Ireland's Year in Film by Adam McPartlan

This has been a year of unusual good fortune for one of the smallest countries on Earth. Ireland, long over-shadowed in the film industry by the United Kingdom, has had one of the best years of any country in the world. The sad thing about Ireland’s historic year is that it has gone almost entirely unnoticed by the media.  While this article may not rectify the snubbing given to Ireland since Jan. 15, 2015, last year’s Oscars announcement, I hope to shed light on why this has been one of the most wonderful years in Irish history.

Ireland has emerged as a dominant competitor in the film world. Walt Disney brought the world of hand-drawn animation to life in 1937 with his stunning Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Over 75 years later, in 2009, Tomm Moore burst onto the scene with an old, yet fresh, approach to animation: hand-drawn art over computer generated animation. Moore’s first film, The Secret of Kells, was met with great praise. Rotten Tomatoes’ consensus says that the film “hearkens back to animation’s golden age,” with some even calling it one of the best animated films of all time. Moore’s directorial debut received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. It took Moore five years to finish and release his follow-up film, Song of the Sea. In 2014, he again received widespread critical acclaim. On Jan. 15, 2015, Tomm Moore received his second Oscar nomination for his second film. Moore is one of very few animation directors and producers to have received two Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Feature, in the company of Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, and Brad Bird.  Moore is also one of the only to be recognized by the Academy for his first two films.

The run Ireland has had in film did not stop at animation. Ireland proved in 2015 that she can produce live-action Oscar bait as well. Only U.S. filmmakers have more Oscar nominations than Ireland’s nine. German-Irish actor Michael Fassbender received a nomination for his eponymous role in Steve Jobs. Serena Armitage and Benjamin Cleary also received nominations in the Best Live Action Short category for Stutterer. Three films in particular stood out to the voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS): Viva, Room, and Brooklyn. Viva, produced by Ireland and directed by Paddy Breathnach, is the least recognized film of the three. The Spanish-language film, set in Cuba, was received with critical acclaim as one of the best foreign films of the year. These sentiments were reflected by AMPAS, as Viva was one of nine semi-finalists in the race for Best Foreign Film; sadly, it did not make the cut.

Brooklyn is the second best film Ireland had this year. Saoirse Ronan delivers one of the most heart-wrenching performances of the year.  She deftly plays the part of a young girl leaving behind both family and familiarity for the promise of a new and better life.  The key aspect of the film, however, is the story. My grandfather once said, “There is nothing more heart-wrenching than having to leave your home and know you will not go back.” To see these sentiments brought to life by such a script is phenomenal.

Room was not just the top Irish film; it was, by far, the best and most emotional film of the year. Brie Larson delivers a powerhouse performance.  Her portrayal as a mother held captive who shields her son from the painful truth makes this the best female performance of the year.  That said, Jacob Tremblay makes the film.  His performance as her son, Jack, has been met with more praise than an adult would know how to handle, never mind a five-year-old actor.  We can only hope that he will continue giving such great performances.

Now nominated for three Oscars (Picture, Actress, Adapted Screenplay), Brooklyn has been placed on 57 Top Ten Films Lists, with 11 of those listing Brooklyn as the best film of 2015.  With Room nominated for four Oscars (Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay), this marks the first time that two Irish films have been nominated for multiple Oscars at the same ceremony. Larson, who just won a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice Award for her performance, is poised to be the first actress in an Irish film to win the Oscar for Best Actress.  Saoirse Ronan and Brie Larson will compete at the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, too, for Best Actress, while Jacob Tremblay vies for Best Supporting Actor. 

This year has been one of phenomenal proportions for Ireland.  After the Oscar nominations were released, the director of Room, Lenny Abrahamson, appealed to the next Irish government to invest more funding in their film industry, saying that this year must be recognized.  The 2016 Sundance Film Festival is now underway, and the program features several Irish-made films.  The rest of 2016 can only offer more success for Ireland, as nine Irish artists compete for awards in six Oscar categories.