2008: the movies

 

Film Correspondent Michael Dwyeron a significant year in film

THE GREEN ON THE SCREEN

The mood was celebratory in January, when Irish talent received five nominations for the 80th Academy Awards. The Irish Film Board presciently had organised a trade delegation of 25 producers to Los Angeles in the week leading up to the Oscars.

On the eve of the ceremony, John Carney's micro-budget Dublin musical Once saw off formidable competition when voted best foreign film at the US Independent Spirit Awards. Once won again on Oscar night when Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová took the best original song award for Falling Slowly. And Irish citizen and resident Daniel Day-Lewis collected his second Oscar as best actor for There Will Be Blood.

May marked the welcome rebirth of Dublin's Light House Cinema in a strikingly designed, custom-built four-screen venue in Smithfield. It brings to 135 the number of cinema screens in Dublin city and county.

In July, the annual Galway Film Fleadh was awash with new Irish features, shorts and documentaries. To nobody's surprise, the award for best new Irish feature went to Lance Daly's endearing Kisses.

Later that month, the Irish Film Censor's Office became the Irish Film Classification Office, ending an era for much of which Ireland operated one of the most draconian film censorship systems in the world.

Having started so promisingly, the year drew to a close as the Celtic Tiger left the building. Irish Film Board chairman James Morris welcomed "the retention of funding to the level of 2007" in the Budget, and said the board "expects to maintain the current levels of production" in 2009. He estimated that IFB-funded film and TV projects contributed more than €70 million to the Irish economy during 2008.

These included the third series of Showtime's TV drama, The Tudors with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the young King Henry VIII; Ian FitzGibbon's dark comedy-thriller Perrier's Bounty starring Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Jim Broadbent; and two new features starring Colin Farrell - as a war photo-journalist in Danis Tanovic's Triage, and as a West Cork fisherman who finds a young woman in his net in Neil Jordan's Ondine.

CONTROVERSY

Few of the many movies showing at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in February had a lower budget than Neasa Ní Chianáin's Fairytale of Kathmandu, but her documentary was rarely off the news pages in the run-up to the festival and again when broadcast shortly afterwards on RTÉ. The controversy revolved around its depiction of the relationship formed between poet Cathal O'Searcaigh and young men he befriended in Nepal. The film-maker and the poet found detractors and supporters in the divisive public debate that ensued.

Dealing with events leading up to the death of Bobby Sands in 1981, Hunger had been expected to provoke controversy when it had its world premiere at Cannes in May. Despite a concerted effort by a few UK tabloids to whip up a fuss - and condemnations by Unionist politicians (some of whom had not seen it) when it opened in October - Hunger received some of the best reviews of the year and has been amassing awards since it won the Camera d'Or at Cannes.

Another Northern Ireland drama, Fifty Dead Men Walking hit the headlines before its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival in September. It's based on the experiences of Martin McGartland, a mole who infiltrated the IRA in the late 1980s. He threatened legal action, claiming that the movie misrepresented him. A financial arrangement was reached, McGartland withdrew his objections and the Toronto premiere proceeded as planned.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

Affirming the adage that every cloud has a silver lining, Irish cinemas attracted remarkably high admissions during our summer of rainfall and flooding. Abba and Batman dominated the Irish box office as Mamma Mia! and The Dark Knight racked up more than €12 million between them.

An exuberant musical peppered with Abba songs, Mamma Mia! was an entirely undemanding romp shot on gorgeous, sun-kissed Greek locations that provided welcome relief from our grey summer skies. It became the second biggest hit (after Titanic) in Irish cinema history.

Running two hours and 32 minutes, The Dark Knight was the longest summer release, and it lived up to its title as the darkest Caped Crusader film, but audiences were undeterred. It undeniably generated some morbid interest because it features Heath Ledger - who died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in January at the age of 29 - in his mesmeric final completed role.

Third place at the Irish box-office was taken by Quantum of Solace, which fell well short of the bar set by Daniel Craig's debut as 007 in Casino Royale.

Women, an often neglected segment of the cinema audience, constituted the majority of admissions for Mamma Mia! and even more of the audience for Sex and the City, the fourth biggest hit of the year here.

Hotly tipped as the biggest blockbuster of the summer, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had a heavily hyped launch at Cannes in May. Although it delivered the goods at the Irish box office, it had to be content with fifth place.

Completing the year's top 10 hits at the time of going to press were, in order of takings, Kung Fu Panda, In Bruges, Hancock, High School Musical 3 and Wall-E.