This is a very timely reminder that the drug addicts on our street who we look at in disgust and mistrust are people and victims. We should care more. It is a beautiful and heartfelt film, that most wonderful of things: a melancholic joy.

5. My Left Foot
Jim Sheridan’s beautiful biopic of Dublin writer Christy Brown is a joy to behold. With Oscar winning performances by Daniel Day Lewis and Brenda Fricker, Sheridan tells in turn a warm and caustic tale.  It is a compassionate film, celebrating a unique story without sentimentality but with plenty of warmth. A critical and commercial success, My Left Foot arguably brought the Irish film industry into the international arena for the first time. This is a deeply humane film which Sheridan has yet to better.

4. The Butcher Boy
Neil Jordan’s dark and profane adaptation of Pat Mc Cabe’s novel is a wonderful achievement. Told by unreliable and troubled teenager Francie Brady, this film is an explosion of anger, grief, isolation and pop culture. It is also a social critique of small town Ireland in the 1950s. There are some wonderful performances from actors such as Jordan regular Stephen Rea and a wonderful Fiona Shaw as Francie’s nemesis Mrs Nugent. Add Sinead O’ Connor as a spiky Virgin Mary and it pretty much sums up the tone of this film. 

3. The Dead
John Huston's final film is a mesmerising adpatation of James Joyce's story from his Dubliners collection. Starring Donal Mc Cann and Angelica Huston the film is set at a dinner at a beautiful Dublin home in 1904. It is a tale of death and its inevitability. Shot with a wonderful intimacy by Huston although never intrusive, the film is elegant and very moving. There is humour to be had (the wonderful Donal Donnelly as the n'er do well Freddie Malins) but it is the singing of a particular song that stirs up some old emotions that leads the film to its extraordinary ending. There is terrific acting by the entire cast with particular mention to the truly missed Donal Mc Cann as Gabriel. This is a film that demands to be seen as fitting tribute to a great filmmaker.

2. Hunger
This film is a tour de force of acting and directing from the start. Michael Fassbinder plays Bobby Sands on hunger strike in the 1980s. Director Steve Mc Queen uses this as a springboard to make a film about the appalling dehumanising of the human spirit in prison. There is an audacious unbroken 15 minute scene in the film that is mesmerising and Mc Queen does not shy away from showing the horrors of prison life. Fassbinder is spellbinding as Sands with great support from Liam Cunningham as the priest. Harsh, brutal and moving Hunger is a towering achievement in Irish film.

1. Garage
There are some films on the list that on the surface tackle more important issues and weightier themes. But for me, there are none that come near to achieving the devastating emotional impact of Garage. It is a deceptively simply story of a simple man, Josie (Pat Short, astonishing), who looks after a garage in a small town in Ireland and his friendship with a local boy who comes to work with him. But Josie is lonely, heartbreakingly so, and his efforts at making connections are fraught with tension and pity. To say more of the plot would ruin the effect of the film. Suffice to say Mark O’ Halloran and Lenny Abrahamson have fashioned a film of beautiful intensity, by turns funny and sad. It is a magnificent achievement and one that will stay with you for a long time afterwards.

There are some films that are just outside the top 10 that could get in on another day. The honourable mentions are: Pyjama Girls, I Went Down, Once, In The Name of the Father, The Commitments, The General, In Bruges.


  1. No surprise there, two pro-IRA crap fests in the list.

    1. The IRA thing doesn't interest me, it is whether the films are any good or not. In this case for me they are

    2. There's bound to be films made of the troubles. It's an important part of Irish culture as sad as that sounds but it's an undeniable fact. Hunger is simply a great film though as is The Crying Game.

      this list is fantastic. I watched Adam and Paul last night due to the recommendation and I'm returning for a second.

      Thanks for a some great reviews without the spoilers that are prevalent with mainstream magazines arnd newspaper columns.

    3. Thank you for your kind comment. Much appreciated. I believe there are really good films being made in Ireland that don't get the publicity they should so it is good to highlight them.

  2. Good list, I like This is my Father with Aidan Quinn, a bit corny but good acting by Quinn, and showed the Fear of God element that did exist in Ireland. The Wind that Shakes the Barley is hardly a "pro-IRA" film That comment just shows some people's sheer and utter dumb ignorance. It shows a stark reality and an insight into the scum of what was England and her mudering band of crimials - The Black and Bastardly Tans!

  3. Nice list. In Bruges and Garage are world class.

  4. Some good choices but In the Name of the Father is the best Irish film and its not on the list. I wouldn't have Adam and Paul in there, its funny and tragic but it's unrealistic. If you speak to any addicts on Amiens street they tell you it's not real. You can't make a film about addicts trying to depict that life and cast middle class theatre school actors. Mark o halloran was good in it and he's a good writer but it's not a true depiction of that world. The same with the general, some good parts, but not a real portrayal. Someday in Ireland somebody will make an Irish goodfellas and it will show us how it should really be done. What we lack in this country are real method actors. Day Lewis can realistically portray any character. Gleeson Had major potential and was at his best Back then before he started doing any jobs that come along and putting no work into his characters as in rubbish films like the guard, perriers bounty, in Bruges etc. Boorman didn't know the Dublin inner city Under world but his attempt was average. Pavee Lackeen should be at least fifth on that list, that's an amazing work. Crying game is anti IRA so whoever wrote that comment is a fool. Wind that shakes the barley definitely top ten despite being directed from a slightly socialist viewpoint. The dead an original choice but top ten? Garage belongs at seventeen on my list. It's definitely a tight film, no fat but the story and characterisation is far too simplistic for it to be infront of films like The field, the quiet man and ryans daughter three classics if not top ten certainly above your Honourable mentions once and pyjamas girls (r you for real with these?) Butcher boy top class but even though Steve McQueen and fassbender have a phenomenal working relationship built on trust And it shows on screen I wouldn't put hunger top ten, nineteen.

  5. Thanks for the comment. I take on board what you say about Adam and Paul but I am not reviewing the drug situation I am reviewing the film. It is a beautiful film and superbly written and acted. I have known drug addicts myself and for me it is a pretty realistic portrayal. I say in the 1st paragraph that the list will change when I see/re visit films so the line up will change. Have yet to see Pavee Lackeen but will have a look on your recommendation. The Quiet Man has its moments and I love John Ford but overall I don't really rate it that highly. I do want to revisit The Field and I am not a fan of Ryans Daughter but I respect your opinion. I much preferred My Left Foot to In the Name of the Father but again will revisit. Thanks again for the comment, I like the fact that people will debate our films.

  6. I too respect your opinion. I feel bad saying that about Adam and Paul as i really like it so I take that back. I don't believe it realistically portrays that life but it's a great film. It wouldn't make my top ten though. There are some new Irish films coming out Later this year which I'm dying to see

  7. Thank you for this great list! "Pavee Lackeen" is indeed a masterpiece. I just add that I am surprised not to see included here "Bloody Sunday" and "The Magdalene Sisters" which, in France where I write, are now considered classics of Irish cinema.

  8. Hard to put together a Top 10 list without annoying somebody but I wouldn't rate "The Wind that shakes the Barley" and I'm very keen on films of that genre. What about "The Field", "Ryan's Daughter" or "The Quiet Man"? "The Commitments" and "Garage" agree 100%. Interesting blog btw.

  9. Great list Jason.

  10. Great list. Probably the best Irish top 10 list I've seen. None of yer cod Irish nonsense like the Quiet Man and the Snapper etc. To me the number 1 is a toss up between the Butcher Boy and Adam and Paul, with the latter possibly shading it.