Penn sheridan

Irish directors to keep actor busy

Kirsten Sheridan.


By Michael Gray

At the recent Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Academy Best Actress nominees Saoirse Ronan and Brie Larson were voted Best Performers of the Year, adding fuel to their Oscar momentum in the lead up to Academy Awards night at the end of this month.

Saoirse will be the sentimental favorite with Irish film fans on the big night for her portrayal of the quietly ambitious country girl trying to make it in the big city in John Crowley's “Brooklyn.” But bookmakers care little for sentiment, and know that the Academy prefers its actors to suffer to earn their statuettes. And so Larson, for her portrayal of the traumatized abductee in Lenny Abrahamson's “Room,” is the odds-on bookies' favorite to beat Ronan to the prize.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

By the same token, Michael Fassbender's compelling embodiment of Steve Jobs's mercurial mood swings, flashes of brilliance, and suspect parenting in Danny Boyle’s biopic “Jobs” will be no match for Leonardo DiCaprio's feats of endurance as he confronts grizzly bear attacks and the harsh Canadian winter in Alejandho Iñárritu's “The Revenant.” Iñárritu's beautiful but harrowing epic, with 12 nominations, will likely make a sweep of the awards that will eclipse “Room” in the Best Director and Best Film categories as well.

Meanwhile, Saoirse's next film finds her teaming up with a veteran Irish director who has previous form in steering his cast to Oscar-winning performances. Jim Sheridan, a six-time nominee himself, directed Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker to Academy success in 1989 with “My Left Foot,” and will hope to repeat that happy result with his new film “The Secret Scriptures.” Based on the book of the same name by Sebastian Barry, and starring Rooney Mara, Saoirse Ronan and Jack Reynor, the film is currently in post-production.

Barry's story centers on a long-term resident of an Irish mental institution (played by Rooney Mara and Vanessa Redgrave, at different ages) who keeps a diary of her experiences inside.

Back in 2004, Sheridan was nominated for Best Screenplay (“In America”) with his daughters, Kirsten and Naomi, who both remain active as directors and writers. Kirsten Sheridan has a busy year ahead with as writer and director of an interesting project in pre-production - an Amy Winehouse biopic, as yet untitled. Noomi Rapace will play the ill-fated singer, who died in 2011 at the age of 27, after a long battle with drugs and alcohol.

Dubliner Jack Reynor also features in a charming new film by another Irish director who is no stranger to the Academy red carpet. John Carney, who took the world by storm with his musical romance “Once” in 2007 and earned an Oscar that year for Best Song, “Falling Slowly” written by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, returns to the same familiar themes with “Sing Street.” The film stars a nerdy Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as a lovelorn 15-year-old trying to win the heart of a beautiful older gIrl (Lucy Boynton) using the songs of his scrappy school band to strum her heartstrings, and with the tutelage of his slacker svengali older brother (Reynor) to guide him. Carney wrote the screenplay, and Hansard contributed to the soundtrack. The film is expected to hit theaters in late April.

[caption id="attachment_82520" align="alignnone" width="237"]

Sean Penn and Jim Sheridan exchanging phone numbers at an event in Dublin.[/caption]

Scheduled for release around the same time is an Irish film anomaly from the penumbra of the Oscar glare. Paddy Breathnach's“Viva” was Ireland's entry in this year's Best Foreign Language Film category, and almost made the nominations list. Close, but no Cohiba, in a category from which our mostly anglophone films are excluded, “Viva” is shot entirely in Havana, with an all-Cuban cast (with the exception of a cameo by its screenwriter, Mark O'Halloran, as a predatory tourist). Breathnach's drama had been well received on the festival circuit prior to its Oscar submission, and is calendared to open April 29.

Reynor appears in a lead role in “Glassland,” a tense drama by Gerard Barrett in which the actor plays a struggling Dublin taxi driver trying to make ends meet while taking care of his alcoholic mother (Toni Collette). Director Barrett examined rural loneliness and disconnection in his debut feature, “Pilgrim Hill,” three years ago, and, in his new film, pursues similar themes in an urban context. He elicits a memorable performance from Australian actor and former Academy Award nominee Collete as the self-destructive mother. “Glassland” opens in U.S. cinemas on March 18.

Back in Ireland, Rebecca Daly's taut drama “Mammal” opens April 1, after a successful showing at the recent Sundance Festival. The film stars Rachel Griffiths as a grieving mother mourning the loss of her child, who strikes up a friendship with a troubled youth (Barry Keoghan), much to the chagrin of her ex-husband (Michael McElhatton).

Lenny Abrahamson's pattern of choosing challenging themes for his features will continue with his next project, a biopic, still in pre-production. As yet untitled, the film will tell the true story of Virgin Islands-born boxer Emile Griffiths who is infamously remembered for beating his opponent Benny 'The Kid' Paret to death in a televised welterweight bout in 1962. The project is still in the formative stage, and details are scant as to casting.

All of the above release dates are subject to change as the film distributors finalize their schedules, and more information and reviews will be published here, closer to official launch dates.