Okay, so we can’t go out to get our Irish on this year. Here are some great ideas for celebrating at home!
Song of the Sea (2014)
This Academy Award nominated watercolored dream mixes modern day with Irish folklore to spin the yarn of a wee selkie and the brother who begrudgingly loves her. Magical, sweet, charming and funny, it’s a treat parents will enjoy at least as much as their kids. It should have won the Oscar.
The Secret of the Kells (2009)
Pair it with director Tomm Moore’s first Oscar nominee, the gorgeous Celtic poem The Secret of Kells. Moore’s talent for blending everyday challenges with ancient magic is again at work as we shadow young Brendan through the riotous color and animated details of the enchanted forest outside the medieval abby where he lives. It’s another visually stunning bit of animation that’s as compelling to adults as it is to children.
James Quinn McDonagh cuts an enigmatic presence through the bloody world of Irish Traveler bare knuckle “fairfights” in Ian Palmer’s documentary Knuckle. The unbeaten pride of the Quinn McDonaghs, James takes on challengers from the feuding Joyce clan. Unfortunately, each win quells the action only briefly, as family members’ chest thumping and boasting reignite the feud, and another challenge is made. Palmer aims to illustrate the culture that fuels rather than overcomes its grudges, due in equal measure to unchecked bravado and finance (wagers bring in fast money for the winning clan). Filming for more than a decade, Palmer uncovers something insightful about the Traveler culture, and perhaps about masculinity or warmongering at its most basic.
The Guard (2011)
Then to a lighthearted look at drugs and crime on the Emerald Isle. Writer/director John Michael McDonagh assembles a dream cast anchored by the ever-reliable Brendan Gleeson to wryly articulate a tale of underestimation and police corruption in this very Irish take on the buddy cop movie. Through Gleeson, McDonagh shares a dark, philosophical yet silly humor, crafts almost slapstick action, and offers a view of hired guns as workaday folk. The Guard is a celebration of tart Irish humor and character; the actual plot merely provides the playground for the fun.
McDonagh and Gleeson return three years later in Calvary. The endlessly wonderful Gleeson plays Fr. Michael, a dry-witted but deeply decent priest who has a week to get his affairs in order while a parishoner plans to kill him. Sumptuously filmed and gorgeously written, boasting as much world-weary humor as genuine insight, it’s an amazing film and a performance that should not be missed.
You can’t celebrate St. Pat’s without some music. In Once, an Irish street musician fixes vacuums by day and dreams of heading to London in search of a recording contract. His unpredictable relationship with a Czech immigrant becomes the needed catalyst. Writer/director John Carney creates a lovely working man’s Dublin in a film blessed with sparkling performances from heretofore unknown leads Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Their chemistry and their music are the heart of the film. This immensely charming slice of life picture, superbly crafted with tender realism, also boasts an honest, understated screenplay, and undoubtedly the best soundtrack of 2006.
The Commitments (1991)
Jimmy Rabbitte intends to manage the greatest soul band in the world, so he hand crafts The Commitments, a Dublin-based, all white, blue collar soul band the likes of which Ireland has never seen. (The band includes Hansard again, much younger and with a magnificent ‘fro.) Alan Parker’s “behind the music” style tale of the rise and fall of a band is as charming, energetic and great sounding a way to spend St. Patrick’s Day as you will find.