Ireland might be small, but the impact of its cinema is proudly outsized. Directors such as Lenny Abrahamson (Room), John Crowley (Brooklyn, starring Saoirse Ronan) and John Carney (Once) have grabbed the Oscar spotlight, while today’s finest working actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, rose to prominence in two expressly Irish productions, My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father. You won’t find any clichés on the list below—no leprechauns or potato famines here. These are the 10 best Irish movies to start with.
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Best Irish movies for St. Patrick's Day
Is it too soon to include so recent a movie? Not when it’s this extraordinary. A wrenchingly beautiful Irish immigrant drama, it re-creates the titular 1950s-era borough in all its melting-pot diversity (and Dodgers-loving Italian boyfriends), while also giving the 21-year-old Saoirse Ronan the kind of role—romantically conflicted, blooming, courageously open—that transforms young stars into icons.
A street musician (Glen Hansard) and a Czech immigrant (Markéta Irglová) fall in love on the streets of Dublin in this popular musical romance, which inspired the Broadway musical. There’s no denying the power of these sincerely wrought acoustic tunes, among which “Falling Slowly” won the Oscar for Best Original Song.
Recognizing John Wayne’s greatness will always be hard for those who can’t wrap their heads around his big-lug persona and palpable conservatism. To them, we offer this sensitive Ireland-set drama, in which Wayne plays a washed-up boxer, as Exhibit A. Maureen O’Hara is the firebrand who sets him on the straight and narrow.
A stirring piece of soul-music camaraderie, Alan Parker’s comedy about the formation of a band still has the power to inspire. It speaks to Ireland directly, best in the words of its wanna-be combo leader: “Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud.”
No one would claim that director Lance Daly delivers an Emerald Isle version of The Spirit of the Beehive, though this scrappy film about two Irish kids who ditch their working-class ’hood and head into Dublin does have a knack for capturing the elation and confusion of late childhood in all its ragged glory.
In this powerful drama, Jim Sheridan explores the father-son relationship between Gerry and Giuseppe Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite), who were wrongly convicted of a 1975 IRA bombing. Director Sheridan and Day-Lewis already mined Oscar gold with their 1989 collaboration My Left Foot, but this one’s better.
British artist and director Steve McQueen (he’d go on to make 12 Years a Slave) dramatizes six brutal weeks at the end of IRA faster Bobby Sands’s life. The politics are a touch messianic, but the physical commitment of actor Michael Fassbender is astounding—this film marks his arrival to greatness.
In this wickedly funny Tarantino-esque black comedy, the mighty Brendan Gleeson (weathered and effortlessly humane) plays Father James, targeted for murder in the confession box by an angry mystery man. James is given seven days to put his affairs in order—and hopefully mend some bridges in his coastal Irish community.
Yes, it’s the same bloody Sunday about which U2 wonders how long they’ll have to sing: the events of Jan 30, 1972, when English soldiers killed 13 unarmed Irish protesters. Paul Greengrass’s impeccable historical re-creation, suffused with heartache, set the template for his future work on United 93.
Overshadowed by its own secret (and Miramax’s aggro marketing campaign of same), Neil Jordan’s sexually charged political thriller is actually quite lovely, redolent of the director’s generous humanism, and featuring excellent work by Forest Whitaker as a British soldier with a secret life captured by the IRA.