I’d imagine this post might seem just a tad late as its clearly the 18th of March now and the celebration of St. Patrick has officially ended, though its only the wee hours of the morning and I’d venture many conventional observers have only recently ended celebratory efforts. However, my intention is not to be tardy for recommendations for this year. I’ve picked out 5 films for people to keep in mind for 2021. So when you really get right down to it, I’m about as early as one fella could possibly be on a topic like this. What I’ve done is picked out 5 different films that that I feel like best embody the spirit of Irish culture on screen. I’ll walk through my picks and then it’s on you to remember them for next year. I can’t be responsible for all the work here.
There’s a multitude of movies that could easily fit the bill for a great St. Paddy’s day flick. My first one is probably fairly mainstream as it is now. But once upon a time, this flick was a bit more of a hidden gem. Thankfully its made enough of the rounds and garnered enough cult favoritism to have bubbled up to the pop culture surface into a more public lexicon. My pick for a great Irish action flick is “The Boondock Saints”. Back in 2000 when I first started working at Blockbuster Video, when that was a thing, my manager brought this one to my attention. She happened to be particularly obsessed with Sean Patrick Flannery to a nearly unsettling point. But I trusted her cinematic acumen so I popped in the VHS and gave it a watch. I instantly fell in love. There’s always been a place in film history for a good vigilante film but there was something special about the McManus brothers (Flannery and Norman Reedus) that has made this film stand out for decades to come. The basic plot is two Irish Catholic brothers are called by God himself to rid the world of truly evil men. Fortunately they find themselves in the heart of Boston’s crime ridden underworld. With their good buddy Rocco (David Della Rocco), an errand boy and funny man for local Italian mafia, they’ve got a Rolodex of names worthy of their brand of permanent justice. With the supporting cast of Willem Dafoe, Billy Connolly and comedian Bob Marley, known for his overt Boston-ness, this film rounds out a freshman effort by writer/director Troy Duffy. There’s action and adventure in candy coating of guns, laughs and all the Boston Irish you can handle. If you’ve not seen this one then I highly recommend it and if you have seen it then you already know why you should bust it out next St. Patrick’s Day.
If you’re in for a more dramatic flair when it comes to your Emerald Isle inspired cinema then I don’t believe you need look any further than Martin Scorsese’s 2006 opus “The Departed”. This was my film of choice for 2020 and I was more than happy to endure the two and a half hours of this magnificent experience. Once again we find ourselves in Bean Town as Boston provides a more than adequate backdrop for an intricate cat and mouse game between the criminals and the police. Featuring a cast with serious bench strength starting with Jack Nicholson and heading through the ranks of Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Boston’s favorite bad boy, Marky Mark Wahlberg himself. I could go on through a handful of other names and faces you’ve no doubt seen here and there. But the main point is that this film brought the A list in a major way. Nicholson plays the local mob boss who has taken on a young protege who eventually rises through the ranks of the Boston State Troopers to a full fledged Special Investigations detective (Damon). On the flip side you have William Costigan Jr. (DiCaprio) who makes it through the police academy but with his specific family background that’s a bit more colorful when it comes to arrest records, finds himself in a unique position to get close to Frank Costello (Nicholson). While the rat in the police tries to help find the rat in the mafia, its a dramatic thriller from beginning to end. If you’d like a few more twists and turns in your March 17th celebration, this is most definitely the film for you.
Maybe you’re in a more jovial mood and fancy a laugh or two. I’m going to break convention here because while I should be recommending just one movie, I’m going to cheat and give two suggestions. But we’ll keep this one under our big green top hat and things will be fine and dandy. My link between the two flicks is Brendan Gleeson. You’d probably recognize him if you saw him as he’s been in a number of things through the years. You’d probably know his son, Domhnall Gleeson a bit more readily from his roles in the newest Star Wars franchise films as General Hux or as the new McGregor in the Peter Rabbit movies. Either way, the elder Gleeson has a delightfully crass but endearing sense of humor in both “In Bruges” also featuring the wonderfully Irish Colin Farrell and “The Guard” also featuring Don Cheadle. Both of these movies are darker comedies rather than slapstick or even maybe a mainstream comedy. While I enjoy a good “zone out” kind of laughing fit you can get from a classic Sandler or Jim Carrey vehicle, I also have a well developed penchant for comedies that still make you think a good bit. Both “Bruges” and “Guard” have relatively well developed plots with competent characters and developing story lines. The humor is subtle but very much present. Gleeson and Farrell are spectacularly complementary in their attitudes towards being stuck in Bruges waiting for their next criminal assignment as guns for hire. Gleeson’s freewheeling optimism while sightseeing combined with Farrell’s youthful disdain for the lack of suitable activities in his opinion create an ever developing environment for all manner of humor to evolve. Combined with very frank dialogue about a number of seemingly “off limits” conversation topics, this film is a truly well made project from Martin McDonagh. The relationship between Gleeson and Cheadle is a different variety in “The Guard”. Set in Ireland, Gleeson plays an insightful but somewhat apathetic police officer who finds himself at the center of a major drug trafficking operation. Cheadle represents the straight laced FBI as well as the folly to Gleeson’s unconventional detective work. Combined with similarly frank dialogue of crass and crude affront at times, the beleaguered conviviality betwixt the pair is equally fraught with tension and laughs. I will reiterate that both of these are dark comedies. So they aren’t light and it’s not a laugh a minute. But both films combine the fun of Irish brashness with the mystery of European flair. Either one is a good bet for a good comedic thrill in my book.
If you’d like something a bit lighter, I figure perhaps a Romantic Comedy could be the way to go. But in true Irish fashion, the romance I’ve picked is equally matched with a good bit of sour as well. While it would be easy to pick a light-hearted romp like “Leap Year” with the blazing amber locks of Amy Adams traipsing about the Irish countryside, I decided that if I was going to watch a romance it would be the Hillary Swank and Gerard Butler tear jerker “P.S., I Love You”. If you’ve seen this film, there’s a good chance you may be cursing me out at this very moment for even bringing up the memory of it. Swank and Butler are star crossed lovers with a bright future ahead of them until Butler’s character gets cancer and promptly dies. Yup. He dies. I’ll bet you’re wondering where the light heartedness comes in to play. Maybe that was a bit of a misnomer. But the zest for meaningful love in this film is a bit deeper than many of the casual rom-coms we have come to know. While I genuinely enjoy a sappy romance, there’s that Irish Catholic guilt that permeates their culture that is represented in this flick. Before Butler’s death, he plots out a road map to help Swank’s character process the array of emotions that come with their sort of love when mixed with a tragic death. I’ll admit its been a few years since I’ve seen the movie so I can’t speak to all the ins and outs of the plot but I remember significantly enjoying the film when I first saw it and that’s always stuck with me. Save your cheesy Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romance for Valentine’s Day. P.S., I Love You is the perfect way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day if you’re in the mood for an affair of the heart.
That brings me to the last category. No, I’m not going to advise watching ANY of the Leprechaun horror movies as they are all atrocious. Even the titular first installment with Jennifer Aniston’s breakout role is not worth your time. I’m sure there’s a decent musical out there and probably even some animated movies that you could enjoy. But I’m going to go with a classic here. “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” is Disney’s 1959 film about a wily old caretaker who’s tall tales of encounters with the king of the little people have entertained his friends and pub mates for decades. This film has true Irish heart and some impressive camera tricks and sophisticated special effects for a film made in the 1950’s. There’s some that I know who say the Banshee, who shows up late in the third act, is a bit scary for younger audiences. I might disagree but its a tomato/tomahto kind of thing in my book. This movie is a quintessential Irish classic in my estimation. It even features a young Sean Connery. And he sings. So that’s an added bonus. This was the role that preceded his James Bond selection. It was because of this role that he became 007. Its a film that filled with fun and that aesthetic of a bygone era that I enjoy. It just makes you feel like you’re able to go back in time and I love films that transport you like that. That’s what makes it my easy pick for a classic St. Patrick’s Day film to enjoy with your green beer and boiled cabbage.
Well, that rounds out my St. Patrick’s Day picks. I will remind you that I’m not late in writing this. Sure it might have been more helpful on Monday or even earlier in the day on Tuesday when you could have enjoyed one of these films just yesterday to celebrate your Irish heritage with a good movie since the Coronavirus has you stuck inside anyways. But I’m the kind of guy who plans ahead. 364 days ahead to be exact. This way you’ll be MORE than prepared for next year, as long as you remember my five (sort of six) recommendations. You don’t have to wait that long to enjoy any of these flicks though. Many of them would fit the bill on any old occasion if you really wanted them to. But they are especially poignant when it comes to matching your shamrock shake with a DVD or streaming pick of similar fortune. Whatever your fancy, I appreciate you entertaining my wiles yet again. As always, I’ve been your Cinemaster to the North, Adam Peterson. I’ll catch you on the flip side.