As normally the resident Irishman just about everywhere I go, I feel obliged and obligated to make a list of the best Irish-themed movies in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day 2012. For this list, I opened the field to either movies set in Ireland or those that feature notable Irish characters or stories outside of the Emerald Isle. That opens the possibilities to movies both foreign and domestic. Lame and borderline farcical and derogatory movies that won’t be making the list are bad efforts like Leap Year or The Matchmaker.
On a side note of bragging and expertise, I feel extremely blessed that I was able to visit the lovely country of my ancestors last summer for my honeymoon. Along the way, my wife, the keeper of the “Pillow Rankings,” and I were even able to visit a few filming locations of movies that make this list. Pour the Guinness, heat the corned beef, and enjoy my list of the 10 best Irish-themed movies!
10. (TIE) The Gangs of New York and Good Will Hunting— In Gangs of New York, Irish immigrants, led by Liam Neeson and Leonardo DiCaprio, clash with the “native” New Yorkers, led by Daniel Day-Lewis’s brilliant Bill “The Butcher,” and spill blood all over the 1860’s streets of the Five Points district in Martin Scorsese’s post-9/11 tribute to NYC. We all know Good Will Hunting‘s South Boston Irish flavor crafted by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Both movies do a fun job of presenting different Irish-American stereotypes. (trailer and trailer)
9. Ryan’s Daughter— In 1970, David Lean brought his Lawrence of Arabia epic scale to the Emerald Isle for very long movie (3 hours+) on forbidden romance and small town affairs. Filmed entirely in western Ireland, the movie does a great job showing off the country, but is far from Lawrence of Arabia. It’s beautiful, but pack a pillow or an espresso. (trailer)
8. The Wind that Shakes the Barley— Featuring a very local cast, including emerging Hollywood star Cillian Murphy, this story of a pair of Cork country brothers fighting during the Irish War of Independence from 1919-1921 won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006. (trailer)
7. In the Name of the Father— The plight and difficult IRA times of Northern Ireland are the center of focus in this 1993 Jim Sheridan film. Nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Actor for star Daniel Day-Lewis, this biography outlines the true story of four wrongfully accused bombers and their long court trial. Great acting and powerful drama are well done. (trailer)
6. The Commitments— Unemployed Dubliners form an off-beat soul band in director Alan Parker’s well-regarded 1991 favorite. Winner of the British Academy Award that year for Best Picture and voted ‘Best Irish Film of All-Time” by Jameson Whiskey in 2005, The Commitments deserves a spot on this list. (trailer)
5. Michael Collins— Easily the best movie for Irish history, director Neil Jordan’s biography of the titular Irish Civil War revolutionary features an outstanding lead performance from Ballymena’s own native son Liam Neeson. Also starring Julia Roberts, Aidan Quinn, and Alan Rickman, the history pops off the screen. It’s an extremely well done movie. (trailer)
4. P.S., I Love You— This movie is my soft spot entry for the list. Go ahead and make fun of me. Expecting nothing more than a poorly constructed romantic comedy in late 2007, I was extremely impressed by the movie’s emotion, heart, and outstanding Irish scenery. Gerard Butler, Hilary Swank, Harry Connick, Jr., and Kathy Bates deliver an excellent and touching story of grief and moving on that hit me like a ton of bricks. Ladies, get your tissues ready. (trailer)
3. The Departed— While my number one film for this list was never in doubt, I was torn in ranking #2 and #3. To me, they are interchangeable. Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winning Best Picture Boston crime saga The Departed is so good. Excellent ensemble casting (Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin, and more) meets real Boston grit in every measure of perfection. It’s hard to find flaws in this movie and is one of my all-time favorites. (trailer)
2. The Boondock Saints— While The Departed is an outstanding look at the Irish mob and police, the wild chicanery, panache, and style of The Boondock Saints beats it by a nose. Led by Sean Patrick Flannery, Norman Reedus, and Billy Connolly, The Boondock Saints has a bit more true Irish flavor and flair than The Departed. On it’s own, it’s an exciting, twisted, sometimes religious, and often hilarious vigilante shoot ’em up. It’s a cult classic worth watching if you’ve never seen it. (trailer)
1. The Quiet Man–Like I mentioned earlier, my #1 film for this list was never in doubt. Bringing John Wayne to Ireland for The Quiet Man was a perfect recipe for success. On paper, his American bravada fits right into the blustery, cocky Irish culture, yet the Duke goes against type to play the pacifist to great success in John Ford’s 1952 film. Exemplary elements of romance, the best Irish photography in any movie, and a classic ending brawl that only John Wayne and Hollywood could pull off, The Quiet Man has it all for showcasing Ireland. Within the Connemara countryside where The Quiet Man was filmed and all forty shades of green splash about, there’s a famous stone bridge used in the film that still stands to this day. For this movie dork, I’ve been lucky enough to visit that bridge nearly 60 years after the Duke and walk in the steps of a little bit of movie history. (trailer)
Many of these fine Irish-themed films are available for rental at your local west side Chicago area Redbox and Blockbuster locations and for purchase at your local west side Chicago Best Buy, Target, and Walmart stores. Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2012, everyone!