From high-end Hollywood auteurs to the most indie of independent films and documentaries, 2018 is shaping up to be a year to remember for Irish actors and films
Quick, name your favorite film about the Great Irish Hunger? You can't do it, can you?
For an event that changed Ireland as no other has before or since (one that led to a million starvation deaths and the eventual near loss of our national language) we have been surprisingly quiet on the topic in our cinemas, haven't we?
Why is this? Other cultures and traditions have chronicled the terrible crisis that marked their own histories in a series of often unforgettable films, but the Irish still meet the long famine years with an uncharacteristic and mostly unbroken silence.
This year for the first time in decades, a new film called "Black 47 (opening September 28)" will take us to the darkest year of that national calamity to tell a story of oppression and resistance. Directed by Lance Daly, it stars the glowering Australian actor James Frenchville as Feeney, a hardened Irish ranger in the British army who has deserted his post and returned to Ireland to find his family decimated by the famine and his brother hanged the crown forces.
The barometer is set for storms from the opening scene and sure enough, the blood begins to flow pretty quickly. Daly has taken a deep dive into the historical period and its social conditions and half the shock of this film is the onscreen depiction of just how cruel those conditions actually were.
But at its heart, "Black 47" is really a western in the classic style of John Ford. As the film unspools it quickly becomes clear that Feeney is intent on waging a particularly nasty and effective guerrilla campaign against the agents of the British state in Connemara. They never see him coming and before long he has them on the run and has made the place ungovernable the way Michael Collins would do over half a century later.
For Irish and Irish American audiences the biggest draw of this soon to be released Great Hunger-set film is that it will show us all a much-valued glimpse of what to date most of them have only ever read about, the year one of the centuries long British colonial disaster in Ireland. The film also stars Irish actors Stephen Rea, Barry Keoghan, Moe Dunford and Sarah Greene.
Another highly anticipated new feature is the return of Irish director Lenny Abrhamson (whose award-winning "Room" saw actress Brie Larson pick up an Oscar) with his new feature "The Little Stranger," a horror film starring Domhnall Gleeson that opens August 31.
Gleeson plays Doctor Faraday, a kindly but deeply repressed young man who is the son of a housemaid, but who has built a life of genteel respectability as a country doctor, traveling far from his humble origins.
During the summer of 1948, he is called to attend a patient at Hundreds Hall, where his mother had once worked as the help. In the intervening years the Hall, home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries, has fallen into steep decline and its inhabitants - mother, son and daughter – seem to be haunted by something even more sinister than their dying aristocratic lifestyle.
Taking on this new patient, Faraday has no idea just how disturbingly the family's story is about to become entwined with his own. Nor do we have any idea that this outwardly genteel man might have some very dark secrets of his own.
Director Abrahamson has said he sees parallels between Faraday's need to show the world the best of himself whilst ruthlessly repressing the worst that echoes the current state of American politics and life. How long, and at what cost, will you labor to show the world your best face, even if that face is not your true one? It's a fascinating question and it couldn't be more timely.
In the new documentary, "A Mother Brings Her Son To Be Shot" director Sinead O'Shea explores the fragile peace of post-Troubles Derry. Specifically, she travels to the self-policing Creggan housing estate, a so-called Republican ghetto that doesn't recognize the British state or its police force.
So how does an ungovernable community govern itself? The film begins with Majella O’Donnell, a mother of two, bringing one her son Philly to be shot in a punishment attack for dealing drugs. Philly, an addict in his early 20s, disputes the charge levied at him by “the Ra,” the local wing of dissident Republicans.
With the shadow of Brexit threatening an already far from perfect peace, O'Shea's film is a potent reminder of just what a tinder box the British government are playing with. The film will open here on October 13.
"The Ballad of Buster Scruggs," the new film from the auteur Cohen brothers, will get its earliest US screening at the New York International Film Festival next month, and it will star Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson and Tyne Daly among many others.
Although little is currently known about the film's plot it stars two of Ireland's heavyweight screen stars in lead roles and will be released both in the theaters (to qualify for awards season) and on Netflix by years end.
Although Ballad will be released as a stand alone film, it's emerged that the source material is so challenging and extensive that it will also be split into several episodes that intertwine with the feature length film itself.
"Dark Lies The Island" by director Ian Fitzgibbon stars Moe Dunford, Charlie Murphy and Pat Shortt in an energetic black comedy that's set in a small Irish village. The story centers around a long festering family feud that involves, among other things, a romantic rivalry that's caused by a young woman named Sara, who has a borderline personality and a tendency to cut herself. Could anything be more dysfunctionally Irish?
What writer Kevin Barry excels at is reflecting the high levels of madness and surrealism that populate the Irish countryside and its all of its loquacious inhabitants, so "Dark Lies The Island" may be the most unrepentantly Irish of all the forthcoming features this season.
The film, which was picked up for international release through its British-based sales agent Independent Film Company, is scheduled to unspool later this autumn.
Dunford will also be seen in the feature "The Dig" this autumn, a tense new psychological thriller where he plays a man convicted for a murder that he doesn't remember.
Which of these are you most excited to see? Let us know in the comments section, below.