We like any culture that you can celebrate via movies (that’s most cultures, btw), and Irish movies have a flavor all their own. Educate, entertain, and/or delight yourself with the following films—on St. Patrick’s Day or any other day of the year.
Bloody Sunday, 2002
Paul Greengrass specializes in portraying significant and upsetting events (United 93 and Captain Phillips, which is a fact seemingly at odds with his incredibly jolly demeanor). Bloody Sunday, the massacre of Northern Irish protestors in Derry, was an iconic incident within “the Troubles”, which is a fascinating political/cultural story that you should really begin diving into, starting with…
Michael Collins, 1996
One of Liam Neeson’s finest moments and a must-see for a nice introduction into modern Irish history. The antecedents of that period of history extends hundreds of years back, but Collins’s attempts to secure Irish independence and its resulting compromise was a huge step (and possibly a huge mistake, depending on who you talk to). Neil Jordan is a talented Irish director with many other good films under his belt (see also: The Crying Game).
Ken Loach directs this Michael Collins-era drama about one boy’s journey from “annoyed Irish kid” to “IRA member.” It’s a great role for Cillian Murphy (although not quite as good as Disco Pigs, below), and helps put the Collins drama into everyman context.
Irish treasure Daniel Day-Lewis is feeling the effects of those centuries of built-up tension as he’s falsely arrested for a famous IRA pub bombing. DDL is brilliant, as always, and roles like these are his specialty. The event in question took place a year after Bloody Sunday, to put this in context. Emma Thompson and Pete Postlethwaite also star in this classic Jim Sheridan-directed film.
Bringing you up to 1981, Steve McQueen’s Hunger tells the story of the hunger strike led by IRA member and political prisoner Bobby Sands, played by Michael Fassbender. McQueen excels at taking Fassbender and wringing every last drop of emotion from him, just as Fassbender excels in doing the same thing to us.
Contemporary Irish Filmmaking
My Left Foot, 1989
Another Jim Sheridan masterpiece (can you have two?), My Left Foot could possibly be put in the Irish History category, as it depicts the troubled, challenging life of author Christy Brown. Daniel Day-Lewis (oh, yes, you can have two masterpieces. DDL has like thirty) does his genius thing playing Brown, who has cerebral palsy and can really only control his left foot. Courage! Despair! Hope! Perseverance!
Disco Pigs, 2001
Before his debut on the international silver screen, Cillian Murphy manages to creep out and wring hearts and the same time. There aren’t a whole lot of movies that I’ve seen multiple times (who has time anymore?), but this one will never get old. Directed by Kristen Sheridan, the daughter of notable Irish director Jim Sheridan (see In the Name of the Father, above, and My Left Foot below), Disco Pigs is doubly recommended for anyone who was an awkward teen and/or had trouble getting over a crush and/or likes to cut holes in walls. If all three of those apply to you, I must urge you to treat this film as a cautionary tale.
The Commitments, 1991
My siblings and I watched this over and over again in the 90s, possibly because we really believed we could somehow put together a hilariously entertaining band. 20 years later, I’m still thinking about it, although the film itself is hard to find, for whatever stupid reason. The Roddy Doyle novel on which this movie was based was one of a series that chronicled the Rabbitte family’s misadventures (see The Snapper, below). Keep an eye out for Glen Hansard, who would go on to enjoy success in The Frames, the movie Once, and The Swell Season.
The Snapper, 1993
Adapted from another of Roddy Doyle’s novels (see also The Van), The Snapper is shriekingly funny. Almost as funny as when an Irish person recommended it to me, and I had to ask him to repeat himself about ten times before I understood what the hell he was saying. A “snapper,” Americans, is a “baby.” And Sharon is about to have one of them without telling anyone in her nosy neighborhood who the father is. Don’t worry, Hester Prynne she is not, and this film will give you all sorts of adorable 90s chuckles.
The Secret of Kells, 2009
This animated feature is a winding, beautifully animated tale that takes place in ancient Celtic times. Try as I may, I have a hard time describing it except to say that the art (by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey) is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Probably not for younger kids, as it requires a lot of patience, Kells is certainly a good match for a creative, imaginative adult.