There is a tendency to hype up any given year of Irish film as the best ever. Seen by some as a low bar year on year, it is not hard to see why some box office success and good reviews can bring that temptation to centre stage. Anyone who invests in Irish film (both financially and with a lot of time and effort) wants to celebrate it doing well and keep the conversation in the public arena. And yet without wanting to stray into hyperbole 2014 seems a more confident year. Whilst there may not have been many more Irish films at the cinema this year than usual, crucially it felt like there was. There were some box office successes and some films that deserved to do a lot better. But box office winners and losers are for another article (our Niall will have that one!). This article is about the dishing out of the Scannain awards for Irish film in 2014. Without further ado let us commence with the prizes (purely a written accolade alas).
The ungrateful swine award: John Michael Mc Donagh
There was always going to be one obvious standout for this. One of the most disappointing things to happen this year was John Michael Mc Donagh’s decision to bite the hand that feeds (hopefully fed) him by sticking a knife into the Irish film scene. According to him, Calvary was not an Irish film (or a very good one in this writer’s opinion) and that Irish films were not very good or technically accomplished. There is room for a debate on the good, bad or indifferent state of Irish film to be had but to put the boot in like this after receiving funding for two films from the Irish Film Board smacks of bloody stupidity. If this was an actual award one wonders if he would turn up to collect it after he hypocritically collected the Irish Film and Television Award (IFTA) for best Irish film and screenplay (ha!) last year. Oh well.
The ‘he will be bloody everywhere now’ award: John Connors
As 2014 draws to a close John Connors is well on his way to being a household name. This is mainly due to his increasingly bigger role on RTE’s Love/Hate. In that show Connors is superb, bringing a heft and depth to a character in a show that sometimes lacks strong characterisation. But Connors is much more than a TV show actor (not that there is anything wrong with that). He co-wrote and starred in Stalker, the Mark O’Connor directed film released earlier this year. It is a disturbingly fine film, a little uneven but superbly made. Connors is excellent in it. He also has a film he has written and directed called Cardboard Gangsters on the way. This will not be the last we will hear from this all round talent.
The best Irish film of 2014: Living in a Coded Land
It was a bit of surprise to a lot of people that Pat Collins’ Living in a Coded Land finished as runner up to Frank in The Ticket awards in the Irish Times for best Irish film. But if you had managed to catch the film when it was released earlier this year you would have realised the scope of the achievement. It floored this critic on first viewing (I have seen it again since, even better the 2nd time) and Scannain’s own Philip Bagnall is also a huge fan. This is a film that takes the collected temperature of our nation through its past and present and inevitably we worry for our future. Ignore Calvary; it is a shallow exploration of Ireland compared to this. Pat Collins is one of Ireland’s greatest filmmakers. See Living in a Coded Land and know why.
The best Irish feature film of 2014: Out of Here
In another year Donal Foreman’s Out of Here would be easily the best Irish film of the year. A beautiful and fragile thing, it explores the wandering return of Ciaran (a superb Fionn Walton) who returns to Ireland and can’t quite sync back in. A story of displacement, either economic or emotional, it meanders in the smartest of ways and draws you into the plight of a lost generation. Not a lot happens as such, but as we know in real life this is the space where everything happens: in the quiet moments when decisions are made. Out of Here is one of the best debut films this country has produced in many years, a film whose reputation will only build as the years go by.
The ‘put a silly grin on my face’ award: Standby
As I get older, films that do exactly what they say on the tin and don’t overstay their welcome have become easier to love. Standby is one of those films. Somewhat like Grabbers before it, Standby seemed to have a winning formula sown up for a successful box office run (similar to The Stag, which did very well here). The leads (Jessica Pare and Brian Gleeson) had that most elusive of elixirs, chemistry. There were some fine jokes and decent supporting characters. And yet the crowds for the most part stayed away. Oh well. Perhaps it will hit big abroad (it has the potential to) and/or DVD sales will be more kind to them. You will not be disappointed. It is a fine low key film, it makes Dublin look great and it put a goofy smile on my face. Sometimes that is all you need.
The ‘house in the Hollywood Hills’ award: Lenny Abrahamson
‘Ah we remember Lenny when he was scrambling around making his low budget films in Ireland’. These words will probably be spoken by every critic at the end of 2015 should he crack the adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s Room (Brie Larson, William H. Macy starring) that he has just finished shooting. Add to this his next film will be an adaptation of the acclaimed American Civil war novel Neverhome and it is clear that Abrahamson is getting bigger budgets to work with. And why not? Adam and Paul, Garage and What Richard Did are landmark films, Frank a very good one (not faint praise, just not quite as consistent as his previous films). Abrahamson is Ireland’s finest filmmaker at the moment and there is no limit to what he could achieve.
The ‘regrets, I’ve had a few’ award: One Million Dubliners
Watching One Million Dubliners on the TV was a bittersweet experience. The awareness that it was still being shown in Irish cinemas whilst being on TV seemed like utter madness. It was crying out to be kept over until Christmas night and letting it have a run in the cinema undisturbed. It is a fine documentary. It creeps up on you, purporting to be telling you just a history of the graveyard but really it is another story that lingers and then upends you. If you have not seen it yet it is available on DVD. It really is worth getting. But word of mouth and a delayed on TV transmission would surely have meant bigger business at the cinema. Alas we move on.
The ‘you need to see this in 2015’ award: In a House that Ceased to be.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for 2015. Terry Mc Mahon releases Patricks Day in February and there has been nothing but good word of mouth about this (I was one of the few who really liked Charlie Casanova). There is also Gerard Barrett’s follow up to the excellent Pilgrim Hill called Glassland starring Jack Reynor and Toni Collette. Both were received very well at last year’s Galway Film Fleadh. But they will both have to be something special to top the Ciarín Scott’s documentary film In a House that Ceased to be. I saw this at an extraordinary screening at the Stranger than Fiction festival in the IFI earlier this year. The story of Christina Noble and her foundation but in reality about a lot more than that; it is quite frankly devastating. Handled correctly this film could explode next year. If it had been released in 2014 it would have comfortably made my top 10 films of the year. It is an absolutely essential and very important piece of work.
Other Irish films from 2014 worth seeking out
Love Eternal is well worth a watch particularly for the excellent performances. Frank is great with an excellent Fassbender performance. Broken Song by Claire Dix is a truly brilliant documentary that is so beautifully shot. Stalker from Mark O’Connor suggests a filmmaker that is beginning to fulfil serious promise. All worth picking up for that last minute Christmas present.
Irish films from 2014 I have to catch up on
There are a few as there always are. This is a country that is seriously punching above its weight when it comes to documentaries. I have heard nothing but good things about No Limbs, No Limits and Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story (on RTE over Christmas). Run and Jump has picked up some good reviews, as has Gold. An Bronntanas was entered into the Best Foreign Language film category this year. I missed the TV show cut of it and am intrigued to watch the film version over Christmas on TG4.
Overall it has been quite a good year. For the last three years I have had an Irish film in my top 10 films of the year, more again in my top 20. We can only hope this will continue next year. 2015 is shaping up very nicely.