Since this Thursday is the high feast day of St. Patrick, it seems all together fit and proper that SIDEBAR list for its readers the collection of the top 10 movies that feature the "Land of One Thousand Welcomes."
Now, ye shall note that some of the films are about the Irish in Ireland, still others about the workings of the clans here in America. So here we go, in the usual reverse order....
10: DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE
This Disney film from 1959 was always one of my favorites, and I loved to watch it whenever it came on the family black and white TV in me old sod of East St. Louis. Starring a young and with hair Sean Connery, it is the tale of the legend of the leprechaun, complete with the pot o' gold. For its day, the special effects are pretty amazing and left a impression on me self. Rent it from Net Flix -watch it with your children or grandchildren.
9: GOING MY WAY
Perhaps a bit of stretch, this tale of the young priest Father O'Malley, played by Oscar winner Bing Crosby, and his relationship with the crusty old Pastor, Father Finnegan, played by Barry Fitzgerald to Oscar perfection as well. The film is one of two Best Picture winners on the list, and received a total of seven Academy Awards. If there's a drop of Irish blood in ye, when the old priest's mother comes to surprise him from Ireland, as the choir sings "Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra," your eyes will sure to be waterin'.
8: PATRIOT GAMES
One of many films that deal with "The Troubles," the Harrison Ford starring adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel features the battles between hero Jack Ryan and the forces of the clandestine and dark Irish Republican Army. The IRA targets and terrorizes Ryan and his family, only to be defeated in the end. The title is loosely based on a Clancy Brothers song. Get one of their CDs and find out for yourself. One of the lines tells it all... "Too long has this Isle been half free. Six counties are under John Bull's tyranny."
7: WAKING NED DEVINE
Celebrating the famed Irish tendency toward larceny, this lovely little film deals with a small village, one their own who wins the lottery but has the poor taste to die upon hearing the news, and the collective attempts to con a shared reward nonetheless. It has a wonderful cast of journeyman Irish actors and is a delight to watch, warmed by a roaring turf fire and a spot or two of good Irish whiskey.
6: IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER
Another film dealing with the conflict between Catholic and Protestant extremists, the story is based on the IRA bombing in Belfast Northern Ireland in 1974, featuring an outstanding performance by Daniel Day Lewis as Gerry Conlon, wrongly imprisoned for over 12 years. To American sensibilities, bolstered by the birth right protection of the Bill of Rights, the extorted confessions and lack of due process vested upon the Irish by their British oppressors is hard to take, but the movie is very worthwhile. Snap shot in history of a time thankfully now gone.
5: THE DEPARTED
The second film dealing with Irish-Americans, and the second Best Picture, this film finally brought Martin Scorcese his long coveted and deserved Oscar for Best Director. Like his other films dealing with gangsters, the movie makes no judgments, cop or criminal, but shows the complex and confusing nature of the mean streets of Boston. After years of trying with Italians, Scorcese finally got it right telling the tale of tough Mcs. Both Matt Damon and Leonardo di Caprio are great, but as boss man Frank Costello, Jack Nicholson steals the show.
4: THE COMMITMENTS
This screen saga of a working class band from Dublin is virtually without a plot, and has scarce dialogue, but the tale of this group of Van Morrison wannabees, is worth it for the music. Call it blue eyed, red haired, soul music, but the energy and characters jump off the screen, as the band moves from gig to gig, performing their own version of "Mustang Sally" and "Try a Little Tenderness." It is sort of "Rocky" with a broughe accent.
3: THE CRYING GAME
"Waiter, this aien't what I ordered..." The surprise at the end - I will not spoil it for those who have not seen the picture - is its most well known feature, but it is a great movie on many levels. Dealing again with the adversarial relationship between the IRA and the British Army, the performance of J. Davidson as Dil is memorable, even way before the conclusion. The mood is bleak but the undercurrent is exciting as the tale unwinds. If you have no knowledge of this Oscar nominated film, rent it - and hold on to your popcorn.
2: THE QUIET MAN
John Wayne... Maureen O'Hara... Ward Bond ... Victor McLaughlin... all under the direction of John Ford and not a Calvary fort or an Apache in sight. When the unenlightened -those who have not yet been to the shores of the Emerald Isle- think of Ireland, it is this image of a rural utopia that comes to mind, green pastures, friendly villagers with plenty of welcoming pubs, and the soft kiss of misty rains upon your face. True enough this image be that tour groups to the site of the on-location filming - the village of Cong in my ancestral home of County Mayo - are abundant to this day. One of John Wayne's very best.
1: MICHAEL COLLINS
Liam Neeson's performance as the title character should have earned him an Oscar, it is that good. The final film dealing with the IRA, it is no doubt the best, telling the story of the "Big Fella," on the movement for freedom founders, who met his bloody fate at the hands of traitors within. You will watch this film, then delve into the history of the Easter Rebellion of 1916, then rent it again, only to enjoy a newly enhanced sense of fuller appreciation. Gloriously staged and presented, it once again shows the depth of English brutality to the Irish people, laid out without flinch nor apology. Underneath its hard exterior lies the gentle but powerful work by Julia Roberts as Michael Collins' bride and eventual widow. If you get one movie from this list, get this one.
Have a safe and reasonably sober St. Patrick's Day.