Brian Benjamin Dwyer
MADRA MÓR's top 20 Irish films
Updated: Mar 8, 2021
With St. Patrick's day arriving and seeing as none of us can travel too far from home, here is our list of the best Irish films to stay in and watch this March. Top 20 lists can be somewhat controversial so feel free to post any films you love in the comments section. We genuinely would love to hear your favourites and if there are any films that you think should have made it in.
20) Waking Ned Devine - 1998
This is a little gem of a film, packed with fun and some great performances. The iconic image of a naked David Kelly flying across the island on the back of a motorbike kind of sums up this film. It is a film about friendship, community and that unending quest... to win the lotto.
Written and directed by Kirk Jones. Watch the trailer here
19) Garage - 2007
Very different film from our number 20. A powerful film set in rural Ireland which explores the forgotten corners of this island. Pat Shortt slots into a non comedic role with ease as the naive garage caretaker who befriends an underage boy. A simply shot film but simple is often the most affective way to tell a story.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Written by Mark O'Halloran. Watch the trailer here
18) Waveriders - 2008
Narrated by Cillian Murphy, this Irish documentary tells the story of Irish surfing and the connections to the wider surfing world. As a one-time surfer myself before I got soft, the Irish coastline is a phenomenal backdrop for any documentary. Is is also becoming one of the key destinations for big wave surfing which is on anther scale altogether.
Directed by Joel Conroy. Watch the trailer here
17) The Young Offenders - 2016
Bursting into the Irish film spotlight in 2016, The Young Offenders was an instant hit. Although the film is not based on a true story, the fictional plot does however focus on the true events of Ireland's cocaine seizure off the Cork coast. Two young Cork lads head off in search of their pot of white gold. What is probably most remarkable about this film is that director Peter Foott funded the production himself. Always a huge risk to undertake but the pay off has clearly been huge with the BBC taking the Young Offenders to a three season TV series.
Written and directed by Peter Foott. Watch the trailer here
16) The Butcher Boy - 1997
A dark comedy in every way. The story deals with the darkest of issues from abuse to alcoholism with suicidal characters thrown in for good measure, and the craziest scenarios and outcomes. This film has it all and was a trailblazer in terms of changing the Irish film language, which tended to be the same with most of Neil Jordan's work. Eamonn Owens is absolutely brilliant as Francie. As with most films that are adapted from successful novels, the screenplay is superb.
Directed by Neil Jordan. Book written by Patrick McCabe. Watch the trailer here
15) Philomena - 2013
It was Steve Coogan's tenacity that got this film made and I am so glad he did. Philomena tells the true story of Philomena Lee and journalist Martin Sixsmith. The story is even more relevant than it was in 2013 as more reports come out from the Mother and Baby Homes. Steve Coogan does a great job as Matin Sixsmith but it is really Judy Dench who takes the honours for this film. I can't remember seeing a character in Irish film encapsulate the Irish mammy any more than her portrayal of Philomena.
Directed by Stephen Frears. Written by Martin Sixsmith. Watch the trailer here
14) Michael Collins - 1996
The epic film that is Michael Collins. It is hard to create the best of Irish films list and not include this one. I don't know of any Irish person who hasn't seen this movie and I am sure when a lot of us think of Michael Collins we see Liam Neeson's face. The scale of the film was huge in Irish terms and the performances were fantastic all round. It is a story we are all too familiar with and to see it made on such an epic scale really brought the events from 1916 and onwards into the modern day.
Written and directed by Neil Jordan. Watch the trailer here
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13) Intermission - 2003
A pretty constant participant in top 20 lists, Intermission became an instant cult hit and launched the careers of some of Ireland's best talent, as well as starting the brown sauce in tea craze. A slick, hilarious film with some outstanding performances.
Directed by John Crowley. Written by Mark O'Rowe. Watch the trailer here
12) Disco Pigs - 2001
Enda Walsh's play was transformed for the silver screen by director Kirsten Sheridan. With breakout performances from Cillian Murphy (who was also in the stage version) and Elaine Cassidy, the film adaptation did not lose any of the energy of the live show. The writing is off beat and full of life and the pivotal scenes are immense. Cillian and Elaine totally owned those characters and it was impossible not to be absorbed into their tiny, intimate world. This would be the beginning of a long relationship between Enda Walsh and Cillian Murphy, particularly on stage.
Directed by Kirsten Sheridan. Written by Enda Walsh. Watch the trailer here
11) The Field - 1990
Richard Harris... need I say more. A different version of the story from John B. Keane's play, Jim Sheridan took some artistic license in order to adapt it for the screen and I think it really added another layer to this great tale. I don't know of any actor who could have done a better job of playing The Bull. It was a role made for Richard Harris and it is his performance in some of the key scenes that always stand out in my memory. It is also a film that highlights that inner turmoil of an older Ireland. The feelings that should remain bottled up, not be out in the open. Trauma from an oppressive past. An Ireland that thankfully is being left behind.
Directed by Jim Sheridan. Original story by John B Keane. Watch the trailer here
10) The Wind That Shakes The Barley - 2006
Ken Loach has always been a master of realism and this film is no different. Using all his trademark tools such as holding back written scenes from the actors until the day of filming so he can get the most realistic reactions, he has created the most hard-hitting, intense and brutal portrayal of the Irish War of Independence. At times, it is incredibly difficult to watch and he did not shy away from showing the truth of what happened in all its gruesome detail. Once again, Cillian Murphy proving his incredible talent with an astonishing performance as a doctor who is given no choice but to pick up arms against a brutal occupying force. This went on to win the Palme d'Or in Cannes.
Directed by Ken Loach. Written by Paul Laverty. Watch the trailer here
9) Pilgrim Hill - 2013
I remember hearing about Pilgrim Hill through the film grapevine and going out and buying the DVD (I still buy DVD's today, madness I know). I was completely blown away by this film. I did not expect it to have such an impact. This film was made on a shoestring budget borrowed from the credit union and with minimal crew. It really does show that story is everything. Joe Mullins is fantastic as Jimmy Walshe, a bachelor farmer living with his disabled father. It very much feels like a fly-on-the-wall sort of film. You just go along on Jimmy's journey and feel the pain and loneliness of living in such an isolated world. This film has such a universal appeal. It may have been made in Ireland but there are similar stories all over the world.
Written and directed by Gerard Barrett. Watch the trailer here
8) Angela's Ashes - 1999
Another epic film in Irish terms. While many feel like this film paints an unfair portrait of Limerick, you can't deny the cinematic powerhouse that is Angela's Ashes. You almost need to dry off after watching, with the damp that is omnipresent throughout. What is particularly endearing about this film is the fact it is told through the eyes of a young boy, so the perspective of a bleak upbringing is mixed with a childlike innocence and humour and because of that, the light still manages to shine through in even the darkest moments in this film. The three boys who play Frankie are perfectly cast. The Limerick and Cork of old look magical if somewhat damp.
Directed by Alan Parker. Story by Frank McCourt. Watch the trailer here
7) In Bruges - 2008
Martin McDonagh learned his craft through the theatre and that fact shines through in In Bruges. Only a stage writer could master dialogue in the fashion that McDonagh does. Enda Walsh is another playwright turned screenwriter that I can think of. The pace and brilliance between all the characters in this film is something to behold and the lead performances from Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes are sensational. It is the kind of film that a person can watch over and over and it never gets old, it just gets better.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Watch the trailer here
6) In America - 2002
This film seems to slip under the radar quite often when it comes to top Irish films but it is such an endearing and rich story about an Irish family's move to America with the hurdles and set backs they have to overcome. The film is packed with interesting characters and has amazing performances from all the cast, with Paddy Considine and Emma Bolger being particularly strong. This film absolutely deserves to be more widely seen.
Directed by Jim Sheridan. Written by Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan and Kirsten Sheridan. Watch the trailer here
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5) Song for a Raggy Boy - 2003
It's rare to see a film that has such an impact that it can hard to shake off for days. Song for a Raggy Boy is one of those films. An unflinching look at the institutional abuse that was inflicted onto young Irish boys under the guardianship of the Irish Catholic Church. It is brutal, heartbreaking and totally devastating with scenes that you will simply never forget. Adrian Quinn is outstanding as the non-clergy teacher who comes to the aid of some of these boys. Based on a true story.
Directed by Aisling Walsh. Story by Patrick Galvin. Watch the trailer here
4) Brooklyn - 2015
You'd want a heart of stone to not fall in love with Colm Tóibín's beautiful film. It's the story of a young women being forced to leave Ireland for a better life and the inevitable internal conflict of never quite knowing where home really is. Soairse Ronan is amazing as the protagonist and John Crowley guides the film along beautifully. One of the most impactful scenes is a version of Casadh An tSúgáin sung by The Gloaming frontman, Iarla Ó Lionáird. As an Irish person who has lived abroad, it is a particularly personal story, one that many of us can relate to.
Directed by John Crowley. Story by Colm Tóibín. Watch the trailer here
3) The Commitments - 1991
Possibly the best 'band film' ever? It's got everything, the music, the characters, the grime, the inevitable band-mate conflicts and of course, the life of a struggling musician. The distinct Dublin humour is captured perfectly and suits this film down to the ground. I began my creative journey as a musician and let me tell you, this film is as authentic as it gets. What is particularly great about this film is that most of the actors are musicians and singers so you don't get that awful fake playing that accompanies so many actors who have clearly never held an instrument. (Massive kudos to Ryan Gosling who actually went and learnt the piano for La La Land). I love this film.
Directed by Alan Parker. Story by Roddy Doyle. Watch the trailer here
2) Hunger - 2008
Not the type of film you would want to watch on a relaxing Sunday afternoon, Hunger is a film that will punch you right in the gut and then give you a breather before a left hook for good measure. Steve McQueen magnificently directs the powerhouse that is Michael Fassbender to bring us a film that is simply astonishing. What film have you seen in the recent past that has a 17 minute static shot of two characters talking and you cannot take your eyes from the screen. This is also thanks to the superb screenwriting of Enda Walsh (Disco Pigs). The story of the H-Block is brutal and that is the best word to describe this film, brutal. It will be hard to shake this film once the credits role.
Directed by Steve McQueen. Written by Enda Walsh and Steve McQueen. Watch the trailer here
1) Song of the Sea - 2014
Maybe surprising to some to see a children's animation in the number one spot but if you haven't seen this film, stop what you're doing right now, sit your arse down and press play. I don't know of any live action film that could capture the essence of a place as well as this animation does. The Irish folklore, the creatures, the colours, it has it all packed into its 94 minutes. Created by the brilliant Cartoon Saloon (Book of Kells, Wolfwalkers, The Breadwinner). It went on to secure a much deserved Oscar nomination and in my view, should have won. For anyone who has driven around Slea Head on the Dingle peninsula and turned that corner to see the Sleeping Giant (which was the inspiration for this film), this film gives you that same sense of awe. If anyone is thinking about visiting Ireland, this is the film I recommend for them to watch. Whether you are 9 or 90, you will love this film.
Directed by Tomm Moore. Written by Will Collins. Watch the trailer here
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