Why Ireland deserves to bring home gold at this year’s Academy Awards

I can’t remember the last time, or if I have ever said that I enjoyed an Irish film. Fifteen-year-old me called it after watching Brendan Gleeson say “tá péist i mo cáca” in Cáca Milis. I know that’s a bit harsh given that I was born and raised in the Emerald Isle but, something about the film industry here never quite grasped my attention… Until this year. 

Over the last 50 years or so, I have found that Éire has had a somewhat minimal presence within the vast catalogue of motion pictures. With disasters such as Wild Mountain Thyme (insert Christopher Walken’s Irish accent) and Amy Adams’ questionable romantic comedy, Leap Year, can you blame my scepticism to watch any film that is remotely set/featured in my home turf?

However, despite this, Ireland has managed to have quite the year onscreen. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that Ireland has had the busiest film output ever. With the major successes of Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, Colm Bairéad’s An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl and rising Kildare man Paul Mescal’s performance in Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun, our little country has well and truly been the subject of many conversations across the globe. 

As a result of our rising presence in the film industry, we have received a record-breaking total of 14 Oscar nominations this year: 

  1. The Banshees of Inisherin: Best Picture
  2. The Banshees of InisherinBest Original Score
  3. The Banshees of InisherinBest Film Editing
  4. The Banshees of InisherinBest Original Screenplay
  5. The Banshees of InisherinBest Supporting Actor- Brendan Gleeson
  6. The Banshees of InisherinBest Actor- Colin Farrell
  7. The Banshees of InisherinBest Supporting Actor- Barry Keoghan
  8. The Banshees of InisherinBest Supporting Actress- Kerry Condon
  9. The Banshees of InisherinBest Director- Martin McDonagh
  10. AftersunBest Actor- Paul Mescal
  11. An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet GirlBest International Feature Film
  12. An Irish Goodbye: Best Live-Action Short
  13. Best Achievement in Film Editing: Jonathan Redmond, Matt Villa (Elvis)
  14. Best Achievement in Visual Effects: Richard Banehan shared with Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon and Daniel Barrett (Avatar: The Way of Water)

Shortly after the nominations were announced, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin commented on this extraordinary recognition saying:

“This is a wonderful day for the Irish film industry with such a record number of Oscar nominations. An Cailín Ciúin and The Banshees of Inisherin showcase Ireland’s culture, scenery and creative talent at its best. I congratulate all of the Irish nominees and wish them well on Oscar night March 12th 2023. It is a historic day for the Irish language and I look forward to Oscar night when the world will hear the Irish language spoken in a nominated film.”

The sheer amount of nominations was no surprise to me. I knew that McDonagh’s tale of toxic friendships would sweep the Academy Award nominations because it is a film that has resonated with so many people. An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl has stolen the hearts of movie enthusiasts since its release last May and Paul Mescal has been swimming in praise since Aftersun released. Each of these three films has quietly (no pun intended) reassured me that Ireland does have the potential to succeed in the big, bright and dazzling world of movie-making. 

Now, I won’t lie to you, I wasn’t entirely smitten with The Banshees of Inisherin. In fact, I gave it two stars on Letterboxd and explained that I couldn’t understand why I found it so difficult to watch. I knew a lot about Martin McDonagh’s style before seeing it, I saw his critically acclaimed The Lieutenant of Inishmore right before the universe entered lockdown in 2020 and thought it was enormously entertaining. There was something about jumping back in time, hearing those country accents and watching the shenanigans of rural Irish people that he managed to capture with such a unique lens. I expected to have the same experience after seeing Banshees but unfortunately, I didn’t.

The movie is set on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland (immediate flashbacks to Leaving Cert Irish poetry…) and follows lifelong pals Padraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson). Their daily routine is mundane and repetitive, they wake up, and spend their time in the local pub. However, one day, Colm decides that he no longer wants to be friends with Padraic. Assisted by his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) and troubled young islander Dominic (Barry Keoghan), Colm does everything he can to repair the once strong companionship they had, much to the frustration of Colm. 

Despite the fact that I wasn’t entirely sold after my first viewing, I actually found the conversations about the film to be enormously eye-opening. Each person I spoke to had their own unique takeaway from McDonagh’s mysterious film, which allowed my distaste to mellow as time went on. Many of the conversations I had were to do with how the film explores mental health in the 1920s. Colm and Padraic’s continuous routine was there for a reason, there was nothing else to do on their secluded little island. Even though they were somewhat shielded from the horrors of The Civil War, it didn’t mean that they necessarily had better lives away from it. These characters struggled, and that can be seen through Colm’s drastic actions towards Padraic who merely doesn’t want to be alone. Although I knew this film would be nominated in multiple categories, I really do believe it deserves to win gold at the Academy Awards this year for capturing the natural fear of abandonment and being alone.

I was apprehensive at first about watching An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl. Irish was my favourite subject in school (said very few people… ever) but, I really didn’t want to be reminded of, and I’m going to say it again… the wildly bizarre, never iconic, Cáca Milis… Despite my unnecessary fears, I finally bit the bullet and rented it and what came next, truly blew me away. I have never had such an emotional and awestruck movie-watching experience quite like what I had watching An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl

Adapted from Claire Keegan’s short story Foster, An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl follows nine-year-old Cáit (Catherine Clinch), a shy and removed child from an uncaring home. She is sent to live with her aunt Eibhlín (Carry Crowley) and uncle Seán (Andrew Bennett) in Rinn Gaeltacht, County Waterford for the summer. Cáit experiences a loving home for the first time and with that, she gradually comes out of her shell, until the summer comes to a close, and difficult decisions must be made.

I knew from the first five minutes that An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl would have a profound impact on me. I knew that I would be thinking about it for a long time after watching it (it’s been about four weeks now). I think what struck me the most about this story was that Cáit, Eibhlín and Seán all ultimately end up saving each other with the most powerful feeling of all, love. I was able to place my foolish doubts about it being an Irish language film aside and fully soak up the beauty of this low-budget wonder and I strongly urge you to do so as well… you won’t regret it. This film wholeheartedly deserves the Best International Feature Oscar nomination for so many reasons but most importantly because, it is a powerful, empathic and life-changing viewing. Maith thú a cairde agus ádh mór!

Paul Mescal has been a rising star ever since his performance in the television adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. His incredibly nuanced performance as Connell Waldron scored him a Primetime Emmy Award nomination as well as winning a BAFTA television award. His latest role sees him as a struggling single father in Charlotte Wells’ directorial debut film, Aftersun. I deliberately held off watching this film straight away and instead, watched the buzz and praise flood each of my social media timelines. After a few Letterboxd/Twitter mutuals of mine went to see it,  I decided it was finally time for me to take the plunge… and wow, am I glad that I did.

The film follows a summer holiday in an all-inclusive resort in Turkey, where single dad Calum (Paul Mescal) has taken his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio). Calum does his best to give Sophie the perfect holiday but underneath his happy demeanour, seems to struggle with anxiety and depression. Sophie doesn’t realise that her father was struggling until she looks back on the holiday as an adult. The film is framed through the eyes of Sophie in the present day as she rewatches old camcorder footage of the holiday, seemingly trying to piece together what happened to him after they returned home.

Although Paul Mescal doesn’t have his Maynooth accent in this one, his Scottish accent is enough to turn heads. I was immediately reminded of his powerful counselling scene in Normal People as I watched him struggle as a single father battling mental health hurdles. His performance is as believable as it is powerful with his ability to communicate through his facial expressions. There’s a particular scene in the film where he is sitting on the side of the bed sobbing and it is truly enough to evoke such sorrow within anyone watching. Mescal’s character, Calum is enormously relatable. We all try to stay afloat when life gets the better of us. It’s human instinct and survival skills to plough through the struggles we endure. I think Paul Mescal handles his performance with such delicacy and care. He deserves every ounce of his Best Actor Nomination and I am rooting for him!

If that wasn’t enough Irish talent, the Northern Irish short film An Irish Goodbye, Jonathan Redmond and Matt Villa for their involvement in the editing of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis and Richard Banehan Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon and Daniel Barrett for their contribution to the visual effects of James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water are also up for Academy Award Nominations. I mean… How impressive is that?

The 95th Academy Award Nominations will take place on Sunday, March 12, 2023. Irish fans can tune in from 12:00 AM-3:00 AM to see Jimmy Kimmel host the most exciting year in the film industry.

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