2007 was a banner year filled with extraordinary new Irish plays, films, concerts and novels, and a sack full of Tony and Oscar nods lie ahead for many new and seasoned Irish artists. CAHIR O'DOHERTY takes a look back at some of the year's highlights (and inevitable lowlights).
FILMS starring Irish actors will dominate the awards season this year. In fact, there's so many to choose from that 2007 must represent a high water mark for Irish film making internationally.
Daniel Day-Lewis (who won the 1989 Best Actor Oscar for his performace in Jim Sheridan's My Left Foot) looks all but certain to walk away with another golden man for his performance in There Will Be Blood. And newcomer Saoirse Ronan's turn in Atonement, the film most likely to win Best Picture, ensures that Irish talent is dominating the 2008 Oscar race.
In There Will Be Blood the English-born but Irish citizen and resident Day-Lewis gives the performance of his career as a madly driven businessman in pursuit of riches through oil. Loosely adapted from the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair and featuring a spine tingling score from Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood, There Will Be Blood is almost certain to result in a Best Actor nomination for Day-Lewis.
Two 2007 films likely to be passed over for an Oscar nod this year but nonetheless important in themselves were director Neil Jordan's controversial offering The Brave One (starring Jodie Foster in a career defying role) and Terry George's harrowing though ultimately uplifting film Reservation Road (starring the gifted Joaquin Phoenix).
In The Brave One, Foster plays a character driven almost mad by grief when her lover is brutally murdered. Jordan told the Irish Voice, "I was attracted to the script because of the character and the transformation she went through. Quite simply I was interested in the idea of this civilized, sophisticated liberal woman who finds this monster insider her, really. The way she kept challenging her moral perspective with these horrible, bloody killings she kept doing."
The glaring parallels between the themes explored in the film and the war convulsing the nation may have dampened audiences' enthusiasm at the box office for a bout of soul searching, which if true would be an immense shame. Jordan's deceptively simple story of what happens to a young woman who's near perfect life is upended by a random brutal assault was a fascinating film.
Belfast-born director Terry George also had the consequences of revenge in mind when he unveiled Reservation Road. A gripping thriller about the difficulty of forgiveness, the film opens on a beautiful September evening, when a Connecticut college professor (Phoenix), his wife (Jennifer Connelly), their daughter and their 10-year-old son all stop at a gas station on Reservation Road.
There, in one sickening instant, a hit and run driver takes their son from them. Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) plays the ne'er-do-well father of a young boy - and the driver of the fatal SUV - and in the aftermath of the accident he panics and speeds away. Haunted by the tragedy, both fathers react in unexpected ways as a dangerous reckoning looms between them, and they are forced to make the hardest choices of their lives.
George told the Irish Voice, "The film is about the futility of revenge. It's about the way people can demonize the opposition, creating a monster that allows you to attack it. It's about the recognition in Joaquin's character of how futile revenge is, it's about what he has done to his own head in creating this monster."
Although it didn't fare well in theatres, it was hailed by the critics and proved itself a worthy successor to George's previous outing, Hotel Rwanda. Always an immensely subtle director, George didn't need to underline how timely the theme was. Our nightly news broadcasts are crowded with international revenge dramas, and the same intense feelings of anger and resolve that animate his film animate our world.
This year Saoirse Ronan, the 13-year-old emerging Irish actress, gave a surprisingly strong performance in director Joe Wright's Atonement, playing the central character in this dark drama of romance and betrayal.
Acknowledging the young Co. Carlow actress's independent streak, her co-star Keira Knightley told the Irish Voice, "I'm often asked what advice I'd give her. I'd never dream of giving Saoirse Ronan advice. I take advice from her." Ronan is up for a Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actress later this month.
In London Evanna Lynch, 14, from Drogheda, Co. Louth won the coveted role of Luna Lovegood, the decidedly odd young witch in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix because, as she says herself, no one else could have played her right.
Lynch spent six months filming in England, and then returned to Ireland to complete her Junior Certificate exam in June. Not surprisingly, she admits that it was difficult to focus on her studies while she was hanging out with the Potter cast and having a ball on the set. Happily for her though, the critics raved about her performance, calling her the best thing in the film.
Last year reminded us once again that the stories the Irish tell about themselves are almost always better than the ones told about them by others. For one thing, they're usually very much harsher than the soft focus, sentimental tales we have inspired in generations of Hollywood scriptwriters.
For proof of this you need look no further than the Tinseltown gloss that was thrown over Cecelia Ahern's bracingly unsentimental tale P.S. I Love You. Making her debut as a romantic heroine, Academy Award winner Hilary Swank gave her all to a difficult role, but in the end she was upstaged by the floodtide of sentiment that overwhelms the film's final reels. The scenes set in Ireland unfold in the amber light of a beer commercial, and what might have been a simple tale well told was mired in layers of romantic suds.
Irish theater productions both here and in Ireland produced exceptional new plays like The Revenant, a new work by Pat McCabe (author of The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto), which the Druid Theatre Company premiered at the Galway Arts Festival this fall. Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre's production of Irish American author Cormac McCarthy's The Sunset Limited was another provocative night out, creating controversy during its brief run at the Galway fest.
Here in the U.S. the Irish Repertory Theatre's 20th season was artistically one of its strongest ever. Boasting the American premiere of John B. Keane's landmark play Sive, the Irish Rep's stage provided a suitable home for the bravura performace of Fiona Toibin.
Across town at the Irish Arts Center the outstanding play of the year was Marie Jones' Rock Doves, which featured the always remarkable work of actor Marty Maguire. The play was a departure from Jones' usual monlogue form and provided one of the most memorable nights at the theatre in 2007.
In November Pumpgirl, the debut play by Newry native Abbie Spallen at the Manhattan Theatre Club, announced the arrival an important new voice, and for my money it was the best new Irish play of the year.
On Broadway the stagehands strike provided the majority of the drama for Conor McPherson's surprisingly slight - though brilliantly acted - new drama The Seafarer.
Earlier in the year a luminous Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's Moon for the Misbegotten featured Colm Meaney in an indelible performance. Meanwhile at the Lincoln Center, Irish actor Brian F. O'Byrne dazzled audiences in Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia.
The top Irish and Irish American books of 2007 were, in this writer's opinion, Booker Prize winner Ann Enright's The Gathering, Joseph O'Connor's Redemption Falls and Dan Barry's City Lights: Stories About New York. Enright told the Irish Voice, "All writers fantasize about the Booker. But this time I actually am going to the ball."
Last year was not also without it's sorrows. The passing of the irreplaceable Tommy Makem was a sad blow that is only softened by the impressive body of artistic work that has become his legacy.