2015 will be remembered as a landmark year for Irish film, a watershed moment when the cinematic output of this small island nation planted its flag firmly on the world stage. The Hallow, Glassland, and Brooklyn all wowed at Sundance, with Jack Reynor honoured at the festival for his performance in Glassland, and Brooklyn selling to Fox Searchlight for $9m. The Lobster played in competition at Cannes, 11 Minutes playing Venice, and You’re Ugly Too premiering at the iconic Berlin Film Festival. Room, Viva, and Mom and Me played the notoriously selective Telluride Film Festival, before Room went to Toronto and won the Audience Award, setting it up for a crack at Oscar glory. And Room is not the only one with a shot at Oscar as Viva, and Brooklyn looking likely too. With almost 30 Irish feature films being released in the calendar year we decided to take a look at our Top 10.
Only films released in Ireland in 2015 have been considered for this list. Those that played only at festivals, or that are awaiting cinematic release, are not eligible.
Built around a towering central performance from Saoirse Ronan, John Crowley’s emigration drama is lovingly crafted from Colm Toibin’s best-selling novel. The 1950s setting allows for artistic flourishes in costume and set design that perfectly capture both Ireland and New York at that time.Crowley’s minimalist direction allow Ronan and her supporting cast, which includes excellent turns from Emery Cohen and Julie Walters, room to grow and to realise an emotional journey that resonates with almost every family.
#9 I Used to Live Here
Frank Berry’s debut feature has echoes of the directors earlier work in documentaries, and his experience there helps him tell a complex story in a deceptively simple way. The film follows Amy, a 13-year-old trying to cope with the death of her mother and the reappearance of her father’s ex-girlfriend, who experiences the temptation of suicide after witnessing the outpouring of love for a local suicide victim. The phenomenon of cluster-suicides is deftly explored in this composed film, which brilliantly utilises its young and inexperienced cast to convey a timely and very real depiction of teenage life and the issue of youth suicide.
#8 Tana Bana
After a 15 year hiatus director Pat Murphy returned to Irish cinema screens with a visually stunning and narratively rich documentary of the city of Varanasi, home to generations of silk-weavers on the river Ganges. Tana Bana eschews a traditional documentary format and instead wanders in and around the lives of the weavers, designers and sellers that make up this vibrant, but sadly outmoded industry. It also manages to deftly explore areas such as the changing roles of women in this world and the prevailing western attitudes towards the Muslim and Hindu people. An unhurried and thoughtful film that is rich in beautiful and compelling imagery.
Talented young director Gerard Barrett follows up his fine debut film Pilgrim Hill with a wonderfully dramatic tale of addiction, and the lengths that people go to help the ones they love. Emerging star Jack Reynor shows that his breakout performance in What Richard Did was not a once-off, expertly inhabiting the role of a young man dealing with an alcoholic mother. He is aided in telling this difficult story by a superb turn from the always reliable Toni Collette, as well as strong cinematography from Piers McGrail. The film suffers a little from an unnecessary subplot towards the end, but it survives on the strength of the performances and continues to showcase Barrett as one to watch.
#6 The Great Wall
Borrowing its title from Kafka’s short story about the building of the Great Wall in China, Tadhg O’Sullivan crafts an ambitious and intriguing film that offers a piercing critique of the structures of power and exclusion at work inside and outside Europe. The film uses fragments of the Kafka story to overlay a series of outstanding sequences that highlights those whose lives are defined by the physical and economic walls of Europe, and manages to tell a timely story in a throughly insightful way. An unsettling but important work.
#5 The Lobster
Greek director Yorgis Lanthimos teamed up with Irish production company Element Pictures to bring to the screen one of the most surreal and memorable cinematic experiences of the year. A film of two halves, The Lobster is strongest in the first hour, with Colin Farrell giving his finest performance to date as the schlubby guy who has 45 days to find love or forever face life as an animal released into the wild. The Irish countryside has rarely looked more beautiful as the Kerry woodlands are transformed into a dystopian world. It’s brilliantly weird.
#4 In a House That Ceased to Be
Ciarin Scott brings the story of Irish human rights activist Christina Noble to the big screen with one of the finest documentaries of 2015. Cleverly Scott allows Noble to tell her own story in her own time while illuminating the story to show that this is not just a story of one woman, it is the story of Ireland. Noble herself is a warm and engaging presence in the film, and her witty repartee brings a levity to the story that makes the revelations all the more profound. Beautiful, tender and raw.
#3 The Queen of Ireland
It’s rare that a film comes along so soon after a monumental event and manages to capture the moment in such a perfect manner that it becomes part of the zeitgeist. That is what director Conor Horgan achieved with this perfectly pitched story of Irish drag-queen Panti Bliss a.k.a. Rory O’Neill. Bookended by the events surrounding the 2015 Irish Marriage Equality referendum The Queen of Ireland manages to be simultaneously the funniest and most emotionally uplifting film of the year. Blessed by the circumstances this is the very definition of right time and right place, and in O’Neill the film has a bona fide star.
#2 Patrick’s Day
Terry McMahon’s second feature is a powerful, hard-hitting and emotional ride of a film. The film expertly challenges the perceptions of mental illness with a superbly framed and exquisitely performed look at the life and potential love of one young man. As this young man actor Moe Dunford finds his range, offering fragility, bubbling rage, and emotional rawness, without ever overdoing it or lapsing into stereotype. McMahon the writer peppers the film with moments of levity that allow the film room to breathe, and avoid becoming an overly harrowing experience. The film also has the best use of sound in any Irish film this year as composer Ray Harman, sound mixer Hugh Fox, and sound editor Nikki Moss work in harmony to ensure that the film impacts on all senses.
#1 – Song of the Sea
Cartoon Saloon and director Tomm Moore’s Celtic myth is a truly glorious creation. Song of the Sea is easily the most visually accomplished animation to be created on our shores and could be used in any animation school in the world as a lesson in the art-form. Each frame of this lovingly crafted could be hung on the walls of any art gallery, and not look out of place. The simple story is full of childlike wonder but also allows itself to be bittersweet when it has to be. All of this is married to a uniquely Irish score that allows the film to be a story of Ireland’s past and its modern day.