Gifted Irish and Irish American filmmakers make creating a top ten list of the best films of the 00’s a cinch. We apologize if we’ve left your favorite out but we had to select just 10. The following 10 movies feature an Irish director, theme or star. Hey, can you think of another nation the size of Rhode Island that has had such a profound impact on the world stage?
1. The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)
Director Ken Loach’s unforgettable film about the Irish War of Independence begins with a simple Sunday hurling match in County Cork in 1920. It’s a modest opening entirely in keeping with this brilliant cinema verity telling of how farmhands, clerks and shop assistants drove the most powerful Empire the world has ever known out of their country.
Damien (Cillian Murphy) wants complete Home Rule and a socialist revolution in Ireland but his less idealistic brother Teddy (played by impressive newcomer Padraic Delaney) is willing to accept the treaty as the best outcome for the time being. The British have gone (except from Northern Ireland, of course) but they exit creating a brutal civil war they orchestrate and encourage. The scenes between the two brothers as they are forced to choose between their vision for the future and the bonds that unite them are among the most emotionally searing you’re ever likely to see.
2. Hunger (2008)
Artist Steve McQueen’s first film is a masterpiece. It explores the life and legacy of Bobby Sands (played by Ireland’s Michael Fassbender) with an outsider’s detachment. For the prison wardens of the H-Block the day begins with a search under the car for explosive devices; for the Republican prisoners, the day begins with a violent strip search and interrogation. In the film, all of this is presented dispassionately, without a word. But McQueen stands back, takes no side, and simply films what he sees. What he’s really interested in, we eventually discover, is how a man comes to the decision to starve himself to death, and what happens to him once that choice is made. Hunger is one of the most accomplished films of the decade.
3. Once (2007)
The genesis of this Oscar winning film was unusually protracted, but Irish director John Carney and songwriter Glen Hansard were working closely together in 2002 when the film project that became Once was first discussed. Shot on a shoestring budget, what no one anticipated was that Once would become one of the biggest hits of the decade.
Once reminded audiences of the simple pleasures of straightforward story telling, and it featured first time actors who excelled in their roles. Best of all it featured a terrific set of songs, including the Oscar winning theme song “Falling Slowly.”
4. The Departed (2006)
This white knuckle thriller is set in Boston where the notorious Irish Mob boss Francis “Frank” Costello (Jack Nicholson) plants Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) as an informant within the Massachusetts State Police just as the police assign an undercover cop Billy Costigan, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) to infiltrate Costello’s crew. It’s tit for tat but no one knows who’s holding the winning hand. When both sides of the law realize the situation, each man attempts to discover the other's true identity before being found out.
5. Brothers (2009)
Currently showing in the cinemas, Brothers is the wrenchingly powerful new film directed by Irish favorite Jim Sheridan that tells the story of two Irish American siblings Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) and his younger brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) who are polar opposites. When Sam, a decorated Marine, goes missing in Afghanistan he’s presumed dead, leaving his black sheep younger brother to care for his wife (Natalie Portman) and children.
But it turns out that Sam isn’t dead. He returns to the U.S. looking frail, careworn and brutalized by what he’s been through. Worse, he suspects his wife and his brother have fallen in love. Add a guilt wracked conscience and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to this powder keg and the film powers forward with a deepening sense of menace.
6. Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Based on the novel of the same name by Irish American author Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River, the film is tightly directed by Ben Affleck. The plot centers on two private investigators, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, hunting for an abducted four-year-old girl from the working class Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. The subject and treatment are about as dark as they can be, but Affleck’s film packs a powerful punch.
7. The Magdalene Sisters (2003)
At one time, not long ago, becoming a “fallen woman” in Ireland could get you sent to a concentration camp, far away from the care and concern of your society. This film follows the stories of four young women, Margaret who’s "guilty" of being raped by her cousin, Rose the unmarried mother, Bernadette who is too beautiful and coquettish to be allowed out and Crispina the mentally-handicapped single mother, who are all forced by their families or caretakers to go to the Magdalene Asylum. The film details the disastrous lives of the four girls whilst they are inmates, portraying their harsh daily regimen, their squalid living conditions and the oppressive nature of the Catholic faith at the time.
8. Hotel Rwanda (2008)
Irish director Terry George’s film packs a punch that will take the breath out of you. The film, which has been called an African Schindler’s List documents one man’s acts to save the lives of his family and more than a thousand other refugees, by granting them shelter in the besieged Hotel des Mille Collines. As an independent film, it had an initial limited release in theaters, but was nominated for multiple awards, including Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay.
9. Atonement (2007)
Saoirse Ronan, the 15-year-old Irish actress and star of Atonement has already been nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar. They’re impressive achievements for a teenager from the small County Carlow village of Adrattin. In Atonement Ronan played Briony Trellis, the imaginative young girl who falsely accuses a family friend of the rape of her cousin, resulting in his imprisonment (and the ruination of her older sisters life). Not only is the film remarkable, it introduced the world to the almost supernaturally self-assured young actress.
10. Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
Sometimes capitalism is evil. That’s the conclusion that Irish American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore comes to in his last film Capitalism: A Love Story. But how evil exactly? Well, Moore suggests, you could start by asking the hardworking American people who are being pushed out of their homes in record numbers as a direct result of corporate greed.
Moore knows that for some to speak against capitalism means you’re speaking against America. But his view is that capitalism now is against America. Capitalism, he says, is now against the things that we all say we believe in: democracy, freedom of choice, fairness – it’s not about any of those things now. It’s about protecting the wealthy and legalizing greed. You can love or hate him, but he’s not to be ignored.