Cinematic gems from the Emerald Isle

The Washington PostMarch 15, 2012 

With St. Patrick's Day on Saturday, Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post's movie critic, compiled a list of her favorite movies set in, relating to or starring actors from Ireland.

IRELAND'S BEST

Once (2006): This lilting, utterly beguiling musical introduced the world to folk musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who play a busker and a winsome Czech housecleaner with a mutual love of music that turns into something more. Full of bittersweet tunes, sardonic wit and a sense of Irish Tiger-era globalism, Once gets into your head and stays there. (A Broadway musical version of the movie, starring Ashland native Steve Kazee, opens Sunday in New York.)

The Dead (1987): John Huston's elegant, elegiac adaptation of James Joyce's story Dubliners stars Anjelica Huston as a woman haunted by memories of her first love, which come rushing back during a Christmas-night dinner party. Taking place over the course of one night, The Dead is simultaneously rich and delicate, leisurely and momentous, exemplifying literary adaptation at its most alert and poetic.

The Commitments (1991): Alan Parker's adaptation of Roddy Doyle's novel stands as one of the greatest music movies ever, featuring Robert Arkins as Jimmy Rabbitte, whose quixotic quest to form the greatest band Dublin has ever known results in an infectiously soulful tribute to American R&B. Don't forget to check out the Rabbitte family "sequels": The Snapper and The Van.

The Quiet Man (1952): John Ford's classic stars John Wayne as an American boxer who retires to his ancestral home in Ireland, only to fall in love with a Titian-tressed local lass played by Maureen O'Hara. If Steven Spielberg's War Horse struck a familiar chord, it's because much of its lush visuals were meant to evoke Ford's romantic epic.

Intermission (2003): On paper, this roundelay of intersecting stories involving love, sex, crime and black humor sounds like yet another weak Pulp Fiction wannabe. It is, but in John Crowley's hands even a derivative genre exercise becomes a surprisingly winning bagatelle. The ensemble cast features Cillian Murphy, Kelly Macdonald, Colm Meaney and Colin Farrell in one of several small roles he has made the most of in recent years.

The Eclipse (2009): What do you call a funny, sexy, satirical sendup of literary- academic culture that's also genuinely bump-in-the-night scary? The Eclipse, Conor McPherson's odd little hybrid of a movie starring Ciaran Hinds, Iben Hjejle (High Fidelity) and Aidan Quinn as three people who cross paths on the scenic island town of Clough, with startling (and sweetly romantic) results.

The Guard (2011): An irrepressible Brendan Gleeson stars in this gleefully profane comedy as a corrupt small-town police officer whose lifestyle is threatened with the arrival of a straight-shooting FBI agent (Don Cheadle). Advice: Choose English subtitles, if possible.

The Shore (2011): Cynics might think a ringer won the live-action short-film Oscar this year when Terry George (The Boxer, Hotel Rwanda) took home the award for The Shore. But even those naysayers wouldn't be immune to the charms of this lovely meditation on past loves and felicitous misunderstandings, starring Ciaran Hinds (again) as a man returning to his seaside home town to reconnect with an old flame.

The Magdalene Sisters (2002): Written and directed by Scottish actor Peter Mullan, this harrowing story, based on real life, chronicles the attempts of three young women in 1964 who seek to escape the Magdalene Asylum, a Catholic workhouse for unwed mothers, where they endure near-constant mental and physical abuse at the hands of sadistic nuns.

The Secret of Kells (2009): This Oscar-nominated animated film — brimming with stunning, stylized imagery — tells the story of a boy living in medieval Ireland, where barbarians threaten to invade and where, on a quest to help a master illuminator complete the titular book, he meets a mysterious wolf-girl in the forest.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006): Ken Loach's masterfully executed story of the early Irish Republican Army marks a rare foray into historical drama from a filmmaker best known for his contemporary political polemics. This story of a pivotal moment in the Republican cause offers some valuable context for ...

Bloody Sunday (2002): Paul Greengrass' urgent, immersive dramatization of the events of Jan. 30, 1972, when a protest march in Derry ended in a brutal massacre at the hands of British troops. Greengrass's hip-pocket camera technique and jarring realism form a compelling counterpoint to ...

Hunger (2008): British artist Steve McQueen's brilliant directorial debut, which stars a virtually unknown Michael Fassbender as IRA activist Bobby Sands. McQueen's film mercilessly portrays life at the Prison Maze, where Sands died in 1981 during a hunger strike (depicted with wrenching detail). Best scene: the 16-minute unbroken take when Sands explains his methods to a skeptical priest, played by Liam Cunningham — who, appropriately enough, co-starred in The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

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